"[T]here are, at bottom, basically two ways to order social affairs, Coercively, through the mechanisms of the state -- what we can call political society. And voluntarily, through the private interaction of individuals and associations -- what we can call civil society. ... In a civil society, you make the decision. In a political society, someone else does. ... Civil society is based on reason, eloquence, and persuasion, which is to say voluntarism. Political society, on the other hand, is based on force." ~ Ed Crane
Trading Buttons and Balloons for Ideas
Once upon a time they came down the aisles of convention halls, parading their cardboard signs, their lapel pins exclaiming their candidate of choice, and shouting their idea of the perfect political platform. What began as a handful of hopeful Libertarians in 1971 became America’s third major political party. By 1978, the Libertarian party had amassed a level of growth that would earn them remarkable political respect, even if not in numbers of votes. They had earned a political party based strictly on ideology.
Earning respect in the political arena is all fine and well, however, in recent years, the outgrowth from political platforms and political rendezvous has been noticeable to a much lesser extent. The political arena for Libertarians has shrunk, as have the chances of electing candidates to major office, in spite of Harry Browne’s optimistic outlook.
However, this does not make all of libertarianism sullen and bare. The modern libertarian movement has now become a force of ideas and intellectual intercourse, not one of political conventions and sign-waving. Those who were formerly less-than-sophisticated have grown from pure political issue outlooks to form entire, consistent libertarian philosophies for living life and resolving issues.
Where we once had Libertarian party leaders at the forefront of libertarian thinking, we now have libertarian intellectual elites who command respect for their adherence to purist libertarian philosophy. Don’t get me wrong, for the LP leaders have a valuable role in the movement, however, it is the intellectuals, the writers, the thinkers, and the speakers that have most affected the changes in modern libertarian thought.
Hans-Hermann Hoppe has become a celebrated author with his book, Democracy: The God That Failed. He has become the authentic expert on democracy, monarchy, private property theory, and anti-mass immigration in the libertarian tradition. Author and scholar Tom DiLorenzo has helped to bring forth a whole new outlook on presidential scholarship with his outstanding revisionist work on Lincoln, FDR, and others. The Mises Institute has published a book, Reassessing the Presidency, solely dedicated to the evils of past presidents whose slights have always been overlooked in favor of unwarranted glorification. The last several years have seen a rebirth of the ideas of Frederic Bastiat and Lysander Spooner, both of whom are so relevant today. So instead of supporting just a pro-drug stance or a pro-abortion stance, libertarians are supporting the work of great revisionist historians and are accepting the challenges of the modern thinkers.
This, in my mind is great progress on the path to informing the public.
Whereas in the past many libertarian activists relied on political platforms for a philosophical basis, they now read the great authors and texts to solidify their viewpoints. Buttons-and-balloons have been traded for works by Ludwig von Mises, Bertrand De Jouvenel, Erik von Kuehnelt Leddihn, Herbert Spencer, and Murray Rothbard.
Instead of fulfilling merely political gatherings, the libertarian world has become a more scholarly one. Many organizations such as the Mises Institute, FEE, IHS, Future of Freedom Foundation, and the The Objectivist Center, etc. are dedicated to preserving great scholarship through scholarly and academic meetings, seminars, websites, and topic-based conferences.
This is not to say that activity at the grass-roots level is not important; in fact, I have only admiration for those who battle the statists at the ballot box. However, it’s just that we have seen a general swing away from all the single-issue stuff, and a move toward a more complete philosophical system of libertarianism.
The political Libertarians and the intellectual libertarians have their distinct differences, and this is because of the root of thought from which all passion is drawn. Where the political LP’er is drawn to issues and gradualism for the sake of compromising with political opposites, the intellectual libertarian is hardcore and principled, and at times, negatively referred to as a purist. Even in the pejorative sense, so it is accepted.
A purist in ideas we must all be.