Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Tug of War Over Non-Violence

To defend George Smith against the continuing accusations that he somehow turned into a mystic or Gandhi-cultist, Issue 6 includes a portion of a letter written by George to Carl as they were forming the organization.

But this letter does much more than that, at least for me.

First of all, I can see that there was discussion and debate on whether they should put strategies down in writing. This letter even mentions platforms and planks so at some point they were discussing such matters.

When reading this excerpt, I noticed that Carl and George disagree on whether the Voluntaryist insight means the rejection of all violent acts. In this letter George makes a good case for not putting nonviolence forth as a necessary Voluntaryist strategy and he gives several reasons why:
1. To include a definite concept of strategy as part of our organizational structure will discourage investigation into other alternatives. It will appear as if we have finalized this issue, which we have not.

2. 1 remain uncomfortable with nonviolent strategy (i.e., nonviolent in the broad sense, e.g., a Gandhian theory). There are important insights here, certainly, but they have not been fully adapted (to my satisfaction) to libertarian ends. In other words, more work remains in this area.

3. To include nonviolence will "turn-off" many libertarians who tend to regard Gandhianism, etc. as somewhat cranky (as does Murray, for example). We want to attract all the anti-political libertarians, whatever their views of strategy, or however well formed they may be. We should cast as wide a net as possible.
George just wanted nonviolence to be one of the many strategies that would be investigated rather than being something that defines Voluntaryism.

He goes on to talk about self-defense as a legitimate moral act, not only against aggression, but also as a possible strategy to get the state to back down. The point for him is not to advocate it, but merely to acknowledge it as a valid strategy.

The one problem with using self-defense that he mentions that I think is worth noting is that it could get twisted up with those who aren’t really so much wanting to defend individual liberty as they are simply wanting to establish another government.

I think that is a big danger and I know I always get uncomfortable when I hear people talking about “taking up arms” against the state or whatever because it seems like that will always just end in another form of government, one that was ultimately created through violent means.

From the first time I found The Voluntaryist, I very much related to Carl’s favorite quote, "If one takes care of the means, the end will take care of itself," and if we can move towards freedom peacefully, then it seems to me that’s when we will be much more likely to actually keep it.

One more thing I discovered after reading this letter and seeing this disagreement is that The Voluntaryist Statement of Purpose is different now than it is in the current issues I’ve been reading. The difference comes in the first line. Here’s the first line in the current Issue:
The Voluntaryists are libertarians who have organized to promote non-political strategies to achieve a free society.
And here’s what that line says in the present day:
Voluntaryists are advocates of non-political, non-violent strategies to achieve a free society.
I don’t know what this may mean as far as George Smith’s and perhaps others’ continued participation, but I guess I will find out as I keep reading and learning.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Experiment Away, Voluntaryists!

In Issue 6 of The Voluntaryist, the editors continue to find it necessary to explain basic ideas that shape their organization. Wendy McElroy writes an article titled “The Party Line on a Party Line,” and says once again that Voluntaryists are not promoting any specific strategy to reach the ultimate goal of individual liberty.

She expresses frustration at those who demand specific strategies. For her, it would not be so bad if she thought these people really wanted to see strategies so they could get out there and start experimenting with them. No, she thinks they are merely looking for another way to attack their attempt to move outside of politics.

Here’s one reason why Wendy thinks official strategy would be a mistake:
“First, nonpolitical strategy within libertarianism is largely an uncharted area which requires far more of a pioneer spirit than a doctrinaire censoring.”
So the Voluntaryists want to encourage lots of experimentation in strategy and also study past experiments. If you remember in the previous post Carl even described his current situation as his “Experiment with Truth.” They simply want the experiments in strategy to be through non-political means.

On a personal level, as one who homeschooled her kids, I can easily relate this to what I’ve seen in education outside of government control. There are and have been various groups who think that certain strategies and rules are necessary, but I have always come down on the side of encouraging experimentation and the pioneer spirit.

I personally think that homeschooling, and specifically unschooling, is the best strategy, but I also understand that there are other strategies for people to consider. I understand, as individual families experiment with what works for them, that education as a whole will improve and we’ll all benefit.

