Libertarian Outlaw: An Interview With Jacob Hornberger

(Jacob G. Hornberger is the founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation. This interview took place on Sunday, November 12th, 2000 in Clinton Township, Michigan. Credit goes to Michigan LP’er Diane Barnes for the “outlaw” label.)

Jacob, you pulled out of the process of running for the Libertarian party 2000 presidential nomination. Harry Brown became that party’s nominee for the second time in a row, and again failed to attract noteworthy numbers on the campaign trail or at the polls. In your mind, why is the Libertarian Party failing miserably to pull in a decent following at the national level, while Nader can attract paying crowds of 15 thousand people?

That’s a question that every LP member has to examine. I truly believe it’s because there’s a disconnect within the Libertarian party. The state LPs are extremely successful, by and large. They are electing people to public office, their voting percentages are extremely high even when they don’t win, and you’ve got a Rasmussen poll that says 16% of the American people are answering questions in the libertarian quadrant. Also, you’ve got Ron Paul — the 1988 LP presidential candidate — who just won in a landslide running as a Republican, but he manages to win running on pure, uncompromising libertarian principles.

So why isn’t this reflected at the national level of the LP? In almost 30 years we can’t elect one congressman, and most of the vote totals are at the 1-3% level, including those totals among the party pros. Ron Crickenberger got 1% and he’s the party political director. Joe Dean, who’s been party secretary, got 2%. So your question is a very pointed one, and I think it’s a question that every libertarian needs to be aware of.

My own personal feeling is that there is a structure in the party that I think is an obstacle to success rather than the key to success, and that structure needs to be examined very carefully. The paradigm has been put into place by officials David Bergland, Harry Browne, Michael Emerling-Cloud, and Perry Willis. They use the party resources to anoint a particular candidate they like, and they run this little family enterprise. I’ve had a big fight in the party over this with respect to ethics. I think the party should be totally independent, and they should be advancing the interests of the party, not individuals.

Therefore, I am beginning to suspect that this disconnect is associated with the structure of the party, and I think that if we abandon that paradigm, and adopt a paradigm where the national LP is not advancing the interests of any particular presidential candidate for four years, it is really going to advance the interests of the party. I think that things are going to start changing. The party is going to start opening up, people are going to come into this party, and they are going to be excited about it. My point is, I think it’s an internal problem rather than an external problem.

Some of us who care greatly about the cause and about the party were put in an awkward position. We believed that the party was engaged in unethical conduct, so we don’t feel comfortable supporting a party that is engaged in this type of behavior. There are two alternatives: one is to leave the party, and the other is to stay and clean it up. I think the party is losing donations because people think that if they donate to the party, part of their money is going to support somebody’s buddies. Once you stop that, I think it opens up the flow of money to the LP. That’s the debate I am starting in this party. Again, this is an internal problem that I think we have to take responsibility for.

There are many differing philosophical views attached to those who claim to be libertarians — in terms of social views, immigration, and the minarchist vs. anarchist arguments, etc. What is the single biggest issue — in your mind — that divides the Libertarian party?

I think there are a few issues. One, of course, is abortion. I was on the party platform committee, and there was definitely a split in the party on that. I’d say it’s approximately 35% pro-life and 65% pro-choice. But it is not an issue that is terribly divisive, where people are threatening to leave the party, or anything remotely like that. I would say that the immigration issue is the one that people find the most discomfort with inside the party. And I’ve noticed an even bigger tendency toward that since we’ve been attracting disgruntled Republicans with the direct mail lists that the party office has been using to attract members.

There’s also a debate about the transitional approach in terms of changing government. Should we be talking about the gradualist approach, or go in there and just abolish programs? That’s particularly divisive within the party, because the candidates want to appear acceptable to the electorate, and they feel much more comfortable approaching their ideas in the gradualist way.

These candidates think they can sell libertarianism a little easier by using the soft, gradualist approach?

Well that’s what they think, but I don’t think it’s the right approach. I think one is better off arguing the strong moral principle of repeal, and there is a tremendous difference in emphasis involved there. For instance, with social security, if you are going to argue for a plan of a reformed social security system — say allowing people to opt out, or applying for annuities, etc., — you are not going to be arguing about the immorality of the state taking money from one person and giving it to another. Your focus is going to be on why your plan is going to save these people, and how everything is going to be okay. But if you go in there and argue for a repeal of social security, it’s a direct, moral, economic utilitarian attack on the whole concept itself, which I think is much more important.

