Today’s galling criminal behavior in Washington has brought back some old memories for me. With the publication of my book Restoring the American Dream, which openly promoted the Libertarian Party, I created quite a stir in libertarian circles. So much so that I was asked to give the keynote address at the 1979 Libertarian Party Presidential Nominating Convention.
Ed Clark was the Libertarian Party presidential nominee that year and David Koch (of Koch Brothers fame) was his running mate. The master of ceremonies was actor Orson Bean, who years later would become the father-in-law of Andrew Breitbart (who was ten-years-old at the time!). Small world, indeed.
All the attention was pretty heady stuff for a young, newly minted anarchist like me. There was no doubt in my naïve mind that it was just a matter of time until the Libertarian Party would overwhelm the Demopublican Party and put an end to government tyranny.
It was also at the 1979 convention that a young medical doctor by the name of Ron Paul introduced himself to me. Little did I know that he was to become a beacon of hope for millions of Americans over the next three decades.
A few weeks after the convention I invited a number of noteworthy libertarians to a dinner party at my home. With my newfound enthusiasm for libertarianism, I wanted to pick the brains of some of the smartest libertarian minds in the country.
At one point, I said to John Hospers, the Libertarian Party’s first presidential candidate back in 1972, “Given the realities of human nature, even if the Libertarian Party someday got control of the government, wouldn’t libertarian officeholders become just as corrupt as Democrats and Republicans?”
To which he responded, “Yes, it’s human nature. But it might give us twenty-five years or more of much smaller government and more freedom before they reached the level of corruption that the Democrats and Republicans are at today, which would give us time to try to come up with a better system.”
It was refreshing to hear an ideological giant like Hospers talk in realistic terms. But, unfortunately, the Libertarian Party never got off the ground, so my hypothetical question became irrelevant. And that very night, as I listened to the heated intellectual sniping and debating over dinner, I began to suspect, for the first time, that the Libertarian Party might not make it.
At one point, in response to one of my guests extolling the virtues of Murray Rothbard’s anarchist beliefs — specifically alluding to his advocacy of private police forces — Nathaniel Branden tersely shot back that Murray Rothbard would be the first one to complain about a lack of police protection if he were in trouble.
As I’ve watched the Libertarian Party struggle to survive over the years, I’ve often thought about that evening back in 1979. Even in 2012, when probably half the population had awakened to the reality that the U.S. government was an out-of-control criminal enterprise, Gary Johnson — a two-time state governor — garnered only 1 percent of the vote for the Libertarian Party. That was just shy of Ed Clark’s 1.1 percent three decades earlier! Talk about stagnant growth.
I have long believed that 40 percent or more of the voting public is, at heart, libertarian, even if they aren’t all conscious of it. But the problem is that the message never gets through to them because both uppercase and lowercase libertarians are too busy bickering over who is the most pure.
Like children throwing temper tantrums, they constantly attack other libertarians for not being true libertarians — or true anarchists. To hear many of them talk, they would have you believe that only they are ideologically pure and that every other libertarian is flawed. Their childish arrogance sometimes makes me want to yawn.
Which brings me to the political bomb John Hospers dropped on true-believing libertarians, just prior to the 2004 election, in the form of an “Open Letter to All Libertarians.” Said Hospers, in part:
The American electorate is not yet psychologically prepared for a completely libertarian society. A transition to such a society takes time and effort, and involves altering the mind-set of most Americans, who labor under a plethora of economic fallacies and political misconceptions. …
If the election is as close as it was in 2000, libertarian voters may make the difference as to who wins in various critical “Battle Ground” states and therefore the presidency itself. That is the situation in which we find ourselves in 2004. And that is why I believe voting for George W. Bush is the most libertarian thing we can do.
Hospers’ words caused self-anointed “purists” to go ballistic. But even though I, too, disagreed with his position, I resisted the temptation to fall into the “not-pure-enough” trap. I mean, if you label a liberty legend like John Hospers impure, who in the world qualifies as being pure enough?
From my firsthand experience, the answer is no one. We all make mistakes, but if we bring out the guillotine every time a strong advocate of liberty says or does something ill advised — or that we don’t agree with — who will be left?
As Hospers pointed out in his letter, even the mother of objectivism, Ayn Rand, once opined that she wouldn’t mind if taxes were 80 percent “if you need it for defense.” Was Ayn Rand impure? Yes. But so is every other liberty advocate I’ve ever met.
And how about those two young fellows at the 1979 Libertarian Party convention — Ron Paul and Robert Ringer? I have it on good authority that both of them are strong pro-life advocates. Does believing in the sanctity of life, which is a basic tenet of libertarianism — qualify anarchist-leaning libertarians to challenge their ideological credentials?
In a perfect world, I’d be an anarchist not only in theory, but in reality. But the rational side of me tells me that anarchism would open the door to my being victimized by the same criminals who now rule us. With anarchism, there would be no laws to even slow them down. That’s why I reluctantly believe that we need laws to protect our lives and property. Unfortunately, most of today’s laws violate our lives and property.
The real issue is man’s imperfection. It is important to be vigilant about reminding ourselves not to inadvertently stray toward tyranny. But, while doing so, let’s not label those who are 90 percent in agreement with us as “not pure enough.”
Lambasting bootlickers like John McCain, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, or Orrin Hatch — sure, they’re fair game. But accusing people like Ron Paul, Rand Paul, Jim DeMint, or Allen West of not being pure enough is fodder for the barbarians. Give me a break. If someone favors getting rid of unemployment benefits, food stamps, minimum-wage laws, and the income tax, I’m happy to have them on my side.
We can debate things like Roe v. Wade and how to best provide for a national defense at a later date, but right now those who sincerely believe that liberty is preferable to tyranny would do well to join forces and focus on the important job ahead — destroying the moral barbarians who have pillaged America.
The habit of trashing people because they don’t meet one’s arbitrary standards for purity is a result of both arrogance and ignorance. And arrogance of the ignorant is a human flaw that I, for one, am incapable of tolerating.
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Copyright © 2014 Robert Ringer
ROBERT RINGER is a New York Times #1 bestselling author and host of the highly acclaimed Liberty Education Interview Series, which features interviews with top political, economic, and social leaders. He has appeared on Fox News, Fox Business, The Tonight Show, Today, The Dennis Miller Show, Good Morning America, The Lars Larson Show, ABC Nightline, and The Charlie Rose Show, and has been the subject of feature articles in such major publications as Time, People, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Barron's, and The New York Times.