Over the past few years, I’ve watched my friend Ari Armstrong grow increasingly disenchanted with the Libertarian Party. It’s been rather interesting, I must say.
When Paul and I first moved to Colorado in 2001, Ari was actively involved with and supportive of the Colorado LP. For example, he organized the May 2002 Convention of the COLP, even inviting me to speak. (I accepted. It was actually something of a wake up call for me, in that it was my first exposure to the rank and file of the Libertarian Party, as opposed to my prior acquaintance with libertarian intellectuals as an intern at the Cato Institute in college. As my altogether too mild write-up of the convention indicates, I was particularly disturbed by the widespread animus toward any sort of authority — not merely the authority of government, but also the authority of principles, objectivity, and even reality itself. Still, I was slow to realize that such subjectivism is inherent in the libertarian movement itself — but just more obvious in the Libertarian Party.) Ari wasn’t entirely happy with the COLP back then, but he was willing to work within it.
Since that time, Ari has been slowly reconsidering his views of the LP and of the libertarian movement more generally. Back in May 2004, he wrote a thoughtful reply to Peter Schwartz’s essay on Libertarianism, part in agreement and part in disagreement. In July 2004, he cut his ties with the Colorado Libertarian Party for their naked hostility to his well-justified concern for political principles. Just last month, he wrote an essay showing that “the problems Schwartz described two decades ago are widespread” in the libertarian movement. He’s since detailed even more examples.
I’ve been intrigued by the course of Ari’s disenchantment with L/libertarianism largely because it parallels my own slow rejection of David Kelley’s bastardization of Objectivism. Like me with respect to TOC, Ari was an insider with the COLP for so many years — meaning that he can point to noteworthy particulars hidden to others. He also cut ties on principle, despite many years of investment into the organization. However, perhaps the most noteworthy commonality is that both of us were deeply influenced by the particular people and general culture of Front Range Objectivism. Our respective intellectual courses were shaped by our involvement with that intellectual community of serious Objectivists — both for the better, I might add.
Front Range Objectivism is extraordinary just for the size and scope of its activities. Via FROST, it has six well-attended supper talks with prominent Objectivist speakers every year. Via FROG, it conducts two fun and engaging monthly discussion groups with almost 20 active participants each. Via FROLIC, it has a monthly social dinner with an average attendance of about 18. To my knowledge, no other Objectivist group in the country is doing anything like that.
However, Front Range Objectivism is particularly extraordinary for the influence that it has upon its members. The culture of FRO fosters the development of serious Objectivists, i.e. of people who actively seek to understand the philosophy deeply and consistently apply it to their lives. I’ve certainly benefitted from that culture, as my break with TOC suggests. Paul has also been changed by it, largely in that he has become far more seriously interested in Objectivism since our move to Colorado. And Ari, although still doubtful of certain tenets of Objectivism, has profited from it as well.
From what I’ve seen of Objectivist groups over the years, that’s pretty damn astonishing. (Certainly, in my own case, no one was more shocked than me!) Lin Zinser — and all the others who made and make Front Range Objectivism what it is — deserve the warmest of praise for all that they make possible.