It has always bothered me that so many individuals who purport to be followers of the libertarian philosophy have the notion that liberty and religion are mutually exclusive. What’s your view on that?

It’s a ridiculous notion. I’m a born-again Christian and a libertarian. To me, the two are entirely consistent, and I cannot see why anybody would find it inconsistent, except if they’re saying that you’re not free because you are subject to the dictates of the Pope, or God. But that is a voluntary choice.

For instance, there is nothing wrong with anybody entering into a voluntary contract for employment — even if it’s long-term — which may therefore interfere with your “freedom.” And there’s no reason why people cannot exercise their free choices to pursue God, and to obey God, and to live your life the way you want. God says, “Thou shalt not steal,” which is entirely consistent with the moral case for liberty. He gives us free will, which argues that people should be free to do what they want with their lives as long as their conduct is peaceful. So the area of peaceful sin would therefore be taken out of the hands of the state. How can any of that be inconsistent with libertarianism?

The libertarian movement attracts stragglers who tend to be on the “fringe” of the movement, and only come to the party for a personal grievance they have against government — like the “war on drugs” issue, pornography, or homosexual rights. However, these fringe individuals could hardly care less about greater concerns such as the Rule of Law, Natural Rights theory, our corrupt monetary system, private property rights, or government-imposed economic sanctions that strangle individuals and businesses. What do libertarians need to do to merge the interests of these fringe individuals with mainstream libertarian thought, while managing to not offend the true intellectuals who believe in core libertarian philosophies?

I think in any movement you are going to attract the people that are interested in single issues. If you call for drug legalization, obviously you are going to attract people into your movement who want to consume drugs. If you are going to call for a gold standard or free-market money, you are going to attract some curmudgeon types for whom that is the one issue. I don’t think you let it consume you. You keep operating out of your core philosophy. We are a small movement, and we can’t afford to be too selective with our followers. I’m not sure it’s a problem that some drug user will join the movement, and mainstream America will think that libertarians are dopers. That’s the risk you take in any kind of philosophical movement. So I think any movement to exclude people because they are different would be totally contrary to the spirit of what we stand for. I think you just accept it.

Following the election boondoggle, people are starting to talk about the fact that this country was intended to be a constitutionally limited republic rather than a representative democracy of “mob rule.” What is your interpretation of the Founding Father’s intentions and how the two differ?

I just don’t think there’s any question about the interpretation. We were intended to be a constitutionally limited republic, and the Founding Fathers set up the government to do certain things. The Constitution sets forth the enumerated powers of congress, the president, and the judicial branch, and the idea was that government was supposed to do certain set things and nothing else. In other words, if the power was not enumerated then it couldn’t be exercised. That was clearly understood for many, many decades.

It’s only in this century where all that has been totally turned on its head. In other words, people think that to determine whether you have a right or not, you go look in the Constitution, and then you’re read your constitutional rights. The Constitution has never been a grant of rights. Even the Bill of Rights was inappropriately named. It’s the Bill of Prohibitions. So I think the idea of constitutionally limited government can protect us from the democratic mob rule. You look at the 1st Amendment and the 2nd Amendment, etc., and it’s all about limiting the power of the majority. That was the original idea, and the right idea. That is a very important concept to be stressing to people — that we are being protected from the rule of the majority.

Thanks to the government’s latest failure in allowing the Gore people to turn the election process on its head, people are now questioning the electoral college, and the validity of the entire US election process. What is the Libertarian solution to the recent election snafu?

I don’t see what the problem is in this election. We are simply following the original idea of elections. We are counting votes. It’s a close vote, and that happens in elections. Nobody can ever guarantee that it is going to be a landslide. Counting votes is not a crisis. The winner may win by one vote, so what’s the problem with that?

I’ve noticed that Hillary Clinton is now calling for an amendment to eliminate the electoral college, and I think we need to be very, very careful before we start tampering with this sacred document. I haven’t really researched why the Founding Fathers instituted the electoral college, but my basic understanding is that it is to protect you against the passionate “mob-rule” democracy. I think we ought to be very careful before we jump to a conclusion that this system needs to be eliminated.

Where will you be in 2004? Are you looking at an LP presidential run?

In the next 2 or 3 years, we need to concentrate on building the party, and not who is going to run for president. We should build the parties at the local level, because that is where the base is. That is where the main focus should be. If I were to talk about a presidential run, I would be violating my own edict.

Karen De Coster is a politically incorrect CPA, and an MA student in economics at Walsh College in Michigan.