The Big Tent of the Liberty Movement

After a particularly heated exchange on twitter with four or five “voluntaryists” I decided to look at the “Liberty Movement” and ask if this is a Big Tent. I live in the US Empire which is the most powerful government the world has ever seen. What are my overall goals and who are my allies?

I recalled that some years ago professor Walter Block published a series of letters he exchanged with one of his readers called, “The Libertarian Big Tent“. Towards the end of the letter exchanges Block wrote the following:

We have many disagreements especially about the War Between the States, and foreign policy in general: specifically about World Wars I and II and the Iraqi situation. I would highly recommend the works of Tom DiLorenzo on the former, and those of Bob Higgs and Murray Rothbard in particular on the latter. The Mises Institute offers a treasure trove of material on all these subjects.

But, we are not Randians here. We tolerate disagreement; heck, even encourage it. In the Objectivist movement, if you disagree with the higher ups on even the slightest detail, you are summarily booted out of their movement. The Austro-libertarian movement, at least as organized through the Mises Institute, is very different. I have had sharp disagreements in the literature with people such as Murray Rothbard, Hans Hoppe, Stephan Kinsella and Roderick Long, very sharp disagreements, and not only is no one purging anyone else, I count myself lucky to be and to continue to be good friends with all of them. Heck, I have even published several articles critical of Mises himself, and the ground has not opened up and swallowed me.

I also recall that Murray Rothbard once wrote that there was one very important question and that was “Do You Hate the State?”

I have been ruminating recently on what are the crucial questions that divide libertarians. Some that have received a lot of attention in the last few years are: anarcho-capitalism vs. limited government, abolitionism vs. gradualism, natural rights vs. utilitarianism, and war vs. peace. But I have concluded that as important as these questions are, they don’t really cut to the nub of the issue, of the crucial dividing line between us.

… Perhaps the word that best defines our distinction is “radical.” Radical in the sense of being in total, root-and-branch opposition to the existing political system and to the State itself. Radical in the sense of having integrated intellectual opposition to the State with a gut hatred of its pervasive and organized system of crime and injustice. Radical in the sense of a deep commitment to the spirit of liberty and anti-statism that integrates reason and emotion, heart and soul.

Furthermore, in contrast to what seems to be true nowadays, you don’t have to be an anarchist to be radical in our sense, just as you can be an anarchist while missing the radical spark. I can think of hardly a single limited governmentalist of the present day who is radical – a truly amazing phenomenon, when we think of our classical liberal forbears who were genuinely radical, who hated statism and the States of their day with a beautifully integrated passion: the Levellers, Patrick Henry, Tom Paine, Joseph Priestley, the Jacksonians, Richard Cobden, and on and on, a veritable roll call of the greats of the past. Tom Paine’s radical hatred of the State and statism was and is far more important to the cause of liberty than the fact that he never crossed the divide between laissez-faire and anarchism. …

The way I see it, we have watched the US government, fed by continual war,  grow to gargantuan size and power until a real tyranny is at hand. For the multitudes of people that the governemnt has caged, maimed, or killed for simple vice or through mistake: the tyranny is already here. I have written elsewhere on the brutality of the US Empire and our dire situation; as have a host of others who write better than I do. I will not present a laundry list of horrific crimes here today.

What then should be our goal? Like the 350 pound man with high blood pressure the first step is to stop gaining weight. Like the man in a deep hole, the first step is to stop digging. This tells me the first step in our predicament is to fight further government growth, increase in power, increase in overbearing intrusiveness into our daily lives. But just fighting further growth is not nearly enough, we must reduce the size and scope of government and its power. This tells me that after stopping the growth of government we must move towards what some liberty minded folks call a “night watchman government” like the US government was in its earliest days. But to my mind that is not enough, we must then move on to kill the beast, cut out its heart, and chop off its head. We must end governemnt altogether.

How can we do this? How can we defeat the strongest Empire the world has ever seen? Well we will need help. One person yesterday said that there were very few anarchists in the world. If that is so, then we need allies to bring down this big beast. We need allies.

I can see that all manner of anarchists are our allies in this project. Any true anarchist wants to see the end of government. Right? I can see that the minarchist libertarian is also with us at this point. They may not agree with us that the State is not needed at all, but they agree that we need to cut this beast down to size. If we ever reached a “minimal state” situation I would still be an enemy of that state but I would still be a lot happier than I am with the present situation. What about the “Tea Party” people and the “Occupy Wall Street” groups? These groups raise questions and it is much like the “anti-some-wars-but-not-others left” in our country, we are allied with all these groups in so far as they are against war, government tyranny, and the government ignoring its own constitutional law. No more than that.

The biggest problem we have is over tactics. We saw this with the Ron Paul candidacy. Many of us loved the fact that Ron Paul was preaching a liberty message. He was saying end the FED, stop the war on drugs, bring the troops home, lower the burden of the federal government, and so forth. This message resonated with millions of people who would never call themselves “libertarian” at this point. This message was being presented by a major candidate for nomination for president in one of the two major parties so it got people’s attention in spite of the mass media’s attempts to shield the public from these radical ideas. What if Ron Paul won? He would have been able to make libertarian arguments from the “bully pulpit”; but one man would not have single singlehandedly torn down the governemnt.

I want to see government reduced in size and scope. I want to see less government in all areas. I want the masses to come to understand that the government is our enemy and not our friend. That is a tall order. I don’t believe in voting and have only voted for Ron Paul in decades but others like the “Tea Party” are working to elect more liberty minded people. Good for them; since we have to live here it is better to be more free than less free. So I will applaud their efforts even as I personally think it all will ultimately fail. I welcome the help.

So, what is the bottom line? It is that the “Liberty Movement Tent” is big enough for all who want to cut this big beast down to size. If you are too “pure” for allies, then join the Rand cult: they agree that purity is all. With all that said, I am still of the mind that only radicals for liberty and freedom are trustworthy in the long run; “moderates” tend to sell out before the goal is reached.

“Do you hate government?” Yes, I do. But I also believe that until it is totally gone, “less is more”.


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