STRATEGY AND TACTICS
Robert Poole, Jr.'s editorial, "Libertarian Realpolitik" [August], seems to be based on the premise that educating the public in political philosophy and electing candidates are mutually exclusive activities. This premise rests on a confusion between strategy and tactics. The same confusion also exists within the ranks of the Libertarian Party itself, and constitutes a serious threat to its effectiveness. I would therefore like to make an attempt at clarification.
It is a cliche that a free society can maintain its freedom only through a continual commitment to the preservation of liberty, that "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance." If this be so, libertarians cannot, in the face of an ongoing statist trend and with a huge mechanism of coercion in place, hope to achieve liberty with any less of a commitment on the part of the citizenry. If the purpose of the Libertarian Party is eventually to bring about a free society, then it must pursue a strategy of bringing the freedom vs. coercion issue into the public consciousness.
But this argument says nothing about what tactics the Party ought to employ in pursuit of this strategy. By what specific means can the LP hope to elect candidates and to raise public concern for liberty? It is in this area that Mr. Poole's and Mr. Curvers' admonitions are relevant. That public attention and sympathy cannot be gained through abstract philosophical argumentation, without reference to the immediate concerns of the addressee, is a fact of reality which libertarians cannot afford to evade. It is hard to see how any candidate (or mere petitioner, for that matter) can remain unaware of it.
In order to be taken seriously, Libertarian candidates must package their philosophy in the form of specific proposals which address the problems of the audience at hand. The electorate must come to perceive the Libertarian Party as a viable, responsible organization which is concerned with people's problems, which is attempting seriously to develop solutions, and which has a large reservoir of expertise on which to draw.
However, it will not be to the longterm benefit of the movement for candidates to present their proposals as ad hoc solutions without reference to the principles on which they are based. Libertarian candidates must let it be known that they are committed to promote individual liberty and are seeking workable solutions in that context because such solutions are best. Then, they must demonstrate, for the specific matter at hand, the superiority of the libertarian solution.
The National Assembly of France declared in 1789 that "ignorance, neglect, and contempt of human rights are the sole causes of public misfortunes and corruptions of government." Libertarians must put this point across, not in the abstract but on a concrete issue-by-issue basis, if the kind of public concern for liberty which is necessary for a reversal of the current statist trend is to be achieved.
Daniel B. Kotlow
ROTHBARD VS. REALPOLITICK
It seems to me that REASON's editorial "Libertarian Realpolitik" has been mistakenly interpreted by many libertarians. Especially if the reaction of "Mr. Libertarian" Murray Rothbard is any guide [Viewpoint, October]. I understand that many other prominent libertarians, including LP Presidential candidate Roger MacBride and LP Chairman Ed Crane have reacted similarly to Murray.
REASON's editorial grew from a letter John Curvers wrote to the Chairman of Australia's Workers Party. Curvers noted that many people who were very sympathetic to the WP, but who had never heard of libertarianism before, became very hostile when given the WP platform as their first introduction to the movement. The WP platform is, if anything, even more hardcore than that of the LP. It was widely praised—not only in REASON, but also by Ed Crane—as a magnificent document, far superior in terms of style to the LP. As you might imagine, it is indigestible at first contact for many people who have never met libertarianism before. Many people need time to consider a variety of issues before they come to see the full logic of the libertarian position.
Curvers suggested that the platform only be given to members and those who specifically asked about it. Other material, he said, should be developed as a first point of contact which would arouse peoples' interest in knowing more about libertarianism. There is nothing immoral or secretive about such a practice. We adopted it—and so has the LP! After all, you'd be stupid to go down to the unemployment line and try to win converts by proposing the abolition of welfare benefits. You'd do better if you advocated the abolition of minimum wage laws, and when that argument had been digested, the unemployed would be able to see that welfare would not be necessary.
