Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Libertarian Activism and Compromise

I want to respond to a few comments that came into my post, Thinking About Libertarian Resistance During the Statist Deluge.

The great libertarian radio host Joshua Bennett writes:

Robert, I agree completely. But, we libertarians, do not have to bend or compromise at all, not one bit.

I’ve had a 3 hour Saturday radio show on the air for the past 10 years that I’ve paid the air time for, at times with help from friends, I and my different co-hosts over the years have said from day one, we are Anarchists, Anarcho-Capitalist, libertarians anarchist, and/or volunteerist.

The hate was powerful in the beginning. Especially from Republicans, cause we sounded so “conservative”. But after a few years, people started coming around to being less statist and a little more Jeffersonian let’s say. We have never compromised our Anarchism position, but have spoke to people in terms that they understood as far as statism is concerned. If you have to vote, then please don’t vote for this or that. Recall the governor! The reason being you don’t need to be governed. But if you feel you need to be then this isn’t the kind of representation you want. Then we will talk about Locke, Jefferson, de La Boetie, or Bastiat.

Then contrast them with Hoppe and Rothbard.

Have Wenzel and Daniel McAdams on the program, as well as Lew, Block and Deist.

Fast forward to now, and our callers are on board. 

 RW response:

This is great work by Joshua.

His radio show is promoting hardcore libertarianism and this is important.

But in terms of compromise, there are two important things to understand. "Transitional demands" should not be written off.

As Murray Rothbard wrote in his unpublished strategy paper:

Are “transitional demands,” steps toward liberty in practice, necessarily illegitimate? No…How, then, can we know whether any halfway measure or transitional demand should be hailed as a step forward or condemned as an opportunistic betrayal? There are two vitally important criteria for answering this crucial question: (1) that, whatever the transitional demands, the ultimate end of liberty be always held aloft as the desired goal; and (2) that no steps or means ever explicitly or implicitly contradict the ultimate goal.

In chapter 1 of  Strictly Confidential: The Private Volker Fund Memos of Murray N. Rothbard, edited by David Gordon), we have this from Rothbard:

 The hardcore man is working for his idea on two levels:
in a “popular” or “united” front for limited libertarian goals, and to
try to influence his colleagues as well as the masses in the direction
of the total system. (This is the essence of the much-misunderstood
Leninist theory of “infiltration.”)

The effective centrist avoids the pitfalls of “opportunism” by
keeping the objective firmly in view, and, in particular, by never
acting in a manner, or speaking in a manner, inconsistent with the full
libertarian position.
 To be inconsistent in the name of “practicality” is
to betray the libertarian position itself, and is worthy of the utmost

So you don't compromise in advancing libertarianism but there is nothing wrong with focusing the masses in just the direction of liberty on certain topics when it may not be possible to convince the masses of all libertarian positions. 

As Ludwig von Mises wrote in a paper, "The Roles of Doctrine in Society":

Only a small elite has the ability to absorb more refined chains of thought. Most people are simply helpless when faced with the more subtle problems of implicit implication or valid inference. They cannot grasp but the primary prepositions of reckoning...It is useless to try to make them familiar with thorny problems and with theories thought out for their solution. They simplify ammend in a clumsy way what they hear or read. They garble and misrepresent propositions and conclusions. They transform every theory and doctrine in order to adapt it to their level of intelligence.

Push where you can but also for many we have to keep it to very simple propositions.

And as far as politics and compromise is concerned, we should not forget what Mises wrote in his memoirs:

In science, compromise is a betrayal of truth. But compromise is essential in politics, where results can oftentimes only be achieved through the reconciliation of conflicting views. Science is an accomplishment of the individual, and not, by definition, a collaborative effort. Politics is always a collaboration of men and often means compromise.

What Joshua is doing on his radio show is extremely important but he is at the vanguard talking to those who can grasp beyond a slogan. As Hayek might say, he is high on the pyramid of second hand dealers in ideas talking to others who are lower on the second-hand dealers pyramid, but still far from the masses that Mises refrences.

