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.