Free Capitalist Network - Community Archive
Mises Community Archive
An online community for fans of Austrian economics and libertarianism, featuring forums, user blogs, and more.

A Polycentrist Party? (Hooray Controversy!)

rated by 0 users
This post has 19 Replies | 3 Followers

Top 150 Contributor
Male
Posts 755
Points 18,055
ForumsAdministrator
Moderator
Donny with an A Posted: Sat, Nov 1 2008 2:22 AM

Cross-posted from my blog:

In starting, I want to make something very clear: I am very uncomfortable with the idea of participating in electoral politics. I believe that a free society will always be characterized by reasonable disagreements about even the most foundational issues, and that in most cases, the proper response to this state of affairs is to work towards peaceful coexistence rather than to attempt to find some sort of consensus or majority opinion and then impose it on the group. If this is so, then a model of governance which gets everyone together for a vote, and then imposes the results on everyone, is fundamentally flawed. This, I think, is true even of groups like the Libertarian Party, which too often seems to advocate removing important mechanisms for collective decision-making from people's lives, whether or not those individuals value those mechanisms or the outcomes that they promote, on the basis of a particular view about the appropriate role of government in the lives of citizens which many of those citizens do not support. The idea of imposing a solution on everyone is objectionable, even if the solution might foster certain elements of the kind of society I might ideally like to live in.

That being said, a few things seem worth acknowledging:

1) Most people do not question or critique the institutional framework in which they live beyond the point where these issues are debated in the realm of national politics.

2) If we can all agree that violently overthrowing the government is out of the question, the likely mechanism by which institutional change will be affected will be through national politics in one form or another.

3) If we do not participate in electoral politics, it is likely that those who will participate will continue to behave in opposition to our beliefs.

4) Our government has, in recent history, been characterized by a two-party system. But one of those parties seems like it might be falling out of favor, as a particularly collectivistic and vulgar brand of Rawlsianism has seemingly taken hold, and people are increasingly moving towards the idea that a just society includes mechanisms for supporting those who are less fortunate. (I don't mean to suggest that Rawlsianism is an unacceptable view, or that a just society would not include mechanisms for promoting the wellbeing of the least well-off; my objection is to the idea that redistribution and planning by a centralized authority is an appropriate mechanism for operationalizing these ideas.) If the Republican Party falters -- particularly if this represents an increasing appeal to the more anti-intellectual and religious groups within the party's constituency -- a vacuum will be created in national politics which could potentially be filled by a third party.

Accordingly, I think we are faced with a genuine quandary. Those of us who seek polycentric solutions to life's problems are understandably hesitant to participate in electoral politics. However, if we don't participate, our goals will be very difficult to obtain. Further, we find ourselves at a peculiar point in history where it may actually be possible to affect real change, and without having to fundamentally dismantle our core beliefs in order to be heard over the roar of the traditional two-party system.

A Polycentrist Party could exist to promote the decentralization of collective decision-making away from the federal level. This would need not happen by removing government from the lives of citizens in areas where most people thing government should be involved. Rather, the Party could focus on working with state and local governments to facilitate a transition from nationally-administered programs to more polycentric ones, and from state-administered programs to programs administered at the local level (or, of course, not administered at all).

This strategy would make sense for two core reasons. First, decentralized political action would to avoid some of the most obvious knowledge problems associated with political action (how can someone make a proper decision for 300 million people?), and would encourage competition between policy-making regimes. This would enable the party to appeal to people from a range of different perspectives -- even those who see a large role for government involvement in solving social problems -- without compromising the integrity of its position. The whole idea, after all, is that we'd be trying to promote a view which seeks to accommodate different views about the ideal form of social organization without demanding a one-size-fits-all solution.

Second, and perhaps most importantly for the kinds of people who I have in mind in writing this, a decentralized system of collective decision-making would likely be more amenable to secession and division. It seems reasonable to expect that for a town, opting out of a county program would be easier than opting out of a state program, and much easier than opting out of a national program. And for an individual, or group of individuals, opting out of a town program might actually be possible, where opting out of a national or state program seems all but impossible in today's world.

