February 15, 2021

“What is to be done?”

Mr. Neff is senior editor of The Last Ditch.

T RUMP SUPPORTERS, shocked and dismayed by the outcome of the so-called election of this past November, have been flooding the conservative talk shows with ideas of how to recapture political power in Washington.

Idea number one

One (predictable) idea is that "we need to start a third party."

Equally predictable is the objection, "That would just help the Democrats." Supporting this response is the unsupported claim that people who voted for the Libertarian Party candidate in some states made the difference between Biden's count and Trump's. What makes the claim unsupported is not the arithmetic — which may be correct — but the assumption that LP voters would have voted for Trump if they had not voted for the LP. And there is simply no reason to believe that. Many LP voters would not have voted for anyone; some of them were so disgusted with Trump that they might have voted for Biden. Others might have voted for other "third party" candidates.

Not quite so predictable is the objection, "It takes a long time for a new party to gain a base large enough to win an election."

Looking at the history of national third parties, we see that in modern times the most successful one (in terms of money behind it and the publicity it gleaned) was Ross Perot's Reform Party, which has never gotten a single electoral vote. Perot promised that not only would he be running in 1992, but in that election and in later ones, where his organization was not running candidates for lower offices, it would be throwing its support to candidates, no matter from what party, who supported (or came closest to supporting) Reform Party ideas. I don't really know to what extent that intention was carried out, but it wasn't carried out for many elections. And today? Strictly speaking, Ross Perot's party still exists (it got about 0.6 percent of the popular vote in 2020, always assuming that the official totals given for the popular vote that year are accurate), but for all intents and purposes, "The rains weep o'er his hall and not a soul to hear."

Getting less than 1 percent of the vote after being in existence for 28 years suggests that that "long time" can well turn out to be "never."

Another objection is that there already is a national third party, and the Libertarian Party is it.

In the 2020 election for president, the Libertarian Party retained its hold on genuine third-party status. It is the third party in America, at least for now. Jo Jorgensen was the only non-major-party candidate to be on the ballot in all 50 states. She received more votes than all the other "third parties" put together and more than four times the votes the fourth-place party (the Green Party) won (again, assuming that the official totals for the popular vote are accurate).

The LP has run candidates in every presidential election since 1972, and after spending $3 million (less than $1,000 of it Jorgensen's own money), they got just under 2 million votes, so what was said above about the Reform Party applies as well as to the LP.

Moreover, it seems unlikely that some of the LP's anti-civilizational positions (which they are pleased to consider "pro-liberty") are not likely to attract the discontented Trump voters who are casting about for somewhere to go and something to do.

Frankly, I would think the Trumpers would be better advised to take a look at the Constitution Party to see whether it satisfies them to the point of being willing to help build it up. Or perhaps looking to New York's Conservative Party (which nominated Donald Trump for president) to see about building it into a national organization. That party, at least, can boast of a few wins in some elections (mostly notably James Buckley for U.S. Senate in 1970), and also of effecting the defeat of a few despised GOP candidates.

This much is assured: Anyone who wants to be active in a new party must be willing to lose many elections while his party solidifies its funding, publicity, and a reliable voting base. And to be accused of being a spoiler.

Yet a final objection is that there is no point in electing a president — assuming that a third party can elect one — without having a healthy stable of candidates running for the "down ballot" seats. Some say that it is remarkable what Trump was able to accomplish without the support of his Congresses, but supposing that to be true, it would be true only in virtue of his indefatigable energy, which is rare to find anywhere, let alone in politicians who, after all, are by hypothesis attempting to hold a position not earned through hard work, but by the gift of people they are able to hoodwink.

Idea number two

Those who object to creating or getting involved in a third party usually propose staying in the GOP and "working within the system" to reform it.

One may perhaps be forgiven for asking, "If that were possible, why didn't you people start 'working within the system' long before now?"

Surely the entrenched interests that control the GOP are not likely to be won over by pleas or arguments, but are likely to put as much of their strength as they need to into resisting "reform." Before a "reform" strategy can be put into effect, those who take this line should be asking themselves, "Can the GOP be reformed?" I do not envy anyone who undertakes to find evidence that it can be.

The Trump supporters would probably answer that the election of Donald Trump suggests that it can be reformed. And skeptics would just as probably note that his loss in 2020 — no matter what the cause — suggests that it can't be.