Rothbard often suggests that we should adopt tactics proven successful in other ideological movements, and often cites the Communist Party in support of his case. Curvers suggested we look at the success of the Catholic Church which ruled the world for over 1,000 years in the name of a book which very few people—other than the select few—ever read. All the people got to see was a "catechism," a distillation of Christianity carefully doctored, of course, to reinforce the rule of the church. Curvers advocated the tactic—of producing material that people could understand and accept—but as part of a completely different strategy—not a strategy to rule the world, but one consonant with the aims of libertarianism.
There is no attempt on Curvers' part—or in Bob Poole's editorial—"to hide their principles in order to get into office as quickly as possible" (in Murray's words). Any such attempt would indeed be self-defeating, and any such strategy would be nonlibertarian as it would not result in the achievement of libertarianism but of something else altogether. Both Curvers and Poole suggest that libertarian parties be politically smart, and that the prime function of a political party is to be political, and not to be an educational organization. When Poole suggests that the task of educating the public in libertarian principles be left to "non-party vehicles"—and Rothbard attacks that—both overlook that in order to gain votes as libertarians it is necessary to perform an educative function. But that should be the secondary aim.
Rothbard cannot accuse me of "a failure to think in terms of historical dynamics." One need look no further than the success of the British Labor party—which left socialist education to the Fabian Society—(and other Labor parties around the world) to see that that tactic is eminently successful. And one only need look at the Communist Party of the United States to see that Murray's preferred tactic, "to build a cadre of dedicated libertarians," is an abject failure. The cadre approach is only appropriate to taking over established institutions-such as economics departments. And certainly the core of any libertarian political party should be pure.
Finally, I cannot but take issue with Rothbard's entirely unwarranted cracks about the Workers Party—especially when 1 personally sent him information which should have made him realize how successful our tactics have been. "Before [Poole] sings hosannas to Mr. John Curvers' strategy for the Workers Party of Australia," Murray writes, "may I point out that I haven't seen them take over Australia yet." No, they haven't. But compared to the Libertarian Party, they have been infinitely more successful—with, I would add, a more hard-core position in a country without a significant libertarian movement prior to the party or a tradition of individualism.
Formed in January 1975, the WP stood its first candidate in a by-election that November—and achieved an incredible 13 percent of the vote. In December 1975, before it was even 12 months old, it had 1600 members (the LP needs 32,000 to be equal on a per capita basis) at $50 per head (compared to $6), and, with four weeks notice of a national election, ran Senate tickets in 5 out of 6 states, and 44 candidates in lower house seats out of a possible 127. The WP achieved 2½ percent of the vote nationally (as a percentage of seats contested) and emerged as the only third party of significance (two others, each with a long history, died in that election). Six months later, in May 1976, the WP achieved an average of five percent of seats contested in a NSW state election, doubling its vote in a campaign run literally on a shoestring. (It was all done by door-knocking.) In neither contest did the WP gain any media attention worth a damn—and certainly nothing like the coverage the LP has received.
I think the path, for the libertarian movement is really quite clear, and I must add that I think the LP is already on that path. What impresses me so much about Roger MacBride—aside from his grasp of libertarian principles, his energy and his dedication—is his ability to put libertarian principles to the public in a way that they can understand and which must arouse their interest—without as much as the whiff of a compromise of any libertarian position in any of his words.
Santa Monica, CA
A short while back this magazine published two editorials: "Libertarian Realpolitik" by Robert Poole, and "The Danger of Opportunism" by Murray Rothbard. The topic covered by these two articles is a critically important one for the young Libertarian Party and deserves more discussion.
Mr. Rothbard's first point was that Mr. Poole posed a "dichotomy between the goal of getting libertarians elected to office, and that of educating people in political philosophy." Were Mr. Rothbard's interpretation of that stance correct, then he would be justified in criticizing such a view on the grounds that we should wish to get elected "as libertarians." But that is not what Mr. Poole's argument was meant to convey. What Mr. Poole is decrying is the attempted wholesale education of the populus on every possible ramification of libertarian political thought. This does not mean that education should be completely divested from the LP, only that we should not embark on an all-out educational program, and what educating we do should be tactfully geared to the audience we are addressing. Doubletalk, compromise or "opportunism" are not required, just common sense. It is regrettable that Murray Rothbard interprets this as meaning that libertarian candidates should "hide their principles in order to get into office as quickly as possible." I cannot believe that this is what Mr. Poole was saying.