If there is one basic principle that I follow on education strategies, it’s that government should be completely out of the picture. But past that, I’m open to lots of experimentation as to what works for individual families. So in the same way, I’m open to experimentation in exploring non-political means to individual liberty as a whole.

Wendy mentions the need for flexibility in determining the paths Voluntaryist strategies can take and that can also be compared to homeschooling. I’ve said for years that one of the main reasons why homeschooling works is because of the flexibility that allows families to experiment, to see what works and what doesn’t.

We need people willing to experiment in many different ways. Then as we report and study successes and failures, we can all learn and eventually find strategies that work. Only by experimenting and studying results will we truly be able to create and develop innovative ideas in our ongoing quest for individual liberty.

So let’s get out our test tubes, beakers and goggles and experiment away!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Personal Experience As Teacher

So far, after 5 issues, we haven't heard too much from Carl. All we've seen so far in the publication are his book reviews. But now, in Issue 6, we get our first real look at Carl Watner.

In this issue, Wendy interviews Carl about his personal non-cooperation with the state that he began way before The Voluntaryist began. So, as far as the relationship his actions have on The Voluntaryists as an organization, Carl says this:
"As an organization, The Voluntaryists has nothing to do with this. My non-cooperation with the IRS goes back many years-long before George and Wendy and I conceived of the organization. While George and Wendy have expressed their individual support, we all consider it a personal matter. That is, none of us advocate going to jail as a strategy; it is more a matter of personal conscience. Our attitude is similar to how we approached Paul Jacob's resistance to draft registration. It is one of many strategies and we do not advocate it as something everyone should do. Not everyone could do it because of personal circumstances and mental outlook. Not everyone can be a Paul Jacob. How far one can oppose the government is a matter of conscience and circumstance. In short, neither I nor The Voluntaryists can decide this issue for anyone."
Carl calls his actions an "Experiment with Truth". He wanted to personally discover exactly how far the individuals working on behalf of the government were willing to go in order to get compliance from another individual who refuses to comply.

Carl says he did a lot of research before deciding to do his experiment so he knew what he was up against and what others had done in the past. The specifics of what happened at the time of this interview are in the issue and you can read about it yourself.

For this post, I just wanted to discuss some thoughts I had on the idea of personal experience as a method of learning and teaching. These thoughts came up because in the interview, Carl mentions a point Thoreau makes in his essay, On Civil Disobedience. Thoreau says that a person can more effectively and eloquently combat injustice if he has actually experienced it his or her self.

This Thoreau quote started me thinking about personal experience as a teacher. I think most would agree that to truly understand many concepts nothing can really replace actual personal experience for real insight and learning.

But the question I've been wondering about lately is how much one person's experience can help teach others. Does personal experience extend out to others or not?

Certainly an experience teaches the person who lives through it lots of lessons. But I'm not clear on how effective it can be in teaching others. I think that if personal experience does appear to do so then it's only because that person can directly relate it to their own personal experience.

Which means I've circled back to the core idea that personal experience is the key.

So if this is true, then doesn't that mean the best way to communicate and introduce an idea is to find and use a personal experience that will help another individual relate to the concept you are trying to convey?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Voluntaryists As Political Dropouts

Still relating to Issue 5, in the article Rothbard wrote on Gandhi and Voluntaryism, he says:
My observation is that many, if not most, Voluntaryists or their fellow-travelers do not arrive at this strategy from a studied conviction that political action is immoral. (Even if it were, non-violent resistance would still be an illusory, dead-end strategy). Instead, they begin with various forms of disillusion or exhaustion with LP activities. At this perhaps temporary moment of weakness, they seize on Voluntaryism for providing them with a cosmic rationale for dropping out of a commitment to the libertarian movement.
Maybe it’s because I found my way to libertarianism in large part from experiences around education, but Rothbard’s use of the phrase “dropping out” really caught my eye. Every time I see those words, I immediately think of THE TEENAGE LIBERATION HANDBOOK By Grace Llewellyn. (This is an excellent book on education and homeschooling/unschooling. It’s unique because it was written for the teenage audience in mind rather than the parents. Highly recommended reading.)

