A long-overdue reply on ‘the big tent’

Back in June, I wrote a post on the ‘big tent’ concept and invited responses. I have only now gotten around to responding to the one reader who articulated a full answer to my questions.

So, please accept my apologies tm3989a and I hope this debate can continue, and that others will join in. I promise to be more prompt in replying from now on.

TM3989a wrote:

I honestly consider this one of the most important questions of the Liberty movement, and every time I see a Left and Right Anarchist, or a Tea Partier and Johnson Libertarian get in a fight, it breaks my heart as much as they are breaking the movement. In my time as a Libertarian activist, here’s what I’ve come to believe about the “Big Tent” mentality:

As a first point, I just have to say that there really isn’t a ‘movement’ if disagreements can be this large.

If one person thinks that property is inviolable, and an extension of the self-ownership principle, and another thinks that ‘all property is theft’, then how are those two people in the same ‘movement’?

Again, using examples you have given: Ron Paul wants to abolish the Fed, and Johnson wants (at most) to review it. If the Fed is an important issue for you (as it should be for everyone), why would you consider someone not in favour of its obliteration to be in the same ‘movement’ as you?

1. I absolutely agree that common ground on fundamental principles is necessary for collaboration. However, a logical statement must have two premises; in the same way, Liberty and Libertarians have more than one fundamental principle. Private property is one, but Peace is another. Should disagreement with a group supporting Peace, but not Private property, mean we do not work with them? No – we don’t share all our fundamental principles, but we share important ones, which means we have plenty to work together on.

Yes of course you should not work with someone who cannot agree on your central principle! Since mass proselytisation is the only method by which any radical movement will bring about change, what are your target audience going to think when they have you knock on their door and deliver your message, but the last representative of your movement was harping on about Proudhon and how no-one should own anything? What do you think people are gonna make of those ideas? You don’t agree with them, why would they? And don’t you think it would confuse them loads to have people from the same ‘movement’ telling them completely conflicting stuff?

Even assuming ‘peace’ is achieved (the shared value), then what next? Eternal peace between you and the resource-based economy next door? No further frictions? I think anyone who believes this is deluding their selves. One of the central tenets of consentient philosophy is that people who agree with each other should live near to each other, and away from those that disagree with them.

2. What happens when the objective is reached? Depends on what group we invite (or are invited by) into the Big Tent. If it’s the Statist Tea Party Republicans, then when Private property has reached an unassailable place in the Constitution, there will have to split and start fighting on the “5% that we disagree on”. If we’re working with the Left-Anarchists, the solution is much simpler: live and let live. Differences between Left-Anarchists and Voluntaryists are fairly abstract, and can usually be solved by relying on spontaneous order to generate the best world: on of private property or worker syndicates. Usually, when talking with Left-Anarchists, they propose “you get half the world, we’ll get half the world, and eventually all your people will move into our communes.” This is why I usually work with Left-Anarchists, the long term goal is much more the same.

If you’re willing to work with statists, then you’re not a voluntaryist. End of.

If you think negotiating the division of land with people who don’t think land can be property is going to be easy, you’re off your rocker, sorry.

3. If compromise involves actively acting against principles, then it is not worth it. But, if compromise involves simply shifting a focus onto other principles, and using the new-found strength to spread your name (and hopefully the now less focused on principles), then it’s totally worth it. There is a world of difference between marching with Occupy communalists when they attack corporatism, and chanting with Occupy communalists when they demand the Buffet Rule.

When has marching ever achieved anything? It just makes the masses think “Who are those people and why are they doing that?” and then their media will tell them the most demonic lies possible about it. You have to directly interact and challenge people or you will lose them.

4. The dichotomy isn’t between an approach that values integrity above popularity and selling out to get results. Working with other groups does not imply you agree with them fully – merely that you have more you agree on than not. If this is true, then you are remaining true to your principles, and not actively fighting against them or abandoning them, merely shifting your focus to issues that can spread the message to a larger audience.

Spread what message? See above comments on need for coherence.

5. Doesn’t not working with groups that have some of the same principles, or some of the same goals, do more to keep the movement in darkness? How is it abandoning your principles if you value some higher and fight for some harder? Do you consider an unequal evaluation of principles or working with others on certain ones in spite of disagreements to be an active campaign against your principles? And, most importantly, have you ever read Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals”? It has some excellent advice on how to stick to your guns, but still get things accomplished. One of them is finding common ground with people by focusing on things that you agree on and can be done.

I would argue that incoherence and straightforwardly stupid methodologies have done more to keep the ideas of freedom in darkness than remaining true to one’s principles could ever do. I don’t bend on any of my principles, and in my small way, have had a noticeable effect on many of the people I’ve come into contact with (as is no doubt true of countless voluntaryists across the world). But we are acting independently and there is an impotence associated with that. It is NOT enough to ‘be the change you want to see in the world’ when most of the world don’t know you exist and would never hear your ideas if you didn’t go up to them and start a dialogue. For that, a real, coherent and consistent resistance would be needed, and we’re a long way from that.

I hope my responses clarify my position on this matter, and are of some use to those deliberating what methods to use in championing freedom.