Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A letter to a disillusioned Republican

A Republican wrote me long ago,
I wanted to tell you that I bought Liberty the other day. I enjoyed many of the articles. The magazine sure does bash government, playing no favorites with any party. Some of the pieces, especially some of the letters, had too much of a pro-anarchy slant to them for my taste. It is true that our government has become too intrusive, to the point of denying the people liberties. That has to change. But I still think our system is not flawed and there is a need for government. A society without government would be nothing less than chaotic, with no means to protect the people's liberties when some tried to seek the natural desire for power. Anyway, I did enjoy reading the magazine and tend to feel as disillusioned with the Republican candidates as many of the authors. They are all old, long-time politicians who are in their positions because they have excelled at "playing the game".

I responded with this letter,
The mainstream among libertarians (classical liberals, market liberals... ) in a tradition that stretches back through liberalism of the 1800's, whiggism of the 1700's, and the leveller movement of the 1600's is one characterized not by antipathy to government, but rather to oppression. Allow me to quote from an anonymous tract of the English "levellers" who were influenced by the Anabaptist movement which began in the 1500's
The King, I confesse, has reason to cry out upon the A[n]abaptists, because he knowes them to be enemies not of Government, but oppression in Government, and all those who intend to oppresse in any manner, ought, if they will be true to themselves to doe so too; for the Anabaptists are oppressions enemies, whoever be the oppressours.
The Compassionate Samaritane (1646)
The anabaptist movement contained a full spectrum with regard to the oppression they saw, from the violent Munsterites to the civil Levellers to the pacifist Mennonites. The first of these did their best to discredit all of Anabaptism by their violent anarchy. The latter, as earlier Christians did, successfully protested oppression with their nonresistant martyrdom. The Levellers found middle ground in their patient and civil resistance acting to reform government through petitioning and constitutionalism, setting an example for those a century later and an ocean apart. Compare these words from the Leveller and Anabaptist Richard Overton to those of Jefferson 130 years later
For by natural birth all men are equal, ... born to like propriety, liberty and freedom, and as we are delivered of God by the hand of nature into this world, every one with a natural innate freedom and propriety, ... even so we are to live, every one equally ... to enjoy his birthright and privilege, even all whereof God by nature hath made him free .... Every man by nature being a king, priest, prophet, in his own natural circuit and compass, whereof no second may partake but by deputation, commission, and free consent from him whose right and freedom it is.
Richard Overton (1646) - An Arrow Against All Tyrants
...The web offers a medium whereby articles may be clarified by links to lexicons where terms may be defined as the writer understands them and to other articles that allow for the more depth depending on the interest and strength of the reader.

For example, ... the term 'libertarian' I would link to an article written some four decades ago by Dean Russell of the Foundation of Economic Education
Here is a suggestion: Let those who love liberty trade-mark and reserve for our own use the good and honorable word "libertarian."

Webster's New International Dictionary defines a libertarian as "one who holds to the doctrine of free will; also, one who upholds the principles of liberty, esp. individual liberty of thought and action."

In popular terminology, a libertarian is the opposite of an authoritarian. Strictly speaking, a libertarian is one who rejects the idea of using violence or the threat of violence—legal or illegal—to impose his will or viewpoint upon any peaceful person. Generally speaking, a libertarian is one who wants to be governed far less than he is today.
  • A libertarian believes that the government should protect all persons equally against external and internal aggression, but should otherwise generally leave people alone to work out their own problems and aspirations.

    While a libertarian expects the government to render equal protection to all persons against outright fraud and misrepresentation, he doesn't expect the government to protect anyone from the consequences of his own free choices. A libertarian holds that persons who make wise choices are entitled to enjoy the fruits of their wisdom, and that persons who make unwise choices have no right to demand that the government reimburse them for their folly.

  • A libertarian expects his government to establish, support, and enforce the decisions of impartial courts of justice—courts which do not recognize or refer to a person's race, religion, or economic status. If justice is to be rendered, the decisions of these courts must be as binding upon government officials and their actions as upon other persons and their actions.

  • A libertarian respects the right of every person to use and enjoy his honestly acquired property—to trade it, to sell it, or even to give it away—for he knows that human liberty cannot long endure when that fundamental right is rejected or even seriously impaired.

