Mailer for Mayor

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This
article first appeared in the May 15, 1969, issue of
The
Libertarian Forum
.

Norman
Mailer’s surprise entry into the Democratic primary for Mayor
of New York City, to be held on June 17, provides the most refreshing
libertarian political campaign in decades. Mailer has taken everyone
by surprise by his platform as well as his sudden entry into the
political ranks. The Mailer platform stems from one brilliantly
penetrating overriding plank: the absolute decentralization of
the swollen New York City bureaucracy into dozens of constituent
neighborhood villages. This is the logic of the recent proposals
for “decentralization” and “community control” brought to its
consistent and ultimate conclusion: the turmoil and plight of
our overblown and shattered urban government structures, most
especially New York, are to be solved by smashing the urban governmental
apparatus, and fragmenting it into a myriad of constituent fragments.
Each neighborhood will then be running its own affairs, on all
matters, taxation, education, police, welfare, etc. Do conservative
whites object to compulsory bussing of black kids into their neighborhood
schools? Well, says Mailer, with each neighborhood in absolute
control of its own schools this problem could not arise. Do the
blacks object to white dictation over the education of black children?
This problem too would be solved if Harlem were wholly independent,
running its own affairs. In the Mailer plan, black and white could
at long last live peacefully side-by-side, with each group and
each self-constituted neighborhood running its own affairs.

Mailer
and his running mate for City Council President, the writer Jimmy
Breslin, realize full well that this striking new idea cuts totally
across old-fashioned “left"-”right” lines, that it could
logically have an appeal to both groups, or rather to those in
both groups that are truly attracted by an essentially libertarian
vision. Those who want compulsory integration or those who want
the blacks to continue under white rule will not be satisfied
with this vision; but those who yearn for liberty, who want whites
and blacks to treat each other as independent equals rather than
as rulers of one over the other, should flock to the Mailer standard.

Mailer’s
other positions flow from his basic libertarian insight. He is
opposed to compulsory fluoridation of the water supply, and
he favors the freeing of Huey Newton – both libertarian
positions in the freeing of the individual and the community from
the boot of the State. One of Mailer’s key proposals is that New
York City secede from New York State and form a separate 51st
State: a position not only consistent with breaking up large governmental
bodies but also with the crucial libertarian principle of secession.
Secession is a crucial part of the libertarian philosophy:
that every state be allowed to secede from the nation, every sub-state
from the state, every neighborhood from the city, and, logically,
every individual or group from the neighborhood. Mailer’s vision
actively promotes this position. He is the first political campaigner
since the Civil War to raise the banner of secession, a mighty
call which unfortunately became discredited in the eyes of Americans
because (a) the South lost the Civil War, and (b) because it was
associated in their minds with slavery.

Another
superb part of Mailer’s libertarian vision is his reply about
where the New York City government would raise funds; he points
out that citizens of New York City pay approximately $22 billion
in income taxes to the federal government, and that New Yorkers
only receive back about $6 billion from federal coffers. Hence,
if New Yorkers kept that $22 billion in their own hands… That
way lies secession indeed!

While
Mailer’s all-out decentralization should appeal to left and right
alike, in actual fact so far the great bulk of his support is
coming from the kids of the New Left. On the West Side of Manhattan,
there is in the New Left-oriented Community Free Democratic club
at least a strong bloc of ardent Mailer-Breslin adherents. As
far as I know, there is nothing like this support on the Right-wing.
Again I put the question to Mrs. Conservative: how come? You’ve
been griping, and properly so, about swollen governmental bureaucracy
for thirty years. For all that time you’ve been calling for decentralization,
for fragmenting the government. Now, at long last, a candidate
comes along that takes this position (Mailer calls himself a "left
conservative,” by the way). Why aren’t you supporting him?

