Thursday, March 9, 2017

16 Proposed Themes for Next Libertarian Convention

From an email that I received from Wes Benedict, Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of the United States:

Re: The 2018 Libertarian National Convention in New Orleans:

“Dear Libertarian,

“Our Convention Committee wants your help selecting a theme for the 2018 Libertarian National Convention.

“We're also raising funds to cover some early expenses in preparation for the convention.

“Please help choose the convention theme and provide early funds by clicking on the theme that you like the most and then making a donation in support of that theme.

“Each dollar donated counts as one vote.”

That is right. The voting will be determined by how many individuals give how much money to each theme.

This is not, in my opinion, a problem with this contest. The indivisible atom of politics ought to be the individual, and equality should mean equal opportunity to, for example, make money that you feel you have enough of to give away in this way, not equality of outcome so that each person has one vote regardless of how much they give to this fundraiser. (This is nakedly a fund-raiser, after all.)

Those who are willing to put their money behind an idea have the right to get more back in return and have more of a say. This is true of investment in any sort of endeavor.*

What interests me here is that none of the following themes is provided with an explanation, which is probably because any explanation could only create controversy and detract from the contributions to each theme. This way, each theme means whatever each investor wants it to mean. The trouble is that several of these themes potentially mean things that are undesirable, unconstitutional, and not even libertarian.


“All of Your Freedoms, All of the Time”

This slogan could mean that liberty on principle (which is what the word “libertarian” means to me) should be the ultimate value, and that it should always be the first consideration in all things. With the understanding that this means that my rights should not be infringed unless my actions violate the rights of others, this is a properly libertarian theme, but what if it is interpreted to mean that I can do whatever I think is my right, including my wholly fanciful right to infringe on your right? How do we determine when that is the case? Is this theme about libertarianism or libertinism? Who is to determine where my rights end and yours begin? The slogan could refer to classical liberalism as described, for example, in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, but it could also be the Four Freedoms of New Deal (Progressive) Liberal Franklin Roosevelt, where freedom from want is a right no matter what the cause or consequence, or the narcissistic collectivist's right to safe-spaces and transgender bathrooms of today’s far left.

Competing theorists of the meaning of liberty:


John Wilmot, "The Libertine"
Thomas Jefferson, the Classical Liberal

FDR, the New Deal Liberal

“Am I Being Detained!”

Certainly, if you think that authorities are holding you for illegitimate reasons, you might be right, but if you are being held because you are a non-citizen whose feet are not even in the country you want to go to, and you have no proof that you are a law-abiding person, then the authorities do, indeed, have a right to detain you until they find out more about whether or not you have a history of infringing on the rights of others. What kind of theme is this for a convention, though? 

“Be Me, Be Free”

Is this another libertine theme? (See “All of Your Freedoms, All of the Time”
Above.) It could mean anything or everything to anyone. “Be me” could mean, to be a narcissist who violates the rights of others. It used to be reasonable to assume that Libertarians know the difference. I am not sure anymore.

“Building Bridges, Not Walls”

Milton Friedman
As Milton Friedman (the go-to economist for many, if not all, libertarians) once said, a nation can either have a welfare state or open borders, but not both. If you want to demolish the border between the United States and Mexico, you must first demolish the welfare state that seems to attract so many non-contributors to the United States. But Friedman never contemplated another problem: What if people wish to harm the United States and its citizens, and they have sent agents to terrorize the United States or to undermine our liberties? Don’t we want to limit immigration to those who do not mean to violate the rights of others? How do we make sure that would-be immigrants are not ill-intentioned?


“Empowering the Individual”

As slogans go, and acknowledging that any theme could be interpreted in a libertine rather than a truly libertarian direction, I would like to see this theme as the message of the convention, were I still invested in how the Libertarian Party looks in the eyes of the rest of the country. As always, we need to be ready to say what this means in terms of an agenda that offers America and the world what is needed today. Answer the question, how does individualism help to solve our problems?

