The Return of Ideas to the Political Process
By Edward H. Crane III
Tactical Notes No. 4
ISBN 0 948317 70 1
© 1986: Libertarian Alliance; Edward H. Crane III.
The views expressed in this publication
are those of its author, and
LA Director: Chris R. Tame
FOR LIFE, LIBERTY AND PROPERTY
Preface by Chris R. Tame and Brian Micklethwait
The purpose of Tactical Notes is not
merely to present the personal views of the Committee of the
Libertarian Alliance, but also to present the diversity of
libertarian thought concerning strategy and tactics. In this
essay we are pleased to present the views of Ed Crane. Mr.
Crane belongs to that wing of the movement adhering to an
isolationist position in foreign policy (a position not
shared by the leading spirits of the LA). A major figure in
the rise of the American Libertarian Party, Mr. Crane defends
here a more immediatist position than that held by the
LA's Committee. This essay was originally given in 1982
as a speech, and it should be pointed out that since then the
Libertarian Party has experienced a massive decline in
support and vitality and has been abandoned by large numbers
of sensible and decent people. Ed Crane has now abandoned the
Libertarian Party and his efforts are directed through his
work as President of the Cato Institute, the Washington based
free market think tank. It would seem clear, however, that
the same tactical/strategic vision is central to his work: a
concern with both immediate political/policy impact and with
translating the more abstract realm of the intellect into the
public consciousness and political action.
My involvement in the Libertarian Party dates back to 1972 when a scraggly group of about 85 of us met in Denver, Colorado at the Party's first national convention. We were, I think it is safe to say, a colourful group of people, each with a different background and perhaps a different motivation for being there, but all convinced that there was something profoundly wrong with the political system in the United States.
Ideologically, that original group clearly had more of a right wing bias than exists in the party today. There was, I'm reluctant to report, serious debate at that convention as to whether or not the United States should unilaterally withdraw from Vietnam. Today Libertarians are more likely to be discussing whether or not the United States should withdraw from North America.
And that's more than just an interesting anecdote because it demonstrates the irrefutable point that the Libertarian Party has in its ten year history become increasingly ideologically committed as it has grown In size and professionalism. Many people believed that it couldn't be the case. Yet a perusal of each succeeding LP platform demonstrates that the application of Libertarian principles to political issues has consistently been in a clearer, ideologically sounder manner.
That, it seems to me, is most encouraging. Our libertarian principles act simultaneously to guide and to motivate us in our activities. Without them we are, in effect, a rudderless, powerless ship adrift in a sea of political compromise. And when it comes to compromise there is no way we're going to out-compete the Republicans or Democrats.
That brings me to the subject of this paper. What I want to deal with is, in essence, what I believe to be the correct strategy for the Libertarian Party to pursue - why I believe it to be correct and what I see to be a particular danger to it that exists within the libertarian movement. Strategy is itself a subject that gets too little attention in the libertarian movement. Everything we do as libertarian activists implies a strategic ordering of priorities. We do one thing rather than another, presumably, because we think it will, within the limitations of our own interests and abilities, be the most effective in advancing the cause of liberty. In this sense, of course, the existence of the Libertarian Party is an endorsement of political action as an appropriate strategy for achieving a free society.
It is important that we never forget the obvious: the Libertarian Party is not a party in the traditional sense of the Republicans and Democrats. It is not our objective to run the government'. The Libertarian Party is, however, a political party and one of its objectives beyond the obvious one of educating the public about libertarianism is to dismantle the machinery of government from within: to get elected to public office.
Now, I happen to believe that the educational and electoral opportunities for advancing the cause of liberty through the Libertarian Party are enormous - that they represent the best opportunity for rolling back the state. That is not to say it is the only proper strategy, or even that it is a good strategy for everyone - political action for some libertarians may, in fact be an inappropriate strategy. For most of us, it seems to be, it is a good and a proven strategy.
But it is not enough to say simply that we should pursue political action. Left unresolved is what type of political activity Libertarian Party activists should be pursuing. The key to a successful libertarian movement, which is to say the key to creating a free society, is to involve the intelligent lay public in questions of public policy, in serious debate over the political issues which affect their lives. I would argue that such involvement is a pre-condition to the creation and to the maintenance of a free society.
