I want to start off by thanking the Libertarian Party of Illinois for the invitation to speak here today. It has been almost twenty years since I last showed up at a Libertarian Party function of any kind, and I have just one thing to say: It’s great to be back!
I joined the Libertarian Party of California back in 1975, and soon became a very active party member. But even back then, at the tender age of twenty-something, I was no newcomer.
I had been active in the libertarian movement prior to the founding of the LP, in the late 1960s, when, as a teen-ager, I helped Lanny Friedlander plan the first issue of Reason magazine. We corresponded pretty regularly: indeed, letters were the main form of communication between the young cadres of the libertarian movement. It seemed like we were all teen-agers, or just barely out of our teens, and the movement was small but very active: dozens of little newsletters were being circulated, in those days, but Reason was going to be a blockbuster, you see, because Lanny was planning on having it printed, instead of mimeographed. Wow! Was I impressed! I remember to this day getting a call from Lanny, the first editor and publisher of Reason magazine, to inform me that my copy of Volume I, Number One was in the mail. It was memorable because, in those days, long distance phone calls were something of a very big deal, and I had never received one in all my sixteen years. My parents looked at me askance: who could be calling their son long distance, and from Boston yet?! What was that crazy kid up to now?
I’ll tell you what we were up to: we were convinced, back then, that we were going to achieve freedom in our time. And that, indeed, was a popular slogan among libertarians in the 1960s, thought up, I seem to remember, by David F. Nolan, who went on to found the Libertarian Party in 1971. Freedom In Our Time! Those were heady days. We were filled with the optimism of youth, a gift not only of our tender years but of the tender years of our movement. For libertarians had only recently broken with the conservatives and started to set up their own independent organizations and institutions.
Up until that point, we had considered ourselves a subset of the Right, and most youthful libertarians belonged to the biggest right-wing student organization in the country, Young Americans for Freedom, known as YAF. Brought up on National Review, weaned by Frank S. Meyer’s "fusionism" that merged the libertarian’s love of freedom with the conservative’s awareness of human limitations, inspired by the novels of Ayn Rand, and activated by the crisis of the country a country torn by a merciless, immoral war, and with the threat of the draft hanging over our heads we had a vision of the future that was as simplistic as it was charming: we were going to change the world.
The world, at that point, certainly needed changing, and particularly our little world of the American Right, which was in the grip of the cold war regime of William F. Buckley, Jr., my childhood hero, who had now become, in my estimation, a total and complete villain.
With his cadre of ex-Stalinists and ex-Trotskyists filling the pages of National Review, Buckley had taken the conservative movement out of the doldrums to which it had sunk by the early 1950s, and created – almost single-handedly – a national movement in opposition to the welfare state. Nobody, back then, even talked about the "free market" why, the whole idea of leaving anything to the free choices of human beings acting in an unfettered market was anathema to the "Great Society" liberals and the "me too" Rockefeller Republicans who dominated the political landscape. Nobody but nobody was talking about it, it wasn’t even a remote possibility except to us, that is, the nascent libertarian movement of the 1960s, most of us not even old enough to vote.
It was no wonder, then, that we had taken shelter, at first, under the conservative umbrella, while all around us the collectivist storm raged. I found a political home in YAF. To be sure, I didn’t agree with the entire YAF platform, as expressed in the famous "Sharon Statement," but, back then, the conservative movement was a lot looser and less party-lining than it is today. There was plenty of room for libertarians, traditionalists, "fusionists," and even a few monarchists, who happily debated the issues of the day as well as the finer points of theory, and yet managed to stay united around opposition to liberal orthodoxy. But as the decade reached its end, an issue arose that split the movement and the country asunder.
The Vietnam war polarized America: into young versus old, as well as anti-war versus pro-war. It was what might be called the battle of the Bobs: Bob Dylan versus Bob [Robert S.] McNamara. The soulful young rebel versus the soul-less colorless ageless technocrat, one a life-giving artist and the other a cold-blooded killer. In that conflict, there was no question as to what side young libertarians would take. These lyrics by Buffalo Springfield, in a popular song of the day, expressed the feeling of menace and uncertainty that pervaded American society:
"Something’s happening here,
and what it is ain’t exactly clear."
