When you are young, have few resources of your own, and you are still living at home, most of us want out. We want to be able to fend for ourselves, fight our own battles, make our own way in the world, and most of all, get away from the “tight shoes” of the old ways of our parents, and find out for ourselves how the world works. Some of us go back, unwilling to take the risks or deal with the discrimination against the young (or minorities), or perhaps even unwilling or unable to put in the time required to make a go of a real job that will provide for a new home, a family perhaps, and a secure future.
There always comes a point that my Dad used to call “fish or cut bait” where a decision has to be made. Are we adults or are we always going to be living in our parent's basement (or condo, or wherever) in a state of dependence?
I believe that the Libertarian Party is at just such a crossroads.
Back in the olden days (the seventies, when you could walk on an airplane and actually enjoy the experience), a group of principled folks got sick and tired of the wandering ways (away from the Constitution, and into the ways of force) of the Republican Party, and despaired of how to fix it. They talked about what was the right thing to do instead, and talked about the core principles of government and liberty and decided to make a new party dedicated to those principles, the Libertarian Party.
Since then, this new party has been going through all the struggles that any new entity has to endure: defining the mission, putting together leadership that can get along, finding funding sources, figuring out how to present themselves and their mission to the public, etc., with limited success, in a country that's been pushed to the limits of bipolar politics by two major parties in a long-standing duel which has become more important to them than the citizens they “serve.”
And, surprisingly, given its modest beginnings, Libertarianism has started to take hold, with more and more young people seeing it as a sensible approach to keeping America in touch with its guiding principles, and also as a home for those who don't like politics (the “art” of making others do what you want) that pushes and threatens and tries to scare people into being pliant.
Each major party has the goal of getting everyone else to “see” their worldview (and push it upon them regardless if they don't see it), and consolidating power so that their minions can get re-elected ad nauseum, and that seem to be all that counts anymore in major party politics. It's still the same old “party machine” politics, but the tools are different and a great deal more sophisticated.
So much more is known now about how people think, what motivates, them, what makes them insecure, and more importantly, what makes them open their wallets, that politics has truly become a form of psychological warfare. And if all else fails, there's always the old chestnut: Scare 'em until they want to run and hide behind you – you'll get their votes.
The list of books that have been written (primarily for the marketing and politico audiences) purely to help with the task of manipulating ones fellow man is impressive. From the ancient Chinese “Art of War,” to the Third Reich's favorite, “Propaganda,” to the National Bestseller “The 48 Laws of Power,” you could fill a notebook with a list in 9 point type of the titles alone, all of them dealing with how you get other people to do what you want them to do – regardless of the dictionary definition, this is the true definition of politics.
The days when politics was the study of how to serve the body politic are over. Now it's just a matter of finding ways to successfully manipulate it. Which brings us to the problem of Libertarian politics.
To many minds, Libertarianism is just plain “old school.” Libertarians want to figure out how to provide the basic services (and only the basic services) that were intended by the Constitution to be provided by government, without resorting to force, allowing the talents and imagination of individuals to do as they have always done, be the driving force of economic progress and freedom. In an era where “force” no longer applies in the same context, or I should say, where it applies in many contexts, the most important being the psychological battle between the ears, where this country's political struggles are now being played out, this seems hopelessly old fashioned, and doomed to failure. The real concern, however, is simply that in an environment where people are free to do as they wish, as long as they cause no harm to others, there is no way to guarantee a power base. There is no way to maintain control of one party over a long enough period of time to enforce ideological agendas.
But force, in the end, is usually futile. Most folks would agree on the traditional definition of force: I pull out a gun and ask you to give me money, even though I've done nothing for it other than threaten your life. I suppose that a true Communist might argue that if you have more money than he has, you should have offered it to him anyway, since you must have earned it through some capitalist plot. Still, everyone knows that a world in which force prevails is not a world in which one can make a satisfying life. Ask anyone who's ever lived in a war zone.
Most people have their doubts about the value of war. If you go to someone's country, kill part of their population (regardless of how evil they may have been, the un-guilty are bound to be casualties as well: families and children), if you demand that they stop whatever evil thing they are doing, set up a new government to bring “democracy,” there are still those that insist on believing, that the people at the other end of the muzzle will be grateful, feel that their previous problems have all been solved, and their lives have a new and wholesome meaning. Those who believe that using this kind of military might can be successful have never studied history, and have never seen war up close, nor have their countries been bombed or invaded.
