Replies to Tiger: The Libertarian Pledge

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Replies to Tiger: The Libertarian Pledge

[The following letters by Joe Johnson, John Berntson, and Milt Borchert reply to an article by Paul Tiger. Tiger currently serves as Legislative Director for the Libertarian Party of Colorado.]

Joe Johnson

"I hereby certify that I do not believe in
or advocate the initiation of force
as a means of achieving political of social goals."
-- membership pledge of the Libertarian Party

The old "abandon the pledge" argument is being made -- yet AGAIN -- and still with no real solid argument against it's core meaning and purpose.

In his letter "the Libertarian Club," Paul Tiger argues that by adopting the Pledge, the LP has left the arena of political party, and became a political club. However, look as I might, I cannot find anywhere in Tiger's letter (or previous writings) any argument suggesting that elected officials should abandon pledging to uphold the US Constitution. Is that to mean that Paul favors our Congress, Judges, President, Law enforcement, etc. being "a club?" Or has he simply not thought through his argument? Tiger is not the first to argue against the Pledge, and like all who go before him, his arguments ring hollow. Paul argues: "Does anyone believe that by signing a document that a person is going to change their basic nature?" My obvious question is, since when is a pledge proposed to change a person's "basic nature?" The pledge is not intended to "change" anyone, but rather ensure that said person agrees with the group he is joining, or office to which he is being appointed. In this case, is the potential member really a libertarian?

Next Mr. Tiger states that, "Yet there are those that do sign with the intent of breaking that pledge. There are those that are indifferent to it, and there are further those that think it is a silly thing and overlook its importance." But what Paul overlooks is that this is exactly the point. By signing a pledge, you give your word of honor to uphold that pledge. If one signs a pledge, and then breaks it, this is a clear and early signal that this person cannot be trusted. Sadly, (to the best of my knowledge) only the LPCO provides provisions for removing a member found in violation of the pledge. A provision that I believe all states (and the National Party) should adopt.

If the US Constitution provided a means of removing an elected official for violation of his oath of office, there might not be a need for the LP [to do so] today (just think about that for a minute!).

What Tiger refuses to acknowledge is that you cannot accuse a man of violating his oath if you do not require him to take an oath in the first place. All of this is irrelevant however. The real reason that Tiger argues against the pledge, appears to be the same reason that others have argued against it. Which is simply that he does not appear to understand it. Most people who first read the pledge believe that it is in place to ensure that we (the LP) do not become a militant group. It is apparent that this is what Tiger believes by his statement, "It was created in a time when the party was newly formed but yet a few years old. To separate itself from other revolutionary political change groups of the day. By having new members sign this Pledge, Libertarians believed that they could withstand the scrutiny of the fascist government and its new McCarthyism." Clearly, by this statement, Paul has not yet taken the time to research, study, and familiarize himself with the party's roots. The pledge has NOTHING to do with "revolutionary political change." It is not, nor was it, a shield from the scrutiny of "Big Brother." The pledge is based on one simple principal, which is at the root of all libertarian thought, which is, liberty is the absence of force -- PERIOD! When you force someone to do something -- anything -- you deprive him of his liberty (at least in part). Likewise, the ONLY way to deprive someone of liberty is through force. Thus, you cannot be dedicated to liberty AND advocate force. Pure and simple.

The concept is so basic and simple it takes most people years to fully understand and appreciate it -- it did for me (thanks to our government education system which 'teaches' us to forget how to think). I'd give examples, but if the reader does not comprehend fully the concept, examples will only confuse -- as it has apparently confused Tiger.

Lastly, Tiger states, "The 'let's just make sure that you're our kind of people' statement, is discriminatory. The whole thing is shameful and unlibertarian." By this line of reasoning, should John Ashcroft, or Ralph Nader choose to run for office on the Libertarian ticket, we should step back and allow it, for fear that we would be "unlibertarian," "discriminatory," and "shameful." If requiring that Libertarian members and office holders be libertarian is "discriminatory," than I am so -- and proudly! My only question is, how exactly, can requiring that a "L"libertarian is "l"libertarian be un-libertarian?