But it was all too clear to us young libertarians, who had recently formed the Libertarian Caucus of YAF, as well as to millions of ordinary non-political Americans, who could see the senselessness of the Vietnam bloodbath on their television screens, albeit in black and white, on a daily basis. Unlike the unenlightened masses, however, the youthful cadres of the new libertarianism understood or thought they understood what was happening here. It was no accident, we liked to point out, that this war was being waged by the most ardent advocate of Big Government since the New Deal. The so-called "Great Society" of President Lyndon Baines Johnson was an amalgam of everything that libertarians disdain in the modern world: collectivist economics, social engineering, and massive government expenditures, all of it enacted against the backdrop of a futile, grinding war that was chewing up conscripts and discrediting the cause of anti-Communism around the world.
As a young conservative, all of 13, I had been a fervent supporter of Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign for the presidency, like most of the libertarians of my generation. But a few years later, it was clear to anyone with eyes to see that Goldwater, and the conservative movement, had been tragically and profoundly wrong about Vietnam, and, as it turned out, many other matters as well. The ex-commies of one variety or another who were grouped around Bill Buckley’s magazine had never gotten over their hatred of the master they had once served: the cold war, for them, was a grudge match, and the more fervent ones completely lost it. With the notable exception of Frank Meyer once a top Communist party theoretician, who became a senior editor of National Review none of these guys were much interested in free market economics. Their chief and indeed only concern was to smash the Kremlin. Not that they ever envisioned anything as completely unexpected as the Great Revolution of 1989, the internally-generated mass uprising that brought down the Berlin Wall. No, their idea of "rollback" envisioned the military defeat of the Soviet Union at the hands of the U.S. As Murray Rothbard tells us in his memoir of the time, they openly talked among themselves about the glorious day and hour when the Soviet Union would go up in a puff of nuclear smoke.
Eager to "roll back" the Soviet empire by military means, the Buckleyites were fanatically devoted to achieving "victory" in Vietnam. In every issue of National Review, James Burnham‘s column, aptly entitled "The Third World War," was filled with advice to the Johnson team about how to win by being more determined, more merciless and even more relentlessly brutal than the Viet-Cong. Even back in my conservative days, I had always impatiently turned the page when confronted with Burnham’s byline, as I found his authoritarian tone insufferable, quite apart from his subject matter.
Burnham was a professor of philosophy at New York University and a former associate of Leon Trotsky. He was a top official and theoretician in the Trotskyist movement, agreeing with the founder of the Red Army that Stalin had betrayed the Revolution and the principles of Marxism by building socialism in only one country, and neglecting to conquer the rest of the world. But Burnham split with his Bolshevik mentor on the eve of World War II, over the question of the nature of the Soviet Union. When Stalin joined with Hitler to divvy up Poland, grab the Baltic states, and invade Finland, Trotsky deemed it "progressive," and suddenly Trotskyism, instead of providing Communism with a veneer of persecuted virtue and unsullied idealism, became a liability, at least in New York intellectual circles. Having served his political apprenticeship in the Socialist Workers Party, the U.S. section of Trotsky’s stillborn "Fourth International," comrade Burnham graduated and was almost immediately inducted into the ranks of the Buckley circle after a transition period of barely a few years.
While seemingly a radical about-face, a complete switch in political polarities, Burnham’s rapid conversion was merely the substitution of one monomania for another, and one that, furthermore, had a very familiar cast. Whereas before he had believed that socialism in one country was impossible, and that the Revolution had to be exported abroad: in his new incarnation as the grand strategist of the Third World War Burnham held that the United States government, using all the resources at its command, had to wage a merciless war against the Communist enemy.
So what had changed? Only the name of the enemy.
Burnham not only a leading light of the National Review crowd, but a major influence on the conservative movement before the Reagan era – was no defender of capitalism. His 1947 book, The Managerial Revolution, celebrated the end of laissez-faire capitalism and heralded the rise of a state-centered "managerial society" everywhere on earth. The "third world war," in his view, was merely a battle between different forms of managerialism, the Red variety and the Western version. The cold war was a civil war between two rival brands of statism, and Buckley echoed this line, in the early 1950s, when he wrote the following:
"We have to accept Big Government for the duration for neither an offensive nor a defensive war can be waged except through the instrument of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores." Conservatives, Buckley declared, must endorse "the extensive and productive tax laws that are needed to support a vigorous anti-Communist foreign policy," including the "large armies and air forces, atomic power, central intelligence, war production boards and the attendant centralization of power in Washington even with Truman at the reins of it all." [Commonweal, January 25, 1952]
Even with Truman at the reins of it all or Eisenhower, Kennedy, LBJ, Richard Nixon, it didn’t matter. What mattered, to Buckley and the cold war conservatives, was the prosecution of their fanatical crusade against the Soviet Union by whatever means. Confiscatory taxation, the centralization and growth of federal power, conscription nothing was sacred, not the Constitution, not the Bill of Rights, not the free market, not the alleged conservative principles that Russell Kirk called "the permanent things." Everything was to be sacrificed on the altar of the war god.
