Herding Libertarian Cats

Downtown Keene, NH
Cat in Keene Pumpkin Festival

The Secret of Herding Cats

People will respond to “come with me” a lot more readily and enthusiastically than they will to “go that way.” That’s also the secret of herding cats. I long ago lost track of the number of times I’ve heard people in one or another corner of the activist scene throw up their hands in despair and describe the task of organizing people to seek some form of change or other as being like trying to herd cats. In point of fact, herding cats is one of the easiest things in the world. All you have to do is go to the place you want the cats to go, carrying with you a #10 can of tuna and an electric can opener. The moment the cats hear the whirr of the can opener and smell the fragrance of the tuna, they’ll come at a run, and you’ll have your herd exactly where you want them. Now of course that strategy assumes two things. It assumes that you’re willing to go to the place you want the cats to go, and it also assumes that you have something to offer them when they get there. ~John Michael Greer
When Jason Sorens, then a doctoral candidate at Yale, penned his announcement about launching "The Free State Project" in the July 23, 2001 edition of a rather nondescript, styleless webzine called The Libertarian Enterprise, he didn't imagine that his grand scheme would be exactly like herding cats. Soren's inspiration to seek freedom actually came from the great economist, Dr. Walter Williams, in a article entitled "Its Time To Part Company."
Americans who wish to live free have two options: We can resist, fight and risk bloodshed to force America's tyrants to respect our liberties and human rights, or we can seek a peaceful resolution of our irreconcilable differences by separating. That can be done by peopling several states, say Texas and Louisiana, control their legislatures and then issue a unilateral declaration of independence just as the Founders did in 1776.
So the die was cast with a very simple goal - recruit 20,000 Libertarians to move to a state with a population of about one million based upon a vote by those who pledged to support a "Free State Society." The development of an effective organization, however has taken more time than expected and keeping FSP recruits interested, active and planning their move has proven to be difficult.

In 2003, FSP members who had signed pledges to move, voted for New Hampshire as the state of choice. Unfortunately some of the cats from western states wouldn't go there, so Free State Wyoming also became a reality, and the splintered second cat herd was moving to counties in the northeastern part of the Cowboy State. Obviously these outlier Libertarians (is that an oxymoron?) were too young to remember Roger Miller's admonition that "You can't roller skate in a buffalo herd, but you can be happy if you've a mind to." The FSW logo was designed to include a buffalo.

Meanwhile, back in the Live Free or Die State, FSP cats were encouraged to move to this northeastern blue state joining herd members already residing there. The FSP animal of choice was the non-aggressive porcupine - whose defense capabilities are formidable. Both groups should have selected the dangerous, free-spirited feline - with freedom to pick a felid.

In 2006, FSP used PledgeBank.com to facilitate a recruiting campaign to get the movers count up to 1,000. As a personal note, that is when I found out that my son, no longer wet-behind-the-ears at 36, was planning to join the Free Staters in New Hampshire from Minnesota - because I read his name among the pledges. In 2007, he packed up and moved to Keene in southwest New Hampshire. Participants that joined son, Stephen, in NH now total only 1607, with 15,677 participants having pledged to move within seven years.
Sez Mitch Berg

The New Hampshire project is coming up on its 11th anniversary very soon. And therein lies the obvious weakness that haunts libertarians. Mitch Berg, over at Shot in the Dark explains his bad experience as a Libertarian:
I left the Libertarian Party because it’s a party of great, brilliant ideas, declaimed with authority to rooms full of people who vigorously agree, and who remain magnificently above the fray, neither having to try to implement any of those ideas as policy nor, in many cases, claiming to want to try. To some, the fact that politics is about compromise – battling to a consensus with people who disagree with you – is an invitation to perdition; one might need to compromise ones’ core principles!
So while they think their big thoughts in their salon full of other big thinkers, the non-Libertarian doers, unworried about sullying their principles because “getting power for ourselves” was their guiding principle, would be out on the street actually convincing the unconvinced to give them more of it.
And the more I tried to discuss this, the more I realized that while Libertarians paid lip service to the idea of actually winning elections and affecting policy, to way too many Libertarians the goal seemed to be able to say “I told you so” to the rest of society as it slowly turned away from the light.
So what Mr. Berg is saying comes down to quixotic leadership. Libertarians are free spirits unwilling to sacrifice principles for power - political campaigns are unsatisfying to the libertarian brain. Cat brains work the same way. We can imagine that they ask: "What have you done for me lately when I can't decide what I want from you?" Obviously, such uncertainty is  not enough to get an honest commitment to pursue tasks that are not naturally occurring. As we know, house cats spend much of their day sleeping but they never miss a meal or a snack - and when they are awake, cats want to be stroked.

When Mitch Berg abandoned the Libertarian Party to return to the GOP, he approached the decision soberly.
And I figured there was a better chance of doing my part toward . . .[upholding my principles] and actually having some effect in the great scheme of things, by working within an actual party that had a chance of doing something [substantially more] useful than via endless navel-gazing in the Libertarian echo chamber.
He calls out some of his self-developed principals for consideration:
  • One of them is “don’t screw up the country, and try to prevent other people from screwing it up too bad."
  • Another? A slight modification of [William F.] Buckley’s Eleventh Commandment: “Vote for the most acceptable candidate, from a fiscal, security and liberty perspective, that can win."
  • One last one? “Perfect" is the enemy of "good enough.” If I eschew imperfect candidates – say, a candidate who champions my principles . . . [most] of the time – then I’m doing my little bit to make sure someone who agrees with me even less . . . is actually running things. Raising taxes. Vacuuming my personal info into “MNCare”. The whole nine yards.

  • I've been saying Berg's last three principles (in my own words) for a long time. All it gets me is comments from those who think "Life is worthless without my principles." So we end up with yet another pile of cut-off noses, several bloody, spited faces, and another round of me saying, "I told you so."

  • CW seemingly has many pugnacious libertarian "friends" starting with the infamous Bob G.

  • Fadly:
    A Libertarian?
    (heaven forbid)
    (in some circles)
    I consider myself a proud and shouting INDEPENDENT, thank you...lol.
    I'm not for the legalization of ANY illegal drugs!
    Stossel and I disagree often, but he DOES have good points to make (as does Rand Paul).

    If any level of power is to rest with ANYONE in politics (which it inevitably will when we vote), it should be to those who can ACCEPT it, UNDERSTAND it, and most of all, RESPECT it.

    And they must be willing to listen to ALL sides of ANY debate to arrive at informed conclusions based in FACT and REASON.
    THOSE are the ones I will vote for, because they have OUR best interest in mind and truly respect and love this country.
    But that's just my opinion.

    Stay safe out there.

  • Bob:

    Don't get excited - I called you a libertarian with a little el because you believe in smaller government and keeping the government out of our lives.

    "Big L" Libertarians are the members of the political party and I know that you don't wave that flag. I am a conservative with some libertarian leanings and I register and usually vote Republican because, along the lines of what Mitch Berg says in my piece, there is simply no way that I could trust a Democrat to do what I think needs done to shrink government on all fronts.