The setting: the elegant Sheraton-Palace Hotel in San Francisco. The occasion: the annual convention of the national Libertarian Party. Gathered for the occasion were close to 1000 people, including many of the key activists who had led the growth of the libertarian movement over the past decade.
Several months before, it had occurred to Dave Nolan what a unique opportunity this convention would present. Why not bring together these key people, in one room (some of them meeting for the first time), to discuss the accomplishments of the libertarian movement, their own roles in shaping it, and their views on its future course and prospects? REASON editor Bob Poole agreed, and began sending out letters.
Consequently, at the close of a long day of seminars, debates, meals, speeches, and socializing, 10 libertarian leaders sat down around a tape recorder to reminisce and prognosticate. The participants:
• Roy Childs—editor of Libertarian Review, formerly a key staff member of the Society for Individual Liberty and of its magazine, Individualist. Childs' "Open Letter to Ayn Rand" in 1969 ignited the anarchist/limited government controversy.
• Joe Cobb—presently REASON's Frontlines columnist and active in the Illinois Libertarian Party, Cobb was editor-in-chief of New Individualist Review, a classical liberal journal of the 1960's and precursor of today's libertarian magazines.
• Ed Crane—president of the Cato Institute and of Libertarian Review, Inc., and publisher of Inquiry, Crane spent three years as national chairman of the Libertarian Party during which it grew to become America's third largest party. In the LP's first year Crane served as REASON's LP Correspondent.
• Don Ernsberger—co-founder of the Society for Individual Liberty, the largest libertarian campus-oriented group. Ernsberger led the Libertarian Caucus out of Young Americans for Freedom at the historic 1969 YAF convention. He is currently a professor of economics.
• Mark Frazier—long-time REASON contributing editor and libertarian journalist, Frazier currently directs the Sabre Foundation's Journalism Fund and its Space Freeport Project, and serves as executive director of the Local Government Center.
• Manuel Klausner—REASON partner and editor, onetime LP candidate for Congress, talk-show participant, world traveler, and practicing attorney with one of Los Angeles' biggest law firms.
• Charles Koch—chairman of Koch Industries and president of the Fred C. Koch Foundation, Koch plays a key role in a number of libertarian institutions. He is chairman of the Institute for Humane Studies, director of the Cato Institute, and a member of the Mont Pelerin Society.
• Dave Nolan—founder of the Libertarian Party, its first national chairman, and a guiding force on its executive committee for its first five years. Nolan's activism dates back to the early I960's, including YAF, Youth for Goldwater, Young Republicans, and the Liberty Amendment Committee.
• Robert Poole—REASON editor and partner, Poole dates his activism to 1964 when he and Nolan were classmates at MIT. Currently a columnist for the National Taxpayers Union and 150 newspapers, Poole also serves as president of the Local Government Center.
• Dave Walter—with Ernsberger, founded the Society for Individual Liberty in Philadelphia in 1969, merging the YAF-spinoff Libertarian Caucus with Jaret Wollstein's Society for Rational Individualism. Walter and Ernsberger are now SIL's co-directors. Walter teaches high school history and government.
With 10 such people all in one place, the talk went on and on, punctuated by good-natured ribbing and ideological confrontations. The initial transcript ran to nearly 25,000 words—practically enough for a book. Somehow, copyeditor Marty Zupan was able to cut and prune, through several slimmed-down drafts, to arrive at the 7000 words presented here.
DAVE NOLAN: This is a panel discussion on the libertarian movement and its prospects, by some of the people who have been making it possible. The first question is, Where do you see the "movement" as being today?
DAVE WALTER: I see it essentially still building from its base. I know there've been figures bandied about of its doubling every two years, but we're still small enough that we're talking about building the intellectual base of the movement.
ED CRANE: Well, I think the party and the movement are poised to accelerate their growth. Almost everybody here got started from the right wing, but that's changing dramatically. Most people coming into the movement now are coming from the left, particularly young people.
NOLAN: Which I think is very good, because it's giving a needed balance.