  • A libertarian believes that the daily needs of the people can best be satisfied through the voluntary processes of a free and competitive market. And he holds the strong belief that free persons, using their own honestly acquired money, are in the best possible position to understand and aid their fellow men who are in need of help.

  • A libertarian favors a strictly limited form of government with many checks and balances—and divisions of authority—to foil abuses of the fearful power of government. And generally speaking, he is one who sees less, rather than more, need to govern the actions of others.

  • A libertarian has much faith in himself and other free persons to find maximum happiness and prosperity in a society wherein no person has the authority to force any other peaceful person to conform to his viewpoints or desires in any manner. His way of life is based on respect for himself and for all others.

  • A libertarian doesn't advocate violent rebellion against prevailing governments—except as a last resort before the concentration camps. But when a libertarian sees harm rather than good in certain acts of government, he is obligated to try his best to explain to others who advocate these measures why such compulsory means cannot bring the ends which even they desire.

  • The libertarian's goal is friendship and peace with his neighbors at home and abroad.
Dean Russell (1958) - Who is a libertarian?
David Nolan, founder of the Libertarian Party in the early '70s, would, according to a recent article of his, not call anyone a libertarian who supported a flat income tax as opposed to a sales tax or his preferred tax, a property tax. This is absurd and shows the effects of prolonged partisanship....

Look to the Cato Institute for the mainstream. Its founders originally were active in the Libertarian Party but realized it was going nowhere (according to a recent Wall St. Journal article). They use the term "market liberalism" to describe their political orientation. I highly recommend their recently published "Cato Handbook for Congress". Former Minnesota Congressman Tim Penny just became a fellow there.

Cato has been touting the national sales tax, too, which is anathema to my mind. What is important is finding sources of information that share a reverence for the spirit of liberty....
The real friends of the Union are those,

Who are friends to the authority of the people, the sole foundation on which the Union rests.

Who are friends to liberty, the great end, for which the Union was formed.

Who are friends to the limited and republican system of government, the means provided by that authority, for the attaining of that end.
James Madison (1792) - The Union

I wrote the letter above after leaving the Libertarian Party in the mid-90's, entering the political wilderness where "none of the above" received most of my votes, as the Libertarian Party seemed to offer zero-tax nonsense.

Recently I've been reconsidering joining if only the party could disentangle itself successfully from the anarchists, from those who would use libertarian dreams to fuel anarchic primevalism. Liberty, paired with constitutional power, is not a stopping point on the "freedom train" of the anarchists, as they would like to portray it. Libertarians and anarchists are camps opposed. Now if they want the name "libertarian" now, just as others wanted the good name "liberal" and destroyed it, fine. That's life. The ideas remain.

The ideas of liberty and our Constitution need our support now, whatever we call them. We have little time. This is a defining moment, November 2008. Call us "pirates" for all I care. The Levellers adopted a label of opprobrium. Just let us call ourselves something we can rally around. I'm calling myself a "mugwump" here out of respect for the 19th-century mugwumps' prescience and rare concern for future generations. Some label we're bound to settle on. "Libertarian" for now this year will probably still do.

My instinct is to renew the symbol of the liberty pole, which was common in the first half of our history together. Let's use it now again, but try to keep it universal, above government, above mere parties, on the level of our Declaration of Independence.

Now that Bob Barr has won the nomination of the Libertarian Party, please consider voting for him. He's driving the anarchists batty.

Speaking of anarchists, don't you see there's more anarchy in the Republican Party lately with their nonchalant disregard for the long-held principles of this country, namely habeas corpus and due process. P. J. O'Rourke was recently in Minneapolis arguing that libertarians have no sense for tradition. What? Libertarians, in my experience, have a profound devotion to the traditions that matter, namely those revolving around procedural rights, such as trial by jury, warrants, torture, civilian oversight of the military, and such. Where is the concern these days amongst the Republican Party for these traditional niceties, some of which date back to Magna Carta?

In the March/April 1995 issue, The Minnesota Libertarian republished Dean Russell's definition of a libertarian, which I had submitted, as its front-page article. The editors of The Minnesota Libertarian added this note
Although this essay was written 40 years ago it still reflects the attitude of Libertarians today.
Version 1.1 - Jun 5, 2008

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