In this book Ms. Llewellyn speaks about the term “dropping-out” and the connotations that come with it. She points out that the term is not very useful, at least for those teenagers who are giving thoughtful consideration about leaving school. The term just loses its meaning when a teen makes a conscious move to something better.

For the individual teenage homeschooler, he is not dropping out of a commitment to education; he’s beginning on the most important journey he can and taking control of his own educational path. And in the end that will do more for the education movement than staying in school.

It’s the same for the individual Voluntaryist. She’s not dropping out of a commitment to the libertarian movement; she’s beginning on the most important journey she can, working on bringing one improved individual to the world. And in the end, this will do more for the libertarian movement than staying in a political party.

Rothbard may be right to some extent in that many people do leave because of burnout, disillusion or exhaustion. But I think he’s wrong if he thinks anyone who finds Voluntaryism is simply using it as a rationale to drop out of a commitment to the movement.

If anything, someone investigating Voluntaryism quickly understands there is hard work involved in one day reaching the goal of a voluntary society. It’s just that most of it needs to be on an individual basis first.

So to use a phrase I first heard from Grace Llewellyn, Voluntaryists who leave politics are not dropping out at all, they are “rising up.”

Friday, September 17, 2010

Frankly, Murray Rothbard, I'm Unconvinced

Wow. I don’t even know where to start. Issue 5 consists of only a single article but man, it’s a doozy! It’s written by George Smith and is a response to an article written by Murray Rothbard in his publication, THE LIBERTARIAN FORUM.

In Rothbard’s article, published in the March 1983 issue and titled, “The New Menace of Gandhism,” he goes after the Voluntaryists and denounces their attempt at starting a new movement with new strategies by attacking their interest in studying Gandhi’s methods of non-violence.

After I read Smith’s article, I just had to go and read some of the original piece by Rothbard. Fortunately, the Mises Institute has them all available online as commenter “mudshark” told us in a previous post. (Coincidentally I mentioned as a resource in this week’s newspaper column, and received an email from someone thanking me for sharing that resource so I will consider that as “payment” to show appreciation and support of all they have made available online.)

While looking at the FORUM’S archives, I also found that Wendy published a response in the May-June 1983 issue, Rothbard had another response and even whines that an initial response from Smith was published in yet another publication named UPDATE. This was published by another wing of the party apparently led by Ed Crane and another group Rothbard was not so fond of. Carl even gets into the fray by writing an unpublished “Open Letter to Murray Rothbard which apparently made the rounds. There were even two letters published on the topic in the next FORUM. (Whew. Are you keeping this all straight?)

Apparently it was quite the controversy within libertarian circles for awhile.

The basics of Rothbard’s piece are that he accuses the Voluntaryists of practically worshiping Gandhi. His concern seems to be that they are leading themselves (and others who are investigating Voluntaryist ideas) toward non-violent action to the point of martyrdom. So to stop this, he uses Gandhi’s religious beliefs and personal life inconsistencies to diss the Voluntaryist movement. He wants to paint the Voluntaryists as worshiping Gandhi even to the point of mentioning the c word (cult). In response Smith has this to say:
Rothbard claims that the "nub of Smith's recently formed Voluntaryist movement" is an attempt to bring 'down the State by massive non-violent resistance." No evidence is cited to support this allegation because none exists. The "nub" of The Voluntaryists is twofold: first, to convince libertarian anarchists that electoral politics is an improper and ineffective way to attain anarchist goals; second, to explore various alternative strategies.

Nonviolent resistance is one strategy among many. We believe that libertarians should give it a fair hearing. We should approach it with the same open-mindedness and flexibility that Rothbard has traditionally demanded for his pet strategies. The fate of voluntaryism does not hinge on whether libertarians eventually decide in favor of this tactic. As future articles in this journal will demonstrate, nonviolent resistance should be investigated for its strengths and weaknesses.
Smith claims that Rothbard’s main concern is that the Voluntaryist movement will take people, particularly those of the anarchist view, away from the Libertarian Party. This would greatly affect Rothbard because he was part of the political anarchists in the LP through the Radical Caucus.