CRANE: Well, it's not just balance. The right wing is atrophying for good reason, and if libertarianism is going to succeed as a political movement in this country—and it is a political philosophy despite the fact that many people don't want to admit that—we're going to have to attract support from the left. And I see the movement developing a certain professionalism now and starting to make inroads in the left with people like Earl Ravenal and John Marks speaking at the Libertarian Party Convention this year. I view that leftward drift of the movement as very helpful. Maybe "leftward drift" is the wrong phrase to use but.…
The other thing that I think is very important, and which I really view as the cutting edge of the movement at this juncture, is Austrian economics. Because from a political standpoint, the phrenology that is being put forth by the Keynesians and the Friedmanites is an excuse for the politicians to control our lives. Most of the legislation coming from Washington is based on economics, and on misguided economic theory. And if we get Austrian economics to grow to a sufficient degree, then it is going to be harder and harder for the politicians in Washington to justify what they're doing.
ROY CHILDS: I'd say that the Libertarian Party, particularly since 1975, is the only institution in the movement with a clear-cut sense of direction and purpose. The movement in general is in a state of intellectual disarray, with the exception of a small number of people at the top. I attribute this to the youth of most libertarians and the fact that they have been astonishingly bad at what I call intellectual entrepreneurship—that is, the spotting and defining of issues and knowing the appropriate ways to capitalize on them and promote them.
DON ERNSBERGER: Well, I think, realistically, the libertarian movement today is extremely, extremely small in its effect and in its development. The main satisfaction that I see is not in the area of politics, but in what Ed Crane said, and that is primarily in the fact that when you look at the graduate schools, you see large numbers of people coming out with Austrian backgrounds in economics, coming out with libertarian credentials, becoming teachers and professionals. I have never felt that politics at this point in history is going to have much of an effect on where we're going.
NOLAN: I'd like to offer a counter to that. I see us as being at the stage where we are in the very earliest days of what you might call "going public." We've spent anywhere from 10 to 30 years, depending on where you mark the beginning, developing theory and educating people in libertarian theory and expanding our ranks. And we are now, I believe, at the point where we do have a large enough number of people, where we are just about to explode onto the public consciousness and make tremendous strides at picking up support from left, right, and center—from people who see that the Leviathan State is eroding their liberties, restricting their options, and generally making their lives considerably less wonderful than they otherwise could be. We've done our homework. Now we have to put it into practice.
CRANE: I just want to interject something quickly so it doesn't appear I'm agreeing with Don. A lot of the growth on campus I view as clearly a function of the growth of the Libertarian Party, and it boggles my mind that people who are committed to the movement still do not recognize the efficacy of political action, because it has clearly spurred the growth of the movement more than any other aspect.
JOE COBB: One thing that I see very clearly at this moment is that we have reached a first-level plateau. We've run a candidate for president, we've established a nationwide party—although if you look at the party closely, you have to be possibly frightened, because the local parties in the states are just pitiful. I don't know of more than two states that have anything that will be able to do the job in 1978. It's tragic and frightening. On the other hand, we were in exactly the same point of disarray prior to the 1976 campaign, and we did it; so I know it can be done. One thing that worries me now, having gone through two campaigns in Illinois is that the people that were very active and most useful in the 1976 MacBride campaign hardly lifted a finger for the Chicago mayoral campaign in early '77. We had new people, but now they're burnt out, and I would be astonished if they lifted a finger six months from now. And it's this constant turnover that frightens me.
CHILDS: This points back to an important thing—the issue of professionalism. They're burned out because they're not being paid, because they're not.…
CHARLES KOCH: You're stealing my line!
CHILDS: This is a very important point. I've known thousands of libertarians, and I've seen dozens of incredibly intelligent, young people drift out because they could not make a career or living in promoting liberty.
KOCH: As to this question of where we are today, I guess I'm an optimist in the group. I've suffered through over 10 years of a lack of professionalism, of having someone take on an assignment, either a management assignment or a scholarly assignment, and not perform. But today we have a growing number of people who are willing and capable of carrying out these assignments. So I think the libertarian movement is going to explode in the next few years.
