Charles Barr concludes his favorable review of Carrie [February] stating, "Director De Palma is innovative in his purposeful use of slow motion and other special effects. The pacing is carefully timed and the camera work is extraordinary. Lawrence Cohen's screenplay, from Stephen King's novel, deftly primes the audience for the movie's dizzying, hair-raising climax."
He should have added, "The only sympathetic characters in the movie are murdered during Carrie's vengeful orgy, several others dying undeservedly. Thereafter, the movie appears to have no point save mystic terror over justice. Unfortunately, the boredom this realization engenders among rational members of the audience terminates in a cheap climactic scene that reveals the movie's true purpose: terror for its own sake."
Royal Oak, MI
ON POLITICAL ACTIVISM
I look forward to the day when the libertarian movement is so vigilant that statements like the following in REASON [February] cannot appear in a respected libertarian publication without immediate and vigorous challenge. The paragraph is in your centerfold, and happens to be authored by Dr. John Hospers:
One fact can hardly be controversial: that running for political office, and assuming such office if one wins, is the quickest way of getting libertarian ideas known to millions—not at any great level of profundity, of course, but then neither do those who voted in the present mixed economy have convictions of any great degree of profundity. To the extent that libertarianism is known in the United States today, it is almost entirely because libertarians have formed a political party whose members ran for office and had their ideas publicized in newspapers, magazines, radio, and television.
The "fact" is indeed not "controversial;" it is abject nonsense. I have yet to see any significant label retention from those exposed to Libertarian Party commercials during campaigns; most Americans automatically blank out minor parties. As an alternative, may I suggest that I have had good results in associating persons of accomplishment with libertarianism: Robert Heinlein, Ayn Rand, Thomas Szasz, Poul Anderson, Sy Leon (known for his anti-vote campaign), Lowell Ponte, Edith Efron, Nathaniel Branden, and those no longer with us but still well- known such as Mencken, Orwell, Nock, Tucker, Shaw (in his anarchist period), and many others. (Imagine, if when Johnny Carson tore up that traffic ticket on his show, he had given our battle cry of "Laissez Faire!" what that would have done for the Movement publicity compared to two "presidential" campaigns by the LP.)
Furthermore, I must in all justice reply to Dr. Hospers in kind in his second point: To the extent that libertarianism is known in North America today, it is almost entirely because of the tireless work of a few educators, activists, and persons of prominence not afraid to be associated with a small, militant, and unpopular movement: Murray Rothbard, Robert LeFevre, Andrew J. Galambos, Leonard Read, Ludwig von Mises, Don Ernsberger, Dana Rohrabacher, Isabel Patterson, Rose Wilder Lane, Baldy Harper, all the persons of accomplishment I named earlier, many local activists reaching 10 or 20 or 30 people at a time with meetings, demonstrations, events being seriously covered in local papers on a recurring basis, and of course others I could not begin to name in full.
The "Libertarian" Party, as I have said elsewhere and seen confirmed over and over again, has only one claim to success in public relations: associating the label "libertarian" with "running for political office"—which many, if not most, libertarians would consider the basest smear…
Perhaps I need look forward to the day no longer; here's the challenge and today's the day.
Samuel Edward Konkin III
Editor, New Libertarian Weekly
I am sure that you will receive many vigorous comments on Dr. Hospers' article. I will leave to more qualified pens the criticism of his political antinomies on Social Security and so on. I can agree with what seems to be his basic position: that the poor and helpless should not be cut loose from their present supports until the safety net of the free economy has been placed beneath them. I am more concerned with the 1964-ish wishful thinking displayed by so many LP supporters.
My major objection to the Libertarian Party has been its emphasis on national-level politics. This is both a tactical and strategic error. Tactical, because no party can succeed without strong roots in local government. Strategic, because the LP needs more contact with voters and less intellectual incest and media-stroking. The idea that a highly publicized—and highly expensive—presidential campaign will "educate the voters in libertarian ideas" shows an astounding naivete. Even if the entire electorate would read and understand Human Action, the response would surely be: "So what? I'm not giving up my subsidy!" One might as well try to "educate" hogs to leave the trough at feeding time and go root for themselves (without using force, mind you!). Nor is it productive to tell people that they aren't really happy living in the security of the welfare state—that they are merely "internalizing their subjugation." A process of education is indeed needed, but it is more moral than intellectual education—and thus the harder, as people will admit ignorance more readily than guilt.
