L. Neil Smith's
Number 327, July 10, 2005

"Relegation Nation"

The Janus Gambit
A Strategy for Libertarian Emergence

by Kent B. Van Cleave

Exclusive to TLE


Janus was the Roman god of beginnings, of gateways and portals (scholars disagree on the other things in his portfolio), and may have been the first of the Roman gods. He is normally portrayed with two faces, front and back—useful for seeing both what lies ahead and what has passed. We can learn much from such mythological figures—not because they are real and communicate verities to the worthy, but because they represent some universal attributes of human nature and social transactions. That's the way myths work.

So ... indulging the imagination a bit, what might Janus see today if he looked back at the history of the Libertarian Party in the U.S. (and at the larger libertarian movement)? What might he see as its possible futures? And what advice might he give from this perspective that would help us choose the right door in our quest for the most successful, libertarian future?

The first exercise would be a bit like looking in a mirror, for the Libertarian Party has long had two faces, as well:

  • One face—often taking on the appearance of Murray Rothbard—is focused on libertarianism as a philosophical movement of moral principle. Everything, on this view, is a matter of conformity to or violation of the principle of non-aggression: never initiate force or fraud. Each particular plank in the party platform, then, is considered here to be either a corollary of this principle ... or a mistake. For our purposes, we'll call libertarians who take this view purists.

  • The other face might look like Milton Friedman—always looking at the practical advantages to be expected from libertarian policies. Freedom works, and the more of it we get (and, conversely, the smaller government gets) the more people can thrive and prosper. Planks in the party platform on this view should be statements of particular goals Libertarians want to achieve: concrete ends with their concomitant benefits. We'll be calling libertarians of this stripe pragmatists.

To summarize what you can expect from the following analysis, I think Janus would see our past as an alternation and interaction between these two facets, and he would see a number of possible futures open to the Libertarian Party. But one future in particular would stand out as the most philosophically and politically prosperous—one he would quickly recommend over the alternatives. That future, I think, requires accepting and exploiting our own dualistic nature. Clarifying pragmatism and purism—definitions

Now, before proceeding any further, I need to deal with an immediate objection to this classification. Some will object that either there's no important distinction to be made here, for it's pragmatic to pursue libertarianism regardless of whether one is thinking of principles or tangible benefits. Good things happen either way. This might be true, but it misses my point. The distinction I want to draw here is one of motivational focus. This may seem unimportant, but I think it's crucial—so please bear with me.

Pragmatists, in the sense I mean, are focused on goals. This is an attribute they share with other political parties. We all know how important particular goals are to many people. Sometimes a goal is so important to a person that she becomes a "single-issue" voter in hopes of achieving that goal. More generally, there are constellations of goals that appeal to large groups of voters, and party lines are drawn accordingly. While one is focused on some desired end, one generally is not as focused on the means employed in its pursuit. Acknowledging that exceptions to this rule can and do exist, I need to establish a rather arbitrary functional definition of "pragmatism" if this distinction is going to help us understand the real problems and challenges faced by the Libertarian Party. That definition, then, is simply this:

a Libertarian pragmatist is one who is more focused on a "larger" goal than on the means required to achieve it—and therefore will be sorely tempted to employ non-libertarian means (accept the initiation of force—typically "just a little," and "just for now") in service to that goal.

Whatever one might think of my choice of terms, that's the concept we need to examine ... in contrast to its libertarian complement, purism—the other face of our party.

Purists, focused on the non-aggression principle, have one goal only: the society-wide adoption of that principle (and conformity to it) in all actions, public and private. Now, while this is a goal, it's a bit strange in one regard. It doesn't specify any end state, any particular way our society might turn out. Instead, it simply insists on limiting the means by which people pursue their desired goals. No unprovoked force, and no fraud—period. The selection of goals is left up to individuals, singly and in voluntary groups.

Because the non-aggression principle is a restriction on the allowable means in society, I've been pointing out to my correspondents for some years now that the Libertarian Party, self-styled as the "Party of Principle," is really better viewed as the "Party of Circumscribed Means." After all, it matters which principle is ours. Only this one will do, and all it does is insist that only non-aggressive and honest means be used to advance any goal whatsoever.

