Divided We Stand, United We Fall

Libertarians are "Bad" Company for Each Other

Libertarianism (the ideology, not the doctrine of free will) is based on a principle, or it is a principle, depending how you think. Principle-based ideologues have in common with other non-principled ideologies a desire for reform, but principle-based ideologues tend to be handicapped in their striving for social change. The problem is that principle-based ideologues have an exaggerated sense of the rightness of their positions, and hence the wrongness of everyone else's. It becomes a transcendent type of right and of wrong, the wrong being evil, and how can one cooperate with the evil? Yet cooperation with persons of divergent ideas is required to make advances.

Along with that impediment, the principle-based ideologue tends to have difficulty recognizing any goodness except in perfection. Having no way to assess good or bad relatively, the principle-based ideologue loses hir way in real-world situations, being unable to judge what direction results in improvement or disimprovement.

With such a makeup, one possible reaction is "retreat from the evils of the world", as practiced by Lifespirit Church (formerly Libertarian Congregational Church) . However, such cannot be the way of the activist. But the libertarian activist often winds up practicing such retreat without acknowledging it, resulting in ineffective outreach and other activity. I am certainly not the first to point out the radical libertarian's tendency to disengage from socio-political influence by withdrawing into the small world of like minded people, in which disagreement takes the form of argument over successively finer and finer points and narrower issues. However, I may be the first to insist that a solution is possible.

Activist libertarians have to get away from each other. They need to spend much less time in and on organizations in which they make up a majority (such as the Libertarian Party), and more with people who are not radical libertarians. And by spending time with people, I don't mean it in the way one buys coffee from or holds a theater seat for them. I mean they should get involved with other socially-concerned organizations such as the PTA, labor unions, or the larger political parties. Be a small fish in a big pond. (Elsewhere I'll explain how that actually increases your leverage.)

This will be psychologically painful to many, of course, but I believe it to be possible for most. But to be most effective, you must also have a spirit of give and take. You must be willing to be persuaded by others as well as to persuade others. You must maintain the understanding that any of your beliefs might be wrong.

Robert Goodman
July 2004
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