The Napster writes: 

-- RW, what you say makes sense, but you seem to have taken the opposite view when it comes to secession. As I recall during the 2017 Catalonian secession discussions, you said that secession is not always good as it could lead to more authoritarianism. But why wouldn't you make the same point as you did above, namely, that secession is a warning to politicians that there is a mad population out there (but that the population would need to remain vigilant even with the new state)?

RW response:

I see all political movements and forms of government as tools. Remember, I am against all of them in an ideal society (see: Foundations of Private Property Society Theory: Anarchism for the Civilized Person).

Since secession is just a political tool and change in the form of governmen is also just a tool, I look at what secession would mean in its totality in a given situation. The 2017 Catalonian secessionists were hardcore statists. Why would I cheer on a move that would expand statism?

 Tom Mullen makes some valuable comments:

I think the first reality we have to accept is that there is not a large, critical mass of people, not even a significant minority, that wants to reduce the scope of government. We constantly talk as if this constituency exists and it doesn't. I'm not sure what to do about it, but until that changes, then even building coalitions is kind of pointless, because the people we are collaborating with have opposite ends.

RW response:

Yes, we are a small minority and it is important not to talk as if a large constituency exits. It doesn't and I don't believe I ever claim it does.

But, it is never the masses that are at the core of any revolution. It is always a small hardcore group. The thinkers and the plotters, the rest just follow along.

The evil power seekers understand this. It is because they are only seeking power that it is easy for them to adopt the simple slogans that the masses will follow. Libertarians, in many ways, are like the geeks of political movements. We understand enormous complex thinking, which is extremely important and must be continued on a high level to capture other complex thinkers, but it has to be kept simple to win over the masses.

Since we are complex thinkers, we don't think like the masses and it is often best to just watch where they are developing some kind of resistance and co-opt those movements in the direction of greater resistance and, at the same time, bring as many of them as we can toward a broader appreciation of the value of liberty.

Finally, Alex Zougle makes an excellent point:

Newsom has been running for POTUS since his reign over Californians began. Sending him down the Grey Davis path sends a signal to all would be tyrants that the masses are not as deaf dumb and blind as we often seem to be. The likes of Newsom may not seem to be as bad as the worst tyrants in history but that is only due to the constraints put on him. If he were allowed to get away with what he desires he would be right up there with the Mussolini’s of the world. Recalling the bastard is not just a recall of Newsome but a message to all would be tyrants that there is still some semblance of freedom remaining in the USA even in California.



  1. I think it makes sense, given our limited numbers, energy and resources, to tailor our efforts and policy-prescriptions for less government, to specific situations and events "evolving on the ground": When a George Floyd is killed by cops, we join forces with a BLM movement---not to agitate for defunding of cops, or burning-down high-end neighborhoods---but to bring attention to the need for ending Qualified-Immunity for cops, or the sensibility of requiring cops to carry personal liability insurance. When state economies are being crushed by knee-jerk policy-responses by Governors to Covid-19 deaths, we steer momentum and focus away from blanket, unspecific demands for "drastically-reduced government" or for Federal bail-outs as a means of "solving" the ill-effects, and instead toward calls prophylactic measures in the way of calls for science-based policy decisions, and for decentralized power away from autocratic Governors wielding plenary power and instead toward decentralized power from the legislative branch.
    I agree with the Rothbardian approach, that half-measures are perfectly legitimate and principled, if all the while we're moving in the direction of more individual liberty.

    1. Well said. This doesn’t require any compromise of ones convictions and it is real life. No theory for people to figure out. Just, this is wrong. A friend of mine here has gone to a couple BLM rally’s here in Fairbanks with a “end qualified immunity” sign. The only sign of its kind at the rallies. And it got the attention of the media and they interviewed him for tv.