Purists may also think of the LP as an anti-political party. That is, they believe that political means, relying ultimately on the initiation of force by government to enforce the will of the majority (or of a tyrant), are unacceptable for the pursuit of social goals. They may engage in the political process—not so much to wield political power (which, if attained, must only be used to dismantle illegitimate powers of the state), but to use the electoral soapbox to appeal for cultural change toward a libertarian society (which would tolerate none but libertarian politics: primarily, the election of relatively powerless functionaries to carry out the legitimate functions of government).

Finally, purists focus on the disease (the belief that government power can and should be used to make people's lives better) rather than the symptoms (things like high taxes and intrusive regulations). Pragmatists characteristically seek relief from the symptoms, and therefore resort to palliatives on the order of aspirin and band-aids.

Enough description. Let me illustrate the difference between the purist and pragmatist approaches with just one example. This water has long since passed under the bridge, but purists still react viscerally to its pragmatic improprieties.

In the 1996 presidential election cycle, some LPUS staff members wound up "moonlighting" for the Harry Browne for President campaign—before the LP convention. In other words, they were for some reason giving preference to one candidate out of a field of potential nominees, all of whom had a right to equal treatment and assistance from the party staff. Knowledgeable readers will note that I'm leaving out a whole bunch of other allegations surrounding staff involvement with the Browne campaign—but this much will suffice to illustrate my point.

How could such favoritism and impropriety have come about? I think the most charitable interpretation goes something like this. LPUS staffers were excited at the prospect of having—for the first time in the party's history—a presidential candidate who had a national (and even international) reputation outside libertarian circles. The fact that a new book by this candidate, proposing something like a libertarian agenda, was ready to be promoted in a nationwide book tour that would obviously coincide with potential campaign opportunities ... well, that was pretty attractive, too. It would not be surprising in the least if the excitement over this prospect dulled sensibilities concerning conflicts of interest within the party.

In other words, an overriding goal (having the best-known presidential candidate in the history of our party) was so exciting and was perceived to be so important that concerns about impropriety (that is, inappropriate means, to the horror of party purists) either never arose or were brushed aside as relatively unimportant. That's my speculation concerning why things turned out the way they did in 1996.

Perhaps readers will be able to recall other examples from their experience of cases in which certain intermediate goals came to overshadow awareness of or concern over problems with the means employed or contemplated in their pursuit of particular solutions. I know I can, and it has taken uncommon restraint to forbear from recounting here the disgraceful Arizona Affair of the '90s in which I was deeply involved.

I hope the general human susceptibility to paying more attention to goals than to means is now evident enough that we can proceed. But before we continue, I want to reassure my readers that I intend no blanket indictment of pragmatism. Instead, I will offer a strategy whereby pragmatists can pursue their natural interests in harmony with the purists.

An extraneous variety of pragmatism

Recent dialogue in several online libertarian discussion groups has made it clear to me that there are concerns about trouble from two different kinds of pragmatists. The first of these is the kind I've been describing—those who believe the way to advance the Libertarian Party is to eschew purism and play by the rules in "the real world."

The second kind is rarely described as being pragmatist; other more pejorative terms are used. This kind is accused, basically, of feathering its own nests at the expense of the party. Typically, suspicions of this type of exploitation arise when a campaign focuses on fundraising, expending very little money on getting a message out to the general public, yet paying a lot of money to campaign workers and contractors with close personal ties to the candidate. Without passing judgment here, I want to point out that the issue is not whether someone who genuinely belongs in this group is a pragmatist or not—it's a question of what goal or interests they are pursuing with their pragmatic means. In this case, the worry is that they are advancing their personal interests by exploiting the party and its members. This problem arises in all sorts of organizations—but it's not the problem I'm analyzing here. We will now put these "selfish" pragmatists aside.

The "garden variety" of pragmatist (with whom I'm concerned) shares with the purists an emphasis on the welfare of the libertarian movement, though she will differ on the party's proper role.

Why these viewpoints collide

Though I don't think it's necessary for the purist and pragmatist perspectives always to be in conflict, I think that's the natural state of affairs under most circumstances. This is because the primary focus of each group is antithetical to the aims of the other. Pragmatists, as I've defined them, are exactly those Libertarians who are tempted, for the time being at least, to overlook, violate, or abandon the core principle of circumscribed means so dear to the purists. And purists are always standing in the way of the most promising pragmatist schemes for turning the real-world political tools of the major parties against them. Often—perhaps even most of the time—pragmatists don't believe their actions really compromise principle, and purists don't believe theirs really undermine party credibility. What makes the conflict is the way each group evaluates the actions of the other.