War is the ugliest part of humanity on display, and force is its ultimate expression, and if there is good done, it comes after years of pain and suffering, both on the part of those who have been bombed and shot, who have had to rebuild their homes, families and cities, and on the part of those brave soldiers who put themselves in harms way, and who suffer unimaginable pain and loss, at the will of the Commander in Chief.
Even the pseudo wars (although they aren't too fake to the folks in the gun sights of the officers of the law) like the “War on Drugs” or the “War on Poverty” have their share of casualties. As our efforts to force people to stop using drugs have ramped up, so have the number of young people whose potential success in life has been beaten into the ground because they had one joint and got caught. The number of folks caught in the cross-fire while rival gangs vie for the lucrative drug money made even more lucrative by risk and scarcity grows, and money that could have been collected if drugs were legalized (keeping the thugs out of the loop) constantly flows into the ground in the hopeless task of trying to control a black market.
But now the wars are multiplying. Those who will not tow the line and who are any sort of threat to use must worry that we will (no matter what the cost in debt for future generations) come after them militarily. Wars are also morphing into the ideological realm. Around the globe we are seeing signs that the use of psychological tools has been increasing everywhere, and the new tools of force are becoming religion and psychology. The marketeer, the candidate and the religious leader are all using psychological leverage to sell their products to the public, in some countries selling violence and self immolation along with them, and the public, unaware that this form of “force” even exists, unwittingly eats it up, and keeps wondering why nothing ever changes. But they are getting smarter, and more and more people are seeing the patterns, and rejecting them.
As the Libertarian Party grew and developed, and the discussions went on about how successful economies work, why regulation causes problems in a free market, and how to keep within the bounds of the Constitution, one principle kept coming up again and again. The major problems all focused around “initiation of force” for social and political ends. Politicians forced everyone to pay money in the form of taxes, picking winners and losers in the economy by awarding grants and threatening to take them away when their new dependents didn't want to play the game their way. Businesses were forced to worry about what political agenda would keep them from growing their businesses, as new regulations made it harder for the little business owner while protecting the interests of those corporations with enough cash flow to invest in political campaigns. People began to feel that the customers were only there to provide income, not to demand quality services and products, and that government had been “bought and paid for,” and would not protect or defend them against overbearing corporate agendas.
When the LP first began, the ex-Republicans who formed the core of Libertarian political thought, may have assumed that when their old party saw how much better their view of what should happen was, the Republicans would get their act together and then all those Libertarians could return. The Republicans themselves always saw the Libertarians as wayward elements that would return to the fold at some future time.
But something unforseen happened. The Libertarian Party has become something greater than expected. While people are still not necessarily voting Libertarian, they have learned to see beyond the maneuverings of the major parties, to see where “force” is applied and how they are being herded, and they begin to understand that unless freedoms are preserved, America, as intended by its founders, cannot survive. The folks who started the Libertarian Party didn't understand just how many people outside the Republican Party would hear the message of freedom and respond.
Suddenly, a lot more people began to understand the concept of non-initiation of force, and they weren't all Republicans. When Mary Ruwart wrote a book “Healing Our World in an Age of Aggression” that made the concepts of Libertarianism clear from the viewpoint of the Left, there was a response. Democrats who opposed war, who felt individual freedom was being squelched by an overbearing right-wing Republican administration, read it and began to understand how the principle could be applied elsewhere, even to changing views on nanny-style programs, and some became Libertarians.
Then others, who saw the principles related to individual freedom and keeping government out of people's wallets and bedrooms, who weren't really members of any party, saw the light and became Libertarians, and more followed suit after the crackdowns on freedom that occurred after 9/11 and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Suddenly, those in the core Libertarian leadership realized they were becoming surrounded by folks who weren't ever going back to the Republican Party, even if the Republican Party decided to return to the values it had back in the 60's when it was still palatable to those who began the Libertarian Party in the first place. While the failures of force in social engineering convinced some Liberals that a nanny-state couldn't work, Libertarianism clearly supported the concept of freedom of choice, and respect for all people, regardless of race, color, or sexual preference. Democrats and Independents also responded to the Libertarian stance on separation of Church and State at a time when the Republicans were courting the churches for votes.
Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for. Wishing for people as a whole to become aware of the concept of initiation of force is really what caused all of this to happen. Success can be terrifying. With a little help from some over-eager security procedures, the Patriot Act and other legislation taking public money for private use, Libertarian views suddenly made sense to a lot more people, but they still weren't necessarily ready to vote for Libertarians, especially in states where they weren't even on the ballot. There was a sense that Libertarians were more principled, and if they just could win a few elections, people would see them as successful enough to vote for them on a regular basis.