So why did Mr. Poole state that the task of teaching libertarian principles to the public should be left to "nonparty vehicles?" The point is simply that the difficulties of audience alienation can more easily be overcome or, if unsuccessful, the connection with the LP can be sidestepped. Mr. Rothbard doesn't argue this point, stating only that no effective non-political vehicle has been found. Books by Rand or Nozick aside, his argument would hold water except that he has incorrectly assumed that Mr. Poole means for ALL such political education to occur outside party activities. As I pointed out above, certain questions are best tackled elsewhere, but a tactful presentation can still involve a modicum of education geared to the audience at hand.
Finally, Mr. Rothbard slides into the common error of thinking that anything less than a brute force presentation of libertarian ideals will severely weaken our already-minimal effect on the political scene. Mr. Poole's point is that such tactics will cause us far more harm than good. In other words, what makes good headlines can leave lasting bad impressions. Indeed, our biggest mistake is to gain publicity at the expense of showing that we are reasonable, rational men. (Note: this does not imply, as Mr. Rothbard suggests, that we will have to look just like the Republicans or the Democrats.)
In summary, Mr. Poole's point is that we can learn to sell our product without either "watering down our principles" or relying on shock treatments. Mr. Rothbard's error, on which his whole editorial precariously hangs, is that we must never adapt HOW we say what we say to fit who we say it to. Such an arbitrary rule would surely handicap us and possibly prevent us from letting the LP appear as the viable alternative it truly is.
This short letter cannot begin to cover all the arguments opened by the two editorials I have addressed myself to. Because of the importance of the topic, I hope that we have not heard the last of it.
Michael G. Roberts
I must say that I found Morrone's article, "The Crock in the Cosmic Egg" [September] rather depressing: so much unsound argument and so many invalid conceptions in so limited a space is a rare sight. Rather than attempt a critique in a letter, let me offer a dissenting view.
The premise of magical thinking is that there are many realities. Orthodox magicians take this in a metaphysical sense. However, it can be taken equally well in an epistemological sense, as Rand reinterprets essences as not metaphysical but epistemological. There are many ways of perceiving reality. As in the Buddhist doctrine of nonobstruction, they do not contradict each other, nor do the different conceptual systems founded upon these different modes. Different people have different distributions of these states within their experience, covering different ranges, from the American waking, sleep, dreaming, to the hundreds cataloged in some Asian disciplines. In the light of Morrone's fears for "objectivity" it is ironic to consider that most highly creative scientists, especially mathematicians and physicists (cf. Arthur Koestler's The Act of Creation), have spent a great deal of time in unusual states of consciousness, and have relied heavily on intuition and other "non-rational" mental powers, using reason to test their ideas after evolving them by other means. Altered states of consciousness are in fact very productive of novel theories, because they can give new perceptions of a situation and sidestep the barriers of prematurely rigid concepts. This is why schizoidia is so common in first-rank scientists.
Finally, at the end of Morrone's article (to quote Nietzsche) "the ass arrived, beautiful and most brave:" the demand for moral objectivity came on stage. However, I know of no one who has furnished a valid proof that values are objective. All that remains, once the logical holes in various "proofs" are pointed out, is the argument "what horrible consequences would follow from believing that values are subjective!" This is no proof at all; but even if it were, the subjectivist can point out that the horror is itself a subjective estimate, and suggest that actually accepting this view might not be so horrible at all, if looked .at more closely. For one thing, it would make sense out of laissez-faire economics, which after all is founded on the subjective theory of value, and which, on Morrone's premises (or Rand's) has not been shown to make sense at all. Rather than demanding that alternative ontologies be "rubbed out" libertarians might well adopt a laissez-faire attitude here: let them prove themselves in free competition, and the successful ones coexist in a peaceful division of labor.