CHILDS: And reality has been enormously kind to us in the past few years. Everything that we have been saying for 20 years would happen, has; and people are beginning to recognize that fact.
NOLAN: Atlas is beginning to shrug.
CHILDS: In Western Europe, socialism is crumbling; communism's successes have been set back in many parts of the world; intervention domestically and in foreign policy has not worked, and many people are beginning to rebel against control of their own life styles. And these are facts of reality which we are recognizing and using, and they're very important.
NOLAN: Before we plunge forward, I'll just review some of the historical trivia that I realized for the first time about a month ago. I had not realized until Watergate was highlighted in the newspapers that by sheer and pure coincidence—I assume—the founding convention of the Libertarian Party occurred the same weekend as the Watergate break-in.
CRANE: Is that right?
MANNY KLAUSNER: I'll drink to that.
WALTER: That's incredible.
BOB POOLE: I want to add a footnote about the movement. There's an aspect that I think is very important now, that didn't exist five years ago. Five years ago, the movement was mostly students and people who had recently been students who were gung-ho, enthusiastic, and in touch with each other through organizations like the early LP or through SIL. But I think what we have now is a group of people that have infiltrated and gotten themselves into careers and positions in all the institutions of our society—in the media, in corporations, even in the federal government and in state and local governments; and these people are in touch with one another and give each other information, refer each other for jobs. This kind of thing, I think, is very significant for the future, for getting our ideas into places where they can do some good and getting people in touch with them.
COBB: That's one point that I want to underscore. I think the most important thing the Libertarian Party itself does is to generate a crystallization point for what I call a cadre consciousness. People who are doing their professional thing and are sympathetic to libertarian ideas—who themselves may not be active in any way, shape, or form—read about the party, know that the party exists, and identify themselves with the idea that there is a libertarian political movement. Now there is a tragic gulf that exists between those party people who are sort of crazily wasting their time—because it doesn't pay off, at least not in the immediate—and those people in the establishment who do identify with the libertarian goals and who then are in a position to be able to actually do something for it. Bridging that gulf is one of the most important things we have to do in the next few years.
NOLAN: We're sort of segueing at this point into the next question, which is, What do you see as our greatest strength and our greatest weakness?
ERNSBERGER: I'll start with strengths. As I said before, I think the greatest strength is the appearance of libertarians teaching in universities. The great weakness that bothers me is that the day will come when we're not going to be able to say, "Well, we tripled membership again this year."
CHILDS: I think we're going to grow more quickly than ever, in part because of professionalism and in part because, for whatever reason, people like Joe Cobb and Ralph Raico who for many years were relatively inactive have once again become involved. Our greatest strength is really the vast genius of our Founding Fathers, so to speak; they just pushed us in the right direction. I think that we have the capacity to grow very quickly as we incubate such traits as the ability to speak well professionally in public and to write. By learning a bit about the tools of the trade and propaganda, we can keep doubling and tripling, and we can turn this country around completely, to a minimum State and a noninterventionist foreign policy and a full respect for civil liberties, in 20 years.
NOLAN: I very much agree with you, Roy, which is perhaps kind of funny, because we very often disagree.
CHILDS: We only disagree on foreign policy.
NOLAN: We don't even disagree that much on foreign policy.
I see our greatest strength as being the point that you raised earlier—that reality is on our side. So people are becoming more willing to accept what we say and listen to it seriously as they see our prophecies and our theories proving true. Our greatest vulnerability, our weakness, is that while we're riding that crest of media acceptance and public acceptance at the moment, and picking up steam, there is the possibility that the media will decide to ignore us, or a temporary setback could turn us into a downward spiral.
CHILDS: Reality is on our side. The question is, can we be entrepreneurs and take advantage of it?