Libertarians could accept none of this, and, in the summer of 1969, at the YAF national convention, held in St. Louis, they decided to fight.
Young libertarian activists poured into St. Louis from all over the country, primed for battle: and they were not disappointed. The Libertarian Caucus challenged the Buckleyites on two key issues: the Vietnam war and the draft. The libertarians had to jump through a series of procedural hoops, saw their delegate credentials challenged, and, after putting up a tremendous fight, lost the two key votes. But when it came time to debate the issue of the draft, the atmosphere turned incendiary literally. As the Libertarian proposal to have YAF join with the rest of the nation’s youth in calling for an end to the draft went down in flames, so, too, did someone’s draft card burst into flames and a riot ensured. Punches were thrown, the hall was plunged into a brief but dramatic chaos, and the split, sealed in mutual acrimony, was final.
In preparation for the convention, Murray Rothbard, the movement’s leading theoretician, had written an article in the newly-established Libertarian Forum newsletter directly addressed to the libertarians in YAF, and I quote:
"For years you have taken your political advice and much of your line from assorted ‘exes’: ex-Communists, ex-Trots, ex-Maoists, ex-fellow travelers. I have never been any of these. I grew up a right-winger, and became more intensely a libertarian rightist as I grew older. How come I am an exile from the Right-wing, while the conservative movement is being run by a gaggle of ex-Communists and monarchists? What kind of a conservative movement is this? This kind: one that you have no business being in."
The young libertarians gathered in St. Louis agreed, for the most part, with Rothbard: they had had enough of the Buckley-style conservatives, they were through with the ruthless Burnham and his fellow cold warriors who wanted to roll back collectivism in Vietnam, but resigned themselves to it as inevitable "managerialism" on the home front. As Richard Nixon imposed wage and price controls, unleashed hellfire on the peoples of Southeast Asia, and dragged the unwilling youth of the nation off to a foreign war, libertarians correctly saw that it was all part of the same system.
The movement they built we built was forged in the crucible of war and domestic repression, in an era that resembles the present one in many respects. Our movement was born in wartime, the offspring of the antiwar upsurge of the 1960s and the Old Right of the 1940s and 50s, represented by Rothbard – and, standing behind him, his old teacher Frank Chodorov, and the old isolationists of the America First generation, who opposed LBJ’s ideological predecessor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the progenitor of the Welfare-Warfare State.
That is why, today, it is astonishing to hear some alleged "libertarians" proclaim their support for George W. Bush’s perpetual "war on terrorism." Even more astonishing is the unusual lengths they will go to rationalize their own betrayal and denial of their heritage. "Everything has changed," we are told, "since 9/11." This is an "emergency." One alleged scholar at the Cato Institute has even elaborated a theory of libertarian interventionism: he purports to believe that the strictures libertarians apply to state action on the home front are somehow not applicable when it comes to state action abroad. I say "purports to believe" because there is not an iota of sincerity in such a schema: it is a slipshod deception that hardly covers the naked opportunism that motivates it. It is certainly not meant to convince anyone, least of all libertarians, who think in terms of universal principles. But Brink Lindsay, Cato’s prophet of "globalization," and the author of this farrago of fatuous falsehood, could care less about that. We must engage in a war to the death with "radical Islam," Lindsay bloviates, and achieve "globalized markets" by conquering the greater part of the Middle East.
