Volume 18, Number 4, December 2000


By J. Neil Schulman

I don't engage in debates any more. They lead to flame wars and I've had enough of those to last a lifetime. Been there, done that to death.

But I am of mind to explain to other libertarians why I participate in the electoral process at all. Why it's not as an advocate for a minor party, why I vote to deny Al Gore the presidency by casting a ballot for George W. Bush, and why I wrote the article "It's Time for the Republicans to Tell the Democrats 'NO!'"

To begin with, I'm surprised how much, at 47 years old, I agree with the 23-year-old me who completed the first draft of my novel Alongside Night. In principle, I have no disagreements with J. Neil Schulman circa 1976. I still think propertarian agorism is ideal and practical.

Let me also point out that I'm not unfamiliar with any argument against participation in the political system that you're likely to make. I heard it at the knee of Bob LeFevre. Any argument that LeFevre didn't make, SEK3 did. I was a nonvoter, on principle, from 1973 through 1990. I was one of the founders of CounterCampaign, the "Vote for Nobody!" campaign, in 1976, along with SEK3 and Vic Koman. I seem to recall that I even did some free copy editing on Sy Leon's book on nonvoting.

In No Treason, Lysander Spooner makes the case, effectively, that voting cannot be used to assert consent for a constitution. In fact, I do not consent, and I'll tell that to anyone who asks me point blank, as a sworn statement in court, if necessary. I tolerate the state to one extent or another, as do we all. I make accommodations with a society of people who disagree with it and with whom I engage in daily commerce. I have never been an atomist. I am inconsistent about what I boycott. I just boycott things that royally piss me off and which there is not too high a cost for me to boycott.

Bob LeFevre used to argue to me that since the state was base on retributive violence, that voting was an act of violence deferred—violence by agency of some sort. I'll accept that.

But unlike Bob LeFevre (and like SEK3), I favor the selective used of violence. I favor violence when it is morally neutral or better to use it and necessary for defense. I've written elsewhere what standards I think should be applied to the use of violence. Police call this a use-of-force-policy. I have one of my own.

I bought my first handgun in 1991, as I recall. Not too long after I bought the handgun, I made an application for a license to carry it concealed. I was at the post office, mailing the application, when I saw a voter registration form. I decided on the spot to register to vote. My reason was a simple connection. If I was willing to take up arms and use violence in direct defense, then using the deferred violence of the ballot was also justifiable on the same terms. Like Spooner, I deny that this participation in the system is consent. I was never asked whether I consent. I don't, and my participation does not signal consent. It signals my use of force. How that force is used is a use-of-force policy. I choose to use that ballot force defensively: where I perceive a lesser evil, I will prefer it.

LeFevre (and Rand, though not directly) convinced me of something else. You have to change people's minds before you can change the institutions. I've come to the conclusion that the difference between a constitutional republic and a propertarian agorism is less important than the difference between someone who wants to be a free adult and somebody who wants the state to be their mommy and daddy.

I have said before that if the United States had a parliamentary system, I believe the Libertarian Party, founded in 1972, would have become a major party around 1980, and probably would have had a prime minister by now. That the Libertarian Party has not done so is evidence of the center stability of the America political system. I think it is possible for one of the two major parties to be replaced by a minor party. But it would require a John Joseph Bonforte (see Robert Heinlein's novel Double Star for the exact reference)—a leader of principle, conviction, wisdom, and enormous charisma—to do it.

It's not me. It's not Neil Smith. It's not SEK3. Not Harry Browne. Not anyone in the Libertarian Party whom I've met. I don't even think it could have been Heinlein, had he been forty years younger. Each of us has some of the virtues necessary; none of us has the sufficiency. We don't have any libertarian Winston Churchills in our movement. We have unherdable cats; we have no lions.

So, things being equal, I don't see either of the major parties being replaced soon. Of course the principle of serendipity could prove me wrong. But until it does, preferring the Republican Party over the Democratic Party is close to being a Hobson's Choice for a libertarian.

It used to be that the Democrats paid more lip service to cvil liberties that Republicans. Now all they pay service to is party-line political correctness.

There used to be Democrats like Hubert H. Humphrey who were superior to Republicans like Richard M. Nixon on the Second Amendment. Eight years of Clinton have forced them either in the Republican Party, out of office, or into betrayal. Al Gore, Jr., himself, is such a Democrat who betrayed the Second Amendment to advance in the party.

Both major parties are equally loathsome on prosecuting the War Against Drugs. But I find more support for the embers of the First and Fourth Amendments in the Republican Party than in the Democratic Party—and one can still support the Second Amendment consistently and be a Republican.

The Democratic Party is the party of junk science; the Republican Party is less so.

The Democratic Party is the party of environmentalist attacks on private property; the Republican Party is less so.

The Democratic Party is the party of forced universal secularism; the Republican Party actually defends diversity of religious choice.

The Republican Party still speaks of individual rights. The Democratic Party speaks of race, class, and gender.

The Democratic Party is a professional political machine. The Republican Party doesn't even have a strategy committee, because they believe in a big tent of diverse viewpoints.

If an American libertarian is going to use political force at all, given the options, the Republican Party at the current moment is far less toxic to liberty.

Believe me, if the Democrats didn't perceive this difference, they wouldn't be fighting for their lives, using every trick in their arsenal. They live and die by the courts. They can't stand a Supreme Court that would rule that the Second Amendment means what it says. They've been working diligently for most of a century to obscure it.

There it is. That's what I think. Feel free to disagree with me. Don't expect me to debate. I'll take my life experience over yours.

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