“Free Lives Matter”

Ah, this seems like a narrowing reference to the current shibboleth “Black Lives Matter,” which many people, including many libertarians, regard as an exploitative movement aimed at attacking every aspect of civil society, including justice, under the guise of valuing the lives of the forgotten and opposing allegedly systemic injustice. (Blacks Lives Matter has been criticized for forgetting too many black lives when they were not lost in ways that could be politically exploited.) Any association with this meme-generating movement is problematic: Is the convention going to embrace Black Lives Matter or differentiate itself from it? If the later course is intended, then Libertarians set themselves up for a potentially fruitless confrontation. If Libertarians are going to do that, they had better think it through very thoroughly. What does this variation on a hot-button slogan mean? Can it be couched in terms that recognize how “free lives” provides a better solution to the problems that the leadership of Black Lives Matter has exploited?

“Future of Freedom”

If we agree that the Libertarian Party must be forward-looking, then this is a good theme, although it is not very original given that there already exists a group called the Future of Freedom Foundation. (I would hope that this group would be given pride of place at a convention that bears its name as a theme.) I would also hope that it is not forgotten that the future of freedom must be guided by the eternal principle of liberty.

“I'm That Libertarian!”

Whadaya mean by that? Is “That Libertarian” the one who is going to make a difference, or the one you don’t want your son or daughter to marry? This slogan has the potential to be catchy, but it means what you want it to mean. I wonder whether it would not be as well to make “#JeSuisLibertarian” both a hashtag and a convention theme. (Using French would have a special meaning for this convention, of course, because it will be held in New Orleans, a city that prides itself on its French origins.)

“Jazzed About Liberty”

New Orleans born Jazz
 musician Louis Armstrong
This is a catchy title for two reasons. First, it reminds us that New Orleans, the site of the 2018 LP National Convention, is widely regarded as the birthplace of jazz music. Secondly, it recognizes that excitement—another meaning of “jazz” in common parlance—is important to the promotion of any practical philosophy. A political party is nothing without enthusiasm. If that is all we are going to hear from the Libertarian Party, however, it might not be enough unless the convention is able to develop a consensus about what Libertarians mean by “Liberty” when they proclaim that they are jazzed about it.


“Liberty Here and Now”

This slogan is sufficiently vague so as not to tell us how successful it might be in practice. Everything depends on how it is developed. Otherwise, it has potential. The only question is, does it divorce liberty from its mooring to what it has traditionally meant? Past is prologue, and what we interpret liberty to mean today is going to determine what it will mean in the future. The Libertarian Party once had its bearings in this regard; I am just afraid that, nowadays, the party has, indeed, lost its moorings and that “liberty” could mean whatever the popular zeitgeist says it means.

“Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”

Stick to what Thomas Jefferson (pictured above) and the Founders meant by the phrase, and I think we should have a winner. Exploring this phrase in terms of its history and subsequent development could prove educational to delegates as well as to the public. Let us not forget that consideration of both internal and external audiences should inform the choice and development of whatever theme is ultimately picked.

“Make Taxation Theft Again”

Murray Rothbard was
among economists who argue
 that taxation is theft
This is a more pointed, perhaps even sarcastic version of the same theme given more straightforwardly below (See “Taxation is Theft”), being a parody, after all, of President Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.” If there were no other issues facing the nation or the world, this might be an excellent theme. Unless, of course, it could be shown that this idea does relate to everything, or at least to many of the things wrong in our world today. Taxation was one of the things that started the American Revolution and fueled the debate over the ratification of the Constitution. Taxation ought not to be arbitrary, capricious or oppressive. Is every form of taxation unreasonable? Some forms of taxation are choices while others offer little or no choice. (If you choose not to buy a new hat, you do not have to pay a sales tax; if you choose not make more than a subsistence wage, then you will not have to file a tax return—and you will not get a refund, either.) Is the government entitled to financial support of its services? If so, which of those services is the legitimate function of the (or a) government?

“Pro-Choice on Everything”

 Well, there go the pro-life libertarians who regard an abortion as a violation of the rights of a human embryo (that has no other potential than to grow into a human being). Do all human beings have rights? (See “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” above.)

