The Libertarian Forum, Vol. 1, No. 7, July 1, 1969
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A Semi-Monthly Newsletter
|Joseph R. Peden, Publisher
||Washington Editor, Karl Hess
||Murray N. Rothbard, Editor
|VOL. I, NO. VII
||JULY 1, 1969
The Meaning Of Revolution
In his vitally important article in this issue, Karl Hess
properly refers to the genuine libertarian movement as a
"revolutionary" movement. This raises the point that very
few Americans understand the true meaning of the word
Most people, when they hear the word "revolution", think
immediately and only of direct acts of physical confrontation
with the State: raising barricades in the streets,
battling a cop, storming the Bastille or other government
buildings. But this is only one small part of revolution.
Revolution is a mighty, complex, long-run process, a complicated
movement with many vital parts and functions. It is
the pamphleteer writing in his study, it is the journalist, the
political club, the agitator, the organizer, the campus
activist, the theoretician, the philanthropist. It is all this
and much more. Each person and group has its part to play
in this great complex movement.
Let us take, for example, the major model for libertarians
in our time: the great classical liberal, or better, "classical
radical", revolutionary movement of the seventeenth, eighteenth,
and nineteenth centuries. These our ancestors created
a vast, sprawling, and brilliant revolutionary movement, not
only in the United States but throughout the Western world,
that lasted for several centuries. This was the movement
largely responsible for radically changing history, for almost
destroying history as it was previously known to man. For
before these centuries, the history of man, with one or two
luminous exceptions, was a dark and gory record of tyranny
and despotism, a record of various absolute States and
monarchs crushing and exploiting their underlying populations,
largely peasants, who lived a brief and brutish life
at bare subsistence, devoid of hope or promise. It was a
classical liberalism and radicalism that brought to the mass
of people that hope and that promise, and which launched the
great process of fulfillment. All that man has achieved
today, in progress, in hope, in living standards, we can
attribute to that revolutionary movement, to that "revolution".
This great revolution was our father; it is now our
task to complete its unfinished promise.
This classical revolutionary movement was made up of
many parts. It was the libertarian theorists and ideologists,
the men who created and wove the strands of libertarian
theory and principle: the La Boeties, the Levellers in seventeenth-century
England, the eighteenth-century radicals — the
philosophes, the physiocrats, the English radicals, the
Patrick Henrys and Tom Paines of the American Revolution,
the James Mills and Cobdens of nineteenth-century England,
the Jacksonians and abolitionists and Thoreaus in America,
the Bastiats and Molinaris in France. The vital scholarly
work of Caroline Robbins and Bernard Bailyn, for example,
has demonstrated the continuity of libertarian classical
radical ideas and movements, from the seventeenth-century
English revolutionaries down through the American Revolution
a century and a half later.
Theories blended into activist movements, rising movements
calling for individual liberty, a free-market economy,
the overthrow of feudalism and mercantilist statism, an
end to theocracy and war and their replacement by freedom
and international peace. Once in a while, these movements
erupted into violent "revolutions" that brought giant steps
in the direction of liberty: the English Civil War, the
American Revolution, the French Revolution. (Barrington
Moore, Jr. has shown the intimate connection between these
violent revolutions and the freedoms that the Western world
has been able to take from the State.) The result was
enormous strides for freedom and the prosperity unleashed
by the consequent Industrial Revolution. The barricades,
while important, were just one small part of this great
Socialism is neither genuinely radical nor truly revolutionary.
Socialism is a reactionary reversion, a self-contradictory
attempt to achieve classical radical ends
liberty, progress, the withering away or abolition of the
State, by using old-fashioned statist and Tory means:
collectivism and State control. Socialism is a New Toryism
doomed to rapid failure whenever it is tried, a failure
demonstrated by the collapse of central planning in the
Communist countries of Eastern Europe. Only libertarianism
is truly radical. Only we can complete the unfinished revolution
of our great forebears, the bringing of the world from
the realm of despotism into the realm of freedom. Only we
can replace the governance of men by the administration
"The right of revolution is an inherent one. When people
are oppressed by their government, it is a natural right they
enjoy to relieve themselves of the oppression, if they are
strong enough, either by a withdrawal from it, or by overthrowing
it and substituting a government more acceptable."
