THE LIBERTARIAN PARTY: HEADED WHERE?
Richard Murray Borchers
A.B., Ripon College, 1968
J.D., University of Colorado at Boulder, 1970
A thesis submitted to the
Faculty of the Graduate School of the
University of Colorado in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
Department of Political Science
'This thesis for the Master of Arts degree by
Richard Murray Borchers
has been approved for the
Department of Political Science
Borchers, Richard Murray(M.A., Political Science)
The Libertarian Party: Headed Where?
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Michael S. Cummings
From its inception in Golorado on December 11, 1971, the
Libertarian Party saw growth in its membership and in votes cast
for its candidates through 1980. It also saw the election of some
of its candidates to office. The year 1980 would be a pivotal year
for the party, as internal friction was beginning to tear the party
The friction between the factions would continue until a
split occurred in September, 1983, with a walkout from the national
convention. The ramifications of that split continue to haunt the
party. The fracture of the party occurred due bo the internal
struggle between those members("purists") who viewed ideology as
more important than immediate election of candidates and the other
wing that viewed the need to legitimize the party as paramount.
This group("opportunists") wanted bo elect candidabes and bo
moderabe bhe more radical posibions of the party. It was part of
this faction that would leave in 1983.
This work outlines the history of the Libertarian Party
fron its inception bo bhe presenb day. Ib further attempts to
analyze what led bo the split and how this has altered the course
of the party, probably forever. The party now faces the prospect
that it may not be able to remain a viable electoral party.
Finally, this work analyzes the lessons that may be drawn
from the history of the Libertarian Party. This includes the
failure to secure a consensus on action, as well as becoming too
dependent on a single source of party financing.
II. THE EARLY YEARS OF DEVELOPMENT.....................6
III. THE STRUGGLE FOR THE PARTY........................22
IV. THE FALLOUT FROM 1983........................... 37
V. THE LIBERTARIAN PARTY: HEADED WHERE?..............42
Since its founding in 1971, the Libertarian Party has been
part of the political scene in the United States. Its influence on
the country may be subject to debate and is one of the reasons for
this work. The party's development has not been previously examined
in any depth.
It is important to state at the beginning what this work
is considering. The focus here is on the Libertarian Party(LP), not
the libertarian movement. As will be seen, that movement
substantially predates the LP. Further, the movement arfl the LP
have not necessarily been one and the same. The movement will
continue, even if the LP does not.
The development of the LP is a key point of this
examination. In the short life of the party, it has gone through a
strong growth and high visibility period. It has also gone through
internal struggles. The most recent, in 1983, saw the departure of
a significant number of LP leaders. The party is still trying to
regroup frcm the split that ended that power struggle.
Though remaining small in size, the LP is an important
political party. It has achieved a number of modest goals, while
being broadly based throughout most of its development. The party
has transformed a concept into a readily identifiable word.
This work will try to accomplish certain goals. The first
will be to provide an historical outline of the development of the
LP. Though many have heard of the party, few know much about its
path through its short history. There is no available public
treatise on the LP's history. Its history provides insight into its
internal struggles and problems.
Second, this work will try to provide original research on
the LP itself. Several interviews were completed for this work, but
not everyone responded to a request for interview. Those who did
respond included David Bergland, Ed Clark, and Roger MacBride.
These men are the last three LP Presidential candidates. The only
other Presidential candidate, John Hospers (1972), has left the
party.1 One notable person who did not respond is Edward Crane
III. Ife is a former national LP chairperson. He is presently the
director of the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. Crane was the
central figure in the struggle for the party fran 1979 to 1983. He
left the party in September, 1983, taking with him several others.
Crane will be mentioned in detail, but there is nothing directly
from him as he apparently did not want to participate in this
Third, this work will attempt to draw some conclusions
that might be applicable in examining other political parties.