It has been observed that during Ronald Reagan's second term, the George H.W. Bush contingent in the GOP was busily undermining the so-called Reagan Revolution, replacing Reagan-favored personnel with Bush-favored personnel. What that observation should remind us is that what Trump called "the swamp" is very deep and is home to numberless ambitious and relentless boarders and staff. They are not loyal to a single person, but to their careers. They are not completely easy to identify, and in many cases are difficult to remove. Moreover, many of them hold non-stipendiary consultant positions and stand to be rewarded later, or they merely bask in the glow of their own influence or power.

In other words, elections do not always effect the change desired because the problem is not usually the person holding the elective office.

Idea number three

One reckless idea is the suggestion to infiltrate and eventually take over the Democratic Party.

I find it difficult to comment on this strategy because I am unaware of any effort that has been attempted in that direction.

In the first place, I think it doubtful that the Democrats can be infiltrated. I think they know themselves well enough that they will spot the unspotted leopard. The idea reminds me of the Chesterton character in The Man Who Was Thursday who attempted to infiltrate a gathering of military figures by dressing in a general's uniform and waving a sword in the air while shouting, "War! War!"

Those in the policy-writing think tanks may find that they are able to influence legislation or decrees by their own lobbying efforts, publications, or conferences, but that is not quite the same thing as infiltration.

In any case, I question the wisdom of any strategy that attempts to make a political party "change course." The dynamics of politics is such that what Ayn Rand wrote about compromise applies to efforts to reform political parties: their principles — spoken or unspoken — will carry them to their logical end. It is only when the principles are changed that a different direction can be chosen. And principles do not change as a result of subversion.

One perhaps can find an example of successful subversion in Henry Hazlitt's novel Time Will Run Back. All I will say about the strategy of subversion, then, is this: "If you think you can pull it off, God bless you."

The bigger picture

All of the strategies conservatives are talking about rest on a single presupposition: that elective politics is a tactic that can succeed in restoring the kind of government they see themselves as having lost.

That presupposition, to the best of my knowledge, has never even been addressed, let alone demonstrated. There is certainly no empirical evidence to support it.

That aside, one might also wonder to whom conservatives think anyone in the GOP will listen. They did not listen to warnings of Garet Garrett, of John Flynn, or of Frank Chodorov, all of them better men and more consistent advocates for limited government than anyone in the conservative movement today.

Indeed, one might point out that even today's conservatives do not listen to such men. In fact, they expelled them. Conservatives do not want people with clear vision of what tyranny looks like, or at least they do not want them doing any writing or talking. They prefer to listen to the half-measures, let us say rather, the quarter-measures of a Sean Hannity or a Chris Plante.

Even the news outlets formerly thought to be favorable to them — Fox News and Newsmax — have shown themselves to be unreliable allies.

"We just want the government to follow the Constitution," they say. What nonsense. There is no prominent conservative who wants to dissolve all the unconstitutional regulatory agencies that now make laws, execute them, and fine or incarcerate those who disobey them. There is no prominent conservative who wants to dismantle the Federal Reserve and return to a hard-money standard. No one wants to end welfare, Medicare, or Social Security. No one wants to eliminate the standing army.

They do not want to know that the struggle they say they want to undertake has already been lost. In Garrett's words, they are looking in the wrong direction, for the revolution already was. They cannot prevent what has already happened. Indeed, I suggest that they do not want to admit that it has already happened, and a good many of them have made their peace with it.

If they really wanted to "do something," they would study history to learn what it is that will undermine a tyranny, such as the one we have today. They would learn that it is not by getting "the right people" in office, because the offices are not right.

They would learn that you have to starve it. They would look into tax rebellions. Massive and determined acts of peaceful disobedience. They would refuse not only to vote but to register. And their spokesmen would move heaven and earth to make themselves heard.

Would any of that succeed? I have no idea. History is an empirical teacher, and its lessons offer only suggestions, seldom guarantees. What we can be sure of is that the state's meat is obedience. When the people obey, it is strong and healthy. When obedience has become the act of only a small number, it is in its last illness. And when there is no more obedience, it dies.

Are conservatives who want to know "what is to be done" ready to disobey? Ready to lose their jobs and incomes? Ready to learn that their families and friends will not stand with them? My judgment — which may be proven wrong — is that they are in love with their comforts. And will continue to take useless action. Ω

February 15, 2021

© 2021 Ronald N. Neff
Published in 2021 by WTM Enterprises.

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