My goal as one of the Mises Caucus bloggers is to help bring awareness to the cause of liberty to those who have been guided off the path. As part of that effort, I’ll be doing a series of interviews called: ‘A Conversation…’ with influential personalities in the liberty movement.
My interviews, as well as any articles I write, won’t be aimed at the ‘choir’, nor do I intend to appeal to the ‘echo chamber’. I really just want to have a conversation with certain individuals; take the best parts of each conversation that I believe will appeal to people who are not part of that echo chamber.
My first conversation is with Tom Woods. Tom needs no introduction within the Libertarian Party, or the liberty movement, but for those new to the Non-Aggression Principle, which is the essence of libertarianism, I’ve pulled the following bio from Wikipedia:
“Thomas Ernest Woods Jr. is an American historian, political commentator, author, and podcaster. Woods is a New York Times Best-Selling author and has published twelve books. He has written extensively on subjects including the history of the United States, Catholicism, contemporary politics, and economics.”
D.R.: Tom, what does ‘Voluntaryism’ mean to you?
T.W.: To me, it’s a vision of society into which all interaction is voluntary. It starts with ordinary interactions that we have with each other; when we buy or sell things, or we exchange services or anything of that sort. It never occurs to us that we would, for example, force someone to mow our lawns, or wash our cars. We know we have to give value for value, and we do that. There’s a reason we say, “thank-you”, and that we’re told “thank-you” in return. It’s because we’re each benefiting, otherwise, we wouldn’t voluntarily do it. When two parties voluntarily agree to something, they do so because they expect and believe that the action is in their own interest. That’s the beauty of a voluntary type of system.
There’s no general overseer for the making and selling of bread. [As an example.] We never worry about buying bread because – you know – on Thursdays they run out of bread….. there’s just farmers and truckers, and there are retailers and marketers, and nobody forcibly brings them together. They all arrange themselves spontaneously without an overseer managing every aspect of bread production.
So we all see, and we all know these basic moral truths, the question is how consistently are we prepared to apply them across the board in ALL situations, including the government. When the government tells you that America is going to war, does that feel voluntary? Or when the government tells you [through taxation] that you have to contribute to this social service – or that one – does that feel voluntary?
The idea of society that most people have is that somebody needs to be in charge over all of us in order for things to get done. Because that’s what they’re taught in school. They’re not taught how markets work, or how supply and demand regulates production – what they’re taught is how a bill becomes a law – and that is a completely different model of society. I have referred to it as, the ‘bullhorn’ model of society – you basically have somebody with a bullhorn issuing commands – and that’s how things get done.
D.R.: I believe that localization is imperative for activating voluntaryism. What are your thoughts on how that can be accomplished?
It’s a group of people who thought, ‘Ya know..it’s nice to sit around and talk about Frederic Bastiat all day, but it’s another thing entirely to get off our rear-ends and put our money where our mouths are and show how voluntary action can help people.’ Their idea was that obviously, they’d be able to find people all over the country who, if there were a disaster, would be willing to help out, and people who would be willing to make donations, or even come in person to help in particular cases. It’s small scale but they’ve just gotten started, and it’s an example. And they can actually say ‘Look, we don’t just tell you how society would be if we were all just taking care of each other, we’re actually out here doing it.’ And I think the more that you can show that you’re out there doing it, the better, and the more people will take you seriously. That’s the first group that comes to mind but as you can see that model can be applied to almost anything.
If we can get people to see, and to have a spirit of wonder over this, that’s the first step; the spirit of wonder. There are miracles going on every day that people don’t appreciate. When you start to appreciate them, I think then, you’re in the position to be open to the possibility that if the voluntary model works so well for ordinary products and services, maybe it can be applied even in cases where it’s hard to visualize.
D.R.: In achieving Voluntaryism, should it be a top-down, or bottom-up approach? Or both?
T.W.: If what we’re trying to do is both demonstrate the viability of voluntary solutions [as opposed to government involvement] and build sympathy for our point of view, there certainly isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. In the west, [referring to the ranchers, and the growing number of people moving off the grid] there’s enough of a sense of self-reliance that could be tapped into. Whereas let’s say, in the suburbs of Boston, you’re not going to have quite as much of that, but in the suburbs of Boston I’m sure there are issues that make people crazy, where you can step in and create voluntary solutions.
Here’s an example of a ‘top-down’ voluntary solution: I just read an article recently about how back in the mid to late 80s they were trying to refurbish the skating rink in Rockefeller Center. The city had spent six years on this project and some 12 million dollars, or some crazy amount, and had done nothing. So Trump comes along and three and half months later, and $750,000.00 under budget, he gets it done. And I think of cases where people are filling in potholes -cases where obviously the government is never, ever going to solve the problem – never. They say they’re going to, and nothing ever happens. What if we got back to having neighbors getting together and saying, ‘We’re adults here, we’re not like little children, why don’t we do it?’
You can even appeal to progressives on some level, I mean the ones who aren’t completely insane. (We both laughed.) A lot of them do believe in their communities. A lot of them love it. There really are sincere people honestly, on the left, who believe they are helping.
D.R.: I agree there are. I think what you’re saying is that we can find common ground with just about anybody. That is, if we can get our point across without sounding self-righteous, or condescending. Which brings me to the Libertarian Party in general. It’s so divided. What are your thoughts on that, and also what’s your opinion on voting, do you feel it violates the non-aggression principle?
