THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 378, July 30, 2006
"The Founding Fathers made that very mistake..."
Teaching Pigs to Sing
Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise
Oh, well, here we go again.
Three things I write about are guaranteed to generate more irate mail than anything else. Those things are the rights of smokers, the real character of Abraham Lincoln, and the state of the Libertarian Party.
A little while ago, in The Libertarian Enterprise, I wrote a piece called "The Portland Purge", discussing the recent Libertarian Party national convention, and the way, for the sake of "broader appeal", more votes, and, I suspect, fatter campaign contributions, one over half of its attendeesthe smallest number, I'm told, in yearsdecided that it was time to cast off the burden of, well, libertarianism.
Sure enough, I began getting e-mail taking me variously to task, as soon as the virtual ink had dried on the virtual pages of TLE. In the next issue, we ran one such message, and I replied to it in an article I called "A Portland Promise", outlining a series of tactical steps that need to be taken by those, like me, who are disgusted with the damage that's been inflicted on the LP in the counterfeit name of "reform".
More recently, also in response to my first column on the subject, I got what may be the stuffiest, most self-impressed, unintentionally comical, and stuffed-shirtiest epistle I've ever seen pop up in my Inbox.
It had come from one Carl Milsted, self-described as "a primary instigator of the Portland Purge", who began our correspondence by accusing me of having "done a reporting job worthy of the mainstream liberal media", and whimpering that I didn't spend "a few hours ... reading the Libertarian Reform Caucus' public web site" he maintains, and speculating that I am "too hard-headed to take real data into consideration". Data I might have obtained, presumably, by viewing his website.
He's right, of course, in a couple of respects. I am, indeed, just as hard-headed as an individual can be, whenever it comes to defending libertarian principle in the face of what is often misrepresented as "fact", but which usually turns out to be baseless opinioncall it the "Mrs. Grundy" or "Peoria" syndromerooted in a complete and catastrophic failure to understand the phenomena of history and human nature.
When I wrote these articles I'd never heard of Milsted's websiteor of him, for that matter. I may glance at his site sometime, but if I had "a few hours" to spare, I wouldn't waste them reading stuff I've seen and heard from my Day One in the LP, thirty-four years ago. I've known a thousand Milsteds, and their arguments and attitudes haven't varied by an Angstrom Unit all these years. His assertion that his little website contains "real data" would be funny, if it weren't pathetic.
Milsted will have me know, he says, says he, that he's "neither a Republican infiltrator nor stupid", presenting as evidence for the latter contention, the fact that he holds "a Ph.D. in theoretical physics (unusual behavior for stupid people)" he sarcastically assures me.
And perhaps it would be assuring, except that I've been involved in university life for decades, on my own hook. The Department of English won't have me, politically incorrect as I am, so I am asked to give occasional lectures in the Physics Department on asteroids and on alternative realities as called for by the Einstein, Rosen, Podsalski Thought Experiment. I'm also the spouse of a thirty-plus-year veteran university staff member. When I showed Milsted's letter to her, she simply laughed, saying that there are plenty of stupid PhDs in her experience.
And in mine, as well. No cigar, Carl. Save it for your next Mensa meeting.
As for being a "Republican inflitrator", I suppose that I could be wrong. There are conscious badguys in the world, after all, and, in charity, there are what Joseph Goebbles once called "useful idiots", as well. Truly, only time can help us tell them apart, but from his letter, I'd say that Milsted's most likely to be just an undiagnosed Republican.
Remind me to start a telethon.
In the meantime, I rank the fellow by nine years in the party and nineteen in the movement, and I have known a great many individuals who flaked out to the Right side of the Force after a considerably longer period than he's spent in grade, so he's ill-advised to wave around what he imagines is some kind of seniority. There's a lesson here that a Physics Ph.D. (even one in theoretical physics) ought to have absorbed already: numbers are only useful when they actually mean something.
To the assertion that he is a "scientist" (apparently the fellow has forgotten that there are "scientists" who believe in acid rain, ozone depletion, global warming, the dangers of secondhand smoke, and the official story on AIDS), Milsted attributes what he believes is a laudable capability on his part to think "in terms of quantities vs. categories. Cutting government by a mere 90% is significant," he tells us, "more significant in terms of liberty than cutting the remaining 10%."
Which, of course, is not only dead wrong, but downright bucket- headed.
If freedom were dried beans or bottles of furniture polish, there might be something to Milsted's argument. But freedom is a quality, not a quantity. And here we begin to see what's defective about his whole outlook on life, the universe, and everything. By "thinking in terms of quantities vs. categories", he actually means in terms of money and votes rather than what's ethically imperative and morally necessary. In doing so, he makes the same mistake every self-labelled "pragmatic" ever has, because he clearly doesn't comprehend anything about history, isn't aware his electoral theories have long since been discredited, and probably believes ethics and morals are bourgeois luxuries to be discarded whenever sufficient justification manifests itself.