KOCH: Let me amplify what you said, Dave. Our greatest strength is that our philosophy is a consistent world view and will appeal to the brightest, most enthusiastic, most capable people, particularly young people. But to realize that strength, we have to state it in a radical, pure form. Now, if we don't, if we temporize, if we state it in a conservative form, then we're going to lose the appeal of that. And the temptation is particularly great because the other side of that is our greatest weakness; that is, because we have a radical philosophy, we don't appeal to people who are in positions of influence, people with status or wealth. We don't have business people, for example. So the temptation is, let's compromise, let's temporize, let's be much more gradual than we should be. As a result, we could destroy the appeal to the comers of this world, and therefore we destroy the movement.
NOLAN: This sounds like a setup for Bob Poole.
POOLE: Well, I want to resist responding to that at this point, because I want to get on with what I think is our greatest weakness. It is underestimating the difficulty of the job and of being too superficially glib about what it takes to change the entire culture—and I think that's what we're up against.
NOLAN: What about our strengths?
POOLE: I think our greatest strength is our philosophy. I agree with that completely, it is eminently saleable; but, I think it's a much bigger job. There's an awful lot of homework that hasn't really been done in working out the implications and applications of our principles to all the really knotty, tough problems in our society and in our world.
KOCH: Well, I agree with that, Bob. I didn't mean that we had completely worked it out.
POOLE: OK. But a lot of our younger people tend to think that it has been all worked out and that all you need to do is go out and put it on a few posters and then in five years we'll have the job done. I think maybe that's why we get this burnout phenomenon. They see only a two percent or one percent vote total and they get completely demoralized, because they thought it was going to be easy—and it's not easy.
WALTER: I think our greatest strength so far has been the ability to resist the temptation to water down our philosophy and to continue to dare to be utopian and to provide a view of an ideal world. And our greatest weakness is related to the burnout problem, and that is, as people burn out, you start reaching out for more and more other people, and they're often brought in with minimal education. In the New Jersey LP, for instance, I ran into some people, running as candidates, who had not even read anything beyond a few handouts.
KLAUSNER: I think the greatest strength of the movement is the various institutions that have evolved—the periodicals, the LP, the Austrian economics within academia, the Cato Institute, the Center for Libertarian Studies. In addition to the institutions, the individuals—the people in this room, for example—are one of the signal strengths of the movement. It's all going to coalesce; all these things are coming together in a way that we've never really seen before. As far as the weaknesses, I think it's what Dave indicated—the problem of education. We can't move too fast in terms of becoming a mass movement, because we're not just selling an easy product; we're selling intellectual ideas that really have to be assimilated and evaluated and understood by people.
CHILDS: I'd like to comment on that. We need to take off the gloves; we need to cease being afraid of emotion. I think statism, in this country, at least, is a paper tiger. Things can be turned around very quickly, but we have to be willing to go all out if our battle for the survival of individual liberty is to be won, not just in this country but on this planet. We ought not to be afraid of reaching peoples' emotions. The survival of the human race is no academic matter. It is a matter for the involvement of the feelings of us all, and I think that too much of an objective, unemotional stance, partly brought about by the extent to which we rely upon an academic approach to things, is very much at fault for our not growing quicker.
MARK FRAZIER: Well, as I see it, the greatest weakness we face is a misreading of how the public comes to its stand on issues. I'd say for 90 percent of the people, they don't do it on the basis of any integrated world view. They don't even respond to people who propose a consistent ideology or framework for thinking. They tune out. Our greatest challenge now is to come up with ways of increasing people's personal, everyday experiences with the free market working. And for this reason, I think we must start thinking in terms of gradualist approaches to problems—to show them that privatization of, say, their garbage services, will deliver it better, at 60 percent savings. These are the sorts of experiences I think we have to build on.
CHILDS: I think that's a proposal for a 2,000-year plan to win. I think we can go much quicker.
NOLAN: Next is kind of an open-ended question. Where do you see the movement—and the United States, for that matter—going, both in the near term and the long run?
