For Party Libertarians
“Urge immediate abolition as earnestly as we may. It will, alas, be gradual abolition in the end.” — William Lloyd Garrison
Party Libertarians, meaning members and supporters of the Libertarian Party of the United States, should advocate as anarchists. This is not a new opinion. It is not unique. And it is not an idea foreign; it does not come from without. This was the idea advanced by Murray Rothbard, author of “The Libertarian Manifesto,” dubbed “Mr. Libertarian” by contemporary media, a regular face at the Libertarian Party Convention. Rothbard was one of the men who helped establish the Libertarian Party itself.
But what if you are not Rothbard’s style of libertarian? What if you want a state? Even libertarians who want a state — moderates and minarchists, fans of Ron Paul or Gary Johnson — should advocate for anarchism. If anarchism is not your goal you still gain the most as an advocate for anarchism.
It may seem counter-intuitive that the Party Libertarian would benefit from the advocacy of full state abolition. It may seem an unrealistic goal. Enter the abolitionists: taking the stance of immediate abolition ended chattel slavery in the United States. When William Lloyd Garrison argued for full, immediate emancipation he was criticized for being unrealistic. Abolition seemed a grand, distant and unrealistic goal. Yet it was the tactic that worked. Far from being unrealistic, Rothbard called this Garrison’s “strategic realism.”
Garrison, too, was criticized for taking an “extreme” stance. But this kind of extremism should not be feared. This extremism is not a dirty word. We have seen positive, world-changing results from well-placed extremism. Rothbard explained:
“Furthermore, since most people and most politicians will hold to the “middle” of whatever “road” may be offered them, the “extremist,” by constantly raising the ante, and by holding the pure or “extreme” goal aloft, will move the extremes further over, and will therefore pull the “middle” further over in his extreme direction. Hence, raising the ante by pulling the middle further in his direction will, in the ordinary pulling and hauling of the political process, accomplish more for that goal, even in the day-by-day short run, than any opportunistic surrender of the ultimate principle.”
Rothbard’s end goal was to abolish the state. And, like Garrison, he realized that his arguments for immediate abolition would be met with gradual results. Here is where it is important to distinguish between advocacy for abolition as a tactic and actual abolition as the goal. This is a universal tactic. It does not demand an anarchist. While anarchists may not share the goal of a small state, the Party Libertarian (or other small-government advocate) does share the anarchist goal of state reduction.
It may seem as if I am advocating that you put on a mask of anarchism. I am not. If you are a minarchist, state that you are a minarchist. If you are a member of the Libertarian Party that wants gradual reform of the US political system, wear this on your sleeve. Just don’t forgo the tactical opportunity of an ideological coalition. There will be at some point on the path to anarchism the reduced, small state you desire. If you want more state only at that point will anarchism be your ideological enemy. You help yourself by advancing the cause of anarchism.
What About Anarchists?
The anarchist, according to Rothbard, does not gain from advocating a small state. Not only is the tactic less effective, but it is complicity in state oppression. Rothbard wrote that libertarians “must not adopt gradualism” and that the adoption of gradualism would be to “ratify the continuation of injustice.” A small state may reside on the path to anarchism, but a small state is not the anarchist goal. The anarchist desires no state. This should not frighten those who are not anarchists, but the anarchist should not consider the relationship reciprocal.
While not adopting gradualism the anarchist can work toward, even expect, temporary goals. Rothbard called these “way stations along the road to victory.” It is not clear that this is not truly adopting some form of gradualism, but Rothbard did not seem to think so. He also added an important caveat: “never use or advocate the use of unlibertarian means.” The libertarian must not, in an attempt to reach “way stations to victory,” compromise libertarian ethics. Supporting a tax increase to attain a tax cut — or the Bolshevik robbery of banks — were examples given by Rothbard of tactics that violate libertarian values. A modern example might also be the rejection of open borders until a small state is achieved.
The anarchist should therefore be wary of adopting the goals of the small state advocate. However, the small state advocate has nothing to fear from the anarchist. At least not for now. Not as long as the state exists as a behemoth.
Final, Unrelated Thoughts on Rothbard & What Libertarians Should Learn From The Abolitionists
Rothbard cited the Bolshevik robbery of banks as an example of unlibertarian force. A specific example might be the 1907 robbery of the State Bank of the Russian Empire. This robbery was planned by Bolshevik leadership including Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Lenin. In Tiflis, now the capital of Georgia (Tbilisi), approximately fifty people were injured and another forty people were killed during the robbery.
If the State Bank was founded upon illegitimately acquired capital — and the capital held by the bank on behalf of the Russian Empire was illegitimate — the act of robbery alone would not have been an act of force: not by Rothbard’s own standards. See Rothbard’s Confiscation and the Homestead Principle. Rothbard rejected “property in the hands of, or derived from, the State apparatus” and wrote that, “any person or group who liberates such property, who confiscates or appropriates it from the State, is performing a virtuous act and a signal service to the cause of liberty.”
This does not mean that the actual Bolshevik robbery was libertarian. The harm to almost one hundred bystanders was a clear initiation of force. The injury to innocents was unlibertarian, but the confiscation of state capital was libertarian. Rothbard occasionally confounded private property with state-owned or state-derived property in his writings, which may be the case in his comment on the Bolsheviks. However, he was clear on state-derived property being the proceeds from a “a giant gang of organized criminals.” And he was right in thinking that those who confiscate it have “done a noble act to be applauded.”