The "libertarian" chorus of warmongers includes Virginia Postrel, the former editor of Reason magazine, who changes ideologies as easily as she changes her hair color. Here is someone who has gone from being a libertarian to being a "dynamist" an idiotic ideology of her own concoction, in which "change" is good, and "stasis" is bad – and has now settled into a comfortable albeit idiosyncratic neoconservatism, whose supposedly "libertarian" impulses are restricted to the unleashing of cloning technology on the world and the legalization of drugs and gay marriage. On the current war crisis, she writes:
"All intelligent discussion of the pros and cons of war is, in fact, about weighing risks. I recently had a conversation with a former Marine who said he supports war with Iraq not because he likes war but because he’s seen the museum at Hiroshima and doesn’t want his children to face nuclear terrorism. He suggested that ‘those bleeding hearts’ might think differently if they’d seen what he has. But, of course, ‘those bleeding hearts’ draw the opposite conclusion from the same evidence, concluding that since war is terrible it must be avoided at all costs. Unfortunately for that argument, avoiding war today may bring more terrible war tomorrow."
In the guise of a stoic pragmatism, she cooly debates the risks and benefits of mass murder by the State: Postrel is pushing, here, government propaganda that is based on nothing but lies. What nuclear threat from Saddam? How would such a weapon be delivered, and by whom the Iraqi airforce, which, for ten years, has not been able to shoot down a single Anglo-American plane making thousands of sorties over its sovereign territory? If all intelligent discussion of war is about weighing risks, then what about the risks not only of policing the world but of preemptively attacking anyone who looks cross-eyed at us, or at Israel? We have troops in over 100 countries, from Bosnia to Afghanistan to Japan and Uzebekistan, but Washington, D.C., is a city besieged by fear, a terror so pervasive that Congress hardly dares stay in session long enough to conduct its business before scuttling out of town a.s.a.p.
Let’s make no mistake about the meaning of this war: we are entering the age of the American Caesars. When George W. Bush gives the order to attack, he will be crossing a Rubicon that the Founders of this country did everything to make impassable. They bound the President, and the would-be restorers of royalism in America, with the chains of the Constitution. They looked askance at a standing army, because they feared it would mean the rise of a professional officer corps inherently militaristic in outlook. They abhorred the European empires, and did all in their power to make an American version of King George III a political impossibility.
Our first President, in his farewell address to the nation, looked forward to the day when a free and prosperous America, no longer encircled by threatening powers, could safely stand alone:
"The period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.
"Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalry, interest, humor or caprice?"
"It is our true policy," George Washington averred, "to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world."
Why, why, why are we foregoing the advantages of our peculiar situation as we stand at the apex of our superpowerdom? 9/11 changed "everything", says the War Party. But did it? Are we not, still, the most powerful military power on earth? Why intervene in every conflict, globalizing its bloody consequences, when we can steer clear of all that by following the advice of the Founder? Why is George W. Bush dragging us into yet another foreign war, one that promises to be the first of a series of conflicts in the Middle East that aim at subjugating much of the region?
There are two short, indeed, single word answers to this question: the first is hubris. And the second is: Israel.
There were two responses to the end of the cold war in this country. One was to breathe a sigh of relief, give thanks that the peoples of the Soviet bloc had freed themselves – without U.S. military action – and turn to the problems that had been vexing this country and promised to undermine the social fabric: problems of social decay, the decline of traditional institutions, the degeneration of the public schools into little more than holding pens, the growth of big government, the alienation of individuals from an increasingly mechanized, atomized existence, and our gradual but perceptible descent into a highly civilized form of barbarism.
The other response was to seek out new monsters to destroy. Never mind that some of those monsters were of our own making.
The intellectual heirs of James Burnham were not about to give up quite so easily. In a 1996 article in Foreign Affairs magazine that became the foreign policy manifesto of the Weekly Standard and its "national greatness" school of conservatism, William Kristol and policy analyst Robert Kagan complained that conservatives were "confused" if they thought the end of the cold war meant they could come home and solve their own country’s serious domestic problems. This was a "lukewarm consensus" that was "bad for the country," and conservatives "should not accede to it," lest they find themselves locked out of power, and "unable to govern." Instead, Kristol and Kagan averred, what’s needed is "a more elevated vision of America’s international role." Elevated, that is, to a level of grandiosity that is frankly pathological:
"What should that role be?" they ask. Their answer is: "Benevolent global hegemony."
Having defeated the Soviets, the United States "enjoys strategic and ideological predominance. The first objective of U.S. foreign policy should be to preserve and enhance that predominance . . . The aspiration to benevolent hegemony might strike some as either hubristic or morally suspect."
