[The following is the text of a
speech delivered to the Libertarian Party of Illinois
state convention, March 1, 2003.]
want to start off by thanking the Libertarian Party
of Illinois for the invitation to speak here today.
It has been almost twenty years since I last showed
up at a Libertarian Party function of any kind, and
I have just one thing to say: It's great to be
I joined the Libertarian Party of California
back in 1975, and soon became a very active party member.
But even back then, at the tender age of twenty-something,
I was no newcomer.
I had been active in the libertarian
movement prior to the founding of the LP, in the late
1960s, when, as a teen-ager, I helped Lanny
Friedlander plan the first issue of Reason
magazine. We corresponded pretty regularly: indeed,
letters were the main form of communication between
the young cadres of the libertarian movement. It seemed
like we were all teen-agers, or just barely out of our
teens, and the movement was small but very active: dozens
of little newsletters were being circulated, in those
days, but Reason was going to be a blockbuster,
you see, because Lanny was planning on having it printed,
instead of mimeographed. Wow! Was I impressed! I remember
to this day getting a call from Lanny, the first editor
and publisher of Reason magazine, to inform me
that my copy of Volume I, Number One was in the mail.
It was memorable because, in those days, long distance
phone calls were something of a very big deal, and I
had never received one in all my sixteen years. My parents
looked at me askance: who could be calling their son
long distance, and from Boston yet?! What was that crazy
kid up to now?
I'll tell you what we were up to: we
were convinced, back then, that we were going to achieve
freedom in our time. And that, indeed, was a popular
slogan among libertarians in the 1960s, thought up,
I seem to remember, by David
F. Nolan, who went on to found the Libertarian Party
in 1971. Freedom In Our Time! Those were heady
days. We were filled with the optimism of youth, a gift
not only of our tender years but of the tender years
of our movement. For libertarians had only recently
broken with the conservatives and started to set up
their own independent organizations and institutions.
Up until that point, we had considered
ourselves a subset of the Right, and most youthful libertarians
belonged to the biggest right-wing student organization
in the country, Young
Americans for Freedom, known as YAF. Brought up
on National Review, weaned by Frank
S. Meyer's "fusionism" that merged the
libertarian's love of freedom with the conservative's
awareness of human limitations, inspired by the
novels of Ayn Rand, and activated by the crisis
of the country – a country torn by a merciless, immoral
war, and with the threat of the draft hanging over our
heads – we had a vision of the future that was as simplistic
as it was charming: we were going to change the world.
The world, at that point, certainly
needed changing, and particularly our little world of
the American Right, which was in the grip of the cold
war regime of William
F. Buckley, Jr., my childhood hero, who had now
become, in my estimation, a
total and complete villain.
cadre of ex-Stalinists and ex-Trotskyists filling
the pages of National Review, Buckley had taken
the conservative movement out of the doldrums to which
it had sunk by the early 1950s, and created – almost single-handedly – a
national movement in opposition to the welfare state.
Nobody, back then, even talked about the "free
market" – why, the whole idea of leaving anything
to the free choices of human beings acting in an unfettered
market was anathema to the "Great Society"
liberals and the "me too" Rockefeller Republicans
who dominated the political landscape. Nobody but nobody
was talking about it, it wasn't even a remote possibility
– except to us, that is, the nascent libertarian movement
of the 1960s, most of us not even old enough to vote.
It was no wonder, then, that we had
taken shelter, at first, under the conservative umbrella,
while all around us the collectivist storm raged. I
found a political home in YAF. To be sure, I didn't
agree with the entire YAF platform, as expressed in
the famous "Sharon
Statement," but, back then, the conservative
movement was a lot looser and less party-lining than
it is today. There was plenty of room for libertarians,
traditionalists, "fusionists," and even a
few monarchists, who happily debated the issues of the
day as well as the finer points of theory, and yet managed
to stay united around opposition to liberal orthodoxy.
But as the decade reached its end, an issue arose that
split the movement – and the country – asunder.
The Vietnam war polarized America: into
young versus old, as well as anti-war versus pro-war.