T.W.: Okay, let me talk about voting first. I have friends who don’t vote, but who don’t generally say that people who don’t vote are morally compromised somehow. But, there are as you know, people who say that it is actually wrong – that it means you’re somehow consenting to the broken system. I just don’t believe that – I’ve never believed that. I’ve even heard people say, “If you believe in voting, then you’re not a libertarian. So that means Lysander Spooner and Murray Rothbard were not libertarians, that’s just ridiculous. I’m getting a little tired of the laundry list of things you can’t do, or say, or believe, and still be a libertarian. As long as you believe in the NAP (non-aggression principle), you’re a libertarian. What if you vote for someone who says, ‘All I’m going to do is dismantle it all.’ How is that aggression? I’ve used this example before and the responses are always lame: What if I were in a concentration camp, and I was given a chance to vote on whether I was to be released? I would have to be out of my mind to say, ‘On principle, I refuse to participate in this election.’ In other words, by voting, I’m just trying to improve my conditions, I’m not consenting to anything. If I think there’s a way to improve my life by even 1%, then I’ll do that.
In terms of the division in the LP, if I had to narrow it down, I’d say there are two primary groups dividing the LP. There’s definitely a divide between the purists and the pragmatists. The pragmatists say, ‘If we put up a more palatable candidate for the mainstream, we’ll get more votes, and more attention.’ And then there’s the divide between people who want to impose, or are very fond of, standard political correctness.
I’ve seen the National LP, as well as a few state-level LP groups texting to their members that Trump wants to ‘take away your ability to define your gender’, which wasn’t at all true, but it was an opportunity for certain people in the party to try to appeal to people on the left by saying ‘We don’t believe the government should choose your gender.’
And in reading the comments it was unbelievable how much opposition there was to this kind of silliness. People saying, ‘Well this is why the Libertarian Party is going down the tubes.’ The one text message I’ve received from the party since joining, had to do with the government defining your gender. Of all things, that’s the thing that’s so important? But my point is, the response was so overwhelmingly negative, and yet the people want to put out inane statements like this, or like during the Kavanaugh hearings they want to say: ‘We libertarians are against sexual assault!’ Well, that’s helpful! Thanks! [I had to laugh.] I was thrilled to see the comment section turn so overwhelmingly against them.
And yet the funny thing is they say that people like me who don’t think these are the most earth-shatteringly significant issues of mankind, that we’re bad people, and we’re going to drive people away, but yet they’re the ones who post these inane comments that everybody hears 24 hours a day already from every other outlet, as if we need the Libertarian Party to join in on that – the response they’re getting is so negative, how can these people accuse me of driving people away when every time they open their mouths they repel ten thousand people?
We need to keep to simple, basic libertarian ideas. And instead they want to wade into these controversies where the partisans are already in the Democratic Party, and they’re happy there. The only people whose attention they’re getting are potential converts who look at them and say, ‘If this is all the Libertarian Party is about, I can get this on CNN all day long, I can get this from the Democrats. Why would I want to join these people?’
D.R.: What’s the answer, Tom? How do we get the party on track?
T.W.: I think there’s already a healthy move in that direction. The fact that even, ostensibly anyway, from their own members, they are getting severe push-back when they send out a text like the one I mentioned. That means there are enough people who understand what a losing strategy it is to try to appeal to the politically-correct crowd.
And then the Mises Caucus doesn’t really take positions, expressly anyway, on these sorts of cultural issues. But, they do have a sense for what works and what doesn’t work and so I get a sense that a lot of the Mises Caucus people think: ‘This is not really where we need to be spending a majority of our energies. We ought to be spending them on the spreading of the classical libertarian message.’
As our conversation was wrapping up, I put Tom on the spot and asked him what he’d like people to know about himself:
We’re all drawn to the ideas of liberty because they strike us as so compelling. They make sense of the way the world works, or should work. We can look around at the world and see so much of what we love in the world that comes about without any coercion; people just voluntarily interacting with each other. And we’re very drawn to that.
But having said that, there may be particular interests or sympathies that we each have individually that intensify our attraction to the liberty message. So for me, it’s not that I want to say, “use drugs”, or you know…” adopt a really way out there kind of lifestyle”. I have an extremely boring, middle of the road, mainstream, bourgeois lifestyle. I have five daughters, and we go to the zoo (he chuckles). We just do normal things.
And yet, I’ve met a lot of people from the Ron Paul movement and they were a million miles away from me but we liked each other because we all felt like there was some value in fighting for the right to be left alone -and to urge people to indeed mind their own business. It’s so funny to hear conservatives who think their job is to monitor everybody’s life, when the most important conservative value these days is: “Mind your own business! Fix up your own family; your own job; your own home!” Because half of the time with these people, they’re all in shambles. So do that before you start lecturing other people.
But anyway, for me, what draws me to liberty is simply that I want to able to live my boring, bourgeois life, and have my kids flourish as much as possible without a lot of government interference. I’m not going to bother anybody who wants to do things I don’t want to do, like smoke pot (chuckling). That’s not what draws me. What draws me is that I want to be able to choose how I live and how I want my children to live. I want to choose how my children are educated. I want them to be educated in what I believe the truth to be, not what the government chooses it to be. I want their opportunities to be as unfettered as possible. I want the economy to flourish without government tinkering with it and causing all the ups and downs and booms and busts. I want all these things because they foster my quiet, normal, boring life. And it fosters the flourishing of these kids I love.
I don’t believe there is any governmental system that can guarantee me those things the way a system of freedom would. A system of freedom is what motivates me. I’m willing to stand up for anybody who’s not causing harm to anyone else. But in terms of what drives me, it’s the right to live my life with the least amount of possible interference.
Deborah Robinet is first a wife, mother, and grandmother of eleven grandchildren. She has been a political activist for twelve years and has been a lead organizer for several major grassroots events. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Behavioral Science with a minor in Addictive Disorders. She and her husband own 45 acres off the grid in Northern Arizona and enjoy homesteading and farming, and helping to build a free community in their area. Contact her @ AMisesConversation@gmail.com.