This is not to say that there is not an argument against the pledge, only that Paul -- as others -- failed to make it. I won't explain said argument here simply because if Paul doesn't understand the pledge, he doesn't need a valid argument against it. Besides, should the day ever come that we have so much liberty in America that my argument against the Pledge becomes valid, we won't need such arguments! Until such time, I'll keep my argument to myself. ;-)

Joe Johnson, September 3, 2003
Liberty in my lifetime!
Libertarian activist & former LP of Boulder County Chairman

PS, For the record, I know Mr. Tiger, and most, if not all of his views are libertarian. I even like Paul (most of the time *grin*). So this is not to be construed as a personal attack. Even if I do believe that a better understanding of the force/liberty relationship would better serve him in matters of policy, being the party's legislative director.

John Berntson

Ari --

Paul Tiger writes: "The 'let's just make sure that you're our kind of people' statement, is discriminatory... We are telling newcomers... that to join our club you have to swear to a vague statement that they have to have explained to them. My rights are those granted to me by the constitution and are not encumbered by a pledge."

I am not sure Paul quite gets it. Yes, it is discriminatory -- intentionally so. It is a way of saying that those who join this organization need to subscribe to some basic belief about the moral imperative of nonaggression that we are trying to impart to the rest of the world. Why does Paul think that this is wrong? Why does he think that the statement is in any way vague?

Leaving aside the issue of whether Paul's rights are "granted" by the constitution, which of his rights are being "encumbered" by the pledge? There are plenty of organizations that, usually for good reasons, place restrictions on their own membership and we in the freedom movement have always maintained that they have a right to do so. So do we. If we are the only political party that does so, it does not make it a bad idea. People can still register Libertarian without signing the pledge and people can certainly vote for us without doing so. All we are doing with the pledge is letting new members -- people who can vote in our conventions -- know what it is we are trying to accomplish, giving the organization a star to steer by, and, yes, setting the standard by which some few members might be relieved of their membership if they veer too far from the party's principles.

As a practical matter, this is not something that is going to be changed in the near future; it is simply one of the arguments that some people delight in having and which distract us from work we should be doing. For the few people that I have met that refused to join because of the pledge, nearly all of them would have found some other excuse not to join, had the pledge not been handy. I don't believe that we have really missed having them.

John K. Berntson, August 31, 2003
Colorado Springs

[John Berntson served as Chair of the Libertarian Party of Colorado from 2001 to 2003.]

[Editor's note: Those who register to vote as Libertarians are automatically counted as members of the Libertarian Party of Colorado, and as such they may vote at the LPCO convention. Those who become dues-paying members (and sign the pledge), but who do not register to vote as Libertarians, are also voting members.]

Milt Borchert

Ari,

In response to Paul Tiger's "Libertarian Club" piece, I must point out two errors: the first is his assertion that it is wrong for the "Party of Principle" to require that the core belief of libertarian philosophy be upheld by the members, and secondly that our rights come from the U.S. (or any other) Constitution.

The party was founded for the purpose of changing the primary political paradigm of the country back from the current fascist one to the original revolutionary era libertarianism. This strongly differentiates the LP from all other political parties and it is this difference that requires all political Libertarians to be philosophical libertarians. I have long maintained that had the LP stuck firmly to principle, we would by now be closer to liberty than the currently escalating tyranny. The desire to expand the membership and be just like all the rest will, in the short run, get a few more votes. But, it will also further delay the all-important paradigm shift that is our only hope for avoiding the violent version of the Third American Revolution (or worse yet, completing our descent into fascist tyranny).

It is obvious that the LP should strengthen the pledge to include a prohibition against the advocation of any initiated (as opposed to righteous defensive) force of any kind, such as substituting one kind(er, gentler) tax for another. The notion that human rights are somehow granted rather than inherent is totally opposed to the other core libertarian philosophical tenet of the derivation of rights from the nature of man and any other sapient entities that may be discovered or invented. I am forced to ask if Mr. Tiger is a libertarian or understands libertarianism.

In Liberty,
Milt Borchert, August 30, 2003

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