It was what might be called the battle of the Bobs:
Dylan versus Bob
[Robert S.] McNamara. The soulful young rebel versus
the soul-less colorless ageless technocrat, one a life-giving
artist and the other a cold-blooded killer. In that
conflict, there was no question as to what side young
libertarians would take. These lyrics by Buffalo
Springfield, in a popular song of the day, expressed
the feeling of menace and uncertainty that pervaded
what it is ain't exactly clear."
But it was all too clear to us young
libertarians, who had recently formed the Libertarian
Caucus of YAF, as well as to millions of ordinary
non-political Americans, who could see the senselessness
of the Vietnam bloodbath on their television screens,
albeit in black and white, on a daily basis. Unlike
the unenlightened masses, however, the youthful cadres
of the new libertarianism understood – or thought they
understood – what was happening here. It was no accident,
we liked to point out, that this war was being waged
by the most ardent advocate of Big Government since
the New Deal. The so-called "Great Society"
of President Lyndon Baines Johnson was an amalgam of
everything that libertarians disdain in the modern world:
collectivist economics, social engineering, and massive
government expenditures, all of it enacted against the
backdrop of a futile, grinding war that was chewing
up conscripts and discrediting the cause of anti-Communism
around the world.
As a young conservative, all of 13,
I had been a fervent supporter of Barry Goldwater's
1964 campaign for the presidency, like most of the libertarians
of my generation. But a few years later, it was clear
to anyone with eyes to see that Goldwater, and the conservative
movement, had been tragically and profoundly wrong about
Vietnam, and, as it turned out, many other matters as
well. The ex-commies of one variety or another who were
grouped around Bill Buckley's magazine had never gotten
over their hatred of the master they had once served:
the cold war, for them, was a grudge match, and the
more fervent ones completely lost it. With the notable
exception of Frank Meyer – once a top Communist party
theoretician, who became a senior editor of National
Review – none of these guys were much interested
in free market economics. Their chief and indeed only
concern was to smash the Kremlin. Not that they ever
envisioned anything as completely unexpected as the
Great Revolution of 1989, the internally-generated mass
uprising that brought down the Berlin Wall. No, their
idea of "rollback" envisioned the military
defeat of the Soviet Union at the hands of the U.S.
As Murray Rothbard
tells us in his memoir of the time, they openly talked
among themselves about the glorious day and hour when
the Soviet Union would go up in a puff of nuclear smoke.
Eager to "roll back" the Soviet
empire by military means, the Buckleyites were fanatically
devoted to achieving "victory" in Vietnam.
In every issue of National Review, James
Burnham's column, aptly entitled "The Third
World War," was filled with advice to the Johnson
team about how to win – by being more determined, more
merciless and even more relentlessly brutal than the
Even back in my conservative days, I had always impatiently
turned the page when confronted with Burnham's byline,
as I found his authoritarian tone insufferable, quite
apart from his subject matter.
was a professor of philosophy at New York University
and a former associate of Leon
Trotsky. He was a top official and theoretician
in the Trotskyist movement, agreeing with the founder
of the Red Army that Stalin had betrayed the Revolution
and the principles of Marxism by building socialism
in only one country, and neglecting to conquer the rest
of the world. But Burnham split with his Bolshevik mentor
on the eve of World War II, over the question of the
nature of the Soviet Union. When Stalin joined with
Hitler to divvy up Poland, grab the Baltic states, and
invade Finland, Trotsky deemed it "progressive,"
and suddenly Trotskyism, instead of providing Communism
with a veneer of persecuted virtue and unsullied idealism,
became a liability, at least in New York intellectual
circles. Having served his political apprenticeship
in the Socialist
Workers Party, the U.S. section of Trotsky's stillborn
International," comrade Burnham graduated and
was almost immediately inducted into the ranks of the
Buckley circle after a transition period of barely a
While seemingly a radical about-face,
a complete switch in political polarities, Burnham's
rapid conversion was merely the substitution of one
monomania for another, and one that, furthermore, had
a very familiar cast. Whereas before he had believed
that socialism in one country was impossible, and that
the Revolution had to be exported abroad: in his new
incarnation as the grand strategist of the Third World
War Burnham held that the United States government,
using all the resources at its command, had to wage
a merciless war against the Communist enemy.
