Free Minds & Free Markets

Reminiscences & Prognostications

10 key libertarian activists discuss the significance of the movement they helped build.

(Page 5 of 6)

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.

KOCH: Absolutely.

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'U 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?"

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.


Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online