Thomas L. Knapp

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The life of the Party
The Party and war
part four of ???:
by Thomas L. Knapp

I can feel guilty about the past, apprehensive about the future, but only in the present can I act.

-- Abraham Maslow

In the third part of this series, I began an examination of schism in the Libertarian Party. This article is a digression of sorts ... and, at the same time, not. The Party faces imminent schism of a combination of types I have yet to examine dispassionately; schism over goals, priorities and methods, all rolled into one. Dealing with that schism is as good a way as any of explaining those types.

I had hoped to finish my examination of the phenomenon of party schism as a whole before moving on to current particulars, but events have forced my hand. Last weekend, at the convention of the Libertarian Party of Illinois, Justin Raimondo spoke on "Libertarianism in the age of empire." In his speech, Raimondo threw down an ideological gantlet which the Party has no choice but to take up:

[W]e 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.

While there are matters of detail on which I disagree with Mr. Raimondo (my personal anecdotal estimate is that the proportion of anti- to pro-war "libertarians" is closer to 80-20 than 95-5), and while I regard many pro-war "libertarians" as being libertarians who are in error rather than as "non-libertarians," the point is eloquently made.

And while I can recognize principled disagreement when I see it, the question is: can the disagreeing people, however principled, co-exist in the same political organization?

What Raimondo is saying is, "no, they can't -- at least not where the disagreement is about this issue." And he's right.

I tend toward the "open party" paradigm -- if you want less government and more freedom, you should be with the LP. That means that even though I am a "pro-life" libertarian, I can get along with "pro-choice" libertarians. And even though I am an "open borders" libertarian, I can get along with "states have the right to regulate immigration" libertarians. I don't have to agree with them on those issues; I can work with them on issues where more unanimity is involved and assume that, while they err on the issues where we disagree, they will eventually realize their error and correct it.

On the other hand, there are certain "core" issues that the movement and the Party simply can't afford to be significantly split on.

We can afford to have people in the LP who want drugs legal but regulated like alcohol, or who want to "phase in" legalization, possibly beginning with medical marijuana. They'll eventually come around, and progress can be made on those more focused goals while that happens. We can't afford to have a substantial faction advocate a continuation of the war on drugs and have that faction be seen as welcome in the LP. It just doesn't work. It's a "core" issue. It goes to the heart of what the Party is.

We can afford to have people in the LP who will accept "shall issue" permit systems instead of holding out for Vermonty carry for concealed weapons. They'll come around eventually; in the meantime we'll have made progress in the right direction. We can afford people who come out on the victim disarmament side of the ridiculous "should private citizens be 'allowed' to own nukes" debate, because it's not an issue that's really in front of us at the moment, and by the time it is, they'll have figured it out. We can't afford to have Sarah Brady as the keynote speaker at our national convention. We can't afford a substantial victim disarmament caucus in the LP. It's a "core issue." It goes to the heart of what the Party is.

There's no way the impending invasion of Iraq can be squared with the LP's platform or Statement of Principles. None. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. I've watched a number of people try, and I've so far seen only one mildly persuasive argument from a libertarian perspective on the issue -- J. Neil Schulman's. Schulman doesn't allude to the LP, but instead uses Rand's "ethics of emergencies" and talks about a lack of "non-deprivatory alternatives" -- a valiant, if unsuccessful, effort.

The question is whether the libertarian movement, and more particularly the Libertarian Party, can afford to clasp a significant group that is completely wrong on a core issue to its bosom.

I didn't have an answer to that question until Mr. Raimondo's speech forced me to get one.

I know that I will not endorse, donate to, vote for or otherwise support any candidate proposing to run for public office on the LP ticket, or for any party office, who comes out in support of this war.

I know that to the extent that I am able, I will work to get anti-war candidates to contest the primaries of any pro-war candidates who run for public office on the LP ticket, and anti-war candidates to run for party office against candidates who identify themselves as pro-war.

That's just politics, though. We'd all do the same on most issues, although possibly with less vigor -- we choose between primary contestants and party office candidates on the basis of what we think about their views in every election, without great damage to the Party itself.

Taking it further would mean very publicly hanging out a "WARMONGERS NOT WELCOME" sign on the LP itself. Qualitatively, the difference is the difference between pointing at someone and saying "that libertarian is wrong on the issue" or, on the other hand, saying "that person isn't a libertarian."

It might mean the LNC passing a very specific resolution on the war that lays out the correct position on it, as the Party line, in no uncertain or debatable terms; LP News publishing that resolution; people making speeches like Raimondo's at other LP events; and caucuses working and raising money to quash any pro-war LP candidacies.

In other words, actions which are specifically intended to create a uniform, anti-war image of the LP and make pro-war members want to go somewhere else (and anti-war, pro-freedom individuals, realize that the LP is the Party they should come to, of course).

I've been torn on whether it should go that far. I now believe, however, that it will have to go that far.

Leading up to the 2000 elections, a lot of Libertarians had ideas on what the defining issue of the next decade would be. They were sound ideas as far as they went -- the war on drugs, health care, Social Security, etc. -- but they were superseded by 9/11 and what has followed.

War is, at this moment, and will likely be for at least the next decade, the defining issue in American politics. That makes it a core issue for the Libertarian Party. The Party can't afford to be neutral on this issue. The Party can't afford to be divided on this issue. And the Party can't afford to be wrong on this issue.

Better to get the split over now -- bid adieu to the 5%, or 10%, or any percent of the Party's membership which cannot tolerate an overt anti-war stand on its part -- and move forward, than to limp ineffectually through the next decade trying to decide what we are. If the LP doesn't take up the anti-war banner, some other party will, and that party will be the majority party of the decade after that, assuming that the political system as it stands survives that long (not a safe bet).

Right now, the GOP is wrong on the issue and the Democrats are divided on it. My cynical side says that the LP will do its damnedest to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and screw around until the Democrats take the initiative away from us. It's even possible that the Greens will successfully run with it.

Schism is never fun, but it is sometimes necessary. The alternative is the shame of knowing that we, as a party, sacrificed principle -- and not even in return for gain, but out of sheer moral cowardice. The price of failure to lead on this issue is nothing less than another three decades -- or more -- of political irrelevance.

to be continued ...

Part One of The Life of the Party -- "An introduction"
Part Two of
The Life of the Party --
"The LP's multiple personality disorder"
Part Three of
The Life of the Party --
"The Schism Organism"