Each group does things in the name of the Libertarian Party that the other group finds embarrassing and destructive of what it counts as important.

Interlude: The psychology of libertarian growth

Before continuing to consider possible resolutions to the conflict at hand, we need to digress momentarily to establish a backdrop for the discussion. Both purists and pragmatists want to spread their influence, and there are good reasons to believe that the success of both must depend on the psychological composition of the American populace.

Now, this statement departs from prevailing dogmas of Libertarian optimism: "Most people are libertarians already. They just don't know it yet." Or, "Once we actually get our message out to enough people, the LP's growth is assured." The first idea is really just that other people are like us; we have awakened to our libertarian nature, but most haven't yet. The second idea is that the human mind is basically a tabula rasa, upon which we can write the clear and logical message of libertarianism if only given half a chance.

Reality isn't so accommodating. Most people aren't like us in the most relevant respects, and people's attitudes, preferences, and cognitive styles are remarkably channeled by the time they can talk. These attributes fall into identifiable constellations within the population. For the individuals found in each such constellation, a different collection of messages will be attractive or unattractive, understandable or alien. Our libertarian message, involving both abstract principle and practical consequences, will resonate (or not) according to its "fit" with these constellations. We understand that our principles justify the practical consequences (not the other way around)—but most people won't be inclined to look past those practical consequences. The pragmatic part of our message naturally resonates with more people than does the principled part—an idea that will require some elaboration.

Only a small minority of people are psychologically constructed in such a way that the abstract principles of libertarian purism will automatically make sense to them—and of these, about half will be inclined to disagree. The Myers-Briggs framework in personality theory, especially Dr. David Keirsey's modification identifying four temperaments, explains why this is so. The key point for us is that less than a quarter of the population constitutes the two "iNtuitive" temperaments (coded with the letter "N" in the first position of their two-letter temperament labels: "NT" or "NF") that are naturally inclined toward abstraction, processing their experience through concepts rather than dealing directly with concrete reality. The iNtuitives fit along a spectrum ranging from extreme Thinking (T) types to extreme Feeling (F) types. NTs tend to the analytical, rational, just, and dispassionate; NFs tend to the idealistic, empathetic, compassionate, and spiritual.

[A handy, free online test at http://haleonline.com/psychtest/ allows you to see which of the 16 Myers-Briggs personality types best suits you; this very quick test provides no information about degrees of preference. For more detail, try the Keirsey Temperament Sorter at http://keirsey.com/ or order the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI) at http://www.mbti.com/. Readers may also be interested in a recent article by David Bergland at LewRockwell.com: http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig3/bergland2.html.]

The libertarian message of principle resonates naturally with NTs, for personal competence is their watchword. They are always collecting new abilities, new ways to gain power over their circumstances (as opposed, usually, to power over other people). The libertarian message of freedom and responsibility is so closely aligned to the value of personal competence that NTs will probably understand libertarianism upon first acquaintance. However, NTs are also susceptible to rationalism—the temptation to try to keep natural market forces (as well as social and political ones) in line, to control through clever manipulation that whose natural operation doesn't quite suit one's preferences. This is probably the motive source of much pragmatism in the LP—but, as we'll see in a moment, another source is becoming more influential.

NFs, on the other hand, will be most naturally attracted to the empathetic ideal of economic equality—and therefore to socialism. Now, it's important to note that those iNtuitives who fall close to the middle of this spectrum, whether nominally NT or NF, could go either way. I know a number of strong libertarian activists of the NF temperament; I wouldn't be surprised if Marx himself was an NT. Similarly, there will be NTs close to the middle of the spectrum who are converted to socialist principles.

This leaves the vast bulk of humanity—more than three quarters—who fall into the two "Sensible" (coded "S" instead of "N") temperaments, "SJ" and "SP." Sensibles are down-to-earth, matter-of-fact, hands-on, nuts-and-bolts kind of folks who relate to the world in concrete (instead of abstract) terms. This psychological orientation makes them very pragmatic. Because of their numbers, whether our purists like it or not, if libertarianism is ever to make the big time, it must be by appealing to large numbers of these folks.

Let's get to know them a bit.

In general, the SP (the "P" stands for "perceptive," which basically favors free-wheeling, spontaneous, unorganized, and even irresponsible approaches to life) goes for the gusto—in sports, adventure, hands-on arts and crafts, and earthy forms of performance. Extreme SPs are often libertines who love freedom from responsibility rather than freedom and responsibility. Many of these flock to the LP because we support freedom of lifestyle; unfortunately, they also account for much of the bad press we get. Because they hate being controlled and taxed, they make relatively easy converts from the two major parties, but they are also easily seduced away from principle.