So what about it? Thoughts and criticism would be greatly appreciated here.

  • | Post Points: 35
Top 500 Contributor
Posts 252
Points 4,230
Moderator
Morty replied on Sat, Nov 1 2008 9:01 AM

I don't think it follows that if we aren't going to engage in violent revolution then we have to engage in electoral politics. Why not non-violent civil disobedience? Why not agorism? Why not secession?

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 10 Contributor
Male
Posts 4,985
Points 90,430

Morty:

I don't think it follows that if we aren't going to engage in violent revolution then we have to engage in electoral politics. Why not non-violent civil disobedience? Why not agorism? Why not secession?

I'm pretty sure he made it clear that this would be in addition to secession, in any case there's no reason to believe the political approach and all the others you listed are mutually exclusive.

That said, I'm losing hope with the political approach. If, as the OP said, there is any space left unfilled by the DP or the GOP, it will soon be filled by either the "Libertarian" Party (by which point it will be identical to the GOP) or any of the others. I really don't think that a Polycentrist Party would be able to gain much ground. However, I can see how it would have advantages over others. It's main advantaged would simply be the its ability to attract supporters from all over the place, constitutionalists, market anarchists, socialist anarchists and even many liberals believe in political decentralisation.

 

 

"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows"

Bob Dylan

  • | Post Points: 5
Top 500 Contributor
Male
Posts 239
Points 4,590
Andrew replied on Sat, Nov 1 2008 10:30 AM

To start such a party, I would take the " ridiculous idea" of repealing the 17th Amendment as one important goal.

Democracy is nothing more than replacing bullets with ballots

 

If Pro is the opposite of Con. What is the opposite of Progress?

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 150 Contributor
Male
Posts 755
Points 18,055
ForumsAdministrator
Moderator

Morty, I am certainly not one to discount any peaceful method as part of a solution.  I think that agorism may have a limited potential for changing the way that most people think, as it is inherently a high-personal-cost way of doing things and tends to require that individuals actually interrogate their social order.  And non-violent resistance may be difficult in an environment where capitulation is seen to be one's moral duty by the majority of the population, and is also a high-personal-cost strategy (people face jail time!).  Neither is a bad idea, but I don't think I'd be comfortable with using either or both to the exclusion of other strategies.

Giles, I hear and share your skepticism.  But this is something that's not only reasonable to libertarians; it responds to the flaws in both current parties' platforms in constructive and noncombative ways.  The libertarian party stands too far in opposition to the other parties, putting their fundamental principles down and claiming to represent the Truth.  A polycentrist party could embrace the fact that most people do not think that a minimal or nonexistent government would be the appropriate mechanism for ordering society, and allow people to gradually move towards separate, peaceful, coexisting solutions.

Andrew, I never really understood the intensity with which people go after the 17th ammendment.  I mean, I'll grant you that it opened the door for the expansion of government power, but so what?  At this point, I don't think it would be politically feasible to go back to the old way, and perhaps more significantly, there are Public Choice reasons for thinking that it might not even make a difference if we did.  Plus, I don't see how such a policy would fit into a Polycentrist party agenda; the important thing would be to facilitate a move away from centralized decision-making, not to tinker with the mechanisms by which that decision-making is done.  No?

  • | Post Points: 35
Top 500 Contributor
Posts 252
Points 4,230
Moderator
Morty replied on Sat, Nov 1 2008 12:44 PM

Donny with an A:
Neither is a bad idea, but I don't think I'd be comfortable with using either or both to the exclusion of other strategies.

I see what you are saying, but I am still unconvinced.