In the meantime, the Democrats have learned all of the sneaky maneuvers to get bills passed in the dead of night, the manipulation of Roberts Rules of Order to limit full discussion, and other cute tricks from the Republicans, and the Republicans have learned from the Democrats the skills needed to play to specific minority groups, and the hot-button topics guaranteed to create emotional, rather than intellectual responses to legislation. Both have learned to use fear to get what they want, and both have been found to be ethically-challenged when in office.
Now the Libertarians are starting to look like more of an option. But ironically, now that the Republican Party has been thoroughly disabused of its Neo-Con ambitions, those ex-Republicans who have been Libertarians for a long time, who see hope in the new GOP, along with Republicans who want to bring the GOP back to its original integrity, would really, really like to see the Libertarians merge themselves back into the Republican Party and are working hard to push for that end.
Republicans are asking Libertarian candidates to drop out of races to help GOP candidates win, asking Libertarians to register as Republicans and abandon their third party ambitions “to get elected” and have done everything in their power to take credit for groups (many non-partisan completely) who oppose the policies of the current administration. One little problem. Many of these groups finally see that both major parties are using “initiation of force” on a regular basis, and that, not the left/right, conservative/liberal paradigm, is what's driving the indignation.
But the understanding of the futility of force in human affairs can come from either side of the left/right ideological divide. I think there is actually a case to be made that the Democratic Left is “right-brained” (more emotionally-engaged, caring less about the math and very distrustful of those who make a lot of money, but supportive of personal choice and freedoms), the Republican Right is “left-brained “(all math and economics, less concern for social freedoms, focused on wealth creation, and distrustful of excessive individuality). It almost seems the Libertarians are the “corpus callosum” (that area where the left and right brains connect and communicate in order to balance the brain) able to process signals from both sides of the brain, and see America as a place where economic freedom and individual freedom can exist side by side, without force.
Now that our message is finally gaining ground, and getting traction in so many areas (even to the point where national TV hosts are having their viewers take the Nolan Chart smallest political quiz) why would the Libertarian Party consider, even for a brief moment, returning to its roots in the Republican Party? The old cartoon phrase “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory” comes to mind.
What the Libertarian Party does have is a built-in set of checks and balances that neither of the major parties have, since they've adopted a completely top-down model. Our members who came from the Left will ensure that the Libertarian Party will not ignore its principles related to individual freedom to live ones life without interference from the government, will keep us clear on the value of Separation of Church and State, will insist that other solutions to war be found, and will remind us that even with a free market, those who defraud others or harm the environment should be punished for harming others. Our members who came from the Right will ensure that the Libertarian Party always remembers that without economic freedom, many of our other freedoms are lost, that smaller government prevents others from trying to control it, that it matters how much something costs if you have to “force” others to pay taxes to make it happen, and that trying to control markets only leads to disaster.
We have all the elements we need for checks and balances within the party than either of the major parties, and while that makes us a bit more obstreperous and prone to having long and complex discussions about what the right thing to do is, the Libertarian Party is, as we should be, something entirely new and different from the GOP and the Democrats, and something decidedly better. As the bumpersticker says, “I think, therefore I am Libertarian.” And more people are thinking, and what they see in our current political landscape is corruption, demagoguery and manipulation, and they want something better.
If the Libertarians give up and return to the GOP, they will be giving up a great deal, both in their principles and in their dreams of a more principled American society. The GOP has not yet abandoned its courting of religion, nor its refusal to defend the rights of people to live the lives they choose as long as they cause no harm to others. It truly believes that after taking the economy to its knees that it bears no responsibility, and now magically has all the answers to fix it. Why would we think of attaching our destiny to that soon-to-nova star?
The discontent with the two major parties will remain, because the American people do see now that they are being manipulated and “forced” in ways they had not previously understood, but if the LP bails, the people will not have a third party to turn to that can assure them they have principles beyond just the next election cycle.
The LP is like the adult child who's ready to move into the world and make its mark. Maybe it will make some mistakes (God knows the major parties have had their share), but for success there must be work and risk and determination to stand alone. Parents hope for a better life for their children, that they can become independent, learn new things, surpass what the parents themselves have been able to do, and give hope to the future.
Moving back into the GOP basement would be a clear sign that the Libertarian Party has failed our destiny, and that we've failed the American people. Pushing back against the considerable forces arrayed against us is hard, but the rewards are many and satisfying to the soul. As Gandhi said “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win.” We're in stage three, and every interest vested in the two party duopoly wants us to fail, but if we hold to principles and hang on, all we have to lose is victory.