I could be wrong about that, naturally, but I doubt it.
The practical trouble, of course, with winning fractional victory, even if it's 99.99%, is that it isn't a victory in principle. The Founding Fathers made that very mistake, and that's what has brought us to where we are now. Leave even 0.01% of the germs in your system, and you're going to get sick again. That's why the doctor insists that you take all of the antibiotic. If history teaches us anything, it's that government's intrusions into our lives, liberties, and property always grow, exactly like a disease. If we were to win now, without having won on fundamental principles, our children, or their children, would end up fighting the same battle, all over again, a century from now.
Milsted and his accomplices in destruction may not care about the future. "In the long run, we are all dead," as one of his intellectual ancestors put it. In my experience, short-range thinking of this nature is a consistent characteristic of those who label themselves "pragmatic".
The rest of Milsted's message consists of a surrealistic handful of spurious assertions, erroneous interpretations of fact, and cheap shots. If this is the way he thinks, it explains a lot. I'll deal with a few here, but leave the rest to the intelligent (and principled) reader.
"I appreciate economics," the Primary Instigator prattles at us, although I'm still trying to figure out why. "Including such concepts as marginal utility, diminishing returns and public goods. National defense is a public good. A modern military system kicks ass over privately held firearms. Inconvenient and unpleasant, perhaps, but true."
Maybe this string of random, disconnected head-dribblings means something to someone who labels himself a theoretical physicist. To someone with over 40 years practical experience in the libertarian movement, it is irrelevant gibberish, and it's hard to decide how to address it. National defense is a "public good" only if you're a left wing or right wing socialist. If you're an individualist, it's simply the aggregate of individual self-defense. A modernpresumably he means a high-tech and thoroughly collectivizedmilitary kicks ass, he tells us, wallowing once again in his pathetic inability to learn the simplest lessons history has to teach all but the densest among us.
From Valley Forge to the Fall of Saigon, from the early British and Russian invasions of Afghanistan to the later Russian and American invasions of Afghanistan (talk about inability to learn from history), from the American invasion of Iraq to its coming invasion of Iran, one thing is clear: all the technology in the world, all the organization, sacrifice, and self-discipline, are nothing compared to one guy with mud on his boots and a sharpened stick in his hands, defending his own territory.
If you fail to make that the principal fact informing your foreign policy and base your own "national defense" on it, you will be utterly doomed.
"I gave the Rothbard approach to selling liberty an honest appraisal," Milsted then proclaims. "I worked at it dilligently for about a decade. It doesn't work. It is unconvincing to 99% of the population."
There's a lot I could say here. I don't know what he means by "the Rothbard approach". The last time I paid any attention to Murray, he was attempting to reorganize the libertarian movement along Leninist lines. Murray was a wonderful teacher of the principles of liberty, but he was a terrible strategist and an even worse tactician. He was always making predictionsReason would never have more than 2000 subscribers, the LP would never have more than 2000 membersthat didn't come true, and he never acknowledged it when events proved him wrong.
I suspect that what Milsted is trying to convey with his phrase "the Rothbard approach" is strategy and tactics that are radicalin an original sense of the word, meaning dealing with the root of issues and eventsand unflinchingly straightforward. He was diligent, he complains at us, it doesn't work, it's unconvincing to 99% of the population.
Well perhaps Milsted couldn't make it workI find him a poor persuader, myselfbut I haven't had any trouble with this approach over the past four decades. People appreciate it when you tell them the truth, even when they disagree with you. Perhaps he shouldn't confuse his own incompetencehis obvious inability to understand his fellow human beings and communicate with them effectivelywith the value of the method. Perhaps he shouldn't do his best to sabotage the efforts of those around him who are better at those things than he is.
Perhaps he shouldn't look down his nose at others (to whom, sadly, he feels superior) and try to feed them baby food. If I had a dime for every "pragmatist" who said that trying to teach libertarianism to the "great unwashed" public is like trying to teach a pig to sing, I'd be rich.
Perhaps, again, he should struggle to learn more than he obviously has so far, from history. There's no need at all to convince 99% of the population of anything. Five percent is probably enough to change the course of human events, 10% is, almost certainly. Or can't he tell when it's really appropriate to think "in terms of quantities vs. categories"?
"I look at the data," Milsted makes another try to impress us with his magnificent scientificalness. "100% of anarchic peoples have been conquered by governed people, adopted government internally, or are in a state of civil war (Somalia). This does not prove anarcho-capitalism to be impossible, but it does put the burden of proof on the anarchist."
