Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 416, May 6, 2007

"But why assume that. . .?"


You Can't Spell Assertion Without. . .
by L. Neil Smith

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

In our last issue of The Libertarian Enterprise, we ran a letter that originally came to me personally, by e-mail, in belated response to my article, "Teaching Pigs to Sing". It was from Texas Libertarian Party member Michael McNeil, who proclaimed himself to be with the so- called "Libertarian Reform Caucus", the same bunch, you recall, that eviscerated the LP national platform last year. Rather than describing this group for you, I urge you to read McNeil's letter right now, for yourself.

In a brief direct reply to McNeil, I promised a longer and more detailed response. Borrowing a little from that reply, this is my response:

"I agree with you completely on a[n] ideological level," McNeil asserts. "But we need to get candidates elected. I hope we agree on this. . . if nothing else. Are you opposed to the idea of. . .electable libertarian[s]?"

It's a fundamental tactic of persuasion to begin by pretending to find some common ground between antagonists, something they can agree on, a camel's nose under the bottom edge of the tent, so that the whole camel can eventually wiggle and worm himself in where he doesn't belong.

The trouble with the tactic is that it assumes that the particular disagreement is without content, or that content is trivial compared with the need to put an end to the disagreement. I am certainly not opposed to liberarians getting themselves elected here and there, from time to time, but I doubt very seriously that my reasons for that are the same as McNeil's or those of the so-called "Libertarian Reform Caucus".

My one and only "ideological" objective, now, and over the past 45 years (I became a libertarian in 1962, when I was 16 years old, nine years before the Libertarian Party was established), is to create a libertarian society in which I can live and work in freedom. In all that time, I have never been convinced that electing libertarians to office is the best way—or even a possible way—to achieve that objective.

It serves other purposes which I'll discuss some other time.

In fact, there are so many things wrong with that idea, it's hard to know where to begin taking it apart. I guess the place to start is with the notion that freedom can be imposed on people, from the top down, by elected officials—their political "betters". This, of course, is the precise opposite of what real libertarians want to accomplish.

Those to whom it seems like a good idea often refer to themselves as "practical"—as opposed to the principled individuals they sneer at as "purists". But just how practical is it to attempt to establish a regime in which you have to militate every day against a population that you have made to feel oppressed, just to maintain whatever it is you've gained politically, instead of being able to forge ahead to new goals, with the enthusiastic support of the civilization you're a part of?

In circumstances like that, the struggle for freedom quickly degenerates into a struggle to obtain and keep power, and freedom is forgotten. It's exactly what's gone wrong with every revolution in history.

"Pure ideals," McNeil loftily informs us, "are impossible in politics. . . ."

To which I replied, "Did God fly down on a flaming pie and tell you this?" I've heard this assertion made over and over again, without ever hearing any convincing evidence to support the contention. It's simply something that certain individuals, with a certain mind-set prefer to believe, usually because they want to think they're wiser or better-informed than the unwashed masses they imagine exist out there somewhere.

"We can witness this," he adds, "through hundreds of years of democracies falling somewhere in the middle between ideological poles."

The trouble with this "reasoning" is that democracies haven't existed, as such, for "hundreds" of years, and even if what he asserts here were true, it isn't the fault of principle, but of democracy, a political form whose filtering mechansms have evolved until nobody can get elected unless they're as stupid, evil, or insane as the rest of the system. Fundamentally, that's what McNeil and his "reformers" want to see us running for office—the most stupid, evil, or insane among us.

So we can compete with the other parties.

"So why," McNeil thinks he's asking rhetorically, presumably given this tendency toward the middle democracies exhibit, "would the. . . Libertarian Party emphasize beliefs like. . . your 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?"

How about because it's what fundamental libertarian principle demands—or is McNeil saying that he intends to help the state continue to initiate force against that little girl and all the rest of us along with her?—and because it sums up everything that real libertarians believe in, and have been striving to make happen for decades?

How about because getting it out in the open now—thinking the unthinkable, saying the unsayable, breaking the ice—makes it that much easier to discuss other serious issues tomorrow and the day after that?

Or how about a discovery I made myself, during and after my own first campaign, because people appreciate openness in a candidate and will sometimes vote for you, even if they disagree with some of what you tell them, for no better reason than that you were honest with them?

McNeil asserts several times that he agrees with me ideologically, and that, deep down inside, he's "a radical libertarian—nearly a mini-anarchist." I don't know what he thinks the term "mini-anarchist" means. You either advocate government or you do not. But what we used to call a "minarchist", back in the day, is, to avoid euphemism, a ministatist.

In any case, he spoils it by asserting that I want to use "the Libertarian Party as a kind of philosophical Elk's Lodge". Much like another message I received once that assumed—because I'm a writer, I guess—that I am wealthy and go hunting wearing "a thousand dollar kill-suit", I have pondered McNeil's extremely peculiar turn of phrase ever since I received his message. My father-in-law was an Elk, so I do have a pretty good idea of what that means, but I assure you it doesn't have anything to do with what I want the Libertarian Party to be.