The LP should ignore national contests and concentrate its limited resources on local politics. This would give its personnel more experience with serious politicking. Furthermore, small but tangible successes could be scored immediately. In contests for local office the LP candidate could be innovative without frightening the voters. (And let's face it—the American public is not yet ready for Murray Rothbard as Secretary of Defense.) We must recognize that it will be a long time—perhaps a generation—before the LP can be effective on a national level. To hasten the day—and to gain maximal influence in the meantime—the LP must start at the bottom and work its way up.
Ronald E. Merrill
Rochester Institute of Technology
Since John Hospers will undoubtedly catch hell for wanting to delay the libertarian utopia for even one single day, let me express my appreciation for his thoughts on how to "get from here to there." I liked his article if only because it showed to me that there is still one single libertarian who doesn't think all weapons should immediately be thrown into the river. My warmest interventionist-militarist-imperialist consideration, professor John!
Still, in pleading almost exclusively for political action, I think J.H. has commented too unfavorably on at least one possible complementary way "to get there": resistance. It is true that if some people (say 10 percent) refuse to pay, the other 90 percent will be made to pay more. But this is precisely what will motivate part of these 90 percent to join the resistance. Should 50 percent resist, you would almost have to be some kind of a "statist hero" to go on paying for the 50 percent who don't. And should 90 percent ever resist, you would simply have to join them or perish. In fact, long BEFORE that point is reached, everybody who's willing to pay would have to give up more than 100 percent of his property to compensate for the resisters, an impossibility of course! So if ever there was an opportunity to provoke a snowball effect it must be here.
And what about the victims, those who will be picked out by the authorities as a warning to the others? Statistically the risk for every individual of being that victim himself remains small: one risk in a hundred to lose $100 is statistically to be preferred to giving up $10 without a fight. And why could the risk of being caught not be insured against like any other risk? This way, there would be no more victims, just people contributing part of the benefit they obtain (the fact of having no more taxes to pay) as a way to protect that very benefit. The difference between the two amounts remains a net benefit.
Guy de Maertelaere
Regarding John Hospers' article, "Getting From Here to There," I believe it is hopeless to wage a direct campaign against the governmental bureaucracy.
It would be more successful, and less costly, to create a situation in which the bureaucracy cannot grow unless it cannibalizes itself. If we can turn the bureaucracy's energies against itself, then we can devote our energies toward merely steering the course of the collapse. I suggest the following:
With the intent of getting support from all areas of the political spectrum, we can publicize both the sheer volume of laws, rules, and regulations, and the outdated nature of so much of it. Dramatic and ridiculous examples are easy to come by, and we can constantly stress the waste and inefficiency of it all.
At the same time, we can offer a solution, a "streamlining" law. Such a law would be quite simple:
1. Henceforth, no law or rule, or regulation can be enacted unless it is accompanied by the immediate repeal of two existing laws, rules, or regulations.
2. Laws must repeal laws, rules must repeal rules, and regulations must repeal regulations.
There is such a tremendous inventory of long-forgotten statutes that a "streamlining" law would not be an immediate threat to anyone. It should get a great deal of support and very little opposition.
But the law would be a time-bomb which would paralyze the bureaucracy a few years from now. As government grows, it would be constantly paring away its fat, getting ever nearer to muscle and bone. Future politicians will be able to do nothing but sit in their offices drinking coffee, because their former colleagues passed a "harmless" law.
We can sell this idea if we market it correctly.
The February articles by John Hospers, Moshe Kroy and Sharon Presley each pondered the glaring ideological, strategic and tactical divisions among "libertarians." What they did not state explicitly was that those divisions are the inevitable consequence of treating politics as a self-sufficient primary, severed from more basic philosophical considerations.
Prof. Hospers, in showing the intricacies of a transition from the status quo to a free society, enumerated many points of contention among "libertarians." Yet observe that each controversy was specifically over competing moral-philosophical theories. Is revolution moral when innocents are killed? Is seeking political office moral? or—among limited governmentalists—moral in a mixed economy? Is it ethical to receive financial compensation from a redistributionist state? Is it morally obligatory to prefer martyrdom to compliance with the state? Is it right to participate in an interventionist government during a gradualist effort to reduce its overall coercive capacity? The answers are to be found in philosophy; but "libertarians," qua movement, are committed to bypassing philosophy in order to preserve the illusion of a united political front. United—on what basis?
If, as Prof. Hospers indicated, any political transition must be dictated by establishing priorities, then by what standard are priorities to be determined? Priorities are hierarchies of values; and how can value-conflicts be resolved by carefully, agnostically tiptoeing around the moral-philosophical premises of those in the movement?"
