Friday, October 23, 2009

For the edification of Libertarian Party "pragmatists"

A political party cannot be all things to all people. It must represent certain fundamental beliefs which must not be compromised to political expediency, or simply to swell its numbers.

That's Ronald Reagan, circa 1975 [hat tip -- OMG, it's Michelle Malkin!]

Of course, to give the "pragmatists" their due, if the fundamental beliefs in question -- and the party pitching them-- can't be sold to a plurality of voters in a given electoral contest, those beliefs and $3.49 plus tax will get you an iced latte at McDonald's, politically speaking

I also agree with some of the more thoughtful "pragmatists" that the set of fundamental beliefs suitable for a political party's electoral use isn't necessarily the same set of fundamental beliefs suitable to a party faction -- or, in other words, the set of fundamental beliefs held by the most ... well ... fundamentalist ... members/activists of that party. And by way of disclosure for those who didn't know and haven't guessed, I resemble that remark.

But there have to be fundamental (to the group) beliefs, or there's no reason for the group to be a group. Beliefs are what get translated into goals, and without goals a group is at best a directionless social circle and and usually just a purposeless mob. There are lines and limits to be drawn if the Libertarian Party's "purists" and "pragmatists" are going to work together to any effect, i.e. if they're going to be a group, i.e. if they're going to be a political party.

So, the question becomes: What are those lines and limits? What set of fundamental beliefs is common to the Libertarian Party's fundamentalists and to those whom the LP hopes to lure into a "bigger tent" in terms of membership and activism, and, translated into policy proposals, to a plurality (or at least to a start toward a plurality) of the electorate?

Or, to put it a different way, how much of the fundamentalist belief set can be sold (as such or in terms of policy proposals) to a bigger party's prospective members and to the voters, and how little of that fundamentalist belief set can be retained as party dogma before the fundamentalists decide it's too little and that it's time to either fight to have it put back in, or take a walk?

Brian Holtz has proposed a "St. Louis Accord" (because he'd like to see it adopted as a resolution by, or at least by some ecumenical group at, the Libertarian Party's 2010 national convention in that city) which implicitly addresses that question. It's a proposal I can endorse as is, but I'm going to tinker with it a bit; it's possible that he might find some of my suggested changes useful. His full text is at the link. Here's that text as edited by me. Plain text is his -- if it's stricken out, that's me editing it out. Bold, red text is stuff I've added.

The Party's purpose role is to implement and give voice to the its Statement of Principles by uniting voters who want more personal and economic liberty behind the electoral choices and policy proposals that will most which move public policy in a libertarian direction. The Party's ultimate goal is to banish force initiation and fraud from human relationships. The Party does not claim to know how close our society can come to this ideal, but we are united in our conviction that governments must never add to the amount of aggression in the world. Principled libertarians can disagree about how best to reduce aggression or even about what can count as aggression, but we are united in defending the full rights of each person to his body, labor, peaceful production, and voluntary exchanges. Principled libertarians can disagree about whether every function of government can be performed by the free market, but we are united in opposing government's growth beyond the protection of the rights of every individual to her life, liberty and property and in supporting reduction of the size, scope and power of government to bring it within those boundaries. Principled libertarians can disagree about how best we may each serve the cause of freedom, but we are determined to build a Party that welcomes and unites all those who want more personal and economic liberty. We defenders of freedom are too few, and the enemies of freedom are too many, for us to indulge in seeking heretics in our midst, rather than awakening allies across this freedom-loving land.

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