The LP is not a single-candidate party in the mold of the Merican
Party of George Wallace in 1968 or the National Unity campaign of
John Anderson in 1980. It is not a party operating in the shadow of
one person, as is the case with the U.S. Labor Party of Lyndon
LaRouche.2 The LP is involved in deep soul searching to determine
if it should be an "electoral" or an "educational" party. The party
does contain some members who do not want LP candidates elected.3
Others question whether the party is philosophically consistent
with the concept of libertarianism itself. Stated simply, can a
political party that seeks the significant reduction or abolition
of government participate in the process that might give it control
of that government?
The libertarian philosophy will be discussed only in
passing. The most notable dichotomy in the movement is that between
the "minarchists" and "anarchists." The former wish to reduce
government to its barest of bones. They concede that some
government is necessary. The "anarchists" wish to abolish
government and replace it with private associations, consistent
with their concept of a free market economy. This philosophical
difference predates the forming of the LP.4
The in-party philosophical split has been between those
who shall be referred to as the "opportunists" and those referred
to as the "purists." The former perceive a need for pragmatism in
presenting party beliefs. They see the LP as an electoral party.
The "purists" are those who abhor the dilution of the libertarian
philosophy of working toward no government. Many of them do not
believe that the LP should be an electoral party, but rather should
merely educate, ffore will be discussed later in this work on this.
One conclusion will be stated early on. The LP has made
the term "libertarian" part of the American political vocabulary.
The term also connotes a political concept. There is little doubt
that libertarianism is better known today because of the IP. The
party remains small, but it has gained some respectability. It
remains a broadly based party, with members frcm various segments
of society and throughout the country.
With this brief introduction, this work will first look at
the early development of the IP. This is the period of 1971 through
the election of 1980.
1 Murray Rothbard, telephone interview on March 10,
2 Denver Post, 23 March 1986, p.4A. The history of
Lyndon LaRouche will develop as time progresses, especially with
his "people" having won nominations for Lieutenant Governor and
Secretary of State in the March, 1986 Illinois primary. LaPouche
was the founder of the U.S. Labor Party, an organization which
flipflopped from the political far left to far right overnight and
which has now been placed on the sidelines, as he attempts to make
inroads into the mainstream Democratic party.
3 Robert Poole, Jr., telephone interview on February 6,
1986. "You'll find those who are actively opposed to electing
4 David F. Nolan, "Anarchism vs. Limited Government
Let's Step Fighting," Reason, September, 1970.
THE EARLY YEARS OF DEVELOPMENT
The Libertarian Party began in the State of Golorado. The
initial meeting took place in August, 1971, at the duplex of David
Nolan in Vfestminster. This meeting led to telephone calls
throughout the country and a further organizational meeting in
Colorado Springs on December 11, 1971.1 This latter gathering
serve! as the birth meeting for the LP.
David Nolan remains the only founding member of the LP
still actively involved in it. A graduate of MIT in political
science, he had campaigned for Barry Goldwater in 1964 and was
active in the Young Americans for Freedom.2 His disenchantment
with the Republican Party reached the breaking point on August 15,
1971. Hie birth of the LP was predicated on several reasons.
A number of reasons but the most direct cause was
the infamous August 15th appearance of Richard Nixon on
national television announcing the wage-price freeze and
demonetarization of the dollar...This sudden imposition
of economic controls comes not from a socialist democrat,
but from a Republican. It's always the Republicans who
violate our economic rights the worst...Essentially,
the Libertarian Party was forme! in reaction to the policies
of Richard Nixon. It is the anti-Nixonian party.3
Coupled with the economic changes enacted by Nixon, Nolan and
others ware appalled by the Nixon administration's assault on civil
rights. They felt no longer obliged to remain with the Republican
Though December 11, 1971 marks the actual birthdate of the
LP, the seeds had been in the wind for sane time. The libertarian
concept has been within the political realm since John Stuart Mill,
but for many LP members the catalyst came with Ayn Rand and her
work Atlas Shrugged.4 Rand ultimately became reclusive in her
politics and was not a factor personally in the LP's birth. She was
not the only philosophical influence, as the list included
Nathaniel Branden, Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Henry
Hazlitt, John Hospers, and Milton Friedman.5
The groundwork was also laid through various political
magazines and organizations. In 1968, Reason began publication,
followed in 1969 by Murray Rothbard's Libertarian Forum. 6 within
the Young Americans for Freedom, a Libertarian Caucus had formed.