CHILDS: We have a chance to turn things around very quickly. We've got to be quick in responding to events and learning how to capitalize on them. We need to study the success of other movements and use propaganda techniques—let's not be afraid of the word; all it is is advertising. We ought to state the truth boldly, clearly; hold up a bold banner with bold colors, to steal a term from that old statist, Ronald Reagan. And I think we can bring the American people under our banner very quickly and turn this country and this planet around.
POOLE: We should do all those things, but I don't think it's going to turn anything around quickly. One of our problems is of being much too glib about it.
CRANE: Bob, it seems that you're throwing radical and glib together as being synonymous, and I don't see that as being the case. If we're going to start a movement for social change, we definitely have to be radical. It seems to me that any attempt at gradualism is counterproductive. We don't realize how close we are to making breakthroughs—for example, in education and economics—and that it's the gradualist approach that eventually prevents us from making the breakthroughs.
I didn't comment earlier on what I think is our greatest weakness, which, it seems to me, is the time we have available to us. We're faced with a statist juggernaut, and it's getting much stronger, and it's kind of a race for time. Because of that, I think that gradualism is all the more foolhardy.
CHILDS: The worst thing about gradualism is that it is boring, and boredom is not a prescription for victory.
POOLE: Well. I think I must respond at this point. I'd like Ed to clarify, What do you mean when you say "gradualism"? because you may mean something different from what I mean.
CRANE: Gradualism is getting excited about the efficacy of lime-yellow fire engines. The point is, government has no business in the fire-putting-out area, and the fact that the government granted a monopoly to a private company that comes up with some entrepreneur who would like to buy a lime-yellow fire engine is totally irrelevant to the fight for liberty.
Let me make one other point that I wanted to make earlier. We talk about 90 percent of the people not really being affected by this integrated political philosophy. That's really not that relevant. If we can get the 10 percent who are affected by that sort of thing, we'll be amazed how readily the other 90 percent come to see the light.
POOLE: I hope that kind of thing is true.
KOCH: I keep making this point over and over again, that any successful movement, or any movement with any staying power, has to have a significant core of dedicated, professional people. And the gradualist approach does not attract these types of people.
POOLE: You're not going to attract dedicated, hardcore, good thinkers by lime-yellow fire trucks. I quite agree with that. When I talk about gradualism, I talk about what you do with the principles you have, how you apply them to a specific program. I don't advocate watering down our principles. We should be radical in our principles and clearly state what they are and make as exciting and attractive a case as we can for our libertarian theory and political principles. But we are failing to attract more than a few percent of voters, of average citizens, because of the way we fail to translate those principles into specific programs that they can relate to in the present political context. I think if we use the principles to establish step-at-a-time programs that don't frighten the average citizen and that show real progress in a direction that is in the self-interest of the individual citizen, we'll get a lot further. We'll be taken seriously as providing an alternative that is real and that's responsible.
ERNSBERGER: It's been my observation that the American culture never accepted an idea, a social movement, without taking years and years of considering it and gradually moving toward it. Now that's true of movements in our history that we look at favorably and movements that we dislike. And as a result, I tend to be pessimistic about any short-term victory for libertarianism—and maybe even long-term. Unless we go out of our way to be as radical as possible, we are never even going to get to the first step, which is to develop the cadre that other people have spoken about. If we don't ever develop that cadre, should historical conditions come together in such a manner that radical change is possible, we're not going to have anything to seize that opportunity with. We'll have nothing but a group of people who understand very pragmatic kinds of approaches.
KOCH: Bob, do you distinguish in this application between advocating gradualism and applying radical theory to specific technical situations or applications? For example, with Social Security, we can be very radical and say, "Abolish Social Security"—not on some general principle such as nonaggression, but by analyzing in detail how it doesn't do any of the things that proponents say, and so forth. Or we can say, "Well, it's very complicated, and therefore we have to one-percent-a-year move out of Social Security."