The history of mankind is a history of the subjugation and exploitation of a great majority of people by an elite few - by what has been appropriately termed the 'ruling class'. The ruling class has many manifestations. It can take the form of a religious orthodoxy, a monarchy, a dictatorship of the proletariat, outright fascism, or, in the case of the United States, corporate statism. In each instance the ruling class relies on academics, scholars and 'experts' to legitimise and provide moral authority for its hegemony over the masses.
Navekian Intellectuals Versus Academics
At this point I want to make a distinction between what I would call academics or 'court intellectuals' on the one hand and intelligent laymen or 'Hayekian intellectuals on the other. The distinction is an important one for the purposes of this discussion. Murray Rothbard has accused me of, among other atrocities, being 'anti-intellectual'. I would beg to differ. As I will argue in a moment, I think there is a desperate need to recruit more intellectuals into the libertarian movement. Now, if Rothbard had accused me of being anti-academic I would have had to confess to a certain bias in that direction.
Not that there isn't a role for academics to play in society - it's just that it's a more limited role than they currently play, and political action is not a place for them to play it. At a minimum I would think that libertarians could agree that massive state subsidisation of higher education - 'higher education' is itself a value-laden term: it more properly might be referred to as prolonged education - that this subsidy has created more academics than the market would have, shall we say, demanded. It's not just that there are more scholars incredibly knowledgeable about the sex lives of Cro-Magnon poets than is perhaps warranted, it's that there are literally thousands and thousands of economists, sociologists, historians, and philosophers in our society whose life's work in a free market system would probably be channeled in more productive directions.
An article in the Pacific Sun a couple. of years ago offered a somewhat exaggerated but to the point discussion of the libertarian view of court intellectuals - again, not broadly defined Hayekian intellectuals - which I'd like to share with you:
Of course, one of the advantages of 'over-education' is that it provides the recipient with more information (or mis-information) about a given subject than is possessed by a layman. It allows the scholar or expert to intimidate through arguments from authority and reference to his PhD. It does not mean the scholar or expert has better judgement or is necessarily more intelligent than broad segments of the lay public - particularly today when it can be argued that the bureaucratised, politicised, and unionised academic establishment tends not to be attractive to the brightest and Boat creative young minds in our society.
In any case, as Marx once wrote, 'The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.' And In order to change the world In a libertarian direction the movement needs to recruit intellectuals and to motivate those intellectuals to agitate for change. I referred to the kind of intellectuals we need to promote libertarian political action as 'Hayekian intellectuals'. Let Hayek define them for me in this quote from 'The Intellectuals and Socialism':
Hayek goes on to include within his definition of intellectuals: journalists, teachers, ministers, writers, cartoonists, scientists, and doctors. He makes it clear that he would include everyone who is concerned about ideas enough to learn the facts about an issue and attempt to convince others of the validity of his position based on those facts. Hopefully, that would include the leadership of the Libertarian Party.
The key characteristic of the 'Hayekian intellectual' is his desire and ability to convince others of the correctness of his point of view. In this sense, the intellectual is, or should be, more important than the academic expert in terms of political action. That is why, as Hayek puts it:
It is not surprising that scholars and experts often feel contemptuous about the intellectual, are disinclined to recognise his power and are resentful when they discover it.
Academics Versus Liberty
I would argue that this contempt and resentment of the broadly defined intellectual class represents a potential threat to the libertarian movement. Before the advent of the Libertarian Party the movement was run by and to a large extent consisted of scholars, most of them were experts in libertarian theory. None of them, apparently, had any real talent for organising the movement or popularising its Ideas. Now, I don't want to blow this point Out of proportion - the main point I want to make is the need for active, real-world intellectual proselytising. But In a movement that has for so long been dominated by scholar-experts it is important that activists feel a sense of intellectual independence. It they don't, if they take the attitude that the great scholars on high are going to do all their thinking for them, then they are not going to under- take the hard work of learning the issues and taking the libertarian cause to the American people - and we'll be stuck with a movement like we had in the late sixties, which is to say no movement at all.
The actions of court intellectuals to justify the state and to mock those who would challenge Its legitimacy have been well documented by, among others, Murray Rothbard. But it would be a mistake to assume that the dynamics of 'experts' shouting down the public Is limited to the government. Duncan Neuhauser has written, for instance, that:
In other words, the more the public understands about a given profession, the less prestige, the less money, and the less Influence each profession will have. The church has, of course, for centuries kept the secrets to salvation in the hands of its appointed experts. Examples of this sort of thing abound. Consider the American Dental Association's code of ethics which states:
You know how it goes. The barbers union requires you to pass a test which asks, among other things, how many bones there are in the human hand, before you can cut hair.