Politics, it would seem to me, is a fairly high personal cost strategy too - the money, time, and effort all put into politicking, campaigning, getting out the vote, etc, etc. And yet, what will this realistically wrought? We will be no freer with this strategy until we start winning elections. And, as you may or may not recognize, the chances of a third party, especially one so out of touch with the majority of voters, rising to prominence any time soon are quite long. Furthermore, it is not just winning one office which will be necessary. We would need to win large parts of, if not majorities of, the legislatures to actually begin the march towards freedom, rather than simply fighting back the latest anti-liberty proposal. We will need to win in the executive too, so that we can deal with the problem of executives and bureaucracies that might simply choose to ignore the legislature (hardly unheard of, especially in this signing statement and executive order system). Then, we will have to replace essentially all of the judiciary, some can be done through elections, but others would have to be defeated through the long process of awaiting their death and then having control of the executive and legislature to the extent that we get to appoint the new ones. This must be done so that all our pro-liberty initiatives are not simply struck down in court. And before all this happens, what have we accomplished? Who is freer?

That is one of the appeals that I think civil disobedience, agorism, and [personal] secession have, I think. Both short term and long term gains. In the long term, of course we all have the same sorts of goals - either extremely limiting or eliminating the state. But in the short term, the electoral process brings us nothing, while working in direct opposition to the State brings freedom immediately, albeit, with the dangers that the criminals will strike back.

I think the non-participatory options are more efficient, as well. Yes, there are risks of jail and etc, but certainly you recognize that such acts get much more media coverage than a new party will. The activities will not be limited to the few months before elections, it can be done any time, meaning it is less likely to get lost in the idiotic coverage of everything the major candidates do/did ("OMG, did you see Sarah Palin's new dress?" "Wow, look at this story of how Obama one time was in the same county as a murderer!" "One of the people with John McCain during his captivity in Vietnam said that he wasn't a patriotic robot!"), it can be done when the media is shorter on political stories. And it doesn't take any financial base to engage in. Anyone, even the poorest, can engage in non-participation. It doesn't take a Charles Koch to do successfully. It doesn't take millions of dollars. Just a willingness to risk jailtime.

Not only that, but when we lose (i.e., get charged with "crimes," put in jail, etc) we still win. Lauren Canario has shown what a drain on the system just one non-participator can be, what if it was ten? Fifty? How would they be able to deal with such situations? Would they even dare to try? When you lose in politics, you lose a lot. All the money you put into the campaign is lost. All the time and energy is lost. Many of the people who might have been with you on the campaign, enthusiastically even, are likely to be burned out by the loss. If not the first one, maybe the second or the tenth.

We've tried politics. It's been tried for two hundred plus years. I think it is time to try something new.

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 150 Contributor
Male
Posts 755
Points 18,055
ForumsAdministrator
Moderator

I think you might be placing too little emphasis on the idea that all you need is "Just a willingness to risk jailtime."  Going to jail is the sort of thing that can derail someone's life plans in fundamental ways, and for people who value their everyday lives more than they care about the institutional framework in which they live (that is, almost everyone), the risk of going to jail is prohibitive.  This dispute is not between outright oppression and freedom; it's between a pretty darn good form of social organization (as far as most people are concerned) and an untested, but potentially better one.

But the idea of a political strategy would not be to actually get people into office, at least at first.  Of course, that would be a great thing, but a more realistic strategy would be to try to reframe political discourse to include economic and ethical considerations that are often left out of the current mainstream discussions.  That is, it wouldn't just be Obama's redistribution scheme vs. McCain's allegedly anti-redistributionist plan.  A Polycentric Party could enter the debate on the platform that both plans are appealing to different people for different reasons, and it's not clear why we need a national solution.  If Obama insists on intervening, then why can't he support a program to help states wanting redistribution to design their own schemes for doing so, thereby allowing those areas of the country not supporting his plan to opt out?  Surely that would be better than the policy that's likely going to be implemented, and it would reinforce the message that the federal government doesn't need to be the one to solve all of our problems.  Further, a state-administered policy would be much easier to change or repeal than a national one.  By changing the way that different policies are discussed, a Polycentric Party could affect the way our government works -- and more importantly, the way it is perceived -- without banking on unrealistic hopes of holding office.