POOLE: Well, I think we should be radical in the sense of attacking the whole idea, the foundation, of Social Security in principle, and also do the kind of detailed analysis that you talked about. We can analyze the Social Security system and say it never should have been set up, that it's immoral for various reasons, it's economically unsound, etc., etc. And then I think we should come up with some type of phase-out program for getting rid of it. But to just say, as I've heard libertarians say, "Abolish it," comes off as completely frivolous, as not being a serious alternative.
NOLAN: A lot of people at this point, I think, realize that the things they are clinging to aren't working, but they just aren't yet convinced that we have a better solution. So we need to learn to take a fully coherent and highly radical, in the true sense of the word, platform and package it attractively, and this is what Roy called using a shining banner. We have a radical, utopian vision. We need to package it in such a way that the average American would say, "Hot damn, that's a good deal," and will vote for us or support us rather than clinging to some rotting pile of statism.
CRANE: Let me interject here. You used the word utopian several times, and other people have too. I really don't visualize libertarianism as being appropriately sold as a utopian vision. It's a just vision. I don't really know what utopia is.
NOLAN: O.K. It may be a bad word.
CRANE: I really think it is.
COBB: Part of this discussion that we have been going through revolves around a confusion between how something is done and what happens in the process of trying to do it. For us—the party, the movement—a clear, radical vision and radical proposals are very important. The effect of our actions will be gradual change. Now we ourselves should not advocate gradual change, because we are in no position to actually cause change by directly laying our hands on the process and moving the pieces. It's really for the nonlibertarians out there who are attracted to us but troubled by our radicalism to come up with the gradual proposals.
FRAZIER: That's exactly the point that Milton Friedman has made—that the Libertarian Party has the potential to do what the Socialist Party did to the political spectrum. The Socialist Party never got more than eight percent of the vote, but it shifted the Democrats and the Republicans to the left. But I'd add one thing, which is that the Fabian approach to politics also seems to have an effect. And the question is whether we want nonlibertarians to be directing the transition programs, the gradualist programs that everyone concedes will take place—whichever model you have, the Socialist model or the Fabian—or whether we want to see libertarians in the position of trying to direct these transition programs.
COBB: But would the Fabians ever have come into existence if the Marxists had not preceded them? And the important question now is, Are we, by analogy, the Marxists of the movement or the Fabians? I think that the Fabians are yet to come and that we have to be the hardcore ones. This is not to say that we shouldn't have people out there doing the background research on what the gradualist programs should be, so that when the gradualists come up and say, "Gee, the libertarians were right, morally correct, and so forth, and we do have a problem here—but I'm scared," then we can have a Fabian libertarian walk up and say, "Try this halfway measure."
KLAUSNER: Well, I'd like to say that it's a strength of the movement that it is not really monolithic. The people in this room, for example, all came to this movement differently, and not all of us, I would emphasize, through an immediate, abolitionist, radical approach. I think the gradualism question really is a marketing issue, and the question is, What's the most effective way, both in the short and long run, to market our ideas in a meaningful way? And that may involve both.
CRANE: I think it's important to distinguish between how one becomes a libertarian and how one attracts others to it. I certainly became a libertarian in sort of a gradualist manner, but I did so because I read radical libertarians, because I read people who are not gradualists.
FRAZIER: Why is it mutually exclusive to have libertarian Marxists and libertarian Fabians—by analogy, of course?
CRANE: Well, I think it's a false dichotomy.
POOLE: No. Not at all.
KOCH: I'm not sure it's applicable to libertarians. The Fabian movement was one of infiltration in the government, and by that very process it helped expand government; that was their objective. I'm not sure that's a workable strategy for libertarianism, which is trying to decrease government. We've seen libertarians go into government. We've seen the Milton Friedmans and the Alan Greenspans in government, and they haven't decreased it; they've helped say, "How can this work more efficiently?" which in the end expands government. It is particularly tragic in their case, because they perhaps were very effective when they were out of government. But in government, they get co-opted; they become spokesmen for it and emasculate the opposition.
NOLAN: And even help legitimize it.