No, it certainly doesn't. Statism is an assertionjust like the assertions commonly made by religionthat an entity exists which is necessary, good, or has other important qualities. The burden of proof lies with the statist, not with the individual who does not believe any of these things. As with religionists, even after something on the order of 8000 years, government's advocates have failed to prove their assertions, and unfailingly resort to theft, thuggery, and slaughter, instead.
Milsted whimpers, "Lumping small government libertarians in with fascists and socialists is petulant, childish, and silly." No, it is the point. At least eight terror-filled, blood-drenched millennia, from thousands of years before the mountains of skulls accrued by Tamerlane, right up through the Holocaust and the outrage that was Operation Keelhaul, demonstrate beyond the palest shadow of a doubt, to anybody who isn't hopelessly retarded or hasn't made himself that way, that governmentthat all government and any governmentis evil.
You're fond of numbers? Then go see what Amnesty International has to say. It is "small government libertarians" who lump themselves in with the butchers and the rapists and the demolishers of history, not those of us who refuse to suspend our disbelief in the garbage they're shoveling. Can you say "Guantanamo", Carl, or Abu Graib? I thought you could.
At this point, so enamored is he of the virtual sound of his own voice, that Milsted goes completely off the tracks, implying that Rothbard and Ayn Rand are guilty of "circular philosophical arguments and a priori reasoning", and asserting that natural rights theories are "unprovable". While this should come as something of a shock to Paul LePanto, among others, it's a bigger shock to see the theoretical physicist, mathematician, and economist rely, instead, on Robert Anton Wilson.
That's what I said, Robert Anton Wilson. Don't misunderstand me. I know Bob Wilson. I like and respect and admire him and even love him in a wholesomely manly way (no tongues, now). But nobodyleast of all Uncle Antonwould ever accuse him of being a rigorous thinker. I was there during the great debates on these topics, and it soon became apparent to me that Bob would have argued with Sir Isaac Newton himself, because the idea of natural law is emotionally abhorrent to him.
I personally think what disturbs Milsted and his ilk most about libertarian philosophy is the Zero Aggression Principle (of which there is no mention anywhere in his message) probably because, as any statist wouldminiature or otherwisethey find it ... confining. Somewhere in their minds, they wish to reserve some right they imagine that they have to initiate force against me, should it someday prove necessary.
I won't trust anyone who rejects the Zero Aggression Principle, nor will I permit them to call themselves "libertarian" without a challenge.
"There does exist a large market for increased liberty and reduced government. I have done large scale informal polling ... and extensive focus group work ... " Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
I would let this blather speak for itselfwhenever people who call themselves libertarians start talking like advertising agencies, you know they've gone completely bankruptexcept that so many people have come to believe there's substance to it. Instead, I offer a couple of questions that should restore something resembling perspective.
First, what "market" was there for ending slavery? Read Thomas DiLorenzo (to name one reliable historian) and it becomes clear that nobody in the 19th century, North or South, wanted to end slavery. No, not even Lincolnhe just wanted to inconvenience the South. It served just about every interest there was to keep slavery going. Those who saw that slavery was (and is) an abomination didn't give a rusty fuck that hardly anybody agreed with them. They just knew it was wrong.
Second, if it would increase LP marketability to include one or two tiny exceptionssay, female circumcision or child molestationwould that be acceptable to pragmatists "capable of using real numbers"?
If not, why not?
No circular philosophical arguments or a priori reasoning, now.
A special word about the way this sorry specimen of crypto-Republicanism ends this particular line of non-argument by accusing those who disagree with his distorted view of reality of not loving liberty as much as he does, and doing nothing except "whine on the sidelines."
I have remained as impersonal in my reply so far as it is possible for me to be. Perhaps not very, I confess I am a man of considerable passion, and stupidity infuriates me quite as much as evil. Perhaps more. These statements of Milsted's are among the stupidest I've ever seen.
I have dedicated my adult life, since I was 15 years old, almost entirely to the cause of individual freedom, night and day, year in and out. Ask anybody who knows me. I have stood in the broiling sun and the freezing drizzle collecting petition signatures for myself and others. I have written 20-odd books concerning themselves with little else.
For 25 years, I have refrained from taking hints, from those in a position to make it happen, that I could be a very great deal more successful as a novelist, if I would just keep my politics out of my books. I have lived in cramped, hot, tiny boxes, ridden around in rusty clunking cars, watched my family go without and miss great chances that cooperating with the establishment most certainly would have gotten for themand then cheer me on and tell me never to give up.
I have neglected work to run for political office where I thought I could do the most good at the time, and weathered years of cheap shots later, from those who refused to understand what I was doing or why.