I think the core problem with your analysis is the implication that the only thing that can be accomplished by political participation is to be elected, and if you lose the election you've wasted your time.  That more people have heard of Ron Paul than have heard of Ludwig von Mises or Robert Nozick seems to suggest that this is not true.  Political action can allow for the dispersal of pamphlets, the education of the masses, and the introduction of a new set of considerations into the political process.  If and when we lose, we could still leave having accomplished a lot -- perhaps more than we might through individual action and the non-profit route -- particularly because of the moment in time in which we find ourselves now.

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 10 Contributor
Male
Posts 4,985
Points 90,430

Donny with an A:
Giles, I hear and share your skepticism.  But this is something that's not only reasonable to libertarians; it responds to the flaws in both current parties' platforms in constructive and noncombative ways.  The libertarian party stands too far in opposition to the other parties, putting their fundamental principles down and claiming to represent the Truth.  A polycentrist party could embrace the fact that most people do not think that a minimal or nonexistent government would be the appropriate mechanism for ordering society, and allow people to gradually move towards separate, peaceful, coexisting solutions.

I'd agree with you, as I said I daresay many would support a Polycentrist Party (PP) with very different ideas and this sort of party would be the only possible way to cater to all of them without really making any compromises. I definately think it's a good idea, to repeat myself, yet again, you'd get people from all different viewpoints from, constitutionalist to the "anarcho" communists, attracted to the idea. Especially as some people are generally beginning to see that the DP and the GOP don't have the slightest bit of difference between them, and the many supports of the LP are rather dissapointed with Barr.

I'm just skeptical as to whether our masters would let us in on the power so easily.

"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows"

Bob Dylan

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 500 Contributor
Posts 252
Points 4,230
Moderator
Morty replied on Sat, Nov 1 2008 10:21 PM

Donny with an A:

I think you might be placing too little emphasis on the idea that all you need is "Just a willingness to risk jailtime."  Going to jail is the sort of thing that can derail someone's life plans in fundamental ways, and for people who value their everyday lives more than they care about the institutional framework in which they live (that is, almost everyone), the risk of going to jail is prohibitive.  This dispute is not between outright oppression and freedom; it's between a pretty darn good form of social organization (as far as most people are concerned) and an untested, but potentially better one.

Agreed with most of this here, but the fact is that there ARE people willing to risk jailtime, as evidenced by the people already engaging in civil disobedience. And it isn't strictly those who actually engage in civil disobedience that the overall movement needs - it also needs a support system for those who actually are willing to go out and risk it. There are lots of ways to aid them - providing free legal defense, video taping the incidents, getting the word out to the public and media, protesting their imprisonment (if it comes to that), etc. I'm sorry if I was unclear before, I didn't mean to imply that everyone needed to be non-participators, but simply that we should focus on non-participation, which also includes those who help with that.

By changing the way that different policies are discussed, a Polycentric Party could affect the way our government works -- and more importantly, the way it is perceived -- without banking on unrealistic hopes of holding office.

But unless you can command a large enough bloc of voters willing to throw their votes to you instead of for the big guys, then you will be ignored just like all the third parties are. Even George Wallace, even Ross Perot, two of the most successful third party candidates in American history, were not able to significantly change the national dialogue for long. You'd need not just success, but continued success.

I think the core problem with your analysis is the implication that the only thing that can be accomplished by political participation is to be elected, and if you lose the election you've wasted your time.  That more people have heard of Ron Paul than have heard of Ludwig von Mises or Robert Nozick seems to suggest that this is not true.  Political action can allow for the dispersal of pamphlets, the education of the masses, and the introduction of a new set of considerations into the political process.  If and when we lose, we could still leave having accomplished a lot -- perhaps more than we might through individual action and the non-profit route -- particularly because of the moment in time in which we find ourselves now.