So what had changed? Only the name of
Burnham – not only a leading light of
the National Review crowd, but a major influence
on the conservative movement before the Reagan era – was
no defender of capitalism. His 1947 book, The
Managerial Revolution, celebrated the end of
laissez-faire capitalism and heralded the rise of a
state-centered "managerial society" everywhere
on earth. The "third world war," in his view,
was merely a battle between different forms of managerialism,
the Red variety and the Western version. The cold war
was a civil war between two rival brands of statism,
and Buckley echoed this line, in the early 1950s, when
he wrote the following:
"We have to accept Big Government
for the duration – for neither an offensive nor a defensive
war can be waged … except through the instrument of
a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores."
Conservatives, Buckley declared, must endorse "the
extensive and productive tax laws that are needed to
support a vigorous anti-Communist foreign policy,"
including the "large armies and air forces, atomic
power, central intelligence, war production boards and
the attendant centralization of power in Washington
– even with Truman at the reins of it all." [Commonweal,
January 25, 1952]
Even with Truman at the reins of it
all – or Eisenhower, Kennedy, LBJ, Richard Nixon, it
didn't matter. What mattered, to Buckley and the cold
war conservatives, was the prosecution of their fanatical
crusade against the Soviet Union by whatever means.
Confiscatory taxation, the centralization and growth
of federal power, conscription – nothing was sacred,
not the Constitution, not the Bill of Rights, not the
free market, not the alleged conservative
principles that Russell Kirk called "the permanent
things." Everything was to be sacrificed on
the altar of the war god.
Libertarians could accept none of this,
and, in the summer of 1969, at the YAF national convention,
held in St. Louis, they decided to fight.
libertarian activists poured into St. Louis from all
over the country, primed for battle: and they were not
disappointed. The Libertarian Caucus challenged the
Buckleyites on two key issues: the Vietnam war and the
draft. The libertarians had to jump through a series
of procedural hoops, saw their delegate credentials
challenged, and, after putting up a tremendous fight,
lost the two key votes. But when it came time to debate
the issue of the draft, the atmosphere turned incendiary
– literally. As the Libertarian proposal to have YAF
join with the rest of the nation's youth in calling
for an end to the draft went down in flames, so, too,
did someone's draft card burst into flames – and a riot
ensured. Punches were thrown, the hall was plunged into
a brief but dramatic chaos, and the split, sealed in
mutual acrimony, was final.
In preparation for the convention, Murray
Rothbard, the movement's leading theoretician, had written
an article in the newly-established Libertarian Forum
newsletter directly addressed to the libertarians in
YAF, and I quote:
"For years you have taken your
political advice and much of your line from assorted
'exes': ex-Communists, ex-Trots, ex-Maoists, ex-fellow
travelers. I have never been any of these. I grew up
a right-winger, and became more intensely a libertarian
rightist as I grew older. How come I am an exile from
the Right-wing, while the conservative movement is being
run by a gaggle of ex-Communists and monarchists? What
kind of a conservative movement is this? This kind:
one that you have no business being in."
The young libertarians gathered in St.
Louis agreed, for the most part, with Rothbard: they
had had enough of the Buckley-style conservatives, they
were through with the ruthless Burnham and his fellow
cold warriors who wanted to roll back collectivism in
Vietnam, but resigned themselves to it as inevitable
"managerialism" on the home front. As Richard
Nixon imposed wage and price controls, unleashed hellfire
on the peoples of Southeast Asia, and dragged the unwilling
youth of the nation off to a foreign war, libertarians
correctly saw that it was all part of the same system.
The movement they built – we built –
was forged in the crucible of war and domestic repression,
in an era that resembles the present one in many respects.