I say none of this to blow my own horn, but simply to put the rest of this paragraph into its proper setting. The most important thing to understand is that I am very far from alone in my dedication to this movement and, more importantly, more rationally, the ideals upon which it rests and without which it would have no meaning whatsoever. Many, many others have worked much harder than I have, and none of us have ever stood whining on the sidelines. In my long, bitter experience, that's just the sort of thing to be expected from "pragmatists" who are always eager to tell us how to do what they can't possibly do, themselves.
"The Libertarian Party has been relatively ineffective over the years," Milsted opines from empty space, "because it has waffled between two conflicting business plans. It has tried to function as a radical protest organization (a PETA for liberty) and as a political party to get freedom lovers elected to office ... Split the two business plans into separate businesses and both grow stronger. A protest organization that does not worry about electability or credibility can go all out with the radical message and entertaining street theater."
It's hard to know where to begin with a ball of mucus like this. If Milsted actually thinks that all libertarian radicals want to do is protest, or that protest is the only proper venue to discuss serious issues, then he knows even less than I thought he did up until now, and he again betrays his essentially Nixonian outlook on politics and philosophy. The Libertarian Party has been completely ineffective over the years, precisely because of frightened backseat drivers like Milsted, jogging the elbows of those who actually know what they're doing.
Meanwhile, what is Milsted's shining ideal? "A political party that shies away from the extremely unpopular issues can actually win on those libertarian issues where the public has already been convinced ... The radical protest organization puts a far out issue into the public consciousness and renders it thinkable ... think tanks ... put some thought into the issue," [as if the radicals had not] "grassroots organizations ... craft palatable variations ... politicians run on the palatable version and get it put into law. Over time, government shrinks."
You know, it isn't that I mind so much the way each generation tries to reinvent the wheel. (What the hell, by the way, makes this guy think we can be free by passing more laws?) What gets me is that they keep reinventing it square. This method has been tried beforeit succeeded in England, where the scam was worked between the Communists and the Fabian socialists. I wrote approvingly of it myself, 25 years ago.
The trouble was that the frilly-dillies wouldn't let it work. They spent their time monkeywrenching the radicals every way they could, including watering down the uncompromising platform we needed as a base to work from. They prevented the Libertarian Party from achieving any visible differentiation from the Republicans and Democrats because they themselves were afraid of what they were supposed to be believing in.
"If you want to form a separate 'political party' that is utterly pure and focuses on educating the populace, you have my blessing," Milsted generously intones, like the squatter that he is. "We need radical libertarian organizations that make the Libertarian Party look moderate."
Let me return the offer with equal generosity: first, stuff that "utterly pure" crap; a thing is either what it is or it is something else. I'm fed up being called a "purist" because I can read a damn definition.
If you're not man enough to take your libertarianism undiluted, if the movement's core ideals frighten or embarrass you, if, in that patronizing, condescending, utterly undeserved sense of superiority of yours you think the state-battered American public isn't more than ready to hear what real libertarians have to say and want to do, if you're not willing to do the hard work of getting them to listen, get out.
We were here first.
Start your own Whimpertarian Party instead of hijacking the one your betters built. See how far it gets you, competing with something real. Try holding onto the LP you've stolen and we'll embarrass you out, using nothing more than genuine libertarian ideas, positions and policies. Try explaining to the round-heeled media our insistence that a nine-year-old girl should be free to buy a machinegun, ammunition, and heroin at the general store without signing anything or presenting identification.
I promise that you'll have to.
The first time my level of disgust reached some sort of breaking point, I decided to stop trying to teach neolibertarian pigs to sing. I sat down and wrote my first novel, communicating libertarianism the way I still believe it ought to be communicated, straightforwardly, and unimpeded by those who are afraid their fellow human beings might be damaged somehow by telling them the truth. I don't suppose I should have been surprised (although I confess that I was) that one of the principal consequences of my having written The Probability Broach, still in print after 26 years, and all the books that came afterward, was the bitter whining of those, it turned out, who resented me for doing somethinganythingwithout having consulted them about it first.
I've already wasted the better part of my life as a genuine libertarian, trying unavailingly to deal with Nerf imitations who are unworthy of the ideas the movement is centered on. I have no interest in arguing with them further about this. I'm simply going to do what I said I'd do. The less they like my ideas, my methods of implementing them, the better I'll know (not that there was ever any doubt) that I'm doing the right thing. They're equally free to do whatever they mistakenly believe bestexcept that, since they insist on doing it in the name of a cause I've been involved with twice as long as they have, I'm going to be breathing down their necks every inch of the way.
Or, they could just go play in traffic.
The world will be a better, cleaner place for it.