Or, I hasten to add, quite possibly both, but I digress. Getting back to Kristol and Kagan, and I quote:
"But a hegemon is nothing more or less than a leader with preponderant influence and authority over all others in its domain. That is America’s position in the world today. The leaders of Russia and China understand this. At their April summit meeting, Boris Yeltsin and Jiang Zemin joined in denouncing ‘hegemonism’ in the post-Cold War world. They meant this as a complaint about the United States. It should be taken as a compliment and a guide to action."
And it is being taken as a guide to action, as we can see in the doctrine of imperial preemption, as well as the drive to war in Iraq.
It is a mad policy doomed to failure, and for the same reason Icarus was plunged into the sea. The Greeks had a word for it: hubris, the delusion that men could be like gods and rule the earth. In their dramas and mythology, this was a sin, always punished with divine retribution otherwise known as "blowback" and yet today it is the ideology of our war-hawks, the crazed doctrine that is fueling America’s drive to war.
But there is another element that gives this fuel a bit of high octane, another motivation that is driving our war-hawks, and that is their fealty to the state of Israel. Let me show you an article from the Washington Times, written by Arnaud de Borchgrave, and I quote:
"The strategic objective is the antithesis of Middle Eastern stability. The destabilization of ‘despotic regimes’ comes next. In the Arab bowling alley, one ball aimed at Saddam is designed to achieve a 10-strike that would discombobulate authoritarian and/or despotic regimes in Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf emirates and sheikdoms. The ultimate phase would see Israel surrounded by democratic regimes that would provide 5 million Israelis soon to be surrounded by 300 million Arabs with peace and security for at least a generation. …The roots of the overall strategy can be traced to a paper published in 1996 by the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, an Israeli think tank. The document was titled ‘A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Security the Realm.’ …Israel, according to the 1996 paper, would ‘shape its strategic environment,’ beginning with the removal of Saddam Hussein… …Prominent American opinion-makers who are now senior members of the Bush administration participated in the discussions and the drafting that led to this 1996 blueprint."
We are fighting a war for Israel. When the body bags come home, and the dead are buried, let this be inscribed on their tombstones: They died for Ariel Sharon.
How far we have come from the wisdom of the Founders, one of whom warned that "nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated."
The ex-libertarian Virginia Postrel says that nonintervention in the affairs of other nations is not a matter of principle, but a question of benefits and risks. So let’s talk about the risks, not just physical but also political, of embarking on a course set for Empire. These fall into three categories: the political, the economic, and the military risks.
The military risks are all too obvious, and there is no need to go into them at length. In spite of the high tech conceit of our military planners and policy wonks, who believe that they are invincible, history is littered with the corpses of the overconfident, starting with the admirals of the Spanish Armada and ending up with "the best and the brightest" who engineered our debacle in Vietnam. If you want an historical analogy, however, Vietnam is not quite the right fit: I would say Beirut, 1983, is more appropriate.
Twenty years ago this coming October 23rd, it was a quiet Sunday morning at the Marine camp at Beirut International Airport. But not for long. At about 6:20, a huge explosion destroyed most of the Marine barracks. Major Bob Jordan, one of the survivors, relates what happened that day:
"I went down the stairs – the same stairs we’d sat on the night before to watch a show," he said. "The whole area was filled rubber and pulverized cement. It was everywhere as far as you could see. I saw what looked like an uprooted tree with jagged limbs. As I came closer I realized it was a human body because blood was running from the limbs."
A truck loaded with 2,000 pounds of TNT had rammed through the camp gate. Witnesses described the driver as a smiling young man: no doubt he died believing he was on his way to Paradise. 214 American soldiers were killed.
Imagine Beirut, but on a much larger scale: that is what we are facing in Iraq. In his speech to the American Enterprise Institute the other day, the President declared that we will stay in Iraq "as long as necessary, and not a day longer" as long, that is, as it takes to turn Iraq into a Jeffersonian republic. Which means, in effect, forever. The President cited Germany and Japan as the models for us to follow in this noble mission, but failed to note that our troops are still in both of those countries.
Ronald Reagan was smart enough to withdraw the marines from Lebanon shortly after the Beirut bombing, but now George W. Bush is returning to the region that was the scene of that horrific disaster. How long will the American people put up with those kinds of casualties, how long can we stand against wave after wave of suicide bombers, how long before people start asking the question what for?