It is obvious that Rothbard saw “good” people (meaning political anarchists) leaving the Party and naturally he would be looking for something to use to convince them not to bail. I suppose he even thought he might convince some who had jumped ship already to return. [EDIT 9/19/2010: Originally, I wrote, 'including Carl, Wendy and George' which implies that they were at one time in the Party. I've since been told than none of them were ever actually in the Party, so I've edited that part out.]

All of this is so strange because I feel like it was Rothbard himself that moved me to the thinking needed to get away from party politics. He played a large part in convincing me of the logic and consistency of anarchism.

One of the things Smith says in this article to point out that Rothbard is merely using Gandhi as an easy target to bash the Voluntaryist movement because they are messing up his own plan is his seeming “flip-flop” on Gandhi. Smith tells us of a conversation he had with Rothbard about Gandhi during a 1975 California LP Convention. They were discussing a book, THE HEEL OF ACHILLES which had an essay about Gandhi that focused on his more crazy aspects. Here is how Rothbard reacted, according to Smith:
I vividly recall Murray's reaction. Stating that Gandhi was a "good guy" who was "sound" on British imperialism, Murray emphasized that one's personal life is irrelevant to one's political beliefs and accomplishments. A simple point perhaps, but it sunk in.
Now (in 1983) Rothbard uses the same Gandhi faults as a basis for his views of voluntaryism. Smith spends significant time on this idea of throwing out everything a person does based on inconsistencies in his life. He illustrates how this can be done with anyone by using a favorite historical figure of Rothbard’s, Sam Adams. He proceeds to do the same thing with Adams that Rothbard does to Gandhi. It’s a good read.

This is one of the more interesting aspects of this controversy for me. How do we learn and grow as humans? How do we learn and grow from other humans throughout history? Since we are all have faults and inconsistencies, how could we ever take anything good from anyone in the past if we disregard everything because of inconsistent and/or crazy behavior otherwise? Don’t we have to accept that there will be failings and inconsistencies, yet we move forward because we can study and analyze a person’s life and pull out what seems to be “good” about it?

I think of it as an evolution of sorts. Not of the direct biological kind, but in thought and action. I see the human race as slowly but surely evaluating itself, actions, lives, and beliefs and pulling out the good parts, which sometimes cannot be seen so well without the benefit of time passage and hindsight. Then we build on that, move forward and gradually improve as a whole. And those in the future will do the same with us and our actions.

This is important because I think that’s what the Voluntaryists were exploring at the time by studying Gandhi, his life and his methods of non-violence. Rothbard says they are worshiping the man and everything about him, but I don’t see it. Rothbard says they are heading down the road of martyrdom if they seriously consider non-violence as an action. (He even uses the image of standing in front of a tank, which I found interesting considering the Tianamen square protests had not happened yet.) But I don’t see it.

And of course all three are still with us, so even though I know some civil disobedience is coming up, none of them stood up in front of a tank and sacrificed their life for the cause.

A big part of the Voluntaryist philosophy is improvement of the individual. Educate yourself, improve yourself, become the best person you can be in word and deed. That is not a philosophy that will lead someone to “worship” another human being in total. What it will do is create a person who will seriously study and come to conclusions based on rational thought and consideration of all points necessary.

One more ironic thing about all of this is that as I watch Rothbard try to discount everything about Gandhi due to some of his beliefs is that I almost discounted everything about anarchism and Voluntaryists very early on when I discovered Smith and others were atheists. I almost discounted everything they said because of my irrational and bigoted views at the time on atheists and atheism. But I kept pushing on and found so much that made sense and none of the myths, but that’s a whole other story and it’s time to close this out.

I think you can study a person’s ideas and life and put it all in perspective as you consider how it may work for your own life and goals. You aren’t necessarily worshiping them as Rothbard says.

So, sorry Murray but, as you replied when the Voluntaryists tried to defend their views and actions, I remain unconvinced.

(Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What constitutes membership in the State?