It opposed the Vietnam War and conscription. The dissension within
the YAF lead to conflict and further alienation between the
conservative and developing libertarian factions. In 1971, John
Hospers published his book Libertarianism.^ The philosophical
basis awaited only Richard Nixon's speech in order to launch the
The Colorado Springs meeting on December 11, 1971 was
followed by a press conference in Denver on January 31, 1972.8
This was covered by the media and reported in sane detail through-
out the country. Inquiries were made by many, including Ed Clark,
in response to that coverage.9 a national convention was held in
June, 1972 in Denver. The LP formulated a statement that was to
become its platform.10 It was drafted by John Hospers, then
professor of philosphy at the University of Southern California.
The platform stressed what have become foundations of all that has
followed: a free market, civil liberties, and limited involvement
in the politics of other nations.H This last point would be
strengthened in subsequent LP platforms.
The 1972 Denver convention attracted eighty-nine party
faithful. It nominated John Hospers for President and Toni Nathan
for Vice-President. The apparent first choice for President was
Murray Rothbard, author and economics professor. Rothbard was and
is the premier theoretician of the LP, having written numerous
books and articles.^ He dismissed running for the nation's top
office as "craziness" and politely declined.
The Hospers-Nathan ticket appeared only on the ballots of
the states of Golorado and Washington, receiving some five thousand
votes.^3 This modest showing received much more attention on
December 18, 1972, when Roger MacBride, then a Presidential elector
from Virginia, cast his one vote for the LP ticket of
Hospers-Nathan.14 some have pointed out that this was only
sixteen fewer than George McGovern and Sargeant Shriver
received.13 More to the point, the vote for Tbni Nathan was,
until 1984, the only electoral vote ever received by a wcman.
The early concept of the party was to have a yearly
convention. This continued through 1974 when it was decided that
business conventions would be held every two years.16 The 1973
convention in Cleveland had one hundred seventy-five participants.
The 1974 convention in Dallas was attended by three hundred, and
elected Edward Crane as the LP national chair. Crane would become a
central figure in LP affairs in the following years. The position
of national chair was one of some power. Crane would use this
position bo develop an organization that was committed, in part, to
him. One.of his first acts as national chair was to move the UP
headquarters from Denver to San Francisco.
The 1975 convention in New York City was to bring two
distinct battles to the forefront. The first dealt with purely
ideological grounds. The foreign policy plank of the 1972 platform
coirmitted the party to supporting sate alliances with other
democracies. This was unacceptable to a number of members,
including Murray Rothbard.
In the first place, we had a titanic struggle at the
1975 convention in New York...For me, this was the turning
point..The party almost dissolved for various factional
reasons...We managed bo turn the platform around. Before,
it was sort of a pro-NATO platform...17
The 1975 platform became non-interventionist. 18 This was not
without its casualties. As Murray Rothbard perceived the struggle,
it was the UP's break with past conservative ties. It angered some
to the point that they left.19
The second battle arose over the Vice-Presidential
candidate. Roger MacBride, who previously had cast his electoral
ballot for the LP ticket in 1972, had joined the party and was
selected to be the Presidential candidate.20 As the convention
proceeded, it appeared that Jim Trotter would be selected to the
second spot on the national ticket. Trotter was a tax resister.
MacBride refused and exercised a veto option.21 His point was
that the LP could not afford the luxury of one who was breaking the
law, not matter how unfair the tax statutes were viewed. This
caused sane delegates to ponder whether to reconsider the
nomination of MacBride. David Nolan described the situation as
In 1975, at the Presidential nominating convention in
New York after Roger MacBride was nominated for President,
he told the delegates that he wouldn't accept Jim Trotter
as his running-mate because Trotter was a self-proclaimed
tax resister. Unfortunately, he waited until after one
ballot had been cast for the VP nomination, and Trotter
was ahead, and a lot of people got really pissed off.
There were rumblings about rescinding MacBride's nomination,
or at least sitting out his campaign.
