Statement of Principles

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John Hospers Original Statement of Principles.png

Original Wording

Adopted unanimously by the delegates to the first national convention of the Libertarian Party, on June 17, 1972 in Denver.

We, the members of the Libertarian Party, challenge the cult of the omnipotent state, and defend the rights of the individual.

We hold that each individual has the right to exercise sole dominion over his own life, and has the right to live his life in whatever manner he chooses, so long as he does not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live their lives in whatever manner they choose. Governments throughout history have regularly operated on the opposite principle, that the State has the right to dispose of the lives of individuals and the fruits of their labor. Even within the United States, all political parties other than our own grant to government the right to regulate the life of the individual and seize the fruits of his labor without his consent.

We, on the contrary, deny the right of any government to do these things, and hold that the sole function of government is the protection of the rights of each individual: namely (1) the right to life -- and accordingly we support laws prohibiting the initiation of physical force against others; (2) the right to liberty of speech and action -- and accordingly we oppose all attempts by government to abridge the freedom of speech and press, as well as government censorship in any form; and (3) the right to property -- and accordingly we oppose all government interference with private property, such as confiscation, nationalization, and eminent domain, and support laws which prohibit robbery, trespass, fraud and misrepresentation.

Since government has only one legitimate function, the protection of individual rights, we oppose all interference by government in the areas of voluntary and contractual relations among individuals. Men should not be forced to sacrifice their lives and property for the benefit of others. They should be left free by government to deal with one another as free traders on a free market; and the resultant economic system, the only one compatible with the protection of man's rights, is laissez-faire capitalism.

Present Wording

Adopted by the delegates to the 1974 Convention in Dallas.

We, the members of the Libertarian Party, challenge the cult of the omnipotent state and defend the rights of the individual.

We hold that all individuals have the right to exercise sole dominion over their own lives, and have the right to live in whatever manner they choose, so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose.

Governments throughout history have regularly operated on the opposite principle, that the State has the right to dispose of the lives of individuals and the fruits of their labor. Even within the United States, all political parties other than our own grant to government the right to regulate the lives of individuals and seize the fruits of their labor without their consent.

We, on the contrary, deny the right of any government to do these things, and hold that where governments exist, they must not violate the rights of any individual: namely, (1) the right to life—accordingly we support the prohibition of the initiation of physical force against others; (2) the right to liberty of speech and action—accordingly we oppose all attempts by government to abridge the freedom of speech and press, as well as government censorship in any form; and (3) the right to property—accordingly we oppose all government interference with private property, such as confiscation, nationalization, and eminent domain, and support the prohibition of robbery, trespass, fraud, and misrepresentation.

Since governments, when instituted, must not violate individual rights, we oppose all interference by government in the areas of voluntary and contractual relations among individuals. People should not be forced to sacrifice their lives and property for the benefit of others. They should be left free by government to deal with one another as free traders; and the resultant economic system, the only one compatible with the protection of individual rights, is the free market.

Purpose

The Statement of Principles is defined by the 2016 LNC Bylaws as the foundational principles and beliefs of the Libertarian Party as follows:

Article 3: STATEMENT OF PRINCIPLES AND PLATFORM

  1. The Statement of Principles affirms that philosophy upon which the Libertarian Party is founded, by which it shall be sustained, and through which liberty shall prevail. The enduring importance of the Statement of Principles requires that it may be amended only by a vote of 7/8 of all registered delegates at a Regular Convention.
  2. The Party Platform shall include, but not be limited to, the Statement of Principles and the implementation of those principles in the form of planks.
  3. The current Platform shall serve as the basis of all future Platforms. The existing Platform may be amended only at Regular Conventions. Additional planks, or additions to planks, must be approved by a 2/3 vote. A platform plank may be deleted by a majority vote.

It was intended to be a protection against movement away from the foundational beliefs of the Party Founders as detailed by Party Co-Founder D. Frank Robinson.

History

The first National Convention took place in 1972 in Denver, Colorado and comprised a diverse lot of minarchists, anarchists, Randians, classical liberals, and nearly every permutation in between united around the idea of radical individualism. Some Party founders, including D Frank Robinson, were concerned that once entrenched interests and cults of personality came in, as they inevitably would, principles might be lost or watered down through petty power struggles and cliques, turning this revolutionary idea of a Libertarian Party into just another also-tried, also-ran—a quaint footnote in history. D Frank Robinson and Ed Carlson devised a plan to protect the fledgling Party by embedding “an article of faith” that could not altered without a super-super majority and a super-super-quorum which would be the standard by which any policy or Platform plank would be judged. The Bylaw creating this requirement and threshold has remained substantially unchanged with the exception of removing legacy language referring to an amendment threshold exception at the 1974 National Convention. As D Frank Robinson described, the agreed intent was “to plant a rhetorical stake in the ground with a tether-the Statement of Principles-a terse one-page document declaring to all coming after us, ‘This is the anchor and the lifeline. Do not tread too far from it or you may perish. If you stay close, you may eventually prosper for your efforts.’”. Further protections were put in place to challenge any future plank or policy which may contradict the Statement of Principles by establishing a Judicial Committee.