—Ulysses S. Grant, 1885
||The Libertarian Forum, July 1, 1969
This may well be a long, cool summer of consolidation.
The political establishment will be seeking to consolidate
its power behind an advancing wave of law-and-order blue-nose,
Constitutional 'constructionism'. (Constructionism is
a new code word for reading the Constitution as instrument
of state power rather than individual freedom.)
Radical opponents of the state also will be consolidating.
The picture with SDS is now one of building new structures
on either side of a schism. YAF is said to be facing a similar
task with pro-state "trads" under lively assault from those
with at least anti-statist tendencies if not fully fledged
libertarian positions. The Resistance, after Staughton Lynd's
moving plea for a "new beginning", will be attempting to
broaden its base far beyond that of fighting the draft. And,
of course, the Panthers will simply be trying to stay alive.
For libertarianism, burgeoning now as a movement rather
than merely a mood, it will be a crucial time, testing the
difference between the dedicated and the dilettante.
The young people in the movement are irrepressible and,
in the long term, so is the movement. In the short term,
however, much of its velocity will depend upon whether it
attracts, along with its great and growing ranks of young
militants, those few men of substance who, in the early
stages of most movements, can make a difference of years
in the movement's development. Engels' financial support
of Marx is an example. The few who supported the early
spokesmen of the New Left are a latter-day example. There
are few similar examples on the right, interestingly
enough, inasmuch as right-wing support almost exclusively
has been toward the institutionalization of a currently
vested interest (i. e. anti-Communism, corporate protectionism,
class or race privilege, religion) rather than in the
development of a new movement.
Because, therefore, there may be a man of substance, and
libertarian values, somewhere, who, watching the movement
develop, may want to participate in it rather than just talk
about it, some words of friendly (dare we say comradely?)
advice may be in order.
First there is the simple responsibility to be serious.
Taking a pioneering interest without following through could
be more destructive of morale than silence. For young
people, particularly, the idea of faintheartedness may be
the hardest of all to take: There always is hope that heroes
will come along and it would be better to have that hope
remain unrequited than to have it dashed.
Then there is resistance to a familiar syndrome, the
notion of "one thing for sure, we can't do the whole job
alone." There are two points to make about this to anyone
who may appear as a serious supporter of the libertarian
- You may have to.
- If so, you can.
The first point, of course, is that it shouldn't make any
difference how many are similarly interested. For an
individualist and a libertarian, surely, his own interest
should be sufficient to the action. If only one such person
appears, that is 100% more than we have now anyway!
The second point is simply a citation of the need of the
most effective use of what resources are available rather
than any despair that they are limited. If they are all that
there is, then prudence says only "use them well." And
courage says, only, "use them!"
One consideration arising from that is the need to use
available resources to produce a well-rounded base, if
nothing else, hoping that on the base, subsequently, new
support will arise. At the same time, securing a base also
helps secure the on-going momentum of the movement itself,
by recognizing that it is a movement and that it does require
not just casual advancement but hard, full-time organizing,
propagandizing, crusading and so forth.
If, on the other hand, there already was a more general
sort of support available, the movement could afford what
is now a luxury: the support of very specific researches or
programs. As it stands, the urge to build various superstructures
before the movement is firmly based as a
movement is to tactically do just what such imprudence
would do tectonically: create a top-heavy structure which
would topple in any stiff wind.
One course, in forming the base, would be to inventory
needs and evaluate priority versus cost and so forth.
Practical as well as visionary men should examine this
agenda carefully lest the caution of the one extinguish the
beacons of the other or the passions of the latter ignore the
prudence of the former.
Some of the items which should, in my view, earnestly be
considered are these:
—Full-time movement organizers and co-ordinators, at
least on a regional basis.
—Creation of even the most modest East Coast 'center'
for libertarian studies to fill an incredible geographic
vaccuum [sic]. Although the West Coast has seen the development
of such centers, the East remains barren.
—Support of our own movement activists, the spearhead
people whose speaking on campus, pamphleteering, even
arrests and trials, provide the sort of excitement centers
which, to cite a compelling example, turned the New Left
from a phrase by C. Wright Mills into the wedge which has
now opened wide the entire range of radical, revolutionary
developments in America.