Now, when it comes to the field of political ideology, the unfortunate fact is that the same unwillingness to grant non-experts the right to practice in that field exists. Consider the case of One Murray N. Rothbard. Rothbard has written an extraordinary 170 page document which discusses what he perceives to be the correct strategy for the philosopher-king. Some of the distinctions between what he is saying and what I am recommending may be subtle, but they are important. To quote Rothbard:
So understanding politics, like medicine, must now be left to the experts. To continue Rothbard's quote:
The public will then have to turn to those experts and authorities who have remained free of the blandishments of the State. Oh? And who do you suppose that will be?
The Leninist and Nazi Models of Political Action
One of the remarkable aspects of Rothbard's Strategy paper is that about a third of it is devoted to praising the strategic genius of two rather anti-libertarian chaps: Vladimir Lenin and Adolf Hitler. Aside from the fact that the course of action chosen by two such despicable human beings as Lenin and Hitler should be viewed with extreme scepticism, the obvious problem with an approach which tries to superimpose strategic successes of the past - in one case a past which is almost 60 years old and in both cases strategies employed during wartime - on today's situation, is that they have little relevance to today's situation. Yet Rothbard, I can tell you from personal experience, persists In his obsessive role-playing as a modern day Lenin. For evidence I refer you to a recent Libertarian Forum In which he rates each and every National Committee member on the basis of what percentage of their votes coincided with his own. Rothbard even rated state delegation votes at the National Convention according to his self-determined party line. To me this sort of breathless accounting of others' deviations which was typical of Lenin's cadre during the revolution is ludicrously out of place In today's libertarian movement. It is not only counter-productive, it is childish.
But here is Rothbard again in his strategy paper describing his plumbline vision of a strict intellectual hierarchy for the movement:
Some more of the philosophy which I think helps explain Rothbard's recent tirades and machinations:
Wonderful. There's more good stuff in this paper which serious Libertarians should be aware of if they want to understand Murray Rothbard. Here's another one:
Hitler, Rothbard tells us, was
I could go on. But let me say here that I'm not trying to equate Rothbard with Lenin and Hitler. Rothbard has been a giant In the fight for liberty. His scholarly work in philosophy and economics has earned him a much deserved stature among libertarians. However, this does not Bake him a political strategist or tactician. Rothbard, it seems to me doesn't want to admit he can't do everything. The similarity between him and these historical figures whose strategies he desires to emulate lies in the self-delusion of his own infallibility. And that would not be dangerous if not for his desire to project his vision for the movement through his beloved hierarchy. If there is a chain of command and Rothbard is at the top, then, he reasons, we are all Spouting libertarianism according to Rothbard and all is well with the world. Murray Rothbard fervently wants to do Our thinking for us.
Perhaps a couple of final quotes from his strategy paper will make this point clear. Rothbard criticises the Libertarian Party because
And finally, in praise of communist parties that have understood the problems created by the unbridled independence of members cited above, he says:
And here Rothbard has underlined in the manuscript 'knows his place'.
If Rothbard were simply running a corporation which he had designed in a hierarchical manner to sink or swim based on his commands perhaps One could forgive him theme excesses. But as I've stated before, for the libertarian movement to succeed we need real world intellectuals who think for themselves and are out promoting the libertarian philosophy. Ours is a philosophy that can't succeed with an army of robots. Yet that is what I am convinced the Scholar-expert Rothbard wants.
Perhaps the most obvious example of this can be seen in Rothbard's vicious attacks on the Clark for President White Papers. These studies, which detailed the four major planks of Clark's campaign, were singled out, one by one, as unconscionable sell-outs. They were referred to collectively by Rothbard as 'infamous'.