Now, here, we are talking about a different thing altogether. I certainly think that education is important. And if education comes through a campaign around an election, that's fine, as long as we keep in mind what the campaign is about - educating. Not about winning, not about getting X number of votes. It's about education. The mindset that we can win or that we can significantly change the outcome of the election is what leads to the Bob Barr situation in the LP, it's what leads to activist burnout, and it's what leads to compromise of principles.

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 150 Contributor
Male
Posts 755
Points 18,055
ForumsAdministrator
Moderator

Giles, as I said to Morty, it wouldn't need to be about winning.  Forcing people to ask themselves why the federal government needs to do the things they want done would be an enormous victory in itself, even if they ended up ultimately choosing one of the mainstream parties.

  • | Post Points: 5
Top 150 Contributor
Male
Posts 755
Points 18,055
ForumsAdministrator
Moderator

Morty, I think that anyone who is willing to put their future and livelihood on the line for their political beliefs should be respected and defended where appropriate.  However, I don't know that I would advocate that course for anyone I knew and loved, and so would not advocate it for a stranger.  Further, I'm not sure that such an approach would be any more virtuous or useful than a more moderate one, or that I would want my ideas to be tightly associated with that kind of action.

With regard to winning, I think that at this point, education needs to be the core objective of any public campaign on behalf of polycentric ideas.  It would be really cool to see polycentrists involved in policy making, but I wouldn't want that to be the main thrust behind the organization.  Of course, those running would need to be good spokespersons for the ideas for which they would be standing, and would need to be fluent enough in policy to be able to do well if elected.  But as should be clear to everyone here, anyone not looking to hand out taxpayers' money would have a sort of difficult time actually being elected.  The main idea of the party would be to alter the course of public discourse, regardless of whether or not that actually translated to electoral victories.

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 500 Contributor
Posts 252
Points 4,230
Moderator
Morty replied on Sun, Nov 2 2008 1:19 AM

Donny with an A:
With regard to winning, I think that at this point, education needs to be the core objective of any public campaign on behalf of polycentric ideas.

Then we're on the same page here. I fully agree that it is important for us to focus our efforts on education in a manner which is best suited to drawing the most people into the movement and the ideas of liberty. My only point is that we should have somewhere for them to go once they get here, not just be an education/political movement.

 

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 150 Contributor
Male
Posts 755
Points 18,055
ForumsAdministrator
Moderator

Well the idea of focusing on polycentrism would be that in a more decentralized society, people would be able to get involved in their local communities and affect real change without needing to change national politics.  Once people get educated, they can join the fight to spread the idea until the party is irrelevant, or until Polycentrists are actually getting elected to office.  The point is, this is right, and we should rise to the challenge of saying so on the big stage.

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 50 Contributor
Male
Posts 2,221
Points 34,090
Moderator

Donny with an A:

Well the idea of focusing on polycentrism would be that in a more decentralized society, people would be able to get involved in their local communities and affect real change without needing to change national politics.  Once people get educated, they can join the fight to spread the idea until the party is irrelevant, or until Polycentrists are actually getting elected to office.  The point is, this is right, and we should rise to the challenge of saying so on the big stage.


Imo, the power of Statism is de-centralized; therefore, the fight against it must be de-centralized, & not just simply from a bottom-to-top perspective, as I think that measure of organization, the dichotomy between top & bottom, is inherently limiting. 

Tactically, anti-authoritative power must be organized in a similar manner to that of the State, in that both coercive power & anti-coercive power collate at various points.  The State has the Federal, State, & Local levels; The Anti-State must have the Local, State, & Federal levels, & this includes politics.  Politics occur regardless (any forum, state or anti-state, is proof enough), & the idea of allowing Statism a monopoly on the phrase of "politics" doesn't strike me as helpful at all. 

Whenever I said I was against politics, many thought I was just apathetic & lazy, not connecting the dots that when I used the phrase "politics", I was really referring to the Statist monopoly over political discourse.  When I clarified this, I did not convert anyone by any means, but I was also not ignored & outcasted as a child who seemingly didn't understand, an attitude common when the Statist encounters the Anti-Statist.

