Having libertarian views and living according to libertarian principles are two quite different things. The first is relatively easy, the second, much less so.
There are many people who object to others exercising power over them and interfering with how they wish to live their lives, but it is much more difficult to allow others freedom and to refuse to take power over them. Yet, in my view, the latter is as necessary as the former for a libertarian.
And since most organisations operate through hierarchical power structures there is often little room within them for libertarians. Sometimes we will compromise our instincts out of self interest, for example in order to work and earn money, but, unless it is clear that to do so is to his material advantage, it is unusual for a libertarian to voluntarily submit to the dictation of his thoughts and actions by another.
Understanding the above largely explains the failure, because abject failure it has been, of the Libertarian Party since its inception. But we must now look to the future and it seems, from the proposals put forward for reform of the party, that there have been two quite clear paths identified.
The response articulated in the articles from Gavin Webb and Max Andronichuk can be summarised as arguing to replace the sadly flawed edifice that had been exposed with another, more disciplined, structure. This is described as being less centralised but it still features a clear hierarchy of decision making and a central NCC command. Indeed, the prescription seems often to be about increased levels of control rather than greater freedom from it.
- The NCC dictating local party constitutions.
- No open policy discussions- even the social networks to be moderated.
- The NCC dictating selection rules.
- Policy proposals to be finally approved by the NCC Policy Director in the interests of “consistency”.
- The NCC overseeing local finances and taking half the money, from which officers are entitled to claim expenses.
- No leader or NCC.
- Specific fund raising for projects.
- Multi party membership permitted.
- Organic development of policy.
- The party as a vehicle for libertarians to run for election.
I have no doubt that both sides will come to the forthcoming Special General Meeting with specific constitutional amendments to try to steer the party in a direction that will fulfill their objectives. Once these proposals have been voted on, the party officers, if there are to be such, will be elected.
But, it seems to me, that the difference between the two sides is exemplified by their attitude to debate. Following all the recent implosion there was an immediate and instinctive clamour for debate to be shut down at all costs and even, if necessary, for the truth to be concealed.
In my view, the whole debate conducted by members of the NCC regarding what had happened should not have been conducted in secret but should have been in the public domain, with everyone clearly accountable for all their words and actions. Catharsis only occurs when conflict between different points of view is allowed to take place and the notion that we suppress such conflict in the interest of some fake togetherness is never going to be acceptable to most libertarians.
Admittedly, part of the reason for first moderating and then closing down comment on the website has been to protect innocent parties from the (highly unlikely) possibility of legal action but, I have to say, that I sensed, as it happened, it was more than that. There was a tangible sense of relief among some that had we stopped presenting ourselves to the world as a party racked with division and acrimony.
But the fact is that we were divided, and the instinct to prevent our members and supporters from articulating their outrage by shutting down debate was, in my view, a betrayal of libertarian principles. Why did we seek to lie to the world about what had happened? And why, in the future, should we seek to conceal debate in some private forum?
As I said at the beginning, libertarians are not only identifiable by their expressed views but also by the way in which they conduct their affairs. We need to begin to act like libertarians.
Image by Faizal Omar