The Way Libertarians Should Get Involved in Politics.

 

Libertarian prodigy Adam Kokesh and the Anarcho-capitalist ‘zen master’ Larkin Rose have clashed recently and very publically. The reason these two well-known figures have had a heated exchange is over Adam Kokesh’s decision to run for ‘non-president’ of the united states in the next US general election.

My summary of the debate is as follows: Adam Kokesh wants to spread the message of liberty in the political sphere by running for president. Whereas, Larkin Rose believes that by simply taking part in the electoral process you justify the inertia of the government. On his blog, Larkin Rose has gone as far as calling Adam Kokesh a pompous fool in what he sees as a delusional campaign that will have no real results.

The discussion is very interesting to me because it reflects a shift in my own personal position on this issue. If you would have asked me a year ago which person I would have supported, I would undoubtedly have told you that I side with Larkin Rose. His logic makes sense; by engaging with the political system, you justify the state. Furthermore, he is right when he when he critiques of Adam Kokesh’s idea that you could even have a ‘non-president’ as insane. It would be highly illegal for someone to simply sign a document saying ‘I hereby abolish the government’. Throughout the discussion, Rose sticks to his guns by saying the transition from our current situation to a free society should be by ‘walking away from the state’.

However, my opinion has begun to shift. It sounds obvious but trying to engage with people politically in areas other than politics is rather difficult. Outside overtly libertarian circles trying to convince ordinary people to buy Bitcoin, stop voting for political parties and purchase a copy of Human Action is extremely challenging. This agorist rationale reminds me of a talk I went to about the British Missionary David Livingstone. Despite travelling widely across Africa, learning how to converse with the Africans he encountered, being a celebrity in Britain and having significant imperial support. He is said to only ever have converted one African to Christianity. Clearly, trying to enact change by persuading one individual at a time is an enormous task.

But what about the idea of a libertarian revolution? This is perhaps more realistic, there has been lots of enthusiasm around the attempt to create a libertarian(ish) enclave in Liberland and I have lost count of how many articles I have read about ‘sea-steads’. Yet, there are still good reasons to be sceptical about such an event. If there was indeed going to be a libertarian revolution, then there would already be audible murmurs of libertarianism reverberating around the country. Historically, revolutions or even protests tend to be flashes of anger that are picked up and channelled by more ideologically committed enterprises.  For example, (probably) the most successful organised protest group in the UK The Stop the War Coalition are able to hold massive demonstrations on a regular basis that have an effect on government policy. This isn’t because of their members wholesale swallow the ideological direction of the organisers, but because they work tirelessly to make sure that when there is anger, they have something ready to go.

It stands to reason then, that perhaps the most crucial issue with libertarianism (particularly here in the UK) is that we are disorganised. Libertarianism is a minority position. Therefore, unless people would be prepared to suffer a massive wage drop, it is understandable that we tend not to be full-time career radicals in the way that many Stop the War organisers are. All of the libertarians I have had the opportunity to meet are normal working people first and libertarians second. Again, this is understandable but it does mean that we suffer a severe organisation deficit. By the time we are organised any potential wave of indignation will have been and gone. I presume that there are clever ways to get around the fact that there are no full-time libertarians coordinating a potential action, but I have yet to see them.

To my mind, the worst idea that I come across is the ‘wait and see’ option. The idea that we should wait a few hundred years and wait for libertarianism to become popular on its own is nonsense. Forget politics, nobody has ever achieved anything by this logic. And if they have it is only the case in retrospect.

Although I sympathise with Larkin Rose and admire his patience. Although I am very much against the idea that any cultural shift can be imposed from above, I think that simply refusing to engage in politics is a mistake. My position on this issue has recently shifted in a more politics friendly direction. But the dark realm of established politics is far from risk-free.

The perils of getting involved with the political system present us with similarly enormous problems.There are several good reasons why this may not be the best course or action for libertarians. The first and the most obvious is that the odds of us ever winning an election are minuscule. It is understandable that come election time, many people who may wish to support us will vote for one of the more established political parties. In fact, some more committed and practically minded folk may make the decision that it would be better to get involved with a more established party and try to turn it in a more libertarian direction from the inside. So it is clear that under our current electoral system, competing in mainstream politics would be very difficult. And that doesn’t look like it will be changing anytime soon.

But there is an easier way to build a following in mainstream politics. And that is by putting forward policies that are widely popular rather than principled. In fact, politics is often a delicate balance between sticking to one’s ideals and doing what is expedient. This is in itself a problem. By competing in the bear pit of politics libertarians will inevitably need to appear palatable to the general public. Furthermore, there will come a point where individual libertarians will be expected drop discussions about ideology and start talking about strategy. This will not be an easy shift to make. Why bother engaging in politics just to have your ideals diluted when you can stay out of things and spread ideas another way? There are no easy answers to this question, hence why many libertarians stay out of politics.