Proposals for Adoption as the official Statement of Principles

The following proposal were presented as contenders for the Statement of Principles[1]:

Submission from the Convention Committee Chaired by Pipp Boyls

We, the supporters of the Libertarian Party, rise to challenge the myth that government has the right to exist and act independently of its role as an agent for the protection of the individual rights of each citizen. In recognition of the nature of man, we hold as our first principles that the individual has the right to absolute dominion over and disposal of his life, in order that each may be free to attain the greatest happiness and realization of human potential possible to him. That every individual has absolute, in alienable and inseparable rights to his life, liberty, and all the products thereof, and that every individual has the right to seek and act in accordance with his proper judgment insofar so that he does not thereby violate the same rights of others.

The only justification for government is to provide for the defense of these individual rights. Government has no right not possessed by its individual citizens. We further hold that it is the right of every individual to enter freely into contacts by mutual consent. The only economic political system consistent with individual rights is laissez fair capitalism under a constitutionally limited government commissioned by citizens as an agent for the protection of each individual's rights. With this as our foundation, we propose the following specific platform.

Submission from Bill Cohen

Man finds himself living among men, either as a free man or a slave. Depending upon the ideas which men hold concerning man's nature, and his proper relationship to other men, and the institutions men have established, either the individual possesses the right to his own life, or he exists by permission, his life justified by the benefits that others derive from the use and disposal of his life and property.

Throughout all of history the question has been who is to be sacrificed to whom accepting the premise that man is by nature a sacrificial animal. His goodness is determined by using as a moral standard the beneficiary of man's actions--if others benefitted that is good; if he benefited alone that is evil. Man is presented with a false alternative, either to sacrifice himself or his values to others, or to sacrifice others to himself.

The name of this moral code is altruism. It is the moral system which is dominant in this nation today. Men who hold altruistic premises are willing to give their moral approval to laws which permit the sacrifice of some men's values for the benefit of others in the name of the public interest. It is altruism which has brought this society to its knees Unless it is challenged, altruistic premises shall be implemented to a greater extent leading inexorably to a totalitarian state in which all men will exist as right-less creatures at the mercy of those who enforce the laws.

The principles of the altruist ideology are incompatible with the requirements of man's life. The members of the Libertarian Party are individuals who share certain principles and premises regarding man's nature, man's relationship to other men, and the proper functions of government which are fundamentally antithetical to the commonly held ideas and premises of altruism. We recognize that the basic natural alternative confronting man is that of life or death. All of man's actions are either pro-life or anti-life actions including the volitional actions of man's mind. Therefore, the only rational standard to use to make value judgments of man's actions is his life on earth. All pro-life actions are good and all anti-life actions are evil. By this standard, a man has a moral sanction to be free to take any action which his own life requires.

The moral sanction to an action in a social context is a right. Man has no automatic conceptual knowledge of what his nature and needs are, and his life depends upon his freedom to acquire this knowledge and to act in accordance with his own judgment. Since this is true, it follows that each man has the right to interact with other men only by mutual consent and does not possess the right to start the use of physical force in any form against another man. Man is not a sacrificial animal. We hold that man has the right to act in his own self-interest and that no man can seek to benefit himself by using force against other men. No man has the right to the use or disposal of the productive effort of another man, but each man has the right to own, use, and dispose of the product of his own efforts as he sees fit in order to exercise his right to his own life.

Any man who violates the rights of another sacrifices any just claim to his own rights. A truly selfish man does not seek his self-interest at the enslavement of others. There is no conflict of interest between men to recognize the inalienable right of each man to his own life and property. The only proper function of a government in a society based on these principles is the protection of the individual rights. A government may only do what it specifically delegated to do by the citizens. A citizen may not empower a government to perform an action which a citizen himself does not have a right to do. The source of man's rights is not the government, nor other men, but rather his own nature. A right can only be recognized or violated. The extent to which a government fails to recognize the rights of the citizens is the extent to which the citizens are enslaved. Our government has extended its power far beyond those we consider to be morally justifiable by our standards. It is our purpose to reverse the direction of this nation, and not to be content until we until we succeed in reducing this government to its proper function of its protection of individual rights.

