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Wendy McElroy

Wendy McElroy

Wendy McElroy is a renowned individualist anarchist and individualist feminist. She was a co-founder along with Carl Watner and George H. Smith of The Voluntaryist…

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Libertarian Party Moves Us Away From Freedom

"Two politicians, one of whom is a libertarian, have more in common than two libertarians, one of whom is a politician."

The civic sacrament known as voting has begun. Ballots for November are being readied now, and government-weary Americans are being asked to believe yet again that politicians bring freedom. They are asked to surrender the last, best hope that freedom in America may have - their growing gut skepticism about the state. In that skepticism lies a chance, but it will be drowned out by the huzzahs surrounding office-seekers and office-believers.

LP candidates are lining up Among the other politician-wanna-bes and straw-hat enthusiasts. Libertarians should know better, and the damnable thing is that they almost do. An article on the Libertarian Party blog (Jan. 15) is titled "North Carolina Libertarians see opportunity in rising discontent of voters." The executive director of that state's LP is quoted, "As the Democrats and Republicans move us relentlessly down the road to hell, kicking the can as we go, more and more Americans can feel the heat rising." The road to hell is electoral politics. And the fact that mass numbers are beginning to see where the path leads is a reason for optimism.

Why? Because the fundamental fight is not against the guns wielded by statists; most people decry the brutality of police and other dramatic shows of force. The fundamental fight is against the idea of state legitimacy; most Americans linger in believing that the state has proper authority based on the electoral process. Only because a politician is elected, can he raise taxes without causing a revolt; otherwise, the money-grab would be seen as outright theft. That's the difference between a politician and a common criminal; the political process anoints one while the legal system imprisons the other. The double standard in morality begins at the ballot box. It begins within the heart and soul of every voter who believes the process confers legitimacy upon the political office and the victor.

It does not. Political office is a position of unjust power over every person who does not consent to it. No one has the right to possess such power. No one has a right to facilitate another person in achieving that power. The challenge to libertarianism is to expose the injustice and double standard of political office, not to join in it.

LP advocates argue that their candidates do not seek power; indeed, they are trying to roll back power. But the office they seek is defined by incredible legal authority and privilege; if it weren't, they wouldn't be pursuing it. Of course, LP candidates seek power. Of course, the LP seeks to take over the structure of the state; what else does a political party do? What LP advocates are really arguing is that their politicians will not exercise the power they seek or, at least, they will exercise it less than the competition.

The idea of a person battling for power but not using it puts a strain on credibility. No candidate's assurances cannot be trusted because everyone swears to not abuse power prior to gaining it. Moreover, if successful, the candidate will swear to uphold the laws of the land as part of taking office; many of those laws are blatantly unjust. When is he lying? When he vows to oppose unjust laws as a candidate, or when he vows to uphold them as a bona fide politician?

The claim that immense power will not be abused is also a request for people to trust those in authority. Yet, again. It is another way to legitimize the very office that should be reviled. It asks to trust your freedom to the invisible intentions of something who wants power: "trust my man." But the man is irrelevant; whether anyone has confidence in him is irrelevant. The position of power itself is the problem because no one has a right to possess it. The double standard by which politicians steal through taxes and murder through war is the problem.

In 1982, I was one of three people who founded The Voluntaryists organization and newsletter as a means to advocate for non-political strategies through which to achieve a freedom. In the Introduction to the book Neither Bullets Nor Ballots (1983) issued by the Voluntaryists, I wrote,

"The Voluntaryists seek to reclaim the anti-political heritage of libertarianism. They seek to re-establish the clear, clean difference between the economic and the political means of changing society. This difference was well perceived by the forerunners of contemporary libertarianism who tore the veil of legitimacy away from government to reveal a criminal institution which claimed a monopoly of force in a given area. Accordingly, early libertarians such as Benjamin Tucker maintained that one could no more attack government by electing politicians than one could prevent crime by becoming a criminal."

Since 1982, "libertarian candidates" have come and gone, leaving no trace except the draining of energy, ideals and cash from the movement. Millions of man hours have been wasted along with hundreds of millions of dollars. It has done nothing more than move libertarianism farther away from freedom,

At this point in conversation, I am often called idealistic and unwilling to consider real-world strategies such as running for office. The criticism is a sleight of hand; it takes a moral objection and tries to pass it off as a strategic one. Moreover, the "real world" jab is a strange one. I pursue a broad range of strategies that have proven to work in the world. They include counter-economics, parallel institutions, grassroots movements, community-building, education, non-violent resistance, moral suasion, self-sufficiency, non-cooperation, civil disobedience...and voting with your feet. None of those strategies sanction the state or require anyone to become part of it. All of them liberate individuals, here and now.

The idealism jab is equally strange. It comes from people who believe politicians with incredible power will not abuse it; with a straight face, LP advocates assure me that successful politicians will rush to surrender their hard-won authority, relinquishing the prestige and paycheck that attends power. The state can be reformed by our good intentions, they protest; apparently, "power corrupts...except for libertarians." And I'm the naïve unrealistic one?

The LP's desire to join the state has been disastrous for the movement and it has pushed back the horizon of freedom in America.


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