Our movement was born in wartime, the offspring of the
antiwar upsurge of the 1960s and the Old Right of the
1940s and 50s, represented by Rothbard – and, standing
behind him, his
old teacher Frank Chodorov, and the old isolationists
of the America
First generation, who opposed LBJ's ideological
predecessor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the progenitor
of the Welfare-Warfare State.
That is why, today, it is astonishing
to hear some alleged "libertarians" proclaim
their support for George W. Bush's perpetual "war
on terrorism." Even more astonishing is the unusual
lengths they will go to rationalize their own betrayal
and denial of their heritage. "Everything has changed,"
we are told, "since 9/11." This is an "emergency."
One alleged scholar
at the Cato Institute has even elaborated a theory
of libertarian interventionism: he purports to believe
that the strictures libertarians apply to state action
on the home front are somehow not applicable when it
comes to state action abroad. I say "purports
to believe" because there is not an iota of sincerity
in such a schema: it is a slipshod deception that hardly
covers the naked opportunism that motivates it. It is
certainly not meant to convince anyone, least of all
libertarians, who think in terms of universal principles.
But Brink Lindsay, Cato's
prophet of "globalization," and the author
of this farrago of fatuous falsehood, could care less
about that. We must engage in a war to the death with
"radical Islam," Lindsay bloviates, and achieve
"globalized markets" by conquering the greater
part of the Middle East.
The "libertarian" chorus of
warmongers includes Virginia
Postrel, the former editor of Reason magazine,
who changes ideologies as
easily as she changes her hair color. Here is someone
who has gone from being a libertarian to being a "dynamist"
– an idiotic ideology of her own concoction, in which
"change" is good, and "stasis" is
bad – and has now settled into a comfortable albeit idiosyncratic
neoconservatism, whose supposedly "libertarian"
impulses are restricted to the unleashing of cloning
technology on the world and the legalization of drugs
and gay marriage. On the current war crisis, she writes:
intelligent discussion of the pros and cons of war is,
in fact, about weighing risks. I recently had a conversation
with a former Marine who said he supports war with Iraq
not because he likes war but because he's seen the museum
at Hiroshima and doesn't want his children to face nuclear
terrorism. He suggested that 'those bleeding hearts'
might think differently if they'd seen what he has.
But, of course, 'those bleeding hearts' draw the opposite
conclusion from the same evidence, concluding that since
war is terrible it must be avoided at all costs. Unfortunately
for that argument, avoiding war today may bring more
terrible war tomorrow."
the guise of a stoic pragmatism, she cooly debates the
risks and benefits of mass murder by the State: Postrel
is pushing, here, government propaganda that is based
on nothing but lies. What nuclear threat from
Saddam? How would such a weapon be delivered, and by
whom – the Iraqi airforce, which, for ten years, has
not been able to shoot down a single Anglo-American
plane making thousands of sorties over its sovereign
territory? If all intelligent discussion of war is about
weighing risks, then what about the risks not only of
policing the world but of preemptively attacking anyone
who looks cross-eyed at us, or at Israel? We have troops
in over 100 countries, from Bosnia to Afghanistan to
Japan and Uzebekistan, but Washington, D.C., is a city
besieged by fear, a terror so pervasive that Congress
hardly dares stay in session long enough to conduct
its business before scuttling out of town a.s.a.p.
make no mistake about the meaning of this war: we are
entering the age of the American Caesars. When George
W. Bush gives the order to attack, he will be crossing
a Rubicon that the Founders of this country did everything
to make impassable. They bound the President, and the
would-be restorers of royalism in America, with the
chains of the Constitution. They looked askance at a
standing army, because they feared it would mean the
rise of a professional officer corps inherently militaristic
in outlook. They abhorred the European empires, and
did all in their power to make an American version of
King George III a political impossibility.
first President, in his
farewell address to the nation, looked forward to
the day when a free and prosperous America, no longer
encircled by threatening powers, could safely stand
"The period is not far off when
we may defy material injury from external annoyance;
when we may take such an attitude as will cause the
neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously
respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility
of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard
the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace
or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.
"Why forego the advantages of
so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon
foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with
that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity
in the toils of European ambition, rivalry, interest,
humor or caprice?"