The SJ is about duty, tradition, and order—playing the fabled Ant to the SP's Grasshopper. Having a secure place within a stable social order is the SJ's ideal, embraced with the strength of a moral imperative. SJs are naturally drawn to authoritarianism—at home, at work, and politically. However, because they are guided by simple moral norms (like their religious and political affiliations, these are usually hand-me-downs), the crystal clarity of the libertarian non-aggression principle can win converts. After all, it's simply the inverse of probably the most widely understood moral precept in Western civilization, the Golden Rule: "Do NOT unto others what you would NOT have done unto you." Once sold on this principle, an SJ will tend to remain faithful to it, though immediate duties and concerns—pragmatic realities—may overshadow it.

These psychographics have political implications. SPs and NFs, for example, both seek to maximize the quality of experience (epicurean and kinesthetic vs. artistic and spiritual), and both disdain mundane responsibilities that interfere with SP enjoyment and obstruct NF self-actualization. A political party that promotes making society provide collectively for the material needs of one and all would have a natural constituency here.

Similarly, SJs and NTs both value types of structure (hierarchies and laws for the one, logic and scientific method for the other), and both demand self-sufficiency (absent legitimate mitigating circumstances) in themselves and others. A political party that promotes traditional social structures, uniform and coherent laws, and enforced personal responsibility would have a natural constituency here. To satisfy its SJ majority, such a party would quickly emphasize forcing people to behave well rather than simply expecting them to be good—and would try to impose traditional SJ standards for good behavior, too. This wouldn't go over with self-directed NTs—but, politically, where else might they go?

To the LP, of course. Freedom and personal responsibility are just the foundation they need for the kind of life they prefer.

When the LP's natural constituency (those NTs) is only about 12 percent of the population, it's hard to see a path by which it can grow to be a powerhouse! But the numbers make one thing perfectly clear:

Without developing into a party that attracts more Sensibles than iNtuitives, the LP simply can't grow to match the size of the Democrat and Republicans parties.

Now, the big question: Can the LP undergo such a transformation and still remain libertarian?

Not under any conventional scenario, I'm afraid. The large number of Sensibles required to reach parity with the major parties will insist on pragmatic methods that produce incremental successes. Instead of being the party of circumscribed means, the LP would have to put its moral foundations into cold storage, stop advocating unconditional liberty and only peacefully and honestly pursued activities, and argue instead for less government control and taxation (implicitly granting the legitimacy of government control to whatever degree can be popularly sustained). Worse, they'll have to convince voters they can prosecute that agenda better than the Republicans, who already espouse it where economic liberty is concerned, and better than the Democrats, who already espouse it where personal liberty is concerned!

This state of affairs would never be accepted by Libertarian purists—so the transformed party would lose its most ideologically committed core, which would probably go into direct competition with the changeling party.

What a mess. A purist LP is doomed to remain small, but growth is essential for the pragmatists. A pragmatist LP is doomed to lose its ideological base, which is the whole point of the party for purists.

What to do?

Possible solutions to the conflict: (1) Exclusive purism

What if purism prevailed altogether in this conflict, and pragmatism disappeared from the Libertarian Party? The purists would have a clear field to implement their mission of cultural education and change, without fear that others would give the LP a reputation for hypocrisy and ruin its credibility. Pragmatists wouldn't cease to exist; they'd simply not be in the LP. They might divide in two groups—one joining other parties in hopes of making them more libertarian, and another trying to set up a new pragmatic party with a libertarian flavor.

I'm not inclined to explore the prospects for either of these pragmatic alternatives, because I think they are transparently not optimum. I trust anyone who believes otherwise will offer a rebuttal from which we can all benefit.

The remaining purist Libertarian Party would be relegated to recruiting members from those individuals who can appreciate the abstract principles upon which our purism is based, and agree with it. That's primarily the folks who possess the iNtuitive Thinking (NT) temperament mentioned above—about 12 percent of the populace, plus a few others with other temperaments who are close enough to the NT "borderline" that they can be influenced to adopt certain NT principles. Pragmatic arguments would attract many times the number of converts as arguments on principle can muster, but those arguments would be de-emphasized.

