Yesterday, I got the following FaceBook message from Tom Stevens. (I’m reproducing it because it’s a form letter from someone wholly unknown to me.) It said:
I am the Objectivist Party Presidential Candidate and we need 9 registered Colorado voters to list as Presidential Electors. There is no obligation but if we do not get said registered voters, we will not be on the ballot.
If you could help by letting us list you, it would be appreciated.
Dr. Tom Stevens
I wrote up a quick reply, then realized that my comments might be of interest to NoodleFood readers. So I put a bit more work into it, so that I could post it here. (Be forewarned, I wrote the comments below before I realized that this guy is a Libertarian. More on that below.) Here’s my response:
I can’t grant your request. While I am a strong advocate of cultural and political activism, I think that attempting to change American culture via a third party is not just ineffective but downright counterproductive.
The problem with American politics today is not that Americans are looking for an Objectivist candidate but the major parties will only run statists. The majority of voters are reasonably satisfied with their choice between left-wing and right-wing statists on Election Day. Objectivists must work to change the culture toward secularism, reason, egoism, and individual rights. Only then can we expect better politicians to mount a credible campaign, let alone win elections.
That cultural change will be felt within the major parties — so long as Objectivists don’t sequester themselves into political irrelevance in their own unelectable political party. If Objectivists (and sympathizers) demand that the major parties court their vote, then political change for the better is possible.
The history of the political influence of the abolitionist movement bears out this analysis. Abolitionists created new political parties, some focused on the single issue of abolition and others broadly pro-liberty. All such parties failed to gather any significant votes; they had no positive impact. If anything, they had a negative impact, in that they siphoned off strong abolitionist voters that the fledgling Republican Party would have otherwise had to woo. Eventually, the Republican Party did adopt abolitionism — due to effective cultural activism, not those minor abolitionist parties. By uncompromising moral arguments, a small band of committed abolitionists changed American hearts and minds about the evils of slavery in just a few decades. (Brad Thompson discusses this fascinating political history in his excellent lecture course, American Slavery, American Freedom. Hopefully I’ve remembered it reasonably accurately.)
Today, if the small but growing number of Objectivists and sympathizers gravitate to an Objectivist political party, the Republicans and Democrats could safely ignore us for decades to come, knowing that they’ve already lost our vote. That’s a license for more statism, not less.
Objectivists should follow the same model as the abolitionists: change American hearts and minds, and the politicians will follow. Political advocacy can and should be a large part of those efforts to change the culture, as seen in the activities of the Ayn Rand Institute and Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine (FIRM). Unlike running wholly unelectable candidates for office, that kind of activism works. And that’s where Objectivists ought to be focusing their time and efforts.
After writing most of the above, I examined the web site of this proposed Objectivist Party in more detail. In my first look, I’d noticed a strongly anti-libertarian statement in the platform itself, in the form of this quote from Harry Binswanger:
The “libertarians”…plagiarize Ayn Rand’s principle that no man may initiate the use of physical force, and treat it as a mystically revealed, out-of-context absolute…In the philosophical battle for a free society, the one crucial connection to be upheld is that between capitalism and reason. The religious conservatives are seeking to tie capitalism to mysticism; the “libertarians” are tying capitalism to the whim-worshipping subjectivsim and chaos of anarchy. To cooperate with either group is to betray capitalism, reason, and one’s own future. (Harry Binswanger: “Q & A Department: Anarchism,” TOF, Aug. 1981, 12.)
So, I thought, however counterproductive the endeavor, it didn’t seem to be corrupt. That’s one reason why I was willing to write such a detailed reply to the request. However, on reading the biographical information on Tom Stevens, the founder and 2008 presidential candidate, it became perfectly clear that he’s a Big-L Libertarian in Objectivist clothing. See for yourself:
Dr. [Tom] Stevens is the Founder of the Objectivist Party. He was elected to the Judiciary Committee of the Libertarian Party in 2006 and re-elected in 2008. He served as a New York State Delegate to the Libertarian Party’s National Convention in Atlanta in 2004, Portland in 2006, and Denver in 2008. He currently serves as President of the Libertarian Freedom Council, a national organization of students, young professionals and entrepreneurs and also serves as a member of the LPNY State Committee. In the Republican Presidential Primary, he was a supporter of Ron Paul and served as Political Consultant and New York State Coordinator for the Paul For President Coalition.
(I might add that I find other aspects of the biography, particularly the range of college-level courses that he’s taught somewhere unspecified “during the past few years,” as suspect.)
So that makes clear to me the value of this endeavor so-called “Objectivist Party.” Libertarians are not allies in the struggle for liberty. So while I think that my comments above are worthwhile as general points about political and cultural activism, this request was not worth so many electrons.
Update: July 3rd, 2009: For all that you need to know about Tom Stevens’ view of Ayn Rand and Objectivism, see his blog post Farrah Fawcett’s E-Mail Reveals Ayn Rand Thought Their Sharing The Same Birth Date Had Significance. First, you’ve got to be kidding — only he’s not. And second, UGH.