George Smith is back with Part 3 of his essay The Ethics of Voting. In this issue he begins to enter into the moral aspects of being involved with government. Here is a summary of what he’s doing in Part 3:
“I shall now explore how institutional analysis applies specifically to the State and to offices in the State. Then I shall move from institutional analysis considered descriptively to the normative” or moral implications of institutional analysis. To what extent are those individuals who work within an association morally and/or legally responsible for the institutional products of that association? This thorny area is undoubtedly the most complex and controversial aspect of the institutional analysis, yet it must be addressed if the moral implications of electoral voting are to be flushed out. Anarchist theory will never advance beyond a rudimentary level so long as this issue remains unresolved.”
Smith first discusses the institutional purpose of the State. Smith says minarchists maintain that the purpose is the “defense of individual rights” while anarchists think the real purpose is “territorial sovereignty.” Anarchists claim that “defense of individual rights” is just something that became necessary in order to legitimize the true purpose of territorial rule.

For me, this is just simple logic because if I can’t freely opt out of the State’s rule, then my rights are certainly not being protected. It’s impossible to say you are defending individual rights if you take away individual rights to do so. So if the purpose really isn’t territorial rule then I could opt out, just like I can opt out of any other institution if I do not wish to associate with it.

The rest of this third part moves further into the issue of what constitutes membership in the State and how membership promotes and sustains the purpose of the institution, even with no overt aggressive act on the part of the individual member.

If I’m a member of some institution or association, I get certain privileges and powers that those outside of the institution don’t have. Anyone who holds political office gets privileges and powers others don’t have, so they are obviously members of the State.

Unfortunately, this membership gives the office holder the power to fill the territory under his rule with loads of laws that we don’t really need.

Which is kind of how some people use their membership in Sam’s Club – by filling their house with way too much stuff that they don’t really need.

Of course, the politician is in a completely different category. As George says:
Such a person is a dangerous threat to innocent persons everywhere. Not only has he captured a position of immense power, but he also swears an oath of allegiance to the Constitution and accepts payment (i.e., stolen money) for "services rendered." When a person voluntarily seeks and attains invasive power, swears to enforce the rules that maintain his power, and receives a handsome salary to boot, the conclusion is inescapable: this person has become a full-fledged member of the State. He accepts its privileges, pledges his loyalty, and reaps its rewards. The protest of the libertarian office-holder — that he intends to use his power for beneficent ends — is beside the point. His actions speak louder than words. He has joined the "ruling class."
He goes on to discuss the issue of liability again and how political office supports State sovereignty. You can read more about the specifics for yourself but let me close with one more quote from part three:
The guardianship of State sovereignty is the most significant institutional role of high offices. They are designed to preserve and promote that sovereignty; and this purpose is served regardless of who occupies the office, so long as the occupant meets the demands of his job. (See the discussion of the auto worker in Part Two.)

Friday, September 10, 2010

How Far Are You Willing To Go?

I mentioned the short blurb about the Paul Jacob fund in a previous post and now the feature for The Voluntaryist Issue 4 is an interview with him. This interview was conducted by Wendy and published while Jacob was living underground as a fugitive from the FBI.

That sounds so dangerous and sinister doesn’t it? What was his crime, a crime so horrible he had to hide out and leave his family? He refused to register with the Selective Service.

Others also did this, but Jacob did it publicly and also encouraged other to do so. He wanted to make an issue of what he considered an unjust law. He decided to go to war over draft registration, so to speak.

I’m one year older that Jacob. When he served his 5 ½ months in prison, his oldest child was a year old. At the time this interview was published (1983), I was pregnant with my first child. Politics, war and injustice were far from being on my radar and the same can be said of my husband. And even if it was, I certainly would not have wanted him to go to prison at that time in our lives.

Mr. Jacob understands that it’s one thing to be radical in thought and another to be radical in action. This is where I guess I fail. And yet, isn’t there one more step in between thought and action? From my experience, lots of people are radical in thought because many people agree with a lot of what I say, but they won’t or can’t say it out loud. Maybe it’s rationalization but isn’t it at least a step towards action if I just speak my radical thoughts out loud, and also write them down for all to see?