This is hardly a recipe for wildfire expansion of libertarianism into American polity! Realistically, all we could expect would be the perennial support for purist libertarian ideals capped at 12 to 15 percent of the population.

Pretty dismal.

Possible solutions to the conflict: (2) Exclusive pragmatism

I think a party organized along pragmatist libertarian lines would quickly outstrip a purist LP in membership, visibility, and influence. Why? Because the pragmatists are closer, psychologically, to most prospective converts to "libertarian lite" thought (less government interference and taxation). The pragmatists can appeal to the specific frustrations of borderline voters for whom purist rhetoric would seem extreme, impractical, or even unintelligible. Indeed, understanding this dynamic is one big reason why some pragmatists are pragmatists.

Let's assume a pragmatist Libertarian Party begins to elect candidates to office. They do so by acknowledging that some state control is unavoidable (and therefore refuse to oppose state control in principle). They fight for reductions in taxation, implicitly accepting the right of the state to tax. They fight for reductions in regulation ... you get the idea.

The media (encouraged, of course, by opposing political parties) begins to ask uncomfortable questions: You have advocated this specific level of taxation—so on what grounds can you justify asking for further reductions in taxation? You have advocated this specific level of regulation of private enterprise—so on what grounds can you justify asking for further reductions in regulation?

The uncomfortable answer is simply that once a compromise of principle has been accepted, that principle can no longer be logically defended. Is taxation slavery or extortion? You can't make that case if you campaign for a 10 percent flat income tax.

My conclusion is that no pragmatic party (as I've defined the term) can be a truly libertarian party.

Possible solutions to the conflict: (3) Competition

What if the competition between these two wings of the party continues? Clearly, there will be considerable waste of money and effort as the two wings pursue opposite aims here and there. There will be a sense, quickly picked up on by the media, that Libertarians can't get their act together. There will be a dilution of purpose among individuals with libertarian inclinations. Bickering and infighting will not only consume resources, but will emerge as a defining characteristic of the LP in the eyes of the media (and therefore, of much of the public).

Continued competition is not an option if success is desired.

Possible solutions to the conflict: (4) Synergy

"For a party like ours fighting an uphill battle, it's crucial that the whole be greater than the sum of its parts. With our current infighting, loss of members, and lack of synergy, the whole is less than the sum of its parts." —Bill Hajdu, LP of Orange County, Calif.

Both purists and pragmatists have wished for unity—a way to focus the efforts of all toward one goal. But because the two factions have promoted different paradigms, and each demands unification under its own banner, unity has remained elusive.

What if members of both factions could remain true to their objectives, yet still work together without compromising those objectives or their principles? This possibility would seem to be worth pursuing.

I think the key to this strategy—what I'm calling "the Janus Gambit"—has two components. The first of these is to establish a formal power-sharing arrangement.

  • Let the pragmatists control and promote the ends they consider important, without claiming that those ends pass philosophical libertarian muster.

  • Let the purists promote the circumscribed means they believe must define civilized human society, without claiming that those means are politically professional or pragmatically feasible.

In other words, let there be two formalized wings of the Libertarian Party, each with its own domain, and each acknowledging (and refraining from intrusion upon) the domain of the other.

I think we need this two-pronged thrust for success in this component of our overall strategy. We need one prong to convert the skittish voters so they can be trained in the principles of freedom—and to play the "good cop" in the political arena. We need another prong to demonize, demoralize, and politically destroy the individuals who make careers of statism, while anchoring (in psychological terms) our side of the political spectrum in absolute, zero-tax, zero-regulation, prosecution of harm and fraud only, no prior restraint without probable cause, libertarian principle. Apart from being the right goal, this is a pragmatic strategy, too—for any anchor short of that unnecessarily gives ground for those in our company who seek compromise. We need to take a lesson from the Socialists in this! As we're too aware, the Socialists achieved their nearly complete victory in the U.S. not by electing officials, but by browbeating politicians from the other parties until socialist aims were won bit by bit.

You don't begin political negotiations by offering compromise. Steadfast adherence to principle brings offers of compromise in response.

One primary benefit of this two-pronged approach, immediately realized, would be to replace the bickering and infighting between our purist and pragmatist factions with a synergy never before seen in the LP. No more wasting of time and resources; no more loss of disgusted activists; no more fighting over what the goal of the party will be. With libertarians of both stripes able to pursue their own visions of political progress, without presuming to speak for the party as a whole (this is key!), we not only eliminate the chronic dissipation of energy and resources, but open up a whole new world of delicious cooperation.