"It is our true policy," George
Washington averred, "to steer clear of permanent
alliances with any portion of the foreign world."
Why, why, why are we foregoing
the advantages of our peculiar situation as we stand
at the apex of our superpowerdom? 9/11 changed "everything",
says the War Party. But did it? Are we not, still, the
most powerful military power on earth? Why intervene
in every conflict, globalizing its bloody consequences,
when we can steer clear of all that by following the
advice of the Founder? Why is George W. Bush dragging
us into yet another foreign war, one that promises to
be the first of a series of conflicts in the Middle
East that aim at subjugating much of the region?
There are two short, indeed, single
word answers to this question: the first is hubris.
And the second is: Israel.
There were two responses to the end
of the cold war in this country. One was to breathe
a sigh of relief, give thanks that the peoples of the
Soviet bloc had freed themselves – without U.S. military
action – and turn to the problems that had been vexing
this country and promised to undermine the social fabric:
problems of social decay, the decline of traditional
institutions, the degeneration of the public schools
into little more than holding pens, the growth of big
government, the alienation of individuals from an increasingly
mechanized, atomized existence, and our gradual but
perceptible descent into a highly civilized form of
The other response was to seek out new
monsters to destroy. Never mind that some of those monsters
were of our own making.
The intellectual heirs of James Burnham
were not about to give up quite so easily. In a
1996 article in Foreign Affairs magazine
that became the foreign policy manifesto of the Weekly
Standard and its "national greatness"
school of conservatism, William Kristol and policy analyst
Robert Kagan complained that conservatives were "confused"
if they thought the end of the cold war meant they could
come home and solve their own country's serious domestic
problems. This was a "lukewarm consensus"
that was "bad for the country," and conservatives
"should not accede to it," lest they find
themselves locked out of power, and "unable to
govern." Instead, Kristol and Kagan averred, what's
needed is "a more elevated vision of America's
international role." Elevated, that is, to a level
of grandiosity that is frankly pathological:
"What should that role be?"
they ask. Their answer is: "Benevolent global hegemony."
Having defeated the Soviets, the United
States "enjoys strategic and ideological predominance.
The first objective of U.S. foreign policy should be
to preserve and enhance that predominance . . . The
aspiration to benevolent hegemony might strike some
as either hubristic or morally suspect."
Or, I hasten to add, quite possibly
both, but I digress. Getting back to Kristol and Kagan,
and I quote:
"But a hegemon is nothing more
or less than a leader with preponderant influence and
authority over all others in its domain. That is America's
position in the world today. The leaders of Russia and
China understand this. At their April summit meeting,
Boris Yeltsin and Jiang Zemin joined in denouncing 'hegemonism'
in the post-Cold War world. They meant this as a complaint
about the United States. It should be taken as a compliment
and a guide to action."
And it is being taken as a guide
to action, as we can see in the doctrine of imperial
preemption, as well as the drive to war in Iraq.
It is a mad policy doomed to failure,
and for the same reason Icarus
was plunged into the sea. The Greeks had a word for
it: hubris, the delusion that men could be like
gods and rule the earth. In their dramas and mythology,
this was a sin, always punished with divine retribution
– otherwise known as "blowback" – and yet
today it is the ideology of our war-hawks, the crazed
doctrine that is fueling America's drive to war.
But there is another element that gives
this fuel a bit of high octane, another motivation that
is driving our war-hawks, and that is their fealty to
the state of Israel. Let me show you an article from
the Washington Times, written
by Arnaud de Borchgrave, and I quote:
strategic objective is the antithesis of Middle Eastern
stability. The destabilization of 'despotic regimes'
comes next. In the Arab bowling alley, one ball aimed
at Saddam is designed to achieve a 10-strike that would
discombobulate authoritarian and/or despotic regimes
in Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf emirates
and sheikdoms. The ultimate phase would see Israel surrounded
by democratic regimes that would provide 5 million Israelis
– soon to be surrounded by 300 million Arabs – with
peace and security for at least a generation. ...The
roots of the overall strategy can be traced to a paper
published in 1996 by the Institute for Advanced Strategic
and Political Studies, an Israeli think tank. The document
was titled 'A
Clean Break: A New Strategy for Security the Realm.'