“Rise of the Libertarians”

Sounds like the title of a sequel to “Revenge of the Nerds.” What might this mean? It would be a nice if it meant that we should strive to see the worst members of Congress removed and elect Libertarians in their place, just to see whether they would do a better job. Understandably, the American people are not brave (or foolhardy?) enough to try such a gamble, even though it is fairly clear to some of us that many members of Congress are bad enough that the experiment might be worth the attempt. Who to replace, though? Another possible meaning of this theme/slogan has to do with looking back at the successes had by the libertarian movement and the Libertarian Party. (The two overlap as in a Venn diagram but are not the same.) Think tanks such as the Cato Institute and the Reason Foundation have had more influence and gotten more bang for the buck than the Libertarian Party has, but the LP has won permanent ballot status in some states and has become a recognized third party. Has the LP sold its soul in exchange for its paltry percentage of the electoral vote total, though? Do Libertarians understand the difference between standing for something when it matters versus winning votes by not standing for much of anything?

“Taxation is Theft”

(See “Make Taxation Theft Again” above for virtually the same commentary.) If there were no other issues facing the nation or the world, this would be an excellent theme. Unless, of course, it could be shown that this idea relates to everything, or at least to many of the things that are wrong in our world today. Taxation was one of the things that started the American Revolution and fueled the debate over the ratification of the Constitution. Taxation ought not to be arbitrary, capricious or oppressive. Is every form of taxation unreasonable? Some forms of taxation are choices while others offer little or no choice. (If you choose not to buy a new hat, you do not have to pay a sales tax; if you choose not make more than a subsistence wage, then you will not have to file a tax return—and you will not get a refund, either.) Is the government entitled to financial support of its services? If so, which of those services is the legitimate function of the (or a) government?

“The Power of Principle”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (center)
As Buffy the Vampire Slayer might say, “Can you vague that up more for me?” Yes, libertarianism is a powerful principle, but can the LP create a convention that is not, itself, too general on this theme? This would make a good theme if it becomes a framework for solutions and does not become a platform for platitudes.


A righteous theme needs to reflect what is really important at this time in national and world history, and should emphasize the aspects of the libertarian philosophy that point to solutions. With all that is going on in the world, libertarianism is relevant, but is the focus of the Libertarian Party on the relevant?
F.A. Hayek, much admired
among libertarians, wrote "The
Constitution of Liberty."

I notice that there is no theme called “The Constitution of Liberty,” which I might have been moved to support on the grounds that it might open the convention delegates to at least consider the United States Constitution as a document worthy of contemplation. (This theme also includes other ideas about the practical application of liberty beyond the U.S. Constitution.) My own apostasy from the Libertarian Party has more or less to do with the inability of Libertarians to hold the U.S. Constitution in much higher regard than do leftists or progressives who see the Constitution as a blank screen on which to project whatever they want to do according to some ideology that is inimical to that behind the Constitution.


* One of my favorite stories has to do with the development of television. The inventor of the analog television system that dominated the industry until the advent of digital, high definition TV only a few years ago, was Philo Farnsworth. Not being independently wealthy, Farnsworth had a consortium of investors that included Crocker Bank of California.


Philo Farnsworth
William Willard Bill Crocker
W.W. Crocker
RCA, the Radio Corporation of America, stole Farnsworth’s technology and began making its own television sets based on Farnsworth’s design. David Sarnoff, the president of RCA, simultaneous declared that he did not need Farnsworth and said he was willing to pay Farnsworth $5,000 for the rights to Farnsworth’s work. (In fact, the U.S. Patent Office later determined that Farnsworth did, indeed, own the patent on analog TV and Sarnoff and RCA had to pay him license fees, which ultimately led to a negotiated multi-million dollar payout from RCA to the Farnsworth Corporation.) At the time of the $5,000 offer, Farnsworth’s own impulse was to reject it out of hand,
David Sarnoff
but his investors had the last word. They agreed with Farnsworth because they had already invested far more than $5,000 in the development of television, and they deemed Sarnoff’s offer as much of an insult to them as it was to Farnsworth. If, however, his investors had decided to take the low-ball offer, Farnsworth would have had little to say about it. The point being that the amount of money that investors put into an endeavor entitles them to a larger say than the inventor who solicits their investment.