Just imagine, for example, what it will be like to stop being ignored during primary election season! Contested Libertarian primaries, with a pragmatist "good cop" candidate and a purist "bad cop" candidate, will not only command media attention in the name of fairness (and in hopes of exposing internal disagreements), but will provide political theatre such as hasn't been seen in this country for years! Such "competitors" for party nomination can indulge in a delightful "tastes great/less filling" debate over the evils of Demolican candidates and policies, and disagreement over platform matters such as whether it's more important to treat people with respect (as capable of productivity and self-reliance), or to insist on one's own freedom from tax slavery.

Big fun, big results (I'm betting).

Component 2: Explicit Pragmatic Focus on Harm Reduction

I mentioned there were two components of success according to my Janus Gambit. The second one is this: Pragmatists must let the other parties take blame for every violation of the non-aggression principle. No libertarian pragmatist can afford to recommend a tax reduction, or a change to a flat tax, or a switch from an income tax to a sales tax—no matter how much better the American people would be for making such changes.

This, of course, is where I risk losing my pragmatic-minded readers! But hang on. There's a way to have this cake and eat it, too.

Pragmatic Tactic 1: Demolicans Mortified Over Their Own Policies

Pragmatists have some secret weapons available to them that can force Demolicans to implement the incremental reforms pragmatists are most likely to see, understand, and desire—and these weapons will allow them to achieve change without advocating the specific measures they want implemented. In fact, these weapons can be wielded in good conscience even by purists! They are forged from one simple idea: just point out the inconsistencies between the core beliefs of Republicans and Democrats and the means they choose to advance those beliefs politically—and then show how those means are harmful to the innocent and destructive of certain core values the R's and D's hold.

Think about it. Republicans believe down to their tippy-toes that their proposals are moral. Show them the immorality of their views, and they become helpless. This isn't rocket science. Any libertarian worth her salt can make the case that laws requiring (insert the controlling parameter of your choice) run afoul of core conservative values.

Most effective is the notion that no conservative needs to help God deal with sinners. Crimes against one's fellow man is one matter (harm is fairly easy to identify and prosecute, and is relatively independent of one's religious belief), but sins against God that have nothing to do with harming other humans should surely be up to God to punish!

Even the trickiest issue in this domain, abortion, logically falls outside the provenance of government—for the claim of "rights" for the unborn child is on very shaky ground: If you accept that no individual, ever, has a right to demand material support from another individual without her voluntary agreement, the debate is over. If the mother never agreed to have the child, it has no right to draw sustenance from her and put her through the medical risk of childbirth. (Of course, we'd all hope that moral preference, not coercive requirements, would prompt the mother to have the child and place it for adoption.)

So the Republicans by rights should be quivering at our mercy. Democrats fare no better. They believe, down to their own tippy-toes, that their proposals are non-violent. It's really bizarre, I know, but they truly believe that they can force people to do all the wonderful things they like without ... well, without forcing them.

To be sure, they typically rely on the notion of social contract theory whereby everyone agrees implicitly to abide by the dictates of a tyrant or a majority, simply by drawing breath. Ask them whether there is anywhere on earth (or elsewhere, for that matter) where one can live peacefully and honestly, exercising the exclusive right to choose how and when to help others (and here's the fun part), without risking torture or death when more is demanded of them without their consent, and they will ... well, they might faint outright.

Yes, the incontrovertible fact that liberal political do-goodism relies entirely on threats of violence (and don't forget to mention the guns required to keep recalcitrant citizens in line!) may be even more fun to wield than the immorality of Republican moralism.

These two tactics are best directed toward ordinary Americans—not politicians. Politicos, by and large, are inured to the moral deficiencies required for their careers, and won't be stopped simply by personal guilt. But they can be stopped nonetheless, by publicly confronting them with the fact that they presume to be our masters. They can't tolerate being seen in that light. Here....

Pragmatic Tactic 2: Politicians, Please Don't Mistreat the Slaves So Much!

Pragmatists have a special weapon to wield against politicians. This one goes hand-in-hand with the compromise requirement I mentioned above—that they not advocate the incremental improvements they desire, but instead force the Democrats and Republicans to do that job on their own. This is the speedy way to get the Demolicans moving. Just fine-tune the following statement to the issue and the circumstances:

"Given that you believe this issue is too important to be left up to a free people, so you intend to make it mandatory on your own authority, on punishment of death for conscientious objectors; and to get the financial support you need from the labor of the slaves you call 'constituents'—that is, given that you intend to be the masters of the rest of us—won't you at least ease up on us out of the kind of compassion you would grant a horse who isn't quite up to pulling your wagon? How about reducing (fill in the blank with the level of regulation or taxation they are demanding), just to keep people from hurting so much?"