Or consider Prof. Kroy's notions on selling the freedom idea to the general public. His article was a virtual mirror image of one I wrote in 1973 titled "Libertarian or Individualist?" In comments which sound as if personally intended for Prof. Kroy, I wrote:
Politics and economics are the tail, the final outgrowth of the philosophical body. Today it is the body that is diseased and is infecting the tail. Yet the remedy "libertarians" suggest is medication (or, in the case of anarchists, amputation) of the tail.…The "libertarian movement" is focused on consequence, not cause: on men's political-economic conclusions, instead of on the philosophical-ethical premises which lead to those conclusions.
Thus "libertarians" shout out ringing political phrases, only to hear them echo off the stone wall of men's altruist-duty ethics. Or worse: some attempt to sneak their political theories furtively past men's evaluative capacities by camouflaging the implications with "conservative" bromides and fuzzy euphemisms, so as not to sound too "radical and threatening" (i.e., challenging and precise). Rather than educate, they simulate.
If damning corporations to win over ecologists, or whining jive to win over black militants, or equating "libertarianism" with hedonism to win over hippies—if this is Prof. Kroy's notion of practical persuasion, then who is actually changing his position: the professor or his audience? Who is coming to resemble whom? If persuasion means becoming innocuously imitative, what becomes of one's integrity, self-respect and personal identity? Do we all become cultural chimpanzees and psychological chameleons, not to mention linguistic parrots, as the price of becoming mere political recruiters? Do we fight collectivism by modeling ourselves after The Fountainhead's Peter Keating?
A "libertarianism" which finds the moral-psychological premises of individualism dispensable, is no revolutionary new idea: it is a throwback to the irrationalism of the French Revolution, when "liberte" meant raving subjectivism.
The dead end of that philosophical abdication was revealed in Sharon Presley's properly denunciatory review of Walter Block's Defending the Undefendable. That "libertarian" theorists Rothbard, Browne, Szasz and Hayek could applaud Block's canonization of pimps, hookers, counterfeiters and blackmailers, causes me to gently inquire as to the exact philosophical foundation of their political theories—and as to the stability of a "movement" built upon that foundation.
So let us, by all means, remain philosophical agnostics in the cause of political ecumenism. Let us play ostrich and bury our heads in the daily trivia of the Carter years—or play decapitated chicken and run amok in the political field, since "time is too short" to define our philosophical identity (i.e., who we are and where we are going). After all, questions as to the moral validity of our crusade are best left until after we assume power.
Robert James Bidinotto
THE NEED FOR EDUCATION
Re John Hospers' article on our situation: Education is the only way to dismantle the machine of government effectively and to liberate the minds of the entire world, Third and otherwise.
My own experience is worth recalling. In July of 1976, as a senior in economics at Auburn University, a friend gave me a copy of REASON. As a result of that issue, along with a course in comparative economic systems, I became a fledgling libertarian. At that time, I was a near Galbraithian and a Carter supporter. Now, I am soundly libertarian and have "converted" about 10 people to libertarianism since September. All libertarians could be teachers and articles such as Hospers' could be instrumental as examples. There is a world out there ready to believe in something. Education is really not that hard to achieve. I can do it, "we" all can. "Politically" or "economically" we could constantly be examples for our neighbors who are really only a few seconds away. Thank you, John Hospers.
J. Frank Smith
Re: "Marketing Libertarianism" by Moshe Kroy [February], A problem with these "summer libertarians"—the ones who have been baited into libertarianism on the strength of one or two tangential issues—is that when the weather turns cold, when they discover that libertarianism involves hard-line, laissez-faire capitalism and that the crutches of government must be cast aside, their epistemology and sense of self are unable to cope. Still in the Dark Ages within their minds, they are unable to handle complete freedom. They are quite likely to abandon what had been a passing interest in the libertarian ideas, and leave with a nasty taste in the mouth, mumbling about crackpots. Do we really need that sort of "convert?"
How much truer to form are those carefully cultivated libertarians, the ones that it takes years to produce. If, after many patient discussions, innumerable cups of tea, and countless underlined passages in books, you bring someone to let individualism and freedom pervade every aspect of his life, and watch as his self-respect grows, and see the slowly unfolding results, that new libertarian is not very likely to sink back into the Great Average swamp. He is a much more congenial companion on the barricades, and not one likely to desert when the battles get a little bit rough.
Cynthia Ann Leenerts
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".