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The Party Line on a Party Line

by Wendy McElroy
From Volume 1 Number 6 - August 1983


Individuals act. There is no such thing as a collective will. It is strange to have explain this to libertarians. It is disturbing to see how difficult it is for some of them to understand an organization which promotes differences of approach in an important area, which encourages individuals to think and act independently. Where, they insistently ask of The Voluntaryists, is your party line on strategy? If this were a request for the statement of principles of Voluntaryism - the essential characteristics which distinguish us from other libertarian groups - it would be a perfectly reasonable inquiry. And simply answered. We are an organization of anarchists with the dual purpose of developing antipolitical theory and investigating nonpolitical strategies. Our party line on strategy is that it must be consistent with Voluntaryist theory; in short, it must be nonpolitical.

Unfortunately, the quest for a party line is rarely motivated by a desire for information. It is part of a mindset. In this libertarian golden age of hammering out the platform and pushing the "pure" party line, many political libertarians find it inconceivable that an organization could function without words-to-purge by. And the demand for The Voluntaryist party line is not a request for the broad principles which tie Voluntaryists together, but for the specific positions to which they must conform or be purged as heretical. The reply that our position is, in a word, "nonpolitical" is considered to be an evasion. Where specifically do The Voluntaryists stand on nonviolent resistance, parallel institutions, utopian communities, etc.? Specifically, Voluntaryists stand as individuals using their individual judgments concerning the context of a situation and what they consider to be be an appropriate strategy given their own weaknesses and strengths.

This is not to say that, as editor of The Voluntaryist, I do not have strong preferences or that I will give space to any and all nonpolitical approaches. Being open minded does not entail abandoning reason or suspending judgment. It does entail a commitment to consider any strategy which does not defy commonsense - e.g., jumping off a cliff as a grand plan for liberty. I intend to pursue the ones I find most promising and I cheerfully grant other Voluntaryists the same freedom.

But why this open mindedness? If there is a strategy I prefer, one which I think is objectively the most valuable, why not make it the official Voluntaryist methodology? There are at least three reasons why an official strategy would be a mistake. First, nonpolitical strategy within libertarianism is largely an uncharted area which requires far more of a pioneer spirit than a doctrinaire censoring. It is necessary to examine a wide range of strategies in the context of their histories and their compatibility with anarchist theory. Frankly, it is not presently apparent to me whether certain strategies are promising or a deadend.

Secondly, although moral questions adhere to strategy - i.e., is the strategy peaceful, is it political? - any number of approaches can satisfy these moral requirements and be equally valid. Given that a strategy satisfies basic anarchist principles, it should be judged solely on pragmatic grounds: how well does it address specific goals; how difficult is it to implement; does it have undesirable side effects; how well does it embody the personalities and talents of those using it? This somewhat contextual view of strategy is at odds with an apriori party line on what is acceptable.

Thirdly, even if The Voluntaryists had the arrogance to claim perfect knowledge on which strategy best fits any one context, contexts change and strategy must be flexible enough to address these shifts in situation. Flexibility and a party line are at odds. The Voluntaryist have two goals: the development of antipolitical theory; and, the pursuit of nonpolitical means. The "party line" with reference to the first goal is that anarchism and the political process are mutually destructive and morally inconsistent positions. Here, we are pushing a very specific conclusion; to be consistent, anarchists must eschew the political process and truly oppose the State. For those who accept this conclusion in theory, no party line on strategy is necessary. For those who do not, no party line is possible.

I applaud all the inventiveness and creativity I find in the area of strategy. But, then, I'm an old fashioned libertarian. I still welcome diversity.