FRAZIER: When the chairman of the CAB is a person who believes in abolishing his agency and goes in a gradual way to ease up on the regulation, I think this is an example of how you can have an abolitionist point of view but provide a gradualist reform which shows the public that when you get regulation off the airlines to a limited degree, the prices go down. Now the next guy who comes along says, "We should have more deregulation, because look what happened when we deregulated this much." That person is going to be more credible than the guy who comes along and says publicly, "We're going to abolish it overnight." We've got to recognize that people working from within, the Fabian approach, are not going to be in a position to accomplish the ends that we want if they do that. So there's a division of labor.
WALTER: What libertarian is going to go underground and pretend to have other views in order to worm his way in as head of the CAB, which is an appointed post?
COBB: That's a backward perspective. The person who is already in there discovers after a period of time….
WALTER: That's right. So he's probably going to be a Republican or Democrat or middle-of-the-roader or something. He's probably going to pick up his ideas from what we do outside the government in a radical manner.
NOLAN: In view of time limitations, I move that we go on to our next general topic which is, Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future, and why?
WALTER: I used to sign my letters "Freedom in our time." I stopped doing that, because I've become pessimistic. I don't think that in the next 35 years we're going to be able to stop the juggernaut, because in the time it takes to stop it, it's going to go on a little further toward statism. Too many people are status quo. They're too conservative.
COBB: What I see in the next dozen or two dozen years is a situation of enormous risk. In other words, it could go either way. It could be that field conditions are right, our people do the right things, we do the right things, the general populace catches on and begins to recognize that the libertarian solutions to their problems work, and things go uphill all the way and, you know, life is beautiful. On the other hand, we could find a war coming up because Carter pulls some trick to get himself reelected. We could observe a runaway inflation. We could observe a collapse in the Social Security system. Look at what happened to New York City a few days ago with the power blackout. That sort of thing could happen all over the country in the next 10 years. The whole system is very fragile, and a series of collapses that politicians then attempt to solve in their usual way will lead the whole country down the path of ruin very rapidly, and we won't be strong enough to rescue it.
CRANE: Well, I'm a screaming optimist, and I guess part of the reason is that I'm not an intellectual. I really think that ours is an idea whose time has come. I think we all tend to underestimate the historical context of our movement. The American Revolution was the first libertarian revolution in the history of mankind. The backsliding toward statism, and the monarchy-type government that existed in all the thousands of years prior to that, is not so really shocking. And it seems to me that this is the first time—even the leaders of that revolution did not have the ideas as well thought out as we do right here in this room. Those ideas were powerful enough to create that original revolution. They're even more powerful now, and we have mass communication to get those ideas out. I think that we tend to underestimate the mass population and that there are lots of reasons for optimism.
NOLAN: I have to second Ed's position in that I, too, am an optimist, but I've sort of gone through the reverse trip of what Don and Dave have gone through. They say they were more optimistic and now they're becoming more pessimistic. Six years ago when we started the Libertarian Party, although I had hopes that we would be successful, I was really somewhat pessimistic. Everything I've seen since then confirms what Roy Childs said, that the State really is a paper tiger. This juggernaut is about to lose one of its treads—the Social Security system—and I think when it does, we enter that period of risk that Joe talked about, but at that point I think it becomes, if not 50-50, at least close to 50-50. We were talking 100-to-1 odds only a decade ago. I think it is now down, maybe, to one chance in three of success. The odds are still stacked against us, but they're improving all the time.
POOLE: The most likely forecast is not that the libertarian movement will succeed in a grand sense or fail in a grand sense. I wish to God—I wish to Rothbard—that I could agree with Ed's optimism. But I really can't. The most likely thing is that we'll achieve successes in some areas and we won't in other areas. We will help along things like deregulation and decriminalization of victimless crimes, deregulation of regulatory agencies, and maybe we'll help do something about Social Security and a few other things, but I think in an awful lot of other areas we probably won't be successful in the next 10, 15, 20 years. And we'd better resign ourselves—no, we shouldn't resign ourselves to that. But if you want to be realistic about where things are going, I think it's much more likely to be a mixed bag of successes and failures.
