Larger Parties Want You

If Only You Don't Dismiss Them!

I've heard from libertarians, especially Libertarian Party activists, that we can't work effectively within the larger political parties. The people who say this fall into 3 categories. The first are the avowedly anti-political (who, strangely enough, include some LP members). This series of essays doesn't concern them.

The second category consists of those who have no experience working in other political organizations, nor even close contacts in other parties. These people don't know what they're talking about, and are apparently just extrapolating from a priori notions, and therefore should be dismissed.

The third category consists of wannabes who've effectively kicked themselves out of other political engagements. These people tend to be perfectionists, control freaks, or just incompetent at basic politics, and also have no patience or tolerance for those who disagree with them politically. These people have settled into the Libertarian Party because there they don't have to deal as much with such disagreement, and because LP can't afford the standards of political skill and practice of the other parties. These people really are as unsuited to politics as the persons in the first category, but LP, as a catch-all organization for libertarian activity and interest, unfortunately pushes them into political activity.

In reality, both of the largest political parties, and even many of the smaller parties (including those larger or more powerful than LP) are very open to the input of libertarians, and indeed welcome practically everyone who's willing to do the person-to-person work that is politics and who does not look at either their rank and file or their leadership superciliously. Successful political parties consist of people who, while seeking to improve the world by their own lights, are also willing to work together in a spirit of give-and-take, of compromise. And because successful political parties consist of such persons, persons within those parties are amenable to persuasion by you as well as interested in persuading you.

I know the above from experience in the Conservative Party (a "minor" political party in NY which is much larger and more powerful than the Libertarian Party) since 1981. The same was said of some libertarians working in the Republican Party in another state, according to an e-mail from the Republican Liberty Caucus. I would expect there to be similar opportunities in the Democratic Party, the various Independence parties, the Reform Party, and probably the Greens.

Of course I would not recommend your joining a political party whose orientation is completely antithetical to yours. Fortunately that's the case with only a few tiny parties. Unfortunately too many libertarians have a perfectionist attitude that falsely sees all other than radical libertarian perspectives as anti-liberty; as has often been said, the perfect is the enemy of the good. In reality, the vast majority of persons (whether politically active or not) see human liberty in general as a good thing, or at least not as a bad thing. What keeps them from being radical libertarians is not an antithesis to freedom per se, but other considerations that over-ride concern for liberty, case by case. That means that radical libertarians can find much agreement with members of nearly all political parties, if they only bother to look and listen.

Because successful political parties will therefore pursue policies which are combinations of the desires of their active membership, opportunities exist to influence them into a more libertarian direction. This does not require party-wide adoption of a radical or even a moderate libertarian philosophy, or even "conversion" of many of its members to radical libertarians. Rather, all it takes is a change in priorities -- de-emphasizing policies that lead away from freedom, and emphasizing ones that lead toward it.

For example, if you find yourself in an organization surrounded by persons with a "left" perspective, you may be able to get them to raise, within their priority ranking, the status of efforts to, for instance, reform drug policy, or policy regarding sex workers, relative to the ranking of efforts to expropriate businesses and land owners, for example. So even if they continue to pursue expropriation, you will have made a difference if they concentrate a little less on that, and a little more on freeing sex workers or drug users from legal restrictions. Of course such minor influences hold no attraction for  perfectionists, but they need to get over perfectionism and to adopt a more realistic attitiude about what individuals can accomplish in a world of billions.

By the way, nothing in this regard requires you to hide your radical libertarian ideas. You're going into a larger hall, not into the closet! As long as others understand you're there to work with them on your common interests, and not to harangue them about your differences, they'll respect you and will tend even to be intrigued by your thinking.

Another marvelous thing about the largest of organizations is that many of their members, even though quite active, are practically indifferent to most political issues. They're active for reasons different from yours. They, especially the women among them, may be interested in social aspects of activity, or feel-good-ism; or they're interested in one particular cause but will "roll logs" with others, trading interest for interest. That means they can be led in any number of directions. You need only command their trust and respect. This is how the leadership multiplies its authority, and there's no reason you should be shut out of the leadership if you show over the years a consistent record of work.

Much of the above is applicable not only to political parties, but to non-partisan and trans-partisan organizations. Check out the resumes of political leaders. Some of them were born with advantages you don't have, but other advantages are there for anyone to obtain. That means you!

As evidence of the ability of radical libertarians in today's USA to use the Republican Party as a means to advance liberty at a high level, I submit members of Congress Ron Paul, Dana Rohrabacher, and that new guy from the Southwest whose name I can't remember. But even here there are differences in effectiveness. Dana Rohrabacher, by engaging much better in give-and-take, has been more effective than "Dr. No" and his famous all-but-one votes.

But if you're still skeptical that a major political party can do any good for freedom, you need look no further than China's Communist Party. If the Communist Party(!!!), of all institutions, can change policy on private enterprise to the degree that they made a slogan out of people's getting rich(!!!), that shows no political party is beyond redemption. Is China a good place to invest today? Just ask Jim Rogers.

Robert Goodman
Aug. 2004