—Entry into new media, such as films, for libertarian
ideas as well as on-going encouragement for those who can
break into the regular media. How many good libertarian
books or articles go down the drain each year simply
because potentially productive people cannot take the time,
or afford to do the work on a speculative basis? The
number, no matter how small, is too large if the libertarian
mood is to turn into the libertarian movement.
—A campus organization. Plans for the Radical Libertarian
Alliance already are well advanced as plans. But
practical organizational work, production of recruiting
materials and so forth requires some practical support
which the non-existent means of the founding members
|The Libertarian Forum, July 1, 1969
simply cannot provide. This does not mean that R. L. A. will
not move at all, without added support. It will move, indeed,
no matter what. Its founding chapters and members are not
to be stopped. But its people know full well that they will
not move with the summer-lightning speed of, say, SDS or
YAF because, as in the one case, it does not have (thankfully)
the relatively well-heeled zeal of a Progressive
Labor Party to send travelers across the country and keep
the literature coming or, as in the other case, it does not
offer eccentric millionaires a chance to advance their own
quirky causes by buying the energies of the young. R. L. A.,
to be precise about this point, would rather poop along on
pennies than take anybody's money if it came marked with
any word other than LIBERTY.
—Travel support for permitting libertarians with something
to say to say it where the action is. The fact that the
several outstanding libertarian-SDSers couldn't even afford
the train fare to the Chicago convention is just another
evidence of wasting major opportunities for want of minor
Not one of those suggestions is made in a spirit of exclusion
or primacy. They cover areas which seem common-sensical
but they are intended to convey, first and foremost, a sense
of base-building as opposed to panacea-pathing. The libertarian
who says that this action or that action is all that
should be taken or that this or that will 'solve' everything
is avoiding action, not taking it.
Fixated, narrowly focused approaches may build egos but
they can scarcely build movements. The purpose of a revolutionary,
in one of the truisms of our time, is to make the
revolution. To a libertarian that should mean that the
advancement of liberty and the opposition to coercion by all
means possible and necessary. It means each person making
his part of the revolution as he can best do it, recognizing
always that each part is subsumed under the vision of a
movement. Many of us may be always restricted to just
doing one job or another in the movement. None of us,
happily, if we retain faith with liberty itself, will waste our
time seeking to be leaders or wanting to be.
We do not want to lead or be led. We want to be free.
We now sense in a way that gives us ties with men in many
lands and in many postures of political development, that
being free always will be a chancy, iffy, and very conditional
transitory condition until the institutions of coercive power
have been brought down.
We have advanced through the stage when many thought
that freedom could be found simply by retiring to a hilltop
somewhere far distant. We know that such a hilltop may be
by next Tuesday the site of another government radar station,
just as the valley below it may be a detention camp.
We now know that men who want to be free cannot run
forever. Sometime, somewhere they must stand firm — and
fight, not as the state's agents fight, with bloody hands and
blazing eyes, but as free men fight, in a movement of
resistance, with respect for life, each man as he can and
each man as he will.
My overall point is that a movement demands many
elements. It requires public heroes and private genius; it
must work out in the streets as though it were the confident
spearhead of a triumphant cause, it must work in garrets
and offices as though there would be no tomorrow, it must
sometimes bite its tongue at tactical errors, loving the
sinner even while deploring the sin.
It must seek its friends in other lands, creating a new
citizenry of un-bordered liberty. It must create and recreate
its literature. It must teach its young and, equally important,
it must find its young.
It must sustain its weary, heal its wounded, and protect its
cadre. And, above all, it must know its own heart and mind
and be aware of itself as a Movement. Finally, it must have
a sense of time and place, knowing where the world is and
not nostalgically looking back at where it was. And if it errs
it should err on the side of dedication and vision, not on the
side of inaction.
Libertarians are not determinists who feel that unseen,
mystic forces move men and history in inexorable patterns,
up and down fated graphs. Libertarians, being radicals,
know that men can move history, that Man is history, and
that men can grasp their own fate, at the root, and advance
Interestingly and compellingly, libertarians have been
through much of this before in this lovely but looted land.
The first American revolution, just as with the Russian,
was almost a libertarian and not a statist victory. The
victory, instead, of the Federalists, with their glib talk of
"legal systems" and of measuring liberty in terms of
special favors to those who would best "serve" society, was
not a foregone conclusion any more than Stalin's victory
was the end in Russia. Contrary forces now seethe in both
Also, in the days before the first American revolution,
men heard the same arguments we hear today — that we
could never beat the system, so why try; why risk oppression
by being uppity; why not keep on trying to go through
channels and why not chuck it all because the majority of
people don't want any trouble anyway.
In those days it was erring on the side of militancy and
civil disobedience that gave libertarians the opportunity
even to speak and to speculate. Caution then would have
meant an even deeper gloom today (just look at the Mother
We are again at such a time and place.
You — whoever you are! — now have it in your power to
some extent or another move history and advance libertarianism
as a Movement and not a mere moral mutter.
This summer, then, should be the time when you decide
just how seriously you actually do take the times — and
As the oppressive reign of the White Terror begins
to roll over the land, defense of the elementary civil
liberties of dissenters becomes ever more acutely
necessary. Two new defense funds merit our interest
and our contribution.
One is for bail money and legal and medical
expenses for the arrested and wounded in the People's
Park massacre. Contributions should be sent to: The
People's Park Defense Fund, c/o Free Church, 2200
Parker St., Berkeley, Calif.
The other is for the defense of the eight political
dissenters at Chicago last year who have been shamefully
indicted by the federal authorities for "conspiracy
to promote disorder and riot" under the
infamous "anti-riot" Title XVIII of the Civil Rights
Act of 1968. The entire spectrum of laws against
"conspiracy", along with "incitement", are methods
of suppressing, not concrete action but political
defense and freedom of speech. Laws against "conspiracy"
have no part in libertarian law, which is
only concerned with defending persons and their
rights against acts of invasion. Contributions toward
the costly defense against this mass indictment may
be made out to "Chicago Defense Fund", and mailed
to the Capital Committee to Defend the Conspiracy,
28 E. Jackson Blvd., Chicago, Ill. 60604.
|| The Libertarian Forum, July 1, 1969
Faustino Ballve, Essentials of Economics (Irvington-on-Hudson,
New York; Foundation for Economic
Education, $3.00 cloth, $1.50 paper). The best
single brief introduction to economics. Written
from an Austrian rather than Chicagoite viewpoint.
Fills an extremely important need.
Andrew Kopkind and James Ridgeway, "Law and
Power in Washington", Hard Times (June 16-23,
1969). A brilliant muckraking dissection of the
politics not only of Abe Fortas but of Fortas'
important Washington law firm. Its editors are
New Left radicals; this impressive weekly newsletter
has improved considerably since the
departure of Old Left liberal R. Sherrill. Hard
Times is available for $7.50 per year, $6 for
students, at 80 Irving Place, New York, N. Y.
Frederic Bastiat, Economic Sophisms (Foundation
for Economic Education, $2.00 paper), and
Selected Essays in Political Economy (Foundation
for Economic Education, $2.00 paper). The
most significant writings of the great 19th-century
libertarian laissez-faire economist. Both highly
recommended, but the latter more important as
containing more systematic articles.
Benjamin Page, "Signals from North Korea", The
Nation (May 19, 1969). Indispensable if you want
to find out what's going on at the next hot spot
which the U. S. might be cooking up in Asia.
Libertarian Forum Associates
The deepest thanks of The Libertarian Forum go to the
newest group of those generous enough to become Libertarian
Forum Associates by subscribing at $15 or more:
|William L. Brown ||Glen Ellyn, Ill. |
|Kenneth Berger ||Palos Verdes, Calif. |
|Ronald Hamowy ||Stanford, Calif. |
|Leonard P. Liggio ||Bronx, N. Y. |
|Felix Morley ||Gibson Island, Md.|
|John V. Peters ||Canal Zone, Panama |
|Richard Riemann ||Berkeley, Calif. |
|Robert J. Smith ||Red Bank, N. J. |
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