Anyhow, the next morning, when proceedings began again,
some new names ware entered for the VP nomination. One of
these was John Vernon of Oklahoma, and the the word began
circulating that MacBride would veto him, too, because he
was gay. I saw Roger standing in the back of the hall,
and went over to him and said, "Roger, if you want your
nomination to be worth anything, you'd better go up there
right now and tell the convention that you'll accept
whoever they nominate." He did, and got a lot of applause,
and most of the damage was undone. The person we nominated,
of course, was David Bergland.22
David Bergland had literally flown in the night before to run for
the VP nomination. He would become the 1984 Presidential
candidate. David Nolan's comment that most of the damage was
"undone" appeared to be wishful thinking.
These two battles set the stage for what was to be an
ever-widening rift between what may be called the "opportunist" and
"purist" wings of the party. The "purists" were and are committed
to a strict ideological view of the LP, regarding any deviation
frcm that with disdain. Jim Trotter's nomination was entirely
consistent with this ideological view. For Roger MacBride, a lawyer
and television producer(Little House on the Prairie), the nomina-
tion of Trotter was folly and would render the LP subject to scorn,
ridicule, and rejection. MacBride wanted to be taken seriously and
to be able to use the opportunity to help elect LP candidates.
MacBride, as well as most "opportunists," viewed the LP as a
vehicle for electing members to office. At times, this might
require a retrenchment from strident party statements. The struggle
between the factions would continue through 1983, with sane
vestiges of the struggle remaining today.
The national headquarters was moved from San Francisco to
Washington, D.C. in 1975. This decision was made by Ed Crane. It
would be part of a plan to bring the LP more in contact with the
center of the nation's political activity. This decision would
ultimately be rescinded in 1982.
The following year the MacBride-Bergland ticket would
appear on the ballot in thirty-two states and receive sane one
hundred eighty-three thousand votes.23 This ticket would
inspire sane deep soul searching in the LP about the party. This
introspective view began with the VP nomination struggle in New
York in 1975. It prompted Tibor Machan, then professor of
philosophy at SUNY-Fredonia and part-owner of Reason, to comment:
Which takes us back to Miss Rand and her philosophical
archenemy, Imnanuel Kant. It was Kant who advocated a pure
deontological morality, one where virtues could have nothing
to do with the consequences of one's conduct, only with the
pure basis of its motivation. By the example of what
occurred at the LP Convention, it is apparent that a great
many libertarians are Kantians at heart. They hold onto
certain "intuitive," purely formal moral principles and
ask everyone to stick by them, oome hell or high water.
For them, lying to an SS officer during the Third Reich,
about where one's Jewish friend is hiding, would constitute
an immoral act!
Personally I salute Roger MacBride for not being
bamboozeled into the trap of Kantianism, even by some rather
formidable adversaries. He realized that his goal, the
advancement of liberty, is of greater significance than
abiding by the unrelated practice of treating all people
as equally deserving of what he might have to offer(emphasis
Machan's concerns about the LP adopting a pragmatic
approach to "spreading the word" would be echoed almost two years
later by Robert Poole, Jr., a co-owner of Reason. He presented a
The fundamental question is this: can a libertarian
political party be an effective means of bringing about
a free society? One's answer to this question depends
on what one conceives the role of such a party to be.25
Poole perceived that 1976 had seen a fundamental shift in the LP
from that of a educational party, along the lines of the Socialist
Workers Party and Communist Party, to an electoral party that
believed that it could elect people to office and ultimately would
do the same. He further believed that the "purist"/"opportunist"
battle (described by him as "abolitionism" versus "gradualism") was
really a battle over what role the party was to takeeducational
The real danger is that the LP will attempt to play
both roles simultaneously, producing a creature that is
neither fish nor fowl. What will likely happen in that
case is that the two goals will undercut one another,
producing candidates and platforms too "radical" to win
elections but too "pragmatic" to attract a hard-core
following. Were this to occur, it would surely be a
tragedy for the future of liberty.26
The 1976 campaign sparked pro and con comments concerning
the "success" of the LP. One author contended the LP was a failure,
in the same mold as other third parties, and was willing to accept
that the Merican populace cannