Why Be Libertarian?
for a Libertarian Victory
Importance of the Caucus
The Importance of the Caucus
was written at a tumultuous time for the Libertarian Party. It appeared
January-February, 1980. Below you see it as it
was reprinted by the Libertarian Party Radical Caucus.
In 1978 the Cato Institute had been formed and Rothbard
and several other prominent figures were "one big happy family",
supported by a billionaire's generous funding. Located in San Francisco
at the time, Cato became the center of the libertarian movement,
and with Ed Clark as the Party's 1978 California gubernatorial candidate,
Cato was also the de facto center of the LP. Cato President Ed Crane
was the mastermind behind Clark's campaign, which garnered a stunning
5.5 percent of the vote.
Clark was persuaded to be the LP's presidential
candidate in 1980 and the same people were in charge of the campaign.
They crafted the slogan "Low Tax Liberal" to describe
Clark, which sent Rothbard, his close friend Bill Evers, and others
up the wall. This was a logical culmination of what Ed Crane called
"reasonable radicalism," designed to appeal to liberals.
Clark's stands did not look very radical at all. Crane and his crew
were the "bureaucratic hacks" referred to by Rothbard
Rothbard fought this opportunism tooth and nail.
The fight continued past the Clark campaign,
and ended with the bruising battle in 1983 over the party's next
presidential candidate. This battle was the undoing of the Radical
Caucus itself, when the Central Committee split over who to endorse
Earl Ravenal, the candidate of the Cato/Crane faction, or David
Bergland, seized upon at the last minute by the opposition when
their original candidate, radio talk show host Gene Burns, was revealed
to have made pro-interventionist statements and refused to withdraw
them. Rothbard resigned from the LPRC when it endorsed Ravenal.
The Cato faction then walked out of the National Convention when
Ravenal lost by two votes, never to return to the Party. Membership
in the Party fell drastically and it struggled for years to return
to the degree of organization it had. Rothbard thought it a worthwhile
trade, implacable enemy of opportunism that he was, though he later
left the LP altogether when the Party, rather than orient itself
to the great issues of the day, seemed to concentrate on personalities.
For more details, see
An Enemy of the State,
by Justin Raimondo (Prometheus Books, 2000), the illuminating and
inspiring story of Rothbard and his life's work.
One lesson I take from this is that
know everything about a candidate
especially what he or she
has said and will continue to say that conflicts with the Party
Platform. When a new libertarian joins the Party and immediately
runs for office, especially a prominent office, there is great danger
that his or her pronunciations will mislead the public, anger other
Libertarians, or both. This is something the Party should explicitly
March 2, 2004
Importance of the Caucus (pdf file - 126 KB)
this file to a libertarian!
Importance of the Caucus
Murray N. Rothbard
Copyright 2012 Mises.org
recent phenomenon in our Party that burst into prominence at the
September  convention is the caucus. There are now at least
five caucuses in the Libertarian Party and all of carried weight
at the convention: The Association of Feminists, the Christian Libertarian
Caucus, the Gay Libertarian Caucus, The Libetarians for Life, and
the Radical Caucus.
Many Libertarians look with suspicion and hostility upon caucuses.
Aren't they meant to be divisive? Couldn't they portend disastrous
splits within the Party? Aren't they obstructing the smooth machinery
of LP advance? Since we're all libertarians, why are any special
I submit, on the contrary, that caucuses and factions are not only
legitimate, but beneficial and necessary, and that their proliferation
is the sign of a healthy Party.
In the first place, the Libertarian Party, in contrast to our the
Democrats and Republicans, is and must be an
party firmly dedicated to the triumph of consistent principle
in politics. There is always a problem in any fast-growing party
that ideology will be forgotten in a fascination with technique
and even in the scramble for political power. If we are to keep
our reason for being, this must never be allowed to happen, and
the purpose of a caucus is to keep reminding the Party of its own
ideology and of its day-to-day importance in Party activity and
Party life. In a sense, a caucus acts as the Party's conscience.
Secondly, our libertarian ideology is a mighty and complex one,
and there are bound to be differences of emphasis among Libertarians
on which parts of the ideology to stress, or even conflicts over
parts of the ideology itself or over its application to concrete
political problems. Good libertarians, for example, differ strongly
over such questions as children's rights or capital punishment.
The caucus, therefore, exists, to push its particular application
or emphasis within the broader Libertarian framework, and to try
to convince the rest of the Party of the correctness of its own
The Party, furthermore, has become too large and complex, and its
growth too rapid, to permit all ideological discussion and controversy
to be jammed into two terribly hectic days at each biennial national
convention. It is no longer enough to have a brief platform discussion
every two years, as important as the platform is. It is also vital
to have continuing, day-to-day discussions over ideology and political
issues. The caucus, with its periodical publication and its organized
meetings, provides a vital means for these discussions to take place
on a continuing basis. In this way, ideology within the Party is
not stifled, but on the contrary is vivified, discussed, taught,
thought about, and made a vibrant, integral part of the life of
There are forces with the Party, however, that are not simply confused
about the role of caucuses and factions in a healthy ideological
movement. They understand full well the role of factions and are
therefore out to suppress them. These are the bureaucratic hacks
and the seekers after power who regard all dissent and healthy ideological
controversy as obstructions in an otherwise smoothly running organizational
These are people who care little or nothing about principle or ideology
and simply wish to "get on with their job" (
job) and to "go along with the program (
These are the ones who would like to see the Libertarian Party and
the libertarian movement as a whole run like a giant corporation
or a military command post, with themselves, of course, at the top.
Caucuses and factions guard against all that. Their existence and
prosperity assure that the corporate or military model will not
become the working structure of the Libertarian Party. They assure
diversity, dissent, and continuing ideological discussion within
the Party. Factions are our insurance against the death of ideology,
and against the crushing of a vibrant spirit in the maws of an unprincipled
bureaucratic juggernaut. In the history of ideological movements,
it is well to remember
were the most notorious crushers
of factions with a Party: Lenin, after he achieved power in Russia,
and especially Stalin, who suppressed all factions by sending them
to the Gulag.
I am not trying to be an alarmist about this, nor am I maintaining
that our version of the Gulag is around the corner. But any growing
and successful ideological movement is bound to give rise to Stalins
in our midst, to bureaucratic power-wielders who wish to play down
ideology, and to suppress dissent and factions in the name of alleged
efficiency. We should all simply be on guard, and the proliferation
of Party caucuses is an excellent way of keeping such tendencies
N. Rothbard is editor of the
the Central Committee of the Libertarian Party Radical Caucus, and
the author of
A New Liberty, Man, Economy and State,
many other works on libertarian theory, economics, and history This
essay originally appeared in