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
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
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.
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