By: Allan Wallace
The Libertarian Party has long referred to itself as “The Party of Principle.” But are we confusing principles with rules or law? Are our principles of Liberty becoming so concrete that it limits our Liberty? Or, is our principle a strong foundation that gives our Liberty room for various and different forms of expression?
Libertarianism is a philosophy of life, including political life, that contains certain principles as a foundation upon which those of us who adhere to the philosophy can and do build our lives. Those of us who are also Christians find that the two sets of principles are not only compatible but enhance and strengthen each other as well. And something I learned early on was, after re-discovering or building a strong foundation for my life, that this is by itself not enough.
No one can live on a foundation. We must build structures on that foundation to live a full and free life. In this sense, think of life as a song. Principle is the meter, key, and tempo, but life is lived in the melody, harmonies, lyrics, and dynamics of the music.
Confusion ensues, I believe, when we start thinking that tempo is all there is, that dynamics is unimportant if we get the tempo right. Equating principle with the law is much the same thing.
Law is a written and hopefully well-defined limit on total freedom. It should be based on the moral principles that humans have in common and always deal with objective reality in the physical universe, not conjecture and not perception.
Principle is a fundamental concept that is strong and versatile enough to build ideas upon, and enough to underpin most or all decisions. To return to the music metaphor, think of principle as a tune you have stuck in your head and life as a piano keyboard. There are no wrong notes or right notes on the piano, but there are right and wrong notes to press to give life to the tune in your head when we play it. We can choose to play it to a different beat or musical style, but as long as people can recognize the original tune, it is all good.
In that context, there are no ideas that CAN be built on a principle that can actually “violate” that principle. The foundation itself puts limits on what can be built upon it. When an idea exists that actually violates a principle, we find that the idea is, in reality, built on another foundation, not the one we sometimes loudly discuss.
This is at the heart of the Principle VS Pragmatism disagreement in the Libertarian Party.
It is not that the LP is no longer the “Party of Principle,” but that some groups within the party believe that principle is the be-all and end-all of libertarian philosophy. But it is just the beginning, the firm foundation upon which the structure of our party sits.
Compromise is not a dirty word when applied to that structure, but remains so when applied to its foundational principles. And, the term “principled compromise” is not an Oxymoron when applied to a political party who honors its solidly principled foundation, and whose focus is on changing the face of US politics for the better.
The libertarian movement has hundreds of organizations employing every imaginable method of promoting Liberty in the US, but only one of them is a political party. And, this party is the only one well-positioned to take on the two, old Dinosaur Parties’ duopoly. Keep the Libertarian Party principled AND pragmatic so that it can promote Liberty in its unique way in the political arena. The Principle VS Pragmatism issue causes a dissonance that cannot be resolved until we decide to make a concerted effort to bring it to a harmonious resolution.
Author’s Note: Yes, I am aware that dissonance is not always unpleasant. It adds to the drama of musical depictions, especially in confused or chaotic situations. But dissonance is most often used to best effect when it creates dramatic tension that is then resolved.