I’m not a civil disobedience type of person. You already know that if you’ve read about my journey. For me, just speaking out can feel pretty “disobedient.” I still cringe slightly when I type the word anarchist because I’ve been trained so well by the powers that be who have worked hard to set it up as something that it’s not.

When I was involved in the Libertarian Party, I organized a couple of tax day protests, where we simply handed out brochures at the local post offices on April 15th. Those experiences were pretty far out for me even though I’m sure most would consider that so bland and tame.

Occasionally we’d hear from someone irritated at us or get into an interesting discussion but most people just smiled and either took our pamphlet or politely declined. However, one year a man came up to me and was very angry. He got right up in my face. I mean right up nose-to-nose and screamed at me.

I’m not really sure why he picked me out, but he really wanted me to know that he served in the armed forces and it was because of what he did that I was able to stand out there and protest. I was really taken by surprise and you probably already guessed that I didn’t say anything back; I just let him say his piece and move on.

I also remember having a discussion about tax protest days when I attended some statewide meeting of LP members. Some thought it was a pretty useless thing to do and others thought it at least garnered some needed attention.

This interview discusses Wendy and Paul’s perception that libertarians of the present are not nearly as likely to engage in real action and civil disobedience as those in the 19th century were. The two of them speculate as to whether libertarian involvement in politics has anything to do with this.

But it’s not just political libertarians. Whether or not libertarians are involved in politics, I see civil disobedience as another big rift in the movement. This is happening in New Hampshire and particularly in the city of Keene, I think. Also Brett Veinotte, who does an excellent podcast called School Sucks, became mired in some controversy when he did a podcast on the subject and this led to an interesting round table discussion on Stefan Molyneux’s Freedomain Radio show. All of these people are voluntaryist/anarchist types and yet there are ongoing debates and disagreement about civil disobedience.

Interestingly, as Jacob grew older he seemed to get more and more involved with the political system. He’s still been out there pushing the edge of laws, even very recently, but they are political laws about the political process. This seems kind of strange to me, considering all he said in this interview many years ago.

I would like to close this post with a quote by Jacob from the interview:
“Our [the libertarian movement] goal is not to take over the government but to stop the government from oppressing people, victimizing people, and we should never lose sight of that. It would be much better to never get anyone elected and yet to free one person from prison than to elect every official as a libertarian and leave that one person in prison.”

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Politics Is Seductive

This post will conclude my thoughts about Issue 3.


In this Voluntaryist editorial “Climbing Off The Bandwagon,” Wendy McElroy explains why there has been somewhat of a focus on the Libertarian Party so far. She tells us that until political anarchists understand that engaging in the political process is counter-productive, there is little use in discussing alternative strategies. Once they have said all they can say to make the case for political anarchists, then they will begin to write more about alternatives.

She tells us that
Politics is seductive. It offers the illusion of quick, easy victory within a respectable vehicle…In contrast, many Voluntaryist strategies, such as education and non-violent resistance, are long-term and demand courage and patience without always offering an objective measure of short-term success [such as vote totals].”
Later in the editorial she adds,
“I do not enjoy tearing people or institutions apart. It is because I understand the necessity of breaking the anarchist fascination with politics that The Voluntaryist editorials will repeat so often the same theme – government cannot bring freedom.”
SIDEBAR: Paul Jacob

In this issue, there is a boxed insert soliciting funds for the Paul Jacob fund. At the time, Mr. Jacob was refusing to register for the draft. He ended up spending 5 ½ months in prison for violating the Selective Services Act. Since then, he’s been very active in the political realm, even serving as the Libertarian Party National Director in 1987-88. Lately, he’s been involved in controversy surrounding ballot initiatives. I guess he decided not to move away from politics.

Carl Watner writes another book review in this issue, part 2 of 3 on Gene Sharp’s books. This review is on the Gene Sharp book titled Gandhi As A Political Strategist: With Esssays on Ethics and Politics.

According to Carl, this book goes into detail about Gandhi’s political strategies. This is even more intriguing since Gandhi never held political office. Gandhi understood that it is the cooperation of the people that makes it possible for governments to have power. If the people withdraw cooperation, the entire system collapses.