A society based on the concept of individual rights is capitalism, a term mistakenly applied to our present society. Capitalism is actually the only system in which the inalienable rights of an individual to life, liberty and the ownership and use of private property are recognized in principle and law in which all interactions among men are by mutual consent, including the interactions between individuals and the government, in which the initiation of physical force or fraud by individuals, groups, or government is outlawed. It is our avowed purpose to create a capitalist society because we know in reason that it is the only society in which the individual man may flourish in an atmosphere of freedom, peace, and justice. Such are our principles and goals, our fundamental convictions upon which the following Platform is based.

Submission from Mark C Frazier

We, the members of the Libertarian Party, aware that government at all levels has grown abusive and that political parties have refused to respect basic moral principles, are determined to offer simple and fundamental change. In place of the political system which aggresses against individuals and insists that own's life is the property of others, the Libertarian Party supports recognition of each person's right to dispose of his life as he sees fit so long as he does not violate the same right of others. The Libertarian Party defends individual sovereignty (recording inaudible).

Because the individual owns his life, he owns his property and may exist peacefully in whatever way he wishes. Consequently the Libertarian Party holds that the protection of private property from forcible or fraudulent seizure is the primary function of government and that laissez fair capitalism is the only moral political economic system. All other systems, from communism and fascism to welfare-state liberalism, forcibly relegate the individual and his property to be controlled by others. Today's politics are drifting into a total repudiation of individual sovereignty and private property. To those who answer the question "Who owns your life?" with "I do," the Libertarian Party offers the only alternative.

Submission from John Hospers

Original typed draft of the Statement of Principles

We, the members of the Libertarian Party, challenge the cult of the omnipotent state, and defend the rights of individuals.

We hold that each individual has the right to exercise sole dominion over his own life, and the right to live his life in whatever manner he chooses, so long as he does not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live their lives in whatever manner they choose.

Governments throughout the world have regularly operated upon the opposite principle, that the State has the right to dispose of the lives of individuals and the fruits of their labor. Even within the United States, with a government less totalitarian than most others, all political parties other than our own grant to the government the right to regulate the life of the individual and seize the fruits of his labor without his consent.

We, on the contrary, deny the right of any government to do these things, and hold that the sole function of government is the protection of the rights of individuals: namely (1) the right to life -- and accordingly we support legislation prohibiting the initiation of force against others such as killing, maiming, injuring, and all forms of physical assault on life and limb; (2) the right of liberty of speech and action -- and accordingly we oppose all attempts by government to abridge the freedom of speech and press, as well as government censorship in any form; and (3) the right to property -- and accordingly we oppose all government interference with private property, such as confiscation, nationalization, and eminent domain, and support legislation which prohibits robbery, trespass, fraud, and misrepresentation.

Since government has only one legitimate function, the protection of individual rights, we oppose any encroachment by government into the areas of voluntary or contractual relations among individuals. Men should be left free by government to deal with one another as free traders on a free market; consequently, the only economic system compatible with men's rights is laissez-faire capitalism.

Submission from Bill D Susel

We, the supporters of the Libertarian Party, rise to challenge the myth of the omnipotent collective, to assert and defend the sovereignty of the individual. We hold that each man has a fundamental right to his own life. This right imposes no obligation on another man except of a negative kind, to abstain from violating any other man's rights. Libertarians recognize the right of each individual to act as he, and he alone, chooses provided he does not violate the similar right of any other individual.

The Libertarian disclaims any right and refuses to recognize any claim to a right by others which requires for its implementation or enforcement an unchosen obligation or involuntary servitude on any other individual. The Libertarian renounces the initiation of force to obtain his ends, he will thus not sanction the initiation of force by any individual or agent, the government included, to obtain any end. The Declaration of Independence established the principle that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men. Thus was provided the only valid justification of the government. This principle also defines our government's only proper limited purpose, to protect man's rights by protecting him from coercion. The government may not go beyond its limited purpose without violating individual rights and thus destroying liberty. Liberty can only find its fullest expression in the free market, where all exchanges of property and labor among men are voluntary. Thus, the only socio-economic system capable of expressing liberty is laissez faire capitalism. It is the only system consistent with individual rights.

Rooted in the philosophies of reason, proclaiming the sanctity of individual rights, we do explicitly and proudly affirm our dedication to fight the battle for capitalism, to wage the ideological war that must be fought if liberty is to survive, to achieve that society in which all men are free to seek their chosen goals, the enumeration of the positions herein shall not be taken to disparage other positions which libertarians may share.