I can tell you what the Libertarian Party is today: it's built inside-out. For us—unlike the other parties—elections should not be the principle focus of our activities, they should be a test of how well we've done in the area we really should be concentrating on instead.

Our objective is to change civilization from one that tolerates the beat-up-and-kill "philosophy" of the Republicans and Democrats to one that respects, values, and defends individual liberty as a basic principle.

There are a thousand ways to do this. A few—white papers, audio presentations, video presentations, regular press releases, press conferences on significant occasions, shadow "cabinets" at every level of government, books, telephone campaigns, newspapers that are more than just internal newsletters, libertarian presences online, and especially frequent and radical ballot initiatives—come to mind. None involve individual elections or candidacies. None rely on any single candidate too timid or inarticulate to convey the libertarian position.

Some of this we do in a scattered way today, but it hardly matters to most party libertarians. Elections have become the cart pulling the horse, to which everything else—including the very reasons the party was created—get sacrificed. Elections should tell us how well we're doing with all of our other efforts and they should mean no more than that. Otherwise, we're no different from the Boot-On-Your-Neck parties, getting our own hogs to the trough, imposing our political will by force, trampling down the 49 percent who didn't vote for us, forgetting that democracy is a means—and a damn poor one—not an end.

"If the intention is not to win elections," McNeil asks, "why remain a political party?" And if the Libertarian Party can't be different, I ask right back, why not just join the Republicans or the Democrats?

But McNeil labors on: "The only way that the LP will ever be able to win elections is by either appealing to the general populace through more moderate positions or supplicating corporations with promises of welfare. Personally, I am vehemently opposed to the latter."

Once again, who the hell told McNeil that moderate positions appeal to the "general populace" (nothing more than platform-rapist code for "unwashed masses")? And who the hell told him that lying to the voters is the only way that the LP will ever be able to win elections?

And personally, I'd like to know why he even bothers to make such a distinction, between lying to people and sucking up to corporations. Once you give up your principles, they're gone. It's a little late to develop scruples after the fact. Taking money from corporations is certainly no less admirable—and certainly no more idiotic—than trying to get yourself elected by deceiving the voters into becoming free.

In addition to which, it doesn't work. Even if it did somehow, as bad as a society would be where "freedom" is forced on people from the top down, a society in which libertarians have lied about who they are and what they believe in, just to get themselves elected would be even worse.

But back to McNeil's e-letter, in which he characterizes the dead serious controversy between principled libertarians and libertarianoid liars as a "debate of personal attacks" which, nonethelesss, "needn't become an ideological war," he asserts (in the spirit of a whiney little bully begging his victims not to hit him back). "The number of people who have become interested in libertarianism as a result of looking for simple 'fiscal conservatism and social tolerance' is astounding."

Perhaps, but it isn't really libertarianism that they've become interested in, is it? It's some arbitrary, disconnected mish-mash, a political mullet, offering "business in the front, and a party in the back".

"Upon seeing the true, radical nature of the Libertarian Party," McNeil complains, "these same new converts are immediately repulsed and return to voting for Republicrats, out of fear of too-rapid change."

Once again, it's hard to know where to start disassembling this gigantic, smelly bundle of claptrap. To begin with, understand that it's libertarianism, that is truly radical, not the Libertarian Party. For its entire history—and I've been there to see it all—it's been held back by individuals exactly like McNeil. If they think what made it through that process is radical, then they are simply Republicans.

Not libertarians.

Second, where has McNeil ever seen this happen—new converts "repulsed" out of the party—outside of his fevered imaginings? My experience is that they tend to stay in the party and contaminate it with their leftover right-wing and left-wing stupidity for years afterward.

And if it ever did happen, isn't that more reason for being up front about what we are? What McNeil's saying here is that we must always live the lie, not only for the benefit of potential converts, but for converts we actually make, that at no point can we ever "come out" and let those we conned into voting for us see for what we truly are.

"On a global scale," McNeil asserts, "most industrialized nations have turned so far away from the libertarianism of America's founding fathers that these ideas are no more than a distant memory." Wrong again, of course. There's no process here, no movement toward or away from libertarianism. Most industrialized nations were never interested in America's founding fathers. To them, history has largely been a pathetic struggle between monarchism and Marxism, with the players—Prince Charles, for example—sometimes taking odd, unpredictable positions.

"People laugh," McNeil moans pathetically like the crybaby he's turning out to be, "when you bring up the need for the rejuvenation of the gold standard. . . There will be no giant leaps with that kind of opposition."

"They all laughed," to quote the Gershwins, "at Wilbur and his brother when they said that man could fly." If people laughing at your ideas discourages you, Michael, then quit. Leave politics to those who can get it done without whimpering that they're getting a blister. As Buzz Lightyear put it, you're a sad, strange little man, and I pity you.