We should also consider the cost of getting involved in politics. Unlike a business venture there are considerable financial and time commitments attached to politics. Money will need to be raised, weekends spent campaigning and countless hours will need to be spent organising things. And what will come of it? Probably nothing. Getting a political party off the ground can take decades of commitment and sacrifice. No wonder lots of people think we should just bypass the established political system altogether.

As previously stated Larkin Rose is correct in his assertion that Adam Kokesh’s dream of abolishing the state is impossible, the government does not work that way. But in the debate Kokesh makes it clear that he does not expect to win, he merely just wants to highjack the political system to spread the ideas of libertarianism. In my opinion, there is something in this.

It sounds simplistic but mainstream politics is the language that most people use to talk about how to change the world. When I turn on my TV and watch Question Time, I expect to hear about politics. Whereas when I watch Countryfile I do not. Having spent the past four years as a libertarian I have noticed a lack of libertarians in our national debate. By refusing to engage with the political system at all we are locking ourselves out of it.

Most political debates (to use a polite term for it) I see on social media are rarely intense philosophical discussions. They are about people, policies and parties. If we remain outside the mainstream, we will remain outside the consciousness of most people. They will have no reference point for libertarianism, and we do not become part of the political lexicon.

To use an analogy: when everybody else is conversing in English we are speaking Japanese. Indeed some people can understand Japanese, but they are few in number outside a core of native speakers. Instead of trying to get others to learn our language, it’s time we started talking English.

This does not mean that we should abandon discussing ideas and trading opinions with each other, far from it. If you visit the social media pages of most British socialist organisations you will see that they bitterly amongst themselves about the real interpretation of some obscure paragraph in Das Kapital whilst still having a profound, and growing impact on our political landscape; how do they do it? The answer is easy, they play the game.

It is my belief that as libertarians we should be more willing to ‘play the game’. However, there is a middle ground to be reached here. If we abandon principles in favour of practicality then we would all join the Conservative party. Not a good idea in my book. Yet, if we put all principles over any sense of expediency then we go nowhere. There are practical things we can do that would introduce libertarianism to the British Public that don’t compromise what libertarianism stands for.Clearly, we must find a way of engaging with the political mainstream, without becoming absorbed by it.

I have ended this article guilty of doing something that I hate; claiming that people should ‘do something’ but not articulating what exactly I mean by that. There will be a follow-up post tomorrow outlining some things people could actually do.

 

  3 comments for “The Way Libertarians Should Get Involved in Politics.

  1. Paul Marks
    Apr 24, 2018 at 11:13 am

    The state does not need people to get involved in order to be “justified” – contrary to David Hume, government does not depend on “opinion”, it depends on the threat of violence.

    For example most people (the Christian peasants in the provinces – and even most ordinary towns people) had a dim view of the various French Revolutionary regimes, but as these regimes were utterly ruthless and well organised (slaughtering anyone who opposed them) the opinion of most people just did not matter.

    Should a person who wants lower taxes and less spending and regulations get involved in politics – well, unless you have a big army to back you, yes you should. Although it can indeed be a very frustrating process.

    Julius Caesar could ignore the Senate and “cross the Rubicon” to impose his own policies on Rome (a new calendar and so on), but he had a big army. If you do not have military force to back you – then you had better get into the Senate and convince other Senators with your arguments.

  2. Apr 24, 2018 at 10:18 pm

    You don’t have to compromise. You can accept the constraints but work harder within them to find ideas that work.
    http://libertarianhome.co.uk/2016/11/marketable-ethical-libertarian-policy/

  3. Nico Metten
    Apr 26, 2018 at 12:53 pm

    Forget all the moral arguments about voting. Not that they don’t matter, but they are more personal. The real problem with libertarians getting involved in politics is that it is confusing cause and effect. As you seem to realise, politics is a popularity contest. Politicians will say what they think is popular. The current government went from being pro EU to being un-compromised on Brexit over night. They perceived popular opinion to be against their originally held views, and so they changed them.

    It makes no sense to try to play the political game before libertarianism is popular. The popularity needs to come first and then we can use the system to change things. But when opinion changes everyone who want to be in politics will have to be a libertarian. So no libertarian party or labels will be needed. It does not work the other way around.

    Using the political system to change opinions is interesting and can work. Ron Paul has shown how effective this can be. But the big problem with that strategy is, the person who is doing it, will have to be incorruptible. Politics, however, corrupts. That means, people in politics are pressured to change their views in order to continue playing the game. But if you change your views in order to continue to play the game, you effectively abandon the promotion strategy. The reason why Ron Paul worked was, because he never compromised on anything and always said exactly what he believed. As a consequence, he never achieved anything in politics, but he converted a lot of people to libertarianism. But these type of people are rare. Most people are corrupt, and then you are wasting your time.

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