A short-term "victory," in this case, can only turn into a drawn out defeat in the long run. And the same is true in terms of the political and economic price we are going to have to pay. Already, the President who disdained "nation-building" on the campaign trail has embraced it as his number one war aim. But a better phrase would be "empire-building." Empires are an expensive proposition, because, in terms of the American model, everything goes out and nothing comes in. What this means is that the government is going to claim an even larger proportion of the wealth of the nation in terms of taxes, both overt and covert.
What the alleged "libertarians" who talk of "liberating" the world using the U.S. military as their instrument don’t seem to understand is that all of this costs money, and lots of it. And who is going to get the bill? You are, my friend, and it is going to knock your socks off. They talk about shrinking and even radically reducing the size and scope of government, on the one hand, and then go on to proclaim the virtues of an American Imperium bloated beyond all imagining. They harken back to the stern republican virtues of the Founders, and then turn around and hail America as the New Rome. But it is one or the other: we cannot be a republic and an empire, simultaneously. It is either Jefferson, or Caesar. The oxymoronic "pro-war" libertarians have chosen the latter, and the rest of us the other 95 percent of the libertarian movement stand with former. It is a parting of the ways that we must not spend a single moment lamenting.
There is no place in the libertarian movement for the War Party and its minions. The Libertarian Party must take decisive action against any "Libertarian" candidate or spokesperson who endorses this war. Equivocation on this question is equally impermissible. Nor do we want any kind of a "debate." What some people refuse to recognize is that some questions are already settled: libertarians do not "debate," year after year, the primacy or utility of economic and political liberty. We don’t re-argue the case for and against capitalism, as opposed to, say, anarcho-communism. Every time a drug lord shoots someone down in the streets in broad daylight, we don’t revisit the drug question. We don’t reconsider the gun control question every time some nutso teenager kills half his classmates with a rifle. Why tear up the very roots of the libertarian ethic now that George W. Bush has decided to ignore Osama bin Laden and go after the tinpot dictator of a decimated country? It’s an outrage, and I have just one message to any alleged libertarians, party members or not, who support this rotten war: stop calling yourself a libertarian. Get out of the movement, quit the party, and don’t call us because we won’t be calling you.
I make no apology for the harshness of this prescription. Our movement was born in the fight against the War Party, against the cold warriors who thought they could run rampant over people at home and abroad, and we will fight for our legacy today no matter what. Remember, the Libertarian Party is a private, voluntary organization: no one is forced to join, and, in doing so, members make an implicit contract to uphold libertarian principles. The only sort of debate on the war question that ought to take place within the LP ought to consist of the following words addressed to the few pro-war elements in our midst: Hasta la vista, baby!
In losing these few people, we will gain thousands and, yes, tens of thousands more. But the leadership of the Libertarian Party must act quickly, and decisively. In politics, timing is everything.
The LP must make a strategic decision to intervene in the antiwar movement. Not tepidly, or tentatively: not half-heartedly but in a massive, nationally-coordinated manner. What exactly does this mean?
First of all, it means a major overhaul of the LP’s public outreach efforts. The party’s literature, its monthly newspaper, its website, and its campaigns for public office must all be tailored to fit this overriding task. And I don’t mean just ritual exhortations to stay out of Iraq, but real analysis, from a libertarian perspective, as to why this war is not only morally wrong, in and of itself, but wrong for America, and for the world. For too long, foreign policy has been treated by the national and state LP organizations like an unwanted stepchild: hardly ever mentioned, and, when one is forced to acknowledge him, only in the most general, perfunctory manner. Yet it has always been at the very center of libertarian ideology, at least historically, and now the issue is once again front and center.
Secondly, it means becoming involved in grassroots organizations. Not in an episodic way, but consistently; not as random individuals, here and there, but as an organized grouping and on a nationwide basis. This means endorsing the aims of the antiwar movement not only in a formal sense, but in the everyday sense of making antiwar organizing the primary task of our activists. Intervening in a meaningful way in the antiwar movement means joining local and national antiwar coalitions, attending meetings, and taking part in the day-to-day work of the organization. It means being the best builders of the movement for peace. What must happen and immediately is that the Libertarian Party must go into the antiwar movement with a very specific strategy, and some sort of tactical sense.
Let’s talk about tactics.