And
so The Libertarian Forum makes its first political endorsement:
Mailer for Mayor of New York City and Breslin for President of
the City Council. But this of course runs us squarely into the
very widespread sentiment among libertarians against any support,
vote or endorsement whatever for any political candidate. The
contention is that any such support constitutes support of, and
joining in with, the State apparatus and is therefore immoral
for the libertarian.

While
I respect this position, I consider it unduly sectarian.

The
point is that whether we vote or endorse or not, the offices of
President, Senator, Mayor or whatever will not become vacant;
some one will continue to fill these offices during the
coming years. Since there is no way for us to opt for keeping
these offices vacant, since we will be stuck with someone in these
positions come what may, why shouldn’t we at least express a hope
that someone rather than someone else will fill such positions?
If we know that either X or Y will fill a given political post,
why can’t we express our hope that X will win, or, more likely,
that Y will lose? Since we are not yet able to reach that blessed
state when both can lose, why not do the best we can with
the material at hand for the time being? Or, to put it another
way, the State apparatus allows us our biennial or quadrennial
electoral choice. It is, to be sure, a piddling choice, a marginal
choice, a choice which means little and which of and by itself
cannot radically change the existing system. But it is at least
something, it is at least some kind of a choice that we are allowed
between different groups of would-be masters, and often such a
choice may be important – as in the Mailer ideas and candidacy
for this year. Why shouldn’t we take advantage of the choices,
however piddling, that our State rulers permit us to exercise?

I
take as my text Lysander Spooner, one of the great Founding Fathers
of individualist anarchism. Spooner wrote:

“in
the case of individuals, their actual voting is not to be taken
as proof of consent [to the U. S. government]…. On the contrary,
it is to be considered that, without his consent having even been
asked a man finds himself environed by a government that he cannot
resist; a government that forces him to pay money, render service,
and forego the exercise of many of his natural rights, under peril
of weighty punishments…. Doubtless the most miserable of men,
under the most oppressive government in the world, if allowed
the ballot, would use it, if they could see any chance of thereby
ameliorating their condition. But it would not, therefore, be
a legitimate inference that the government itself, that crushes
them, was one which they had voluntarily set up, or even consented
to.”

~
Spooner, No
Treason
: Larkspur, Colorado, 1966, p. 13

There
is another important reason for not necessarily scorning the endorsement
of political parties or candidates. And that is the seeming fact
that it is almost impossible to organize ordinary middle-class
citizens into action except through political parties. Blacks
are organized in the ghettoes, students on campuses, workers –
for good or ill – in labor unions, but where are the permanent
issue-oriented organizations that successfully attract the great
bulk of the country in the middle-class? It seems that the middle-class
is only organizationally attracted by political parties, party
clubs, etc. If this is so, then political parties become a necessary
instrument of the libertarian movement, because if we are to achieve
victory we must eventually obtain at the very least the passive
support, and hopefully a more active support, of the majority
of the middle-class of the country. No organizing among the middle-class
has been done by the New Left, although there have been perennial
futile attempts to organize the industrial workers by the Marxist
elements. The issues, I am convinced, are there: high taxes, inflation,
inter-racial clashes arising from failure to achieve community
control, a losing or stalemated war, all this can be brought home
to the majority of the population. The rhetoric, of course, will
have to differ from the rhetoric that appeals to students; but
the underlying ideas and philosophy can be the same: individual
liberty. But it seems clear the organizational form for organizing
the middle class will have to be a political party or something
very much like it.

Libertarian
sectarians should ask themselves seriously: do we want victory?
If we really want victory for liberty, then we must employ the
means necessary for its attainment, and it looks as if political
action will be one – though by no means all – of those
necessary means. And so Mailer for Mayor.

Murray
N. Rothbard
(1926–1995) was the author of Man,
Economy, and State
, Conceived
in Liberty
, What
Has Government Done to Our Money
, For
a New Liberty
, The
Case Against the Fed
, and many
other books and articles
. He
was also the editor – with Lew Rockwell – of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report
.

Murray
Rothbard Archives

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