All the same we take our chances
Laughed at by time
Tricked by circumstances
Plus ca change
Plus c'est la meme chose
The more that things change
The more they stay the same
- Circumstances, Rush
The Libertarian Forum, edited by Murray N. Rothbard; February 15, 1970.
In this issue, Rothbard discusses “The Task Ahead”; what comes next for this growing libertarian movement, on what issues should we focus, with whom should we ally?
This forty-seven year old issue offers some good news and some bad news. The good news: the movement (if defined as the existence of several generally libertarian organizations) has grown significantly since then. The bad news: all of the same divisions amongst libertarians remain.
But if we are to concentrate on developing our own organization, then we must be able to deal with divisions among ourselves, for right now we encompass a very wide spectrum from “extreme right” to “extreme left.”
It strikes me that the libertarian movement – given that the non-aggression principle offers what it is against, but inherently cannot offer what it is for – is no different than any other revolutionary movement. Revolutionary movements always find a wide spectrum within the ranks.
Both extreme groups should prepare themselves to settle down, calmly and soberly but with cool and passionate dedication to a thoughtful and protracted lifelong struggle for liberty and against the State.
On the extreme right, Rothbard identifies that this would require abandoning any devotion to the American State, the Constitution, American foreign policy, the military and police; on the extreme left this would require abandoning any capricious urge for immediate action against the state and the tendency to abandon free-market principles.
These were (and are) all appropriate avenues for libertarian theory to be further developed; yet, in hindsight, perhaps this was (and is) too much to ask as a political agenda. And Rothbard does not shy away from politics:
…if, for example, we were faced with a choice of Richard Cobden or Genghis Khan for president, we would surely plunge into the Cobdenite movement with abandon….
I think it cannot be denied that Ron Paul offered a focal point for energy for a generally libertarian movement; I think it also cannot be denied that since he left office this energy has dissipated.
The More Things Stay the Same…
There is nothing to bind libertarians other than adherence (in varying, and sometimes greatly varying, degrees) to the non-aggression principle. This leaves a wide berth for a libertarian to travel. Yet, getting significant numbers behind a wide berth is, perhaps, a bridge too far.
Reading Rothbard’s words from almost five-decades ago suggests that this wide berth is both the reason for the movement’s growth and the reason for its divisions.
Regular readers know I could never make common cause with those who advocate something approaching the full gamut of libertarian possibilities – Walter Block’s Defending the Undefendable provides a menu for a community within which I would never want to live, albeit all allowable under the NAP.
Defending the Defendable
I will offer a menu that I could embrace; a simple menu that will at the same time allow each individual the possibility of finding a cultural and political home. It is a menu that a) has support from a wide array of individuals around the world – libertarian and non-libertarian alike, and b) offers libertarians the possibility to find a home to engage in whatever undefendable practices they like:
o Anti-war / anti-empire
o Political decentralization
That’s it; two things. Something approaching these would be enough for me. I am not suggesting that this list represents a complete libertarian platform; I am merely offering a core – one that, heaven help me, should not be objectionable to any libertarian.
Let’s examine each of these:
Anti-war / anti-empire: in these, every violation of the NAP can be found and certainly the most egregious of violations.
Political decentralization: just because something is defendable in libertarian theory doesn’t mean that every libertarian (and equally so, non-libertarian) would like to defend it. The extreme left and the extreme right each have a better possibility to find a home.
Political decentralization (secession into ever-smaller political units) allows for ever-greater choice – and libertarianism in theory is decentralization in practice.
Two simple things; it doesn’t get much thinner than this, and the thinner the requirements the more people (including non-libertarians) that will fit under the tent. This should be sufficient for libertarians of all stripes to gather around.
Then again, could an individual who rejects one or both of these be considered a libertarian?