Here Lies the Dallas Accord Born: 1974 Died: 2008
A few days before the Denver convention to nominate the Libertarian Party presidential candidate for 2008, it appears that the frequently-mentioned (though not necessarily understood) Dallas Accord of 1974 is dead. Whether a purging of the anarchists occurs or a new and improved understanding replaces it is yet to be seen. In the hopes of the latter, I want to offer my thoughts.
At the LP Convention in Dallas, Texas in 1974, disagreement on whether police, courts, and large-scale defense ought to remain government functions or be provided on the free market threatened to derail hopes for libertarian anarchists and minarchists to work together. Apparently at the behest of members of the platform committee representing both viewpoints, an informal agreement was made that, for the purpose of developing the platform and party activities in general, the question of the ultimate legitimacy of government need not be settled. Since then, the Dallas Accord has frequently been cited to silence discussion of these issues, even internally.
From a peak that may have been above 30%, the percentage of LP members identifying themselves as anarchists has been dropping steadily, and most guesses place the anarchist proportion of the LP at between 10% and 15% today. Among non-political libertarians, though, market anarchists may dominate, and it is definitely true that the Libertarian Party is unrepresentative of self-described libertarian authors and bloggers, who are mostly anarchists. Frankly, it is frustrating to be one of the party anarchists and to have one presidential candidate (who wasn’t even an LP member at the convention in 2006, let alone 1974) speak about “anarchists and us libertarians,” and to have a respected long-time libertarian minarchist casually comment on the “incoherence” of anarchism without feeling the need to elaborate. (If I may be permitted my own rebuttal, the theory behind limited government libertarianism is that free market capitalism is best protected by a centrally-planned socialist monopoly, which seems to me to have a coherence dilemma of its own.)
Even sillier, a prominent member of the platform committee talks constantly about anarchists controlling the platform prior to the Portland Massacre of 2006 that deleted 80% of it, when it is quite clear that the pre-demolition platform was a product of more than 30 years of voting by delegates who were ALWAYS primarily minarchists. This has led to a suspicion that some would like to see the anarchists leave the LP completely, and I don’t believe that is either healthy for the libertarian movement nor the intent of most minarchists, let alone anarchists, in the party.
As I see it, the Dallas Accord is dead, and it is time to reopen the discussion. Especially in light of the Ron Paul Revolution and the expectation that, after the September Republican convention, there will be an enormous number of inspired young people who will see the Republican Party is not their home and doesn’t want them, I believe we have a great opportunity to reinvigorate the libertarian movement and prepare for a major move in the direction of liberty in the near future. At worst, the Ron Paul Revolution may be the Russian Revolution of 1905, which didn’t topple the Czar, but did radicalize his opposition and lead to his downfall a dozen years later. If the Libertarian Party is in the midst of a bloody divorce in September, it will not be that home, and might as well pack its bags and leave the movement.
There is no need for that. With sufficient goodwill and a more explicit and workable agreement, the LP can be a useful vehicle for the future. To be so, we need to abandon the idea that it is somehow divisive to openly debate some of the most important elements of a free society, including dispute resolution, law enforcement, and large-scale defense. At the same time, those who represent the LP should honestly portray the current consensus of the party, whatever it may be. For decades, pro-life libertarians were willing to work in a party that was explicitly pro-choice, and those of us who are anarchists can work in a party that is explicitly minarchist, if that is the consensus.
One reason I am supporting the Restore ’04 movement at the convention is that I want a comprehensive platform which guides whoever might be the presidential and vice-presidential candidates. I want a platform that is considered binding on the nominee. I don’t want someone campaigning either to retain government courts or to abolish government courts in the name of the LP so long as members of the LP have not decided which position to adopt. It is perfectly reasonable to expect anarchists to honor the coalition status of the LP and the fact that it ISN’T a party dominated by anarchists.
What has been unfair is an imbalance that treats the Dallas Accord as one-sided, obligating only anarchists not to discuss courts, police, and national defense, but leaving minarchists free to speak their mind and to openly campaign in favor of government-based services. I believe that one reason LP members are far less likely to be anarchists than non-LP libertarians is that LP publications and online discussions do not discuss them. In the early 1980s, I was the publisher of the official California Libertarian Party organ, Caliber, and wanted to include debates on these issues, but was repeatedly warned that this was a “violation of the Dallas Accord.” Oddly enough, I heard this from anarchists in the LP as well as minarchists. Today, market anarchist theory is being developed outside the LP, but those in it remain, by and large, ignorant of this theory, and many hold views just as uninformed as the broad public that thinks it is a form of lawless chaos.
I don’t want the LP coalition to end: I want it to thrive. I propose that 2008 be the year of the Denver Accord, and offer the following resolution:
- The Libertarian Party is committed to advancing the principle of non-aggression and a society based on mutual respect for life, liberty, and property.
- We support a comprehensive platform based on the current consensus of the party, to guide candidates, activists, and new members toward an understanding of the LP’s position and how it would apply to different areas.
- No idea is too dangerous to be discussed. Platform debates should be open and respectful, and include proposals related to courts, police, and defense, which may succeed or fail, but will educate all who participate. These debates should not be limited to conventions or to platform committee members, but be ongoing and supported by the official party, with official web sites and blogs allowing all to participate, and with platform committee members expected to moderate online discussions as part of their service between conventions.
- Candidates and activists speaking on behalf of the LP should select their themes from the platform, and design brochures, speeches, and press releases based on those issues where there is a party consensus. When asked questions in interviews and Q&A sessions on a matter on which the LP has no official position, or where the individual disagrees with the party position, they should respond with integrity, identifying the silence or disagreement of the party with their own position.
None of us know it all (including the know-it-alls). Although I became a self-conscious libertarian 30 years ago, I continue to learn and change some of my positions (for example, 30 years ago I saw intellectual property protection as essential, and now consider it to be a dangerous monopoly privilege that should be abolished). I’m not done learning and changing, I hope, and the LP must do a better job of encouraging its members to learn and become better salespeople for liberty.
I believe LP-financed sites to discuss platform issues should be open to non-members: there are too many bright people in the movement who choose not to participate in politics from whom party members can learn. Voting on formal changes to the LP platform should, of course, be limited to dues-paying members of the LP who have signed the non-aggression pledge.
The Accord is Dead! Long Live the Accord!
May 12, 2008