"We need to work slowly and steadily," McNeil then advises us, as dozens of others have before him. "We need to be convincing and vigilant.

Does this really seem like a time to act slowly and steadily? Read any newspaper. Watch the news on television. Does this seem like a time for soft voices and euphemisms? McNeil and his cohorts need to get some spine. They need to get some testicles. My 17-year-old daughter has bigger, harder balls than the entire Libertarian Reform Caucus.

She also knows more about what changes people's minds. I suggest they start with my oldest speech, "I Dreamed I Was A Libertarian In My Maidenform Bra" which they can find in my book of essays and speeches, Lever Action. The title is precisely about what it takes to alter civilization.

McNeil then resorts to complete statistical gibberish. "According to a Pew survey," he airily informs us, "'50 percent of libertarians identify as Republicans, 41 percent as Democrats.' There's plenty of potential constituents out there, not mini-anarchists, mind you, but libertarians."

Gotta say, that only makes me wonder how Pew defines the word "libertarian".

Aren't you curious, too?

"I believe we share a very similar ideological agenda," McNeil asserts again, "and I believe strongly that government should be vastly reduced in this country. We can hold to our own beliefs without forcing our constituents to adhere to precisely the same, intense paradigm. I would venture to say that most Democrats do not hold the same beliefs as Nancy Pelosi, yet she leads their party. So my challenge to you is this: Forget personal squabbles and ideological warfare. . . ."

Okay, hold it right there. Take my word, there is nothing personal about any of this as far as I'm concerned. I didn't know who McNeil was before he wrote me. I didn't know who any of his colleagues were before they sodomized the platform and churlishly bragged about it afterward. And I thought he and I agree ideologically—he says so every chance he gets. No, this "warfare" is over tactics and strategy. It's over honesty and dishonesty. It's over lying or telling the truth.

"Let's work together to get a libertarian candidate elected to office."

Why should I, if he's a liar and a coward, if, ultimately, he's just as stupid, evil, or insane as any Democratic or Republican candidate?

"At the very least," he suggests, "let's discuss our differences and see if a compromise can be made to unify the Libertarian Party against the increasingly authoritarian mobs of Republicans and Democrats."

The trouble is that, in any compromise between good and evil, evil wins. How the hell does McNedil think we got here in the first place? You cannot unify liars and individuals, like me, who insist on the truth. Ultimately, to get your way, you'll end up using force, if you can, on those who refuse to agree, and then we'll be no different from the communists and fascists who settled their internal disputes by assassination.

It seems to me there are only two courses: tell the truth or go away.

"The last thing we need," McNeil ends, "is further polarization."

To which I answer that, as long as McNeil and his ilk continue to argue that libertarians must pursue power, and that they need to lie, cheat, and steal to get it, and that it's all okay because the end justifies the means, there'll be polarization, and it's entirely their doing.

And what's the point, in the end, when yours truly, and a rapidly increasing number of others, more articulate and better credentialled than they are, will come along behind them each and every time to tell voters and media what real libertarians really think about any given issue, and what we really plan to do about it? What the hell is the point?

Being a scientist at heart, I have conducted extensive experiments to test McNeil's hypothesis in the real world, and I can assure him that he is flatly, absolutely wrong. Fact is, I'm damn sick and tired of demonstrating it. I set a vote percentage record in the state of (Colorado) that stood for ten years, by being as straightforward and radical a candidate as I knew how to be, running against the six-term state Speaker of the House. I spent a total of $8.00 doing it, too. If I'd had maybe ten grand to spend, I'd be be stuck in the U.S. Senate today.

Many years later on, I got a slightly higher percentage of the vote in Arizona after running for President there for eight hours than the late Harry Browne did nationwide after running for eight years. People are not stupid, they know when they're being given a hand-job. That sort of thing needs to be left to the slimewads in the other two parties.

McNeil is travelling with a bad crowd who want to make the LP just like the others. Even worse, they represent a point of view that has produced 36 unbroken years of embarrassingly, humilatingly abysmal failure, and they have absolutely no basis from which to advise or lecture.

It shouldn't be a great surprise that the first thing they need to do, instead, is look inside themselves. Most of the people I know who claim to believe as they do are just embarrassed or afraid to discuss libertarian ideas in public. Somehow, they project that embarrassment and fear onto the voting public, who in fact are hungering for plain talk.

Those who suffer from this crippling condition need to get out of electoral politics and make room for individuals who know what they're doing.

Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas was recently completed and is presently looking for a literary home.

A decensored, e-published version of Neil's 1984 novel, TOM PAINE MARU is available at: Neil is presently working on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Roswell, Texas, with Rex F. "Baloo" May.

The stunning 185-page full-color graphic-novelized version of The Probability Broach, which features the art of Scott Bieser and was published by BigHead Press has recently won a Special Prometheus Award. It may be had through the publisher, at, or at

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