Looking Inward

It Makes Us Cross-Eyed

Elsewhere I've noted the involuting tendencies of libertarian activists and some of the problems raised thereby. The existence of the Libertarian Party promotes this inward view, even for non-members. Herein I'll explain how and show some other problems this raises.

When the great majority of politics takes place within 2 large political parties, and libertarians have a small one of their own, its members can hardly help but turn their gaze inward. Even outside the LP, its existence tends to make libertarians think of it as a gnomon against which to test their ideas, and even for nonlibertarians to judge self-labeled libertarians by. Note that that last is not a problem with Republicans or Democrats, because the ideologies of the members of those parties have little to do with someone's being a small "r" republican or a small "d" democrat.

The inward view makes libertarians in LP confuse inputs with outputs, costs with results. A few years ago, someone from LP national at a local LP affair had us name our political accomplishments. At first we couldn't think of anything, but once the ball started rolling we thought of lots of things and felt good; it was a feel-good exercise, after all. But on reflection a few minutes later I realized the things we'd listed were things we'd put in, such as nominating petition signatures gathered, newsletters sent out, hours of volunteering, etc. They were costs of doing business, not products of that business.

It makes us lose sight of our goals by substituting the organization itself, or (even worse), its current leadership, as an end rather than a means to an end. Loyalty substitutes for principle. This might not be such a bad trade-off in a large, effective political party, but in a small ineffective one it's no trade at all. People so identify "libertarian" with the Libertarian Party that to critique the value of the party as I do is taken by some LPers as a sign of my non-libertarianism. This orientation has made LPers vulnerable to hucksterism wherein the membership unwittingly becomes the product (i.e. cash flow) itself, to be raked by a few. For those in position to rake the proceeds, or even to achieve the psychologic benefit of feeling like a "real" libertarian (a partyarch or member), advances toward liberty by others and other organizations (The competition!) are a threat rather than a benefit, and are not even acknowledged (Or recognized!) as gains. The danger is that such libertarians will try to work against gains by others.

In connection with the loyalty-over-principle effect, I've observed many times that members of LP are judged as to their libertarianism by other LPers according to looser standards than those by which they judge the competition.  So-and-So outside of LP is judged non-libertarian for a kind or degree of doctrinal deviation which does not disqualify persons within LP. But it comes out that way only if So-and-So is mentioned as a possible leader or model; otherwise the tendency is to think of the masses as considerably more libertarian than they actually are.

It tends to produce a holier-than-thou attitude, and a bigger-shot-than-thou attitude. The fish in the small pond tend to denigrate the worth and accomplishments of those outside of it, and to think of accomplishment and position within the small pond to be the equivalent of accomplishment and position in larger ponds or in the world at large. The Libertarian Party tends to give libertarians an inflated view of themselves and of each other, and a deflated view of outsiders. This is evident in LP's dealing with such celebrities as Howard Stern and Jesse Ventura.

At one time I thought these tendencies could be fought effectively within LP. However, now I see them as inevitable consequences of LP's existence, and the longer LP continues in existence, the worse the inward orientation gets.

Robert Goodman
July 2004
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