It was Rothbard's outspoken criticism of these White Papers that first really got me thinking about what motivates the man. Here were the four best libertarian analyses of current policy questions ever written and they are viciously attacked by the man who, presumably, was the leading proponent of advancing libertarian ideas. Could it be, I wondered, that Rothbard was like the Dental Association that didn't want general practitioners to pass along the secrets of he specialists to the lay public? The White Papers consisted of one on education written by Bill Burt, one on foreign policy written by Earl Ravenal, one on social security written by Pete Ferrara and one on Clark's tax and spending cut proposal, which would have reduced the size of the federal government by one-third in one year, written by David Boaz. Now, these papers were meticulously researched, professionally written, and scrupulously edited to ensure that they didn't compromise libertarian principle. They are excellent examples of what libertarian intellectual activists need to compete successfully in the real world of political debate. As I told Ed Clark, Jack Kennedy would have been proud of those White Papers. Seriously, I was amazed at what Rothbard had to say about those papers.
Rothbard said it wasn't clear from the White Paper on education that Clark's tuition tax credit proposal was only a transitional plan. Here's what the White Paper said:
Rothbard said the White Paper on foreign policy abandoned a principled policy of non-intervention. Here's what the White Paper says:
That's what a principled policy on non-intervention means.
Rothbard said the White Paper on taming, and Spending proposed a tax cut that was not 'perceivably more radical than Reagan's. Well, to say that an immediate 50% reduction in everyone's taxes, which is what the White Paper proposed, cannot be perceived as more radical than Reagan's proposed reduction in tax increases, is equivalent to saying that the Queen Mary can't be perceived to be larger than a rowing boat. Rothbard also accused us - in writing - of not calling for the abolition of OSHA in that White Paper. The Section on OSHA concludes with this sentence:
But perhaps that is a little ambiguous.
Libertarianism will prevail in our Society only if we can make It relevant to real people - only if its proponents are armed with the information, the facts necessary to flesh Out the theoretical framework. Libertarianism isn't Important because it is a beautifully integrated political philosophy, which it is, but because it is consistent with the nature of human beings - It allows them to live in peace, to secure prosperity, to pursue their individual values, to control their own lives. But when libertarian Intellectual-activists try to convey this to the public the philosopher-king gets Indignant. Libertarian ideas are Murray Rothbard's private domain. He's the expert, so forget how good the Clark White Papers are, unauthorised people are dealing in ideas. And I'm not talking solely about anyone who reaches out to other people On behalf of libertarianism.
Here's Rothbard In an issue of Libertarian Forum writing in a column he calls 'The is the Movement You Have Chosen'. His byline, incidentally, is 'Old Curmudgeon', a title he bestowed upon himself many years ago. Rothbard takes Ken Fanning, a libertarian legislator in Alaska, to task for having said in a newspaper article:
Fanning goes On to say that libertarians
At which Rothbard explodes. He mocks Fanning for espousing 'folk wisdom' and suggests he campaigns on the slogan 'Chop wood now!' He concludes condescendingly:
But what Rothbard doesn't realise, is that for the Libertarian Party to succeed it needs White Papers and Ken Fanning much more than it needs PhDs Scrutinising NatCom voting records. It needs folk wisdom that Rothbard mocks more than it needs scholarly nostalgia over Vladimir Lenin's organising genius.
Bringing Ideas to the People
If the Libertarian Party is to succeed we must create the subjective conditions that existed more than 200 years ago in colonial America and which gave birth to the first great libertarian revolution. I'm not talking about strategy here, I'm talking about a society in which the intelligent lay public is actively engaged in debate over questions of public policy. We have seen the bias court intellectuals and academics have toward increasing state power. In colonial America and for most of the nineteenth century, the informed public, the broadly defined Hayekian intellectuals of the period, had a self-confidence in dealing with ideas and public policy that made attempts by the would-be ruling lass to subjugate the population a very risky business. People knew they had rights, they understood what caused inflation, they opposed taxation, they fought subsidies to business, they were literate, informed, and unintimidated by so-called experts. It was a time when people thought for themselves and cared enough about their beliefs to try to convince others.
According to historian Bernard Bailyn, there were some 1500 political pamphlets published during the 20 year revolutionary period, mostly by ordinary Americans.
And, of course, Thomas Paine's little booklet, Common Sense - full of folk wisdom - was read by about every literate person In the colonies. More than 120,000 copies were printed in a population of three million. That would be equivalent to 9 million copies of the book today. In addition to each copy of Common Sense typically being read by several people, It was not uncommon for it to be read aloud in taverns and other public meeting places. According to historian Eric Foner:
Foner underscores the importance of popular involvement in political debate.
