The Boss is in the Mirror
by Ralph Shnelvar, April 23, 2003
I recently went to two lectures: one sponsored by the Boulder CU Campus Libertarians and the other by the Organization for Mental Freedom.
Shameless Plug: These are great lectures. The indomitable Keith and Patti Hamburger, for instance, drove ninety minutes from Colorado Springs to listen to these.
The first lecture by Randy Barnett (sponsored by OMF) was an intense lecture on why anarchy (lack of monopolistic government) is not chaos. The second lecture by Boston T. Party (sponsored by CL) was framed as a "What to do if you get hassled by the police."
Both were brilliant lectures. I loved them both. I have to give the nod to the second in terms of marketing, though. The marketing was brilliant and it showed in the turnout. The first lecture was well attended (I'd say about 150 people showed up). The second had about 250. It probably would have been more except that people had to be turned away: people were already sitting in the aisles.
Both the marketing (done by Brian Schwartz, John Thrasher, Dave Wormus, and Molly House) and delivery (Boston T. Party) were brilliant. Note the target audience: college kids. These kids get hassled at alarming rates: DWY (Driving While Young). It's almost as bad as DWB (Driving While Black.)
Note the distinction between the two events. In the first, there was intellectual masturbation. Don't get me wrong, it was enormously profound and enjoyable masturbation. Nonetheless, it was masturbation.
In the second, it was "If I go to this event, I learn how to avoid being arrested." Clearly, there is self-aggrandizement being sold and perceived in the second event. The sales job worked wonderfully.
During the Q&A there were two libertarian questioners whose questions caught my attention. The first railed against the invasion of student privacy by the CU computer center. He went on far too long. He just sounded like the typical freedom nut. I've met this man before during testimony at the State Capitol and he is an intelligent man who understands the issues but is completely incapable of presenting libertarian ideas in an appealing manner. It is a case of "With friends like this..."
The second questioner finished his question with a resounding "Vote Libertarian because we are the only ones who care about these issues."
Out of various corners of the room people yelled "Vote Green!" "Vote Socialist!"
The second questioner meant well but he, again, did more damage than good. He would have done a better service by saying, "The Libertarian Party believes that it is the only political party protecting people's privacy rights. Please come and talk to me about these issues and about joining the Libertarian Party."
Which now brings me to the central argument of this piece and the reason for its title.
At Randy Barnett's lecture on anarchy he opened the lecture by a statement from his grandfather, "There has to be a boss."
Unfortunately, that powerful boss is now peering into my windows and doors so that he can find out if I'm smoking pot, having sex with my wife in unapproved ways, reading books that might make me think like a terrorist, not paying my taxes, or even just flushing my toilet with more than 1.55 gallons of water that I paid for.
We in the Libertarian Party know something that Randy Barnett's grandfather did not: there does not always have to be a boss.
In fact, the organization - such as it is - of the Libertarian Party is more-or-less bossless. There is, to be sure, a central clearinghouse for activities: our State Chair and State Board. There is certainly an organization, but it is both voluntary and extremely loose.
Our major organ for up-to-date news is Ari Armstrong's excellent Colorado Freedom Report. Ari was also de facto "legislative director" until this author became involved in legislative affairs. We both still do significant work at the legislature yet we rarely cross paths because we work with different interests groups. Ari works - remarkably successfully - with groups on the political Left. I work with some issues on the Left (marijuana) but mostly with issues on the political Right (taxes).
Ari and I are far from being alone in promoting Libertarianism as semi-formal ambassadors. For instance, David Aitken is our representative to both the Secretary of State's Blue Ribbon Task force as well as our representative to the Colorado Coalition of Independent Political Parties. As far as I know, all of this was undertaken without formal approval of the State Board.
Consider Joe Johnson and his wife, Elizabeth. They saw an opportunity to do outreach to the gun community. They did it. They did it week after week for two years. They did it because they saw a need.
There are probably hundreds of other examples. The informal organization is far more important and effective than the formal one.
This sets us apart from the Democrats, Republicans, Greens, or Socialists. They see a need and they think that government exists to fulfill that need.
They see children being hurt by their parents. Government must step in to rectify the problem. But - as Randy Barnett so lucidly pointed out - government is just people with political power backed by very real guns. That power first intoxicates and then corrupts. The people who are supposed to protect the children eventually use their power to further their careers. This places their careers ahead of the interests of the children and hurts the children that they are supposed to protect. More children die in foster homes - by far - than would die at the hands of their own abusive parents. This is not progress although it makes the Democrats, Republicans, Greens, and Socialists feel better. They might recognize that there is a problem. Of course, their solution is always the wrong one: more government.
These messages of "power corrupts and the only way to minimize that corruption is to minimize the power" take time to sink in. It cannot be screamed from the rooftops because it requires thought and our enemies are masters of the quick slogan and the quicker bad solution.
I congratulate and envy Boston T. Party for taking our message of freedom and packaging it in a manner that is palatable (actually, delectable) to a skeptical audience. Libertarianism sometimes has to be spoon-fed. If you tell them it's libertarianism they will close their minds.
If you tell them how to deal with the rogue cop and then tell them that the rogue cop is the result of the collapse of the Fourth Amendment, then they will listen. Some of them will think. Some of them will convert. Some will become masters of the Libertarian message and do the brilliant marketing and delivery that is necessary for us to win.