...Israel, according to the 1996 paper, would 'shape
its strategic environment,' beginning with the removal
of Saddam Hussein... ...Prominent American opinion-makers
who are now senior members of the Bush administration
participated in the discussions and the drafting that
led to this 1996 blueprint."
We are fighting a war for Israel. When
the body bags come home, and the dead are buried, let
this be inscribed on their tombstones: They died
for Ariel Sharon.
How far we have come from the wisdom
of the Founders, one of whom warned that "nothing
is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies
against particular nations, and passionate attachments
for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of
them, just and amicable feelings towards all should
The ex-libertarian Virginia Postrel
says that nonintervention in the affairs of other nations
is not a matter of principle, but a question of benefits
and risks. So let's talk about the risks, not just physical
but also political, of embarking on a course set for
Empire. These fall into three categories: the political,
the economic, and the military risks.
The military risks are all too obvious,
and there is no need to go into them at length. In spite
of the high tech conceit of our military planners and
policy wonks, who believe that they are invincible,
history is littered with the corpses of the overconfident,
with the admirals of the Spanish Armada and ending
up with "the best and the brightest" who engineered
our debacle in Vietnam. If you want an historical analogy,
however, Vietnam is not quite the right fit: I would
Beirut, 1983, is more appropriate.
Twenty years ago this coming October
23rd, it was a quiet Sunday morning at the
Marine camp at Beirut International Airport. But not
for long. At about 6:20, a huge explosion destroyed
most of the Marine barracks. Major Bob Jordan, one of
the survivors, relates what happened that day:
"I went down the stairs – the
same stairs we'd sat on the night before to watch a
show," he said. "The whole area was filled
rubber and pulverized cement. It was everywhere as far
as you could see. I saw what looked like an uprooted
tree with jagged limbs. As I came closer I realized
it was a human body because blood was running from the
A truck loaded with 2,000 pounds of
TNT had rammed through the camp gate. Witnesses described
the driver as a smiling young man: no doubt he died
believing he was on his way to Paradise. 214 American
soldiers were killed.
Beirut, but on a much larger scale: that is what we
are facing in Iraq. In his
speech to the American Enterprise Institute the
other day, the President declared that we will stay
in Iraq "as long as necessary, and not a day longer"
– as long, that is, as it takes to turn Iraq into a
Jeffersonian republic. Which means, in effect, forever.
The President cited Germany and Japan as the models
for us to follow in this noble mission, but failed to
note that our troops are still in both of those
Ronald Reagan was smart enough to withdraw
the marines from Lebanon shortly after the Beirut bombing,
but now George W. Bush is returning to the region that
was the scene of that horrific disaster. How long will
the American people put up with those kinds of casualties,
how long can we stand against wave after wave of suicide
bombers, how long before people start asking the question
– what for?
A short-term "victory," in
this case, can only turn into a drawn out defeat in
the long run. And the same is true in terms of the political
and economic price we are going to have to pay. Already,
the President who disdained "nation-building"
on the campaign trail has embraced it as his number
one war aim. But a better phrase would be "empire-building."
Empires are an expensive proposition, because, in terms
of the American model, everything goes out and nothing
comes in. What this means is that the government is
going to claim an even larger proportion of the wealth
of the nation in terms of taxes, both overt and covert.
What the alleged "libertarians"
who talk of "liberating" the world using the
U.S. military as their instrument don't seem to understand
is that all of this costs money, and lots of it. And
who is going to get the bill? You are, my friend,
and it is going to knock your socks off. They talk about
shrinking and even radically reducing the size and scope
of government, on the one hand, and then go on to proclaim
the virtues of an American Imperium bloated beyond all
imagining. They harken back to the stern republican
virtues of the Founders, and then turn around and hail
America as the New Rome. But it is one or the other:
we cannot be a republic and an empire, simultaneously.
