Dan’s recent post reminds me of Walter Block’s “Won’t You Come Home…” series of articles directed at former libertarians who have since repudiated their earlier views. Recounting his youthful optimism, Block writes:
When I first entered the libertarian movement in 1962 I thought that our movement would inexorably grow: after all, once a person was introduced to this philosophy, he would never renounce it: libertarianism, I thought then and still think now, it so true, so just, so beautiful that no one could ever take it up and then put it down. So, all we activists had to do was preach the good word, eventually everyone would agree with the freedom philosophy, and peace and prosperity would one day be ours.
His outlook changed, of course, as throughout the years he watched people like William Evers, Alan Greenspan, Dana Rohrabacher, and Randy Barnett abandon the libertarian movement. I, too, was in many ways overly optimistic about the future of libertarianism when I was first exposed to Austrian economics and Rothbardianism. I remember trying to calculate how many people each activist would have to convert to bring about a free society within a generation or two. Like the young Block, I assumed that once a person was a libertarian, that was that. Unfortunately, the reality is that there are a lot of places like SUNY throughout the country, and in a culture so hostile to libertarianism, there is bound to be attrition. The truth, justice, and beauty of libertarianism sometimes are no match for a high paying and prestigious job in the establishment, acceptance into the mainstream political debate, or even the allure of a rival school of radical political philosophy.
I fear that the libertarian movement will be especially vulnerable to defections in the aftermath of periods of rapid growth, such as we have recently been experiencing with the Ron Paul Revolution. Any group needs time to assimilate new members through internal education and organization, and this requires both the expansion of existing institutions and the construction of new ones. Without such efforts at consolidation, recently minted libertarians will be left adrift in a sea of socialism and fascism.
The continued success of the Mises Institute is encouraging, as is the foundation of the Tenth Amendment Center, which has so far proven itself radical, consistent, and well-run. It remains to be seen, however, whether Rand Paul and the Republicans running for Congress under the Ron Paul banner will prove themselves agitators for an uncompromising brand of liberty like Ron Paul himself or will content themselves with expanding and integrating themselves into the Jim DeMint wing of the Republican party. If they choose the latter course and continue to throw time and resources towards supporting poseurs like Ted Cruz, they’re going to squander a lot of the grassroots enthusiasm that Ron has built up over the past 4 years.
If the Rand Paul wing continues to take the direction it looks to be headed in, hopefully those disillusioned by the new strategy will find places for themselves in the more consistent parts of the libertarian movement. The internet makes this more possible than ever before. There will be friction, however, and a lot of the misdirected energy will simply be wasted. Some will be so frustrated by the perceived sell-outs that they’ll drop out of the world of politics altogether. Those consistent libertarians interested in practical political activism will have fewer outlets for their energies, and if they don’t have the time and resources to start a new campaign or organization themselves, they’ll either have to settle for working for someone they don’t agree with or quitting the field entirely.
If the Rand Paul wing continues to take the direction it looks to be headed in, in other words, the libertarian movement will suffer a ‘recession.’ I have no doubt that it will survive–it’s survived much worse in the past. But Walter Block is going to have to write a lot more “Won’t you come home…” articles in the future.