ERNSBERGER: In fact, I think I can speak for Dave, Bob, and myself in that we really hope we're wrong, that we can sit down 25 years from now and just listen to this tape and Roy Childs can say, "See how right I was?"
KOCH: Well, as I said before, I'm wildly optimistic. I think that the State is going to grow exponentially and the loss of our liberties is going to grow exponentially, and at the same time, the movement is going to grow even faster. I don't know what's going to happen in my lifetime, but we're going to have some exciting times, and it makes me excited and optimistic.
NOLAN: I'm with you.
KLAUSNER: I'm extremely optimistic. The prospects are tough; it's an uphill task; but we're growing by leaps and bounds. I remember that 10 or 15 years ago people used to cringe when I talked about decriminalizing marijuana. Now they'll listen seriously and maybe chime in when I talk about decriminalizing heroin and all other drugs. Things are changing very quickly.
NOLAN: What do you see as the threat that we, "the movement," should be most on guard against? Dissipation? Compromise? Co-optation? Sabotage? Cult tendencies? Or what?
POOLE: Well, this will probably sound funny coming from a person with my alleged gradualist reputation. I think compromising our principles is the greatest danger that we face. I really do—precisely because I think it's important for us to be flexible and to not always demand that our programmatic proposals be the ideal that we'd like to see in the future, realized tomorrow morning. Precisely because we have to be realistic about what we propose to do, I think it's crucial that we keep our principles visible and make sure that we don't allow any hint of compromise to come into those. So I think that's where the need for vigilance is the greatest. We can't give up quality in the search for quantity. We have to maintain our principles and maintain a high standard of leadership.
ERNSBERGER: In a similar vein, I would say that the big threat would be libertarians' sensing that victory is so close that it's worth a few compromises to get to it.
CRANE: My concern is how compromise sneaks up on us, and in my view, therefore, gradualism is the great threat.
COBB: Well, one thing, going back to my earlier reference to risk—one thing I worry about is that at some point we'll bite off more than we can chew.
CRANE: We already have.
COBB: That's not what I mean. For example, sometimes I worry what would happen if, by a fluke, a libertarian candidate were elected governor of a state without having any libertarians in the general assembly of that state. And at that point you have a person that, you know, is really caught in a trap, because if he compromises he throws away everything the party stands for; and if he attempts to govern he makes a fool of himself, because the general assembly will eat him alive. This is the danger. If you're going to take over a state, you have to take over a general assembly first, not the executive. The libertarian headland, I think, for a transition period, would be 49 percent of both houses of the legislature. You could dismantle the State more rapidly than you can believe with 49 percent, and the executive would take all the blame. It would work beautifully. But accidental victory is something that we have to worry about, because it would put us into a compromising situation, one that it would be very hard to get out of.
KLAUSNER: I'm kind of intrigued by Joe's comments. I'd love to see Murray Rothbard as governor of New York State.
CRANE: We've consciously avoided accidental victory.
KLAUSNER: What's the main problem that I see? Probably the limits in terms of manpower and resources. I think that the Libertarian Party is presently the main vehicle to reach the masses, and it's very dependent on a few good people. In the last election, Roger MacBride served us very well as a party and as a movement, but what about the next election? What about the election after that? Time will tell if we will be able to recruit the kind of individual who both has the time, the expertise, the knowledge, the ability, to convey ideas as Roger does and has the finances to mount the campaign.
NOLAN: I see us as being in kind of a funny stage of development. As recently as five years ago I would have seen the greatest danger as being the tendency to go off in a little corner into study groups and never do anything in the world. The creation and growth of the Libertarian Party has pretty much killed off that danger. But right now I see our greatest threat as being the one Bob alluded to earlier, where you get a whole bunch of people coming running in with the idea that we're going to get 20 percent of the vote this election; then when we only get 3 percent of it they say, "Aw the hell with it," and pack up and go home—sort of a false raising of hopes and then getting dashed.
That's it. Thank you all very much.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Reminiscences & Prognostications".