It is either Jefferson, or Caesar. The oxymoronic "pro-war"
libertarians have chosen the latter, and the rest of
us – the other 95 percent of the libertarian movement
– stand with former. It is a parting of the ways that
we must not spend a single moment lamenting.
There is no place in the libertarian
movement for the War Party and its minions. The Libertarian
Party must take decisive action against any "Libertarian"
candidate or spokesperson who endorses this war. Equivocation
on this question is equally impermissible. Nor do we
want any kind of a "debate." What some people
refuse to recognize is that some questions are already
settled: libertarians do not "debate,"
year after year, the primacy or utility of economic
and political liberty. We don't re-argue the case for
and against capitalism, as opposed to, say, anarcho-communism.
Every time a drug lord shoots someone down in the streets
in broad daylight, we don't revisit the drug question.
We don't reconsider the gun control question every time
some nutso teenager kills half his classmates with a
rifle. Why tear up the very roots of the libertarian
ethic now that George W. Bush has decided to ignore
Osama bin Laden and go after the tinpot dictator of
a decimated country? It's an outrage, and I have just
one message to any alleged libertarians, party members
or not, who support this rotten war: stop calling yourself
a libertarian. Get out of the movement, quit the party,
and don't call us – because we won't be calling you.
I make no apology for the harshness
of this prescription. Our movement was born in the fight
against the War Party, against the cold warriors who
thought they could run rampant over people at home and
abroad, and we will fight for our legacy today – no
matter what. Remember, the Libertarian Party is a private,
voluntary organization: no one is forced to join, and,
in doing so, members make an implicit contract to uphold
libertarian principles. The only sort of debate on the
war question that ought to take place within the LP
ought to consist of the following words addressed to
the few pro-war elements in our midst: Hasta la vista,
In losing these few people, we will
gain thousands – and, yes, tens of thousands more. But
the leadership of the Libertarian Party must act quickly,
and decisively. In politics, timing is everything.
The LP must make a strategic decision
to intervene in the antiwar movement. Not tepidly, or
tentatively: not half-heartedly – but in a massive,
nationally-coordinated manner. What exactly does this
First of all, it means a major overhaul
of the LP's public outreach efforts. The party's literature,
its monthly newspaper, its website,
and its campaigns for public office must all be tailored
to fit this overriding task. And I don't mean just ritual
exhortations to stay out of Iraq, but real analysis,
from a libertarian perspective, as to why this war is
not only morally wrong, in and of itself, but wrong
for America, and for the world. For too long, foreign
policy has been treated by the national and state LP
organizations like an unwanted stepchild: hardly ever
mentioned, and, when one is forced to acknowledge him,
only in the most general, perfunctory manner. Yet it
has always been at the very center of libertarian ideology,
at least historically, and now the issue is once again
front and center.
Secondly, it means becoming involved
in grassroots organizations. Not in an episodic way,
but consistently; not as random individuals, here and
there, but as an organized grouping and on a nationwide
basis. This means endorsing the aims of the antiwar
movement not only in a formal sense, but in the everyday
sense of making antiwar organizing the primary task
of our activists. Intervening in a meaningful way in
the antiwar movement means joining local and national
antiwar coalitions, attending meetings, and taking part
in the day-to-day work of the organization. It means
being the best builders of the movement for peace. What
must happen – and immediately – is that the Libertarian
Party must go into the antiwar movement with a very
specific strategy, and some sort of tactical sense.
Let's talk about tactics.
The libertarian movement has a niche
all carved out in advance if it ever chooses to occupy
it, for the antiwar movement has been red-baited in
every major newspaper in the country: the presence of
small but vocal left-wing groups has all but obscured
the basically mainstream character of antiwar sentiment,
at least in some media. While the hard left will probably
not welcome us with open arms, the main body of the
movement will find us not only interesting but also
necessary – as a way to deflect criticism of the movement
as too left-wing. Well, you see, they'll say, when faced
with the familiar red-baiting from the War Party, we
have these libertarians, and they aren't exactly commies,
now are they?