He also makes the point that for Gandhi, it’s not about seizing power; it’s about denying power through non-violent non-cooperation. This is apparently where the voluntaryists get the idea that “if one takes care of the means, the end will take care of itself.”

Whenever I read or hear about Gandhi, in my mind, I have images of the movie that Ben Kingsley starred in. As far as I know, this movie was a decent history of his life (as far as any movie can be), so if you like to watch movies over reading, this movie might be a good way to learn a bit more about the man and his life.


Finally, I noticed at the end of this issue that the Voluntaryists co-sponsored a one-day conference that featured Gene Sharp, Carl Watner and several other speakers on the topic of non-violence.

The conference included all of these speakers, reading material and even lunch for a mere $10! You can’t even get a large Papa John’s pizza these days for that price without a special coupon. Which reminds me, what do you think about cutting off a slice of Papa John’s slogan and turning it into a Voluntaryist slogan focusing on the importance of the means to the end:

Voluntaryism: Better ingredients, better societal change

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Robert Lefevre’s Lesson

Issue 3 begins a new series called Roots of the Movement, which is intended to highlight the more recent history of libertarian events and activism. This first one is called "How to Become a Teacher" by Robert Lefevre. In this article Mr. Lefevre details the process he went through to start the Rampart Freedom School.

If you read this article, you will learn a lot about the formation of this school, as well as about Lefevre himself, even some of his experiences and conclusions of his time spent in the military. (He enlisted in 1942.) This is interesting to learn since I think he’s well-known now as a pacifist.

One point he makes in this article is that his life circumstances gave him the opportunity to have time to read and study. I was fortunate to have time to do this as well, but so many others are too busy trying to make ends meet. Ironically most people don’t have time to even learn enough to understand how inflation is a tax.

Mr. Lefevre was very impressed with the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). He made more than one visit to their location in New York.

(This reminds me; sometimes an organization’s acronym can sometimes just be too easy to use. I was at a meeting of local libertarian-minded people recently and mentioned FEE and when I tried to remember what the acronym stood for, I went completely blank. I knew the E’s were Economic and Education. I know, it sounds stupid now. Of course it’s Foundation, but I just kept drawing a blank. The only f-word I could think of was freedom. Well until I got frustrated enough, then I though of another one. I don’t think I said it out loud though.)

Anyway, Lefevre thought that FEE’s influence was just too small and he wanted others to learn what he was learning. He really wanted FEE to start a school, but it didn’t quite turn out that way. To find out the lessons Lefevre learned as he became involved in setting up the school, read his article.

Too bad I didn’t attend this school during my college years. I probably would have learned about Lysander Spooner much, much earlier than I did.

(Photo courtesy of Mises Institute by way of Wikimedia Commons)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Who makes up the electoral audience?

This post begins my immersion in Issue 3 of The Voluntaryist. This issue begins with an excellent personal history by Burgess Laughlin, a fellow who was involved in the Libertarian Party from 1979 to 1982. His story is titled “Why I Quit the Libertarian Party.” He’s another person like me who just got the hell out once he realized the futility and inconsistencies involved.

(I found Mr. Laughlin online and he has written a couple of books since publication of this essay. He's also involved in a couple of blogs.)

In his introduction to the Voluntaryist piece, Laughlin mentions reading several authors who made him seriously consider a stateless society even before getting involved in politics. However, he still fell prey to the idea that he needed to “do something” and ended up in the Libertarian Party.

One of the authors he mentions reading early on was Lysander Spooner. My experience was the other way around - I got involved in politics before I heard about Spooner. Thanks to the internet age, at the time I did hear of him, I was able to download and read NO TREASON.

I was completely enthralled. I remember being so surprised that someone was writing this stuff in the 1800s. Why hadn’t I ever heard of these writings? Why didn’t anyone tell me about him? Why had no one else I knew heard of him either? How could a man with writings this interesting, this important and this intriguing be so completely hidden from my view?

This only added to my frustration about our educational system of course.

But back to Mr. Laughlin. In a section where he explains his insights into electoral politics, he talks about the inherent make-up of the audience for a political campaign. He writes:
“Electoral politics is an ineffective educational tool because the people in the electoral audience are most likely to be statists. They pay attention to electoral politics because they think they benefit from government coercion. The people who are disgusted with government in general and electoral politics in particular are unlikely to listen to campaign speeches and ads. Promoting libertarian ideas to most voters is like advertising milk to alcoholics.”
Yeah, and if they even go for the milk, they'll end up adding the government alcohol right back in so they can make White Russians. Sure they taste good, but they don’t solve the problem of the political alcoholic, do they?

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Factory Analogy: Can Government Produce Individual Freedom?

Issue 2 of The Voluntaryist contains the second part of George H. Smith’s THE ETHICS OF VOTING. I wrote a bit about part one here.

This section begins with an institutional analysis of the State which if you recall, is the anarchist insight, recognizing the institution itself as invasive.

Once again, Smith goes into meticulous detail in making his points and I am certainly not going to be able to do it justice here. You can read it for yourself.

What I did find most interesting about Part 2 is that he uses the analogy of a factory and individual workers when making various points. He explains how an individual factory worker’s specific goals and intentions in taking a job really don’t matter as far as the end product of the factory is concerned. No matter what the intentions, the individual worker still plays his role in producing what comes out at the end of the line.

He uses the specific example of a welder in an automobile factory. The welder may say he’s building a boat, his serious intention may be to build a boat, he may even claim to absolutely hate cars, but if he’s in an automobile factory, a boat is not going to be the end product.

I think you can see what he’s setting up here for the political anarchist. Even if a political anarchist says his intentions are to work for freedom by getting elected to office, that’s not what’s being produced in the institution we call the State.

The elected official’s specific reasons or intentions really don’t matter at all in regards to the actual design of the institution. Just like the role of the welder in the car factory, an elected official plays a role in the State “factory.”

Smith also uses this analogy to discuss the question of moral responsibility and the difficulties of determining direct individual responsibility for any result that happens as part of the design of an organization. Who do we say builds a car? No single person actually builds it.

We can, however, figure out who is a member of the organization and who isn’t. The welder is a member of the car building organization and the beautician down the road is not.

He then talks about the fact that there are many shades of gray as to membership in the State. As one example, he mentions people who work in a private business, such as a munitions plant, that sells only to the government. Are they members of the State organization?

He doesn’t really go deeper into this idea but says he will address it at a later time. It does make me wonder about all the new shades of gray we may have added since this was written, particularly considering the recent economic bailouts.

Hey, look, I ended up right back to factories and cars. Or maybe boats. Who knows what they are doing as a result of the bailout. Chevy Waterado, anyone?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

It's All About The Legitimacy of Government

Continuing with The Voluntaryist, Issue 2, I wanted to post a few thoughts on the editorial titled LET MY PEOPLE GO, which was co-written by George H. Smith and Wendy McElroy.

This editorial begins by mentioning the Dallas Accord, an agreement made in 1974 between the minarchists and anarchists within the Libertarian Party.

It sounds like it was meant to shut-up the annoying anarchists who just really didn't like anything at all about government. Apparently the majority on both sides ended up thinking that if they could just stop arguing about that, for just a little while, then both groups could work together and focus on growing the Party itself.

And once that growth happened, and government became smaller as a result, THEN a discussion on government itself, and how to get rid of it, could occur.

I can almost hear the snickers of the minarchists in this situation, can't you?

Please note, I'm not making fun of the anarchists here, it's just that I can now see how different the goals are for the two groups.

Anyway, the authors' biggest concern continues to be the time and energy wasted inside the party by those who have figured out that there is no moral legitimacy in government.

This excerpt probably says it best:
"Voluntaryists believe that anarchists have important contributions to make in strategy as well as in theory. We believe in the potential of nonviolent anarchist organizations to challenge State power on a level impossible for political parties. The basic theory is there, awaiting development. The strategic insights are there, awaiting implementation. Where, then are the anarchists? Many of them, including those of the highest caliber, are stuck in a regressive and increasingly bureaucratic political party, soliciting votes like common political hacks, engagins in vendettas, and fighting delaying actions against Party conservatism which approaches with the inevitability of death."