I think Donny's idea of such a Polycentrist Party would help get a vital concept that Anti-State does not mean Anti-Action; it does not mean Anti-Living, & it does not mean Anti-Human.

Additionally, I think a Polcentrist Party (or Polycentrist something else, it doesn't necessarily have to be a party, it could be a coalition / organization / committe etc.) would be something that many Independants* & Non-Registered Apathetics would look into.       

[*I say this mainly because I've noticed that more younger people are registering as Independants or Non-Affiliated, despite still voting for The Blue and/or Red Teams]

"Look at me, I'm quoting another user to show how wrong I think they are, out of arrogance of my own position. Wait, this is my own quote, oh shi-" ~ Nitroadict

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 150 Contributor
Male
Posts 755
Points 18,055
ForumsAdministrator
Moderator

Exactly, Nitro!  This would be a way of institutionalizing opposition to electoral politics, rather than trying to harness them for our own goals like the Libertarian Party does.

So the next question is, how do we get started?  I think the best way to start might actually be to follow through on an idea I had a while ago, which was to establish something along the lines of an Institute for the Study of Decentralization.  It wouldn't need to actually have a building, but would basically be devoted to disseminating information about decentralization and organizing scholarship.  I think a really cool way to go forward would be to try to put together a bunch of pamphlets aimed at non-libertarians in order to introduce people to the idea of decentralization without forcing them to reconsider their fundamental ethical views.  We could then get into contact with libertarian leaders on college campuses and try to get them on board with the campaign, supplying them with the intellectual firepower and allowing them to spread the word.  Anyone interested in participating?

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 10 Contributor
Male
Posts 11,343
Points 194,945
ForumsAdministrator
Moderator
SystemAdministrator

We already have a pamphleteering group here at Mises which could use some love and inspiration. See my signature.

"When you're young you worry about people stealing your ideas, when you're old you worry that they won't." - David Friedman
  • | Post Points: 20
Top 50 Contributor
Male
Posts 2,221
Points 34,090
Moderator

liberty student:

We already have a pamphleteering group here at Mises which could use some love and inspiration. See my signature.

I intend on catching up on the discussions over there tommarow when I'm rested. 

I'm also trying to access your Web Marketing group, LS, but i keep getting an access denied error :\.

"Look at me, I'm quoting another user to show how wrong I think they are, out of arrogance of my own position. Wait, this is my own quote, oh shi-" ~ Nitroadict

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 10 Contributor
Male
Posts 11,343
Points 194,945
ForumsAdministrator
Moderator
SystemAdministrator

Nitroadict:
I'm also trying to access your Web Marketing group, LS, but i keep getting an access denied error :\.

Software bites.

Try accessing it from this link

http://mises.org/Community/groups/default.aspx?GroupID=11

For some reason, you need to sign up through Groups, HUBS.  If that doesn't work, post to the thread (could use a bump) and I'll add you manually.

 

 

 

"When you're young you worry about people stealing your ideas, when you're old you worry that they won't." - David Friedman
  • | Post Points: 20
Top 50 Contributor
Male
Posts 2,221
Points 34,090
Moderator

liberty student:

Nitroadict:
I'm also trying to access your Web Marketing group, LS, but i keep getting an access denied error :\.

Software bites.

Try accessing it from this link

http://mises.org/Community/groups/default.aspx?GroupID=11

For some reason, you need to sign up through Groups, HUBS.  If that doesn't work, post to the thread (could use a bump) and I'll add you manually.


Alrighty, I now have a pending membership.

[a.k.a. Semi-Bump] 

"Look at me, I'm quoting another user to show how wrong I think they are, out of arrogance of my own position. Wait, this is my own quote, oh shi-" ~ Nitroadict

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 150 Contributor
Male
Posts 755
Points 18,055
ForumsAdministrator
Moderator

I'll join as well, thanks.

  • | Post Points: 5
Page 1 of 1 (20 items) | RSS