“The [Libertarian Party],” wrote Samuel Edward Konkin III in a footnote to the third edition of The New Libertarian Manifesto, “continues to co-opt idealistic young radicals, suck out their enthusiasm, disillusion them, and either drive them into pessimistic apathy or deliver them — radicalised and re-energised by their disappointment — to the welcoming arms of agorism.”
As the party prepares for its biennial national convention, to be held in St. Louis over Memorial Day weekend, that assessment strikes me as more accurate than ever.
For some years, I’ve maintained an uncomfortable posture — one foot in the agorist camp, one in the mudhole of electoral politics.
If Konkin’s always been right, then the last 14 years of work I’ve done in the political arena has been a waste of time and a distraction from more important work at best. At worst, it’s actually had a net negative effect insofar as continued libertarian participation in old-style politics tends to stunt the formation of the institutions necessary to the coming revolution’s success.
If Konkin’s always been wrong, then it’s possible that I haven’t wasted my time or efforts. Perhaps a political party can be instrumental in creating the conditions necessary to the birth of a free society. If nothing else, as I’ve held in the past, perhaps the Libertarian Party serves a useful purpose as a “birth canal” through which as yet un-radicalized libertarians travel from the womb of the body politic to the brave new world of a larger, radical freedom movement.
My suspicion — or perhaps it’s just a self-serving attempt to validate my own past actions — is that Konkin was always at least partly right, but only partly right, and that he’s becoming more right as events unfold: That is, the Libertarian Party is useful to some degree, but becoming less and less useful as it more and more firmly ensconces itself in the existing system.
I know that the LP assisted me in becoming more, not less, radical.
I entered the party as a Marine veteran, firmly convinced of the prudence of a “moderate interventionist” (a la Teddy Roosevelt’s “speak softly and carry a big stick”) foreign policy; as a former drug warrior who favored legalizing marijuana but urged a “soft touch” versus the drug war; as a father who found the party’s (now long-deleted) “children’s rights” plank naive and embarrassing.
Within a few years I found myself marching against the US interventions in the Balkans and the Middle East; protesting the drug war in its entirety as an abomination and an imposition on the rights of all; and horrified by the state’s abuse of sexual legislation to persecute innocents of all ages.
As a matter of fact, within a few years I discovered that I had become a committed anarchist … at the same time that the Libertarian Party seemed to be hell-bent on transforming itself into a “center right” organization focused on attracting fiscal conservatives who favored a lighter touch of the Nanny State’s paddle to the body politic’s posterior.
It is not the purpose of this column to endorse candidates, bylaws and platform changes and such at this upcoming national convention. I don’t think, however, that I’m overreaching by noting that the candidates and proposals on the conventions agenda represent three distinct approaches.
One faction of the party proposes to complete the transformation of the LP into its new “center right” configuration. They’re fielding officer and national committee candidates who are committed to that course to one degree or another, and they are well-represented on the bylaws and platform committees.
Another faction of the party is internally focused not on ideology or externally on niche marketing, but on internal “good governance” matters. That faction has fielded a committed candidate slate, and tends toward “voice of reason” bylaws and “big tent” platform proposals.
The third faction is the party’s (mostly very demoralized) radical core. While it would be erroneous to write off the other two factions as “newbies,” the radical faction does have a more “Old Guard” composition. The radicals can reasonably expect to elect or re-elect a few national committee members, and are counting on the candidate for chair most of them favor to at least put up a damn good fight … but frankly it doesn’t look like a genuine “turnaround of the party” is in the cards this year.
And, equally frankly, I think this year may be the radicals’ last chance to salvage the party’s redeeming qualities and keep it even marginally useful as an instrument for the advancement of freedom. Full conversion to the “center right” would make the LP objectively an enemy of liberty.
Wish us luck.