Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 522, June 7, 2009

"They sense that the Age of Authority is over"

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Blast from the Past

El Neil Then and Now
L. Neil Smith: Then and Now

"Vote Yourself Rich!"
by L. Neil Smith

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: This article was first published almost 31 years ago, in Frontlines, a subsdiary to Reason magazine. (My first novel, The Probability Broach, appeared in December of 1979.) It's meant to be read now—with its companion piece, "Radically Decentralized Defense"—before you read my latest column, "Energy Is Free", to be found elsewhere in this issue. You'll soon discover we have many of the same problems today that we had three decades ago. And many of the same people—or at least the same attitudes—stand in our way.

Many thanks to Jeff and Suzanne Riggenbach for their help finding this material and making it readable by 21st century tehnology.]

America's "two-party system" is now a three-party system, but Americans don't seem to know it. A recent Newsweek, for example, "covered" [California's] Proposition 13 and the Tax Revolt without once mentioning the Libertarian Party, Austrianism, anarcho- capitalism, or even Murray [Rothbard]. We are suffering a calculated, malicious media blackout, and you don't have to believe in the Bavarian Illuminati to see how those in power or influence might wish to bury a new anti-authoritarian movement.

The major credit for our invisibility, however, lies only with us, chiefly due to—nebulous?—LP strategy. It isn't my purpose here to point a finger, though. We've all tried various schemes to achieve our goals, and no one's notions in that regard could be more ridiculous, in hindsight, than many I've enthusiastically acted upon.

Instead, I offer a few observations on the method of social revolution. I hope they're helpful; I'd like someday to enjoy a free society—and not from a rocking chair or a cryogenic cylinder.

We must first correct errors of omission. We've ignored certain fundamentals and plodded from one election to the next, failing to map out long-term strategies.

Significant sociopolitical movements rest (in reverse order of appropriate execution) on three bases: political action, internal education, and, believe it or not, utopianism. As Robert A. Heinlein observes in another context, these "work in series, not in parallel—bilge one, and you bilge them all".

Political action I won't dwell on, except to assert that it is an effect, a pay-off, of the other two factors. Given their present neglect, we can do no more, electorally, than we are already doing. Developing a "grand strategy" based on all three factors could gain us the financial and political clout we need. For the time being, later in this column, I'll offer specific short-range measures to help make up our present shortfalls.

As to education, I'm not suggesting we "educate the public". But some coherent program must take over from the institutions that created this movement and supplied it with so many well-primed and talented individuals. Since 1976, especially, I've had increasingly to argue with newly-fledged party members who believe that "public education ain't that bad" or "Ronald Reagan (or Nat Hentoff, for that matter) is almost a libertarian". I'm sick of it, and of the deeper ignorance such sentiments betray. Uninformed converts are lousy spokespersons for the party. Worse, they're living time-bombs, waiting to go off in our faces.

I'd oppose enforcing any official party line. LP education should be comprehensive and catholic, covering the movement's history and the entire spectrum of opinions within it, including those of anti-party factions. Such efforts should, however, hang on an orderly framework, be succinctly packaged (needing no more than, say, 40 hours of study), and utilize such technology as audio and video cassettes.

Education is vital not only to electoral success but to the very continuity of liberty. Without it, the LP could degenerate into something no advocate of liberty would recognize, indistinguishable from the other "two" parties. Our principles and platform could be whittled down to fit the narrow minds of overcautious "credibility" seekers. Such is often the way of history with ideas and ideals. We must prevent repeating the tragedy of 19th-century English reforms. The time to do it is before our own "reforms" become reality. People must be shown that liberty, like any other living thing, must expand and grow—or die.

Concerning utopianism, the most often bilged of the three, I have difficulty keeping my opinions under 30,000 words. Utopianism is our indispensable hook. It's what makes people willing—eager—to vote for us, give us money, learn more themselves, become members and leaders of our party. In more ways than one, utopianism is our future.

For party insiders, long-time veterans, it may be enough that what we want is right. But it's not enough for the average person. We'll never "sell" liberty unless we make promises about what it can do. Concretes, not abstracts, do the selling, and utopianism is nothing more than rendering concrete what was abstract. Instead of adopting attractively vague slogans ("A New Dawn ... "), we'd do well to borrow from our Australian comrades and proclaim "Vote Yourself Rich!".

Libertarianism, uniquely, can deliver. [Proposition 13's] Howard Jarvis mentions his new $8,000 Thunderbird, $4,500 of which was tax. If, by implication, he can get us a car for half price, we can do better! Eliminate all taxes, both the 50 percent on goods and services and the 50 percent on incomes, and the car suddenly costs (in terms of individual purchasing power) one quarter of the current price! There's no miracle here, but it can work miracles, transforming society, ending poverty and unemployment, radically altering our lives. Tragically, we've never made this the central utopian selling point it deserves to be.

Simply imagine for yourself a 75 percent discount on everything you buy and its effect on living standards, production, employment, trade balances, technological and social progress. Then imagine the effect of getting such a message across to the voters.

One more essential element is the bold spirit of radicalism. [Presently] we are timid revolutionaries, diluting our ideals so they won't sound "crazy", clasping to our bosoms Nicholas von Hoffman and James Kilpatrick because they dole out to us a few column inches, [and] producing publications that "increase" our visibility by pretending "There ain't nobody here but us liberals".

As a direct consequence, we're "fucking up" in precisely the manner that Nathaniel Branden warned against in 1972. Bad enough to be co-opted on the left on issues like civil rights, the war and the draft and women's lib; we're about to do the same stupid thing with newer items like children's rights. At the San Francisco and Denver platform debates, I begged the party to demand a moratorium on government hiring, to wither the State by attrition. Now that plank is part of Jerry Brown's program—[and] we've fucked up again! Even more infuriating, with the success of Proposition 13, we've allowed ourselves to be co-opted by the Geriatric Right.

Utopianism gets people interested; internal education keeps 'em that way and prevents ideological senescence; political action is the pay-off. Any the whole program takes guts—radical guts.

In addition to this general approach, I recommend some remedial short-term measures for immediate action:

Emphasis on the point that there are three major parties and that the world ideological struggle is and always has been three-sided;

Breaking the network blockade with an issue that [Walter] Cronkite can't ignore—radical agitation for abolition of the FCC;

Similar agitation for the public sale and private ownership of NASA and abrogation of treaties forbidding private space exploration;

Establishing an LP "shadow cabinet" to increase media coverage and distribute campaign workloads;

Beginning now to promise a universally wealthy, taxless society in which a six-pack costs a quarter and a color TV 40 bucks.

The only productive strategy for a newly emerging party is radicalism, and the past seven years of comparative moderation prove it. It's time to get a little bit "crazy". It's time to take off our neckties and stop striving for some illusory respectability. It's time to stop cuddling up to vipers who are "almost libertarians"!

It's time to announce the Grand Opening of Utopia!

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 more than 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 is currently running as a free weekly serial at

Neil is presently at work on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on What Libertarians Believe with his daughter, Rylla.

See stunning full-color graphic-novelizations of The Probability Broach and Roswell, Texas which feature the art of Scott Bieser at Dead-tree versions may be had through the publisher, or at where you will also find Phoenix Pick editions of some of Neil's earlier novels.


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