What’s the Point of Political Activism?


Reader ‘Justin’ has asked me here about the point of the Libertarianz party. Why do we bother, he asks. Good question, and as you’d expect I’ve fielded similar questions for many years – in fact ever since Libz first began back in 1995.


So why do we Libz bother? In short, we want to promote freedom, and we don’t see anyone else doing it.


Sure, there are some organisations that promote freedom in some measure in some areas some times. NORML, for instance. The Business Roundtable. The Greens sometimes, particularly on issues of personal freedom (although decreasingly so I’m afraid to say). Don Brash when talking about one law for all.


But they all undercut their commitment to freedom in one area by a commitment to statism in another. Freedom is indivisible; it can’t be cut up like that,and it can’t be fought for that way.


Before founding the Libz party, Ian Fraser, was one of the founders of ACT. If you’ve ever wondered why the ACT Party Principles sound so good it’s because Ian wrote them:  

To this end the Party upholds the following principles:
a) that individuals are the rightful owners of their own lives and therefore have inherent rights and responsibilities; and

b) that the proper purpose of government is to protect such rights and not to assume such responsibilities.


Great stuff. However, Ian quickly left when it became clear that the ACT Party neither understood their own founding principles nor had any intention of being little more than a vehicle for Roger Douglas’s ‘Unfinished Business’ (then) or for populist rabble-rousing (now). As I ask here, where is the principled opposition?


So there are many means by which to promote freedom. But in our estimation there are no existing vehicles other than us – no consistent vehicles – that understand it and promote it. And in our estimation the best way to promote freedom is with a political party (since it is political freedom about which we’re talking) accompanied by the necessary philosophical and cultural battle (hence such vehicles as this blog, the former Radio Liberty and Politically Incorrect Shows, and The Free Radical magazine.).


We’re under no illusions as to the difficulty of our chosen task – as US libertarian Richard Boddie often says, people are deluded en masse and enlightened one at a time.


We libertarians understand that no matter what kind of libertarian revolution that is sometimes claimed for this country, none will matter so much as a revolution of ideas.  An early claim that NZ has already had a libertarian revolution, answers to that claim, and an eloquent call for a revolution of ideas can be read here and here.


What we’re after with the Libertarianz is that revolution of ideas, one in which freedom is both understood and protected. In that sense and as we’re very aware, it doesn’t matter if Libz MPs ever get to parliament, as long as our ideas do. And they are. They are.


I talked about this a number of years ago here, and just a few years ago here at a Libz Regional conference. The key point in such a cultural battle is consistency with one’s principles, and that means of course an understanding of one’s principles and all their implications. And the way to examine success in such a battle is difficult, to be sure.


The man who led the Czech Republic’s successful Velvet Revolution, Vaclav Havel, reflected on this point some years before that revolution’s overwhelming success. I write about his reflections here.  People who are used to seeing society only 'from above’ tend to be impatient,” he said.


They want to see immediate results. Anything that does not produce immediate results seems foolish. They don't have a lot of sympathy for acts which can only be [practically] evaluated years after they take place, which are motivated by moral factors, and which therefore run the risk of never accomplishing anything…


Havel, reflects that it is the sum total of many apparently 'hopeless acts' of 'exhibitionism' that in the end force change; that only by not lying down in the face of an apparently hopeless struggle are these crucial and very tangible victories achieved:

To many outside observers [the many small victories of principled action] may seem insignificant. Where are your ten-million strong trade unions? they may ask. Where are your members of parliament? Why does [the President] not negotiate with you? Why is the government not considering your proposals and acting on them? But for someone from here who is not completely indifferent, these [small signs] are far from insignificant changes; they are the main promise of the future, since he has long ago learned not to expect it from anywhere else.


Havel considers that it is only from looking from underneath rather than ‘from above’ that one can see the cracks emerge – cracks that in his case ended up with Soviet departure from his country and him assuming the Presidency. Let me conclude with a refection he shares with Ayn Rand. "Anyone who fights for the Future lives in it today."


As Frederick Douglass recognised, the fight is generally not an easy one: "The struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle!"


A struggle it is and has been, but not I trust an unproductive one.