Don't Talk to Me about Principles
Sunni Maravillosa

Libertarians of all stripes love to talk about principles. Specifically, they like to talk about their principles. The Libertarian Party in the U.S. calls itself “the party of principle.” Yet among its leaders are some who have succumbed to politics as usual at a level equal to the Democrats and Republicans they love to scorn. Libertarians love to debate and pontificate about the Non-Aggression Principle. Yet many support a U.S. war against Iraq and the nebulous “war on terror” despite the inevitable civilian casualties and other catastrophic, NAP-violating consequences of each. Many libertarians think of themselves as being generally more principled than other people. That may be accurate on balance, but I've evidence suggesting that, at least on matters of keeping one's word, libertarians are no better than the “dull normals” some of them enjoy sneering at.

For the past four years I've had the honor of working as a contract employee for a major pro-freedom organization. I call it an honor not because I was somehow singled out or had special qualifications for my job, but because of the kind of work I did. I helped spread ideas and information important to liberty to interested individuals worldwide.

In the post-9/11 economic climate, fundraising for this highly prominent organization became more of a challenge. Efforts to secure grants from new sources were stepped up, as were general calls for member donations to help keep the organization afloat. Many, many promises were made of forthcoming support -- promises from so-called liberty supporters to an organization widely respected for its work advocating and teaching freedom.

In many cases, that support never arrived.

Somehow the CEO of the organization managed to keep it afloat through a series of financial crises, yet in the end that was not enough to keep the organization going. It has been shut down, in large part because of an ongoing financial crisis that could easily have been averted.

I'm not naive enough to think that some management decisions couldn't have been better, or cutbacks initiated sooner. Still, it comes down to this: people promised to support the organization, and failed to follow through. A follow-through rate of just 50% on promises of support would likely have been enough to keep the organization going.

These are among those same individuals who proclaim to stand steadfast on principle, who supposedly uphold honor and integrity as the highest human values. Among them are heads of other major organizations, whose funding hasn't been as threatened, and foundations that reneged on agreements of support. From the luminaries of the libertarian movement to the so-called “little guys,” many said one thing and did another.

If anyone thinks I'm just bitter about losing my paycheck, those individuals are missing the point. I will find other means of supporting myself and my family. I hope to continue doing so in a way that advances freedom.

Because that's what this comes down to: freedom and principles. I know that unexpected events can throw the best-intentioned person into a tailspin. I'm guilty of failing to keep promises myself. Even so, I try extremely hard to be as certain as I can be of my ability to keep a promise before I make it; if I can't keep the promise, I let the other party know, and we reach some alternate arrangement that's satisfactory to all. I don't think this organization had much communication of that sort, which would have allowed its CEO to make better contingency plans.

More than anything else, I love freedom. It is the driving force in my life. I needn't remind anyone of the degree to which freedom is under assault worldwide. Particularly alarming is the attack in the U.S., from our own so-called leaders, who pass legislation like USA PATRIOT and Homeland Security which they've not even read, proclaiming those laws will help protect us, when all they really do is strip more of our freedoms away, ensnare us in ever-more life-sucking bureaucracy, and ultimately create a society of repression, intolerance, and fear that will rival -- and likely surpass -- the U.S.S.R.

The organization I'm writing of had been a beacon of freedom throughout all of this. Despite its budget problems that caused staffing to be cut and services scaled back, it had been breaking traffic records at most of its web sites. Worldwide, the flagship web site was highly known and well-respected. I've been to countless web pages upon which one of the few bits of English I've seen was its name.

And now that organization -- one of the brightest beacons of freedom worldwide -- has been snuffed. It died primarily because the people who claimed to value it -- those self-proclaimed adherents to principles -- never followed through on promises to send in a donation.

I hope you'll excuse me for not buying into any claims that libertarians are more principled than anybody else for a long time.


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