This active involvement of non-academic intellectuals and business people In political affairs is something that continued for more than a hundred years after the revolution. As Leonard Liggio has pointed out, the Democratic Party of the nineteenth century was remarkably libertarian, favouring individual rights and hard money while opposing mercantilism. Political debate during much of that century was ideological and focused on the dangers of governmental actions relative to the rights of the individual.
Experts and the Decline of American Freedom
As time went on, however, ideology gave way to coalition politics, to special interest pressure groups, and to pork barrel legislation. The concept of 'experts' and authorities' in the social sciences began to take hold. Politics became a game of delivering block votes, with political leaders doing the thinking and the general public becoming less and less interested In political ideology per me. The court intellectuals and government apologists finally began to have their way at the turn of the century as the gates to statism were thrown wide open. Why this happened is a subject of some controversy. Liggio has pointed out that when PhDs became fashionable, in the early nineteenth century, the only place to get them was in Europe and the young American academics travelled there to get their certificates of authority. They returned to the U.S. with the old world intellectual baggage of anti-individualism. But whatever the reasons, it's clear the twentieth century has witnessed the rise of the academic expert and the subjugation of the average person. Just like things have been arranged for most of human history. Coincident with that phenomenon, of course, has been the growth of the state to proportions the average colonial American would never have tolerated. The state prevails, as it always has, by convincing the intelligent layman that he shouldn't think for himself. It is in government's interest - as you know - for you and me to think that other people have an expertise that permits them to make decisions about our lives. Happily, the state has been singularly unsuccessful in convincing the people In this room that its hired academic experts are anything other than social leeches. Because of our Independence of mind, we represent the only significant long term threat to state hegemony in our society.
H.L. Mencken put it this way:
Alexis de Tocqueville put it this way:
To a large extent experts in all fields want us to be 'a flock of timid animals'. Government does, professional groups do, and, it seems, certain libertarian experts do. But those of us who are serious about creating a free society have an obligation to stand up for what we believe, to take our case to the people, and to enlist as many intellectual activists to our cause as possible. I submit that the time for such a renaissance of intellectual activism by the intelligent lay public is at hand. The objective conditions are there.
To quote a recent editorial in Commonweal magazine, which they felt compelled to entitle 'In Defence of Government':
It's about time. The fact is that more and more serious people are coming to the conclusion that the emperor has no clothes, that the so-called experts in government don't know what they re talking about.
The federal budget is literally out of control. Reagan is proposing a budget of $757 billion and a $100 billion deficit. The social security System has a $6 trillion unfunded liability and most younger people want out. The famous Reagan tax cut has been exposed am a fraud. Militarism and defence spending are coming under increasing criticism - for instance, David Broder of the Washington Post in an article last month entitled 'Rising Isolationism' quoted a woman officer worker In Peoria, Illinois:
Then there is the economy. High unemployment, stagflation, a severe liquidity crisis. Times are bad. Republicans are defending deficits and Democrats are wringing their hands over them. Both parties Seem to think that risking nuclear war makes a lot of sense but they can't seem to agree on where we should precipitate one. The two major political parties are, in fact, viewed with less respect by the public than at any time in this century.
People no longer care what government says it is doing to fix our economy or stop the communists. They go in thousands to private hard money conferences to try to protect their wealth. They attend standing-room-only lectures sponsored by Physicians for Social Responsibility to learn the truth about nuclear war. They participate by the millions in the underground economy where taxes don t exist. Americans are beginning to think for themselves again. And that's good news for us if we're willing to do something about it.
The decade of the eighties could witness the return of ideas to the American political system. Just as people are learning to think for themselves about social issues and financial issues, so could they Start thinking for themselves politically. The Libertarian Party has the philosophy for America's future but, it is up to libertarian activists to apply that philosophy and theoretical framework to the real world to make it meaningful to intelligent Americans. We need to become Intellectual activists who learn the facts about issues and bring the libertarian analysis of those facts to the rest of our society. We need candidates, of course, but intellectual activists 55 candidates. Libertarian candidates need to debate their Republican and Democratic opponents armed with more knowledge of facts, figures and history, for if we can demonstrate to the public that we know what we're talking about, the public is going to listen. And listening and learning about libertarianism can be an exciting thing for people starved for common sense and concerned about their future.
Friedrich Hayek was, I think, writing to those of us involved in the libertarian movement when he wrote:
The mark of liberalism at its best, of
course, was America's revolutionary period. It is up to
us to reawaken that spirit of independence and love of
liberty that was the first libertarian revolution.