I see libertarians as the Stoics of our tattered Republic. We are certainly the descendants of the anti-federalists, and I like to think we are the Patrick Henrys and the Nathan Hales of the 21st century. Yet, recently I read Lew Rockwell’s critique of the new national LP Platform in his article "The LP’s Turkish Delight."
Rockwell notes that the national LP has put on a new suit, one that may become uncomfortable, sooner rather than later. The suit is made from conformity, and perhaps it was sewn together in an attempt to sweep vast numbers of dissatisfied voters into the Libertarian fold.
There are plenty of dissatisfied voters these days. And for every dissatisfied voter, there are at least two dissatisfied non-voters. November 7th, 2006 will bring many libertarian-minded folks to state and national offices. Many of these newly elected people will be Independents and Democrats.
I hope Libertarians win political offices, and I’m sure we will. As the political heirs of Jefferson, it seems right that we participate in politics, and play the political game — as well as educate the public and serve as a standard bearer of human dignity and liberty, a youthful and pure David against the well-armed Goliath that is the State. In truth, races we run are races we win — regardless of the votes gained.
When a Libertarian runs for election, he or she makes it OK for the silent majority to consider a real alternative — to learn about the true meaning of human liberty, to see free speech in action, to imagine the spirit of an earlier time when the poor and the wealthy, the educated and the uneducated could stand together and boldly challenge an all-powerful, incredibly quick-to-anger state bureaucracy, and its elite leadership.
Retired CIA analyst and peace activist Ray McGovern recently gave a speech, quoting the Jesuit priest Dan Berrigan, "There are no makers of peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war — at least as exigent, at least as disruptive, at least as liable to bring disgrace and prison, and death in its wake."
In talking to Ray afterwards it occurred to me that this is what it is really all about. It is indeed about laying it on the line for what we believe, whether that means opposing bad policies, laws, or governments or promoting good ones.
The LP top leadership perhaps chose a Clintonesque third way on some parts of the 2006 platform. But why shouldn’t party leadership compromise? In many ways, it is exactly the same compromise we make ourselves every day, when we talk the talk to the television set, but stop short of educating our neighbors, our local papers’ editorial board, our town councils. It is the same compromise we make when we worry that our libertarian beliefs won’t be well received by others, or that we can’t articulate or defend them in a powerful way. It is the same compromise we make when we say "I can’t run for office," even though in the modern age, it has never been easier to fill out the forms, get the signatures, spread the word and as if it mattered — win the vote, too.
In terms of America’s future, there are many dark scenarios we may rightly fear. But this country may also rise to the challenge of recovering some of the more useful attitudes of the Founders, and employing them both locally and nationally.
The Stoics advised, "abstain from beans." Colored beans represented the cherished act of Athenian democracy, the vote. Yet Stoics, those very model citizens of Athens advised against giving the "beans" too much importance. Patrick Henry asked, "Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?" We all know how he answered that question, and this sentiment of a laying down life for liberty is echoed by Father Berrigan, and by noble heroes everywhere.
In a time of war, Captain Nathan Hale regretted having but one life to give for his country. The most important battle in America today is not whether Republicans will keep the House, or Democrats will be able or willing to change the course of our domestic or foreign politics. It is not whether Libertarians will succeed in politics in a given election cycle. It is whether we will live free on this land we have inherited from those who understood when to compromise, and when to boldly and defiantly stand up and fight.
Our libertarian example to the rest of the country, and perhaps the world, is powerful beyond words and beyond measure. More importantly, the role of spokesman for liberty, advocate for freedom, and warrior against the Leviathan falls overwhelmingly to libertarians. Notwithstanding the national LP program of the year, or races won and lost, we must never forget that we are this nation’s modern Stoics, we are her Patrick Henrys, we are her Nathan Hales. Let us go forth in that spirit, and damn the consequences!
This was first published in Virginia Liberty, September/October 2006.