The libertarian movement has a niche all carved out in advance if it ever chooses to occupy it, for the antiwar movement has been red-baited in every major newspaper in the country: the presence of small but vocal left-wing groups has all but obscured the basically mainstream character of antiwar sentiment, at least in some media. While the hard left will probably not welcome us with open arms, the main body of the movement will find us not only interesting but also necessary as a way to deflect criticism of the movement as too left-wing. Well, you see, they’ll say, when faced with the familiar red-baiting from the War Party, we have these libertarians, and they aren’t exactly commies, now are they?
Once we are embedded in the antiwar movement, once LP members are vital cogs in the peace machine, what do they do with their leverage? Do they lecture their confreres endlessly on the virtues of Austrian economics? Well, there is nothing wrong with taking the opportunity to invite co-workers in the antiwar movement to a lecture on Austrian economics, or to engage them in casual conversation. But Libertarian Party members are going to earn a hearing by their actions, not their words. Talk is cheap. The LP claims tens of thousands of members nationwide. But how many of them can it turn out for a local antiwar meeting? For a march on Washington? Well, we’ll see.
But I can tell you this: the work put into building the antiwar movement, if done correctly, is an investment that is going to reap rich political dividends. And I don’t mean just an influx of nominal members that is, members on paper only to pump up the inflated numbers that the LP is constantly touting. A concerted, planned intervention in the antiwar movement could reap hundreds if not thousands of truly dedicated members, that is, future LP activists a new generation of libertarian leaders.
Speaking of a new generation – there is one aspect of the antiwar movement that is of vital concern to the continuity of libertarianism as a movement, and that is its demographics. Sure, there are a lot of middle-aged and older people, activists from the 1960s and 70s, involved. But this is also a very youthful movement: as I travel around the country, speaking at various college campuses, I haven’t seen such a ferment since the Sixties. Except that, this time around, the youth are smarter, more discerning, less inclined to swallow leftist bromides, and much more receptive to libertarian ideas than my generation ever was.
The lack of an organized youth outreach will be the death knell of the libertarian movement. A childless family soon dies out. Is that what we want to happen to the Libertarian Party? The LP needs fresh recruits, especially among the youth, if it is to survive into the 21st century but where will they come from? Running endless campaigns where we get 1 percent of the vote? Or winning over the voters of tomorrow by taking a principled stand today?
I am not saying that the LP should immediately go out an try to organize a youth organization. Student libertarian groups already exist, to some extent, at colleges across the country, and now, it seems, they are gathering together to form a national student organization known as Students for a Libertarian Society (SLS). We are working with them at Antiwar.com, by offering financial and technical assistance, as well as friendly advice, and they are coming along quite nicely. It seems to me that the Libertarian Party, without intruding on their space, should give them all the organizational and even financial support that they need. They are, after all, the future that is, if there is to be a future.
I started out this talk by going into a bit of my history as a libertarian activist, and, returning to that theme, I can say that I left the Libertarian Party, in 1983, after almost eight years of non-stop activism. Not because I was burnt out on political activism, but because I was convinced that the LP had peaked, and already, at that point, entered a political cul-de-sac. The end of the cold war, and the conversion of a whole section of the conservative movement to a non-interventionist foreign policy convinced me, back then, that it was possible to work more effectively for the cause outside of the party – which showed no interest in reaching out to conservatives and others who were questioning the cold war interventionist orthodoxy. In 1995, Eric Garris, a longtime libertarian activist, and I established Antiwar.com, because we were convinced that foreign policy was going to be the key issue in the years to come and, you know what? We were right.
This month [February], Antiwar.com garnered over 400,000 unique visitors, with nearly one million separate visits: we are by far the biggest antiwar website and the biggest libertarian site. I am very proud of what we have done, but not too proud to ask for your help. We can’t do it alone. We’ve been holding down the fort for years, preparing for the day when the rest of the libertarian movement would decide to get serious about winning freedom in our time. Yes, that old slogan, when heard today, takes on a whole new meaning. For what it means is that we must either win back our freedom in our time, or else lose it perhaps forever.
Will America keep her old republic, or will the War Party take us all the way down the road to empire? That is the great issue that stands behind this war, and libertarians can only have one answer. Yes, the war is a great opportunity for the Libertarian Party. Yes, we can bring into existence a whole new generation of libertarian activists. But there’s just one other thing: if we fail, we lose everything. The Constitution, our republican form of government, the last vestiges of our American revolutionary heritage and the last hope of freedom in our time or any time.