Once we are embedded in the antiwar
movement, once LP members are vital cogs in the peace
machine, what do they do with their leverage? Do they
lecture their confreres endlessly on the virtues of
economics? Well, there is nothing wrong with taking
the opportunity to invite co-workers in the antiwar
movement to a lecture on Austrian economics, or to engage
them in casual conversation. But Libertarian Party members
are going to earn a hearing by their actions,
not their words. Talk is cheap. The LP claims tens of
thousands of members nationwide. But how many of them
can it turn out for a local antiwar meeting? For a march
on Washington? Well, we'll see.
I can tell you this: the work put into building the
antiwar movement, if done correctly, is an investment
that is going to reap rich political dividends. And
I don't mean just an influx of nominal members – that
is, members on paper only – to pump up the inflated
numbers that the LP is constantly touting. A concerted,
planned intervention in the antiwar movement could reap
hundreds if not thousands of truly dedicated members,
that is, future LP activists – a new generation of libertarian
Speaking of a new generation – there is
one aspect of the antiwar movement that is of vital
concern to the continuity of libertarianism as a movement,
and that is its demographics. Sure, there are a lot
of middle-aged and older people, activists from the
1960s and 70s, involved. But this is also a very youthful
movement: as I travel around the country, speaking at
various college campuses, I haven't seen such a ferment
since the Sixties. Except that, this time around, the
youth are smarter, more discerning, less inclined to
swallow leftist bromides, and much more receptive to
libertarian ideas than my generation ever was.
The lack of an organized youth outreach
will be the death knell of the libertarian movement.
A childless family soon dies out. Is that what we want
to happen to the Libertarian Party? The LP needs fresh
recruits, especially among the youth, if it is to survive
into the 21st century – but where will they
come from? Running endless campaigns where we get 1
percent of the vote? Or winning over the voters of tomorrow
by taking a principled stand today?
I am not saying that the LP should immediately
go out an try to organize a youth organization. Student
libertarian groups already exist, to some extent, at
colleges across the country, and now, it seems, they
are gathering together to form a national student organization
known as Students
for a Libertarian Society (SLS). We are working
with them at Antiwar.com, by offering financial and
technical assistance, as well as friendly advice, and
they are coming along quite nicely. It seems to me that
the Libertarian Party, without intruding on their space,
should give them all the organizational and even financial
support that they need. They are, after all, the future
– that is, if there is to be a future.
I started out this talk by going into
a bit of my history as a libertarian activist, and,
returning to that theme, I can say that I left the Libertarian
Party, in 1983, after almost eight years of non-stop
activism. Not because I was burnt out on political activism,
but because I was convinced that the LP had peaked,
and already, at that point, entered a political cul-de-sac.
The end of the cold war, and the conversion of a whole
section of the conservative movement to a non-interventionist
foreign policy convinced me, back then, that it was
possible to work more effectively for the cause outside
of the party – which showed no interest in reaching out
to conservatives and others who were questioning the
cold war interventionist orthodoxy. In 1995, Eric Garris,
a longtime libertarian activist, and I established Antiwar.com,
because we were convinced that foreign policy was going
to be the key issue in the years to come – and,
you know what? We were right.
month [February], Antiwar.com garnered over 400,000
unique visitors, with nearly one million separate
visits: we are by far the biggest antiwar website
and the biggest libertarian site. I am very proud
of what we have done, but not too proud to ask for your
can't do it alone. We've been holding down the fort
for years, preparing for the day when the rest of the
libertarian movement would decide to get serious about
winning freedom in our time. Yes, that old slogan, when
heard today, takes on a whole new meaning. For what
it means is that we must either win back our freedom
in our time, or else lose it – perhaps forever.
Will America keep her old republic,
or will the War Party take us all the way down the road
to empire? That is the great issue that stands behind
this war, and libertarians can only have one answer.
Yes, the war is a great opportunity for the Libertarian
Party. Yes, we can bring into existence a whole new
generation of libertarian activists. But there's just
one other thing: if we fail, we lose everything. The
Constitution, our republican form of government, the
last vestiges of our American revolutionary heritage
– and the last hope of freedom in our time or any
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