William H. Stoddard
Chula Vista, CA
THE HORSE LIVES
George Morrone, in his article, "The Crock in the Cosmic Egg," sets out to flog the dead horse "until it really is dead." I finished the article as I had begun, in sympathy with Morrone's sentiments and in agreement with his claim that the world of ideas abounds in nonsense. But his arguments left me unconvinced, and as I put the article down, I glanced over my shoulder and saw a horse kicking.
Morrone trades on a confusion between two separate and distinct claims, the claim that the existence of the world depends on the existence of minds, and the claim that our view of the world depends upon the structure of our minds. Morrone lumps the two together, attacks the former (unsuccessfully), and proclaims himself the winner once and for all.
Morrone talks as though his opponents were Subjective Idealists of the Berkeleyan sort, which gives the effect of Morrone's coming off as a naive realist of the Johnson mode, kicking stones (and slaying strawmen) along the way.
Nothing in any of the "magicians" that Morrone quotes entails or implies that they hold the existence of the world to be dependent on the mind. Their claim, if they can be said to have one, is more Kantian than Berkeleyan, namely, that our representation of the world is (for some largely, others, exclusively) determined by the mind. To repeat, our representations, not the world itself, is mind-determined. Goldschmidt does indeed say that for different peoples "The very metaphysical presuppositions differ." This is not a "magical" claim, it is evident to anyone who has glanced at the history of philosophy, which is a catalogue of the development of different metaphysical positions. (So that, modern geometries, if indeed reality bound, cannot be said to merely make,some different assumptions, since these assumptions must have serious metaphysical consequences. Morrone can't have it both ways.)
To hold that (our representation of) the world depends on the mind in this sense does not entail that the world does not exist independently of the mind. Further, as a point of logic, and Morrone's saying otherwise notwithstanding, that the world exists independently of the mind is NOT a logically necessary truth: it is neither self-evident, nor does its denial generate a contradiction. As for the world and causality, it is clearly and simply true that the mind can cause things to happen, such as the development of mammary malignancies.
A person can both hold for Aristotelian logic and the laws of causation and still have a confused, false, or supernatural world view. Descartes is one such. More importantly for Morrone, so is Aristotle, who held, among many other outrageous things, that the universe consists of fifty-five hollow spheres, one neatly inside the other, each revolving in perfect circles about the earth, and motivated by love for the Unmoved Mover, God. What we now call the laws of causation do not apply to Aristotle's heavens.
Santa Barbara, CA
JUSTICE AND THE STATE
Havender's article, "Meting Out Injustice" [September] misses a major point.
The tremendous Federal programs ostensibly designed to make this a fair and a just world are not actually for that purpose. They are developed to maximize the power and profit of a large number of bandits, greedy, vicious, arrogant, whose only real interest is in finding new areas of conflict in which they can get Congress to let them intervene in the name of "justice."
It does not matter that their programs cost 40 times as much as they would if the local church were to be involved, and you won't see any of the Congressional savages, Christian though 97 percent of them claim to be, starting that kind of unadvertisable activity. Their only aim is to be re-elected at any price, even of the destruction of the nation, and so they avidly put through any of these programs so they can present themselves to the voters as the nation's great new jesi, with a small "j."
This is a typical socialist game. The socialists don't give a damn about the working classes, but those are stupid and easily organized by lies and cheating to support the growth of total tyranny, claimed to be for the workers' benefit, but actually for the glory and profit of the emperors.
Proposing that the government turn to systems that give fairness to the individual won't be adopted, because there's no empire therein. The need is to mark all those in the present system as unjust, as Havender has, but also greedy, vicious, destructive, morally obscene, since they take their profits by force, at the point of a gun, which is evil.
Thomas S. Booz
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".