Libertarian Party

The Strange Case Of The Libertarian Policeman

The Libertarian Horse of Troy

The Procession Of The Trojan Horse In Troy

We all know some version of the story. In Virgil’s Aeneid the Achaeans construct a giant wooden horse. The Achaeans place the horse outside the gates of Troy. The inhabitants of Troy are confused and ask the bearer of the horse, a boy named Sinon, just what exactly is going on. Sinon tells the Trojans that the Achaeans have left him behind and that the wooden horse is an offering to Minerva. The horse, Sinon says, will bring good fortune to the people of Troy if they bring it inside the gates. If they destroy the horse, however, Minerva will destroy Troy.

The Trojans bring the horse inside the gates. Then that evening, after dark, the Achaeans spill out of the belly of the wooden horse and start killing people.

The Trojan horse is an apt political metaphor. “Libertarian” politicians, too, are no exception. The crony capitalist Koch brothers may be the epitome of the Trojan horse, dangling the lure of free markets with one hand held out while rigging the corporatist state with the other hand behind their backs. Rand Paul, a GOP politician, also whispers words of liberty while simultaneously engaging in authoritarian party politics. But is a lesser known politician, a man named David Patterson, also a Trojan horse?

You see, David Patterson is a police officer in Harrodsburg, Kentucky. In 1995 Patterson finished a B.S. in Police Administration. Patterson has worked for six different police departments in Kentucky. And Patterson has specialized in apprehending people for victimless crimes: according to his own campaign website he has “multiple awards for impaired driving apprehension.”

The Campaign Platform
Officer David Patterson

Officer David Patterson

Patterson’s own platform, which you should read, is vague and nonspecific. Most political platforms are phrased in such a way that they espouse goals most people agree with. No bailouts and tax reform – issues now embraced by Republican and Democratic politicians alike. Immigration reform, similarly, is a bipartisan issue. And at this point allowing farmers to grow hemp is not a controversial position.

When I visited Patterson’s campaign website it felt like the empty, bland promises of a party politician. In short, it did little to inspire trust. If a politician says, “I would end the drug war,” for example, this can mean anything. Does he mean the full legalization of all drugs, or the gradual transition of “soft” drugs such as marijuana to a highly regulated and taxed market? Or does it mean keeping certain drugs illegal, yet simply ending the current policies of enforcement? Politicians have said they wanted to “end the drug war” before. Few have stuck by that position when pressed. Many mean something very different by that phrase. Ron Paul, to his credit, famously said that he would favor the legalization of vices such as heroin and prostitution. Rand Paul, despite having said he opposed the drug war in the past, backtracked and reassured evangelicals that he would not end the drug war.

The Facebook Platform

I decided to have a look at Patterson’s Facebook. I was surprised. I expected more intangible political obfuscations. That is, I expected it to resemble the heavily sanitized Facebook of party politicians or Patterson’s own campaign website. Instead, Patterson seemed to be fairly candid. And despite his long career as a police officer Patterson seemed to have a genuine anti-authoritarian streak.

Patterson’s Facebook was full of libertarian memes and images. Many had strong anti-state, even anarchist, implications. He was calling for the full abolition of the NSA. He said taxation is theft. He quoted Murray Rothbard. That alone put him outside of the Koch and Rand Paul category.

Patterson NSA Abolition


And then it hit me. Patterson was either lying, another political Trojan horse attempting to court anti-authoritarians, or the words he was reading meant something very different to him than they did to me. This was the only way I could reconcile his behavior — his career as a police enforcer — with his political sentiments.

For example, take this image that Patterson shared:

David Patterson Democracy Meme

I don’t know how Patterson interprets this, but, “if John told you that you had to obey him or he would violate you” describes the role of law enforcement. It is only through illegitimate threats of force that individuals are made to comply with unjust laws. And yet Patterson is one of the agents of enforcement. How, in his mind, does he reconcile his own career with this type of rhetoric? Does Patterson not see that he is John in this image? His choice of career makes him John every single day.

Patterson, however, is not unaware of this contradiction. If you’ve already asked yourself just how a libertarian can be a cop, well, he has an answer for you (sort of):

David Patterson on Being A Libertarian Cop

You may have noticed two things: he did not answer the question and he has only been a libertarian a very short period of time. Neither “I have been a ‘cop’ for almost eighteen years” nor his statement on the “many different duties” of a police officer get at the heart of the issue. This may be because it is impossible to reconcile a career that mandates acts of aggression with adherence to the nonaggression principle.

It all breaks down here. I do believe that Patterson believes some version of the things that he says. I believe that he agrees with his interpretation of the memes that make his Facebook look like Reddit’s /r/LibertarianMeme. He is not being intentionally dishonest. Patterson is stuck in the position of an individual who halfway knows that his behavior is wrong, but is not willing or able to change it. This is the precariously defensive position shared by both police officers and politicians. This position creates cognitive dissonance. And cognitive dissonance breeds rationalization.

Here’s a rationalization that may be familiar to anybody who has spent time with law enforcement:

David Patterson On CopBlock

This might have been a great opportunity for Patterson to distinguish himself from mainstream law enforcement and politicians. Instead of playing the “cop hate” card, oft used to by police officers to gloss over why people dislike the police, Patterson might have used his unique experience as a law enforcement officer to address the issue. The individuals who were the topic of this story, Jared and Amanda Miller, were both libertarians who had libertarian rationales for what they did. This makes the event a particularly relevant issue for a politician who is also a police officer, who also claims to be a libertarian, to address. And by address I mean explain with more than a hand-wave and dismissive utterance of “anti-cop” or “hate” to describe the thousands of people who commented on the CopBlock article in question.

Patterson also seems self-unaware in some moments. While he thanks Americans on Veterans Day he overlooks that this holiday is one form of American propaganda that perpetuates a culture of warrior worship and support for foreign intervention. Many libertarians are tired of such prostrations and see them as culturally harmful. Patterson’s campaign boast of awards in “impaired driving apprehension” seems a faux pas that ignores the the libertarian rejection of victimless crimes as well as Kentucky’s own draconian DUI policies, including mandatory minimum sentences, multi-year sentences, felony DUIs, and sobriety checkpoints.

Should You Vote For David Patterson?

Patterson wants you to vote. All politicians want you to vote for them. Patterson’s Facebook is full of testimonials by and anecdotes of people who say they will vote for him. One image macro calls non-voting “surrender” and another depicts the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant throwing feces at one another. There is no critical analysis of voting itself, which also adds to the sense of self-unawareness surrounding Patterson.

That said, if you live in Kentucky and you plan to vote then Patterson is as good as anyone. That is as far as I can endorse him, because that also means that he is as bad as anyone. The trimmings of the Libertarian Party don’t turn an individual who seeks an authoritarian position of power — particularly not one who is already in an authoritarian role using violence to enforce unjust laws — into a libertarian. Anyone who expects liberty to spring forth from a police officer elected to the United States Senate is more misled than the Trojans were when they accepted the Achaean offering inside the walls.

As a final thought, I leave you with this from Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience:

All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men.


What Do Party Libertarians Gain From Anarchists?

This is related to Murray Rothbard’s What Libertarians Should Learn From The Abolitionists. You can read or listen to it. It’s only 11 min.

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.”