Submission from Diane Amsden

We, the members of the Libertarian Party, rise to proclaim that man's life is an end in itself, and that the purpose of a man's life is his own happiness. We challenge the myth of the divine right of the public good. The public good means only that the good of some individuals takes precedence over the good of others. We base our political philosophy on man's nature and his relationship to life. Man is distinguished by the possession of reason which is his basic need for survival. To the extent an individual abandons reason in favor of authority, position, or emotion, he is his own destroyer. A right is a moral sanction of an individual's freedom to act voluntarily, without coercion, for his own goals. The right to life is the source of all rights, and the right to property is its only implementation. The right to property is the right to act, not to posses an object. Individual rights are the necessary condition for a society appropriate for human beings. The mind does not work under compulsion. Force a man to submit or to act against his judgment, in fact it paralyzes the capacity for reason. A proper social system recognizes individual rights and bans physical force. It encourages thinking by permitting the thinking individual to receive and dispose of the fruits of his thinking. The collectivist society systemically does the precise opposite and punishes thinking.

A government is an institution which holds its perfect power enforcing the rules of social conduct in a given geographical area. The two great values to be gained by social [inaudible] are knowledge and trade for these very benefits indicate the limit and define what kind of men can be of value to one another in what kind of society. Only rational productive independent men in rational productive free society [fragment]. A government is the means of placing [inaudible] control. Libertarians regard government as the greatest potential for [inaudible] individual rights. Since protection of individual rights is the only proper purpose of the government [tape cuts out].

History of 1974 Edits and the Dallas Accord

There was a special exception--a two-year "cooling off" period--after the passage of the Statement of Principles in 1972 allowing for its deletion or amendment with a 2/3 votes rather than the 7/8 which was subsequently required. At the 1974 Convention, TO BE FINISHED

Requirement for Affiliation

Pursuant to Article 5:2 of 2016 LNC Bylaws, ratification of the Statement of Principles is a condition of affiliation as follows:

The National Committee shall charter state-level affiliate parties from any qualifying organization requesting such status in each state, territory and the District of Columbia (hereinafter, state). Organizations which wish to become state-level affiliate parties shall apply for such status on a standard petition form as adopted by the National Committee, which petition shall be signed by no fewer than ten members of the Party residing in the appropriate state. Affiliate party status shall be granted only to those organizations which adopt the Statement of Principles and file a copy of their Constitution and/or Bylaws with the Party Secretary.

References in Bylaws

The Statement of Principles is reference 11 times (excluding titles) in the 2016 LNC Bylaws in the following:

  1. Article 2: PURPOSES
  2. Article 3: STATEMENT OF PRINCIPLES AND PLATFORM (Sections 1 and 2)
  3. Article 5: AFFILIATE PARTIES (Sections 2 and 4)
  4. Rule 5: DEBATING AND VOTING -- PLATFORM (Section 7)
  5. Rule 6: RESOLUTIONS (Section 2)

Attempted Modifications

Various attempts have been made to remove the "cult of the omnipotent state" language which is deemed by some to be embarrassing and to others an inspiring rhetorical flair. It is alleged that the Preamble was originally put in the Platform in 1984 in order to keep the Statement of Principles of being the first thing newcomers would read, and a later attempt to detach the Statement of Principles from the Platform was defeated.

References by Notable Party Leaders

David Nolan (2009):

"As I see it, the Libertarian Party has gone far astray from its original mission. Somewhere along the way, our commitment to being The Party of Principle was replaced by a shallow, opportunistic goal of “winning elections now” — any election, anywhere. Principles be damned, according to the proponents of this vision. We should back off from “scary” positions, tone down our rhetoric, find out “what voters want,” and tailor our message to what they want to hear. The nadir of this mindset was reached in a “Monday Message” dated March 9, 2009. It carried the heading “The most important principle is winning.” I would be hard-put to come up with a statement more antithetical to our beliefs and purpose. Just for starters, “winning” is not a principle at all; it might be a goal, or a strategy for achieving our goals, but it's not a principle. And if it were, it's not our principle. This is pure opportunistic rubbish — exactly what you'd expect from a Republican or Democratic party hack. No, the most important principle, for libertarians, is the principle of self-ownership, as set forth in the Preamble to our Platform, and our Statement of Principles. These are the standards by which every policy statement and every campaign must be judged. Anyone who is uncomfortable with this yardstick probably ought to be in another party — one where “the most important principle is winning.”"[2]

References

  1. Transcript of 1972 Convention recordings by Caryn Ann Harlos, 2017.
  2. David Nolan, "An Open Letter to the Libertarian Party National Committee", The Nolan Chart, 17 July 2009.