Now, that's pretty rich in content, so let's go back over some key components. "Too important to be left up to a free people" is a wonderful way to characterize a politician's impulse to dictate coercive solutions. Because America is still thought to be the "Land of the Free" (in truth, even by many of the politicians, who—partially, at least—fool themselves into thinking they are being voluntarily followed), talk of coercion is still uncomfortable—as long as it can be separated from "the will of the people," who allegedly grant these politicians the power to act on their behalf. So be sure to frame the issue as "ordinary people against their political masters."

"Mandatory on your own authority" is a phrase that calls into question whether a politician is "channeling" the will of her constituents or acting independently and arbitrarily.

"On punishment of death for conscientious objectors" is a delicious phrase that characterizes both the violence of government and the nature of its intolerance to principled opposition. The term 'conscientious objector' has earned a rather deep respect in American culture at least since Vietnam, and consigning those who object to a policy on principle to death will sound terribly harsh to most Americans. (If "death" sounds too extreme, just follow the chain of consequences when an objector refuses to comply with the [illegitimate] law, and the [equally illegitimate] enforcement of that law.) Also, feel free to use the term "minorities" instead of "conscientious objectors" whenever it seems helpful—for conscientious objectors are really just political minorities, and we all know the power of the m-word in getting the full attention of politicians.

The "slaves" and "masters" stuff should be pretty obvious to libertarian readers, but we shouldn't discount the power of those terms when we present them to naive Americans who think of themselves as "free." Indeed, it's ultimately the slave-master relation that not only best characterizes politics anywhere, but will properly ferment suspicion and discontent in the breasts of the citizens.

The last bit about kindness to the horse, I confess, may be a bit over the top. But it conveys the idea that a politician shouldn't even need to consider a citizen to be human in order to treat her better. And, frankly, "over the top" is just another way of saying that something may be more attention-getting than necessary ... and getting attention for our libertarian perspective (despite forces that radically undermine that objective) is the whole point, isn't it? Have we ever reached the point of excess in this respect?

Question: Can purists use this fun tool as well? I think so; they'll just have to be more careful about how they phrase things. Purists can't advocate mere reductions in abuse, for they must abjure abuse itself. But there's nothing to prevent them from acknowledging the despicable inclination of politicians to abuse their constituents ... and simply ask that if officials are determined to abuse people, they should not abuse them so much. Phrased that way, the indictment seem all the harsher, don't you think?

The batch of tactics I've recommended here, while they can generally be implemented by both pragmatists and purists, still reflect some differences between the two groups. Because negotiating with politicians is really the purview of pragmatists, it will be important that they carefully avoid giving the impression that any incremental measures they might hope for are not necessarily justified by libertarian principle. And purists will need (for their own sakes) to couch their phrases, as they communicate with both citizens and politicians, in such a way as to keep libertarian principle sacrosanct.

Does Two Faces Mean 'Duplicity' Here?

Given the common meaning of "two-faced" in our society, I confess I worried a bit about using this metaphor. After all, we libertarian purists have this thing against fraud. Ultimately, though, I think this strategy comes up clean. I'm not advocating hypocrisy on the part of anyone; I'm simply acknowledging the different objectives and styles of those in the libertarian movement, and offering a way all can work together in harmony. Best of all, the tactics I propose for the pragmatists among us are, I think, quite acceptable from a purist's standpoint.

Still, I do expect that if this strategy is implemented seriously within the movement, there will be charges of hypocrisy. They should be easily rebutted.


Where friction between the watchwords of "principle above all" and "political success for a political party" has long been a destructive force within our movement, I think there is a way to end the friction and use this dynamic synergistically.

Probably the most important aspect of my proposal is that the counterproductive squabbling between factions can now be metamorphosed into the powerful tool of political theatre. I take it as a good sign that implementing this strategy will clearly conform to the famous advise offered by my close friend, the savvy and indomitable heart of the libertarian movement in Arizona (for more than a decade now), Ernie Hancock:

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right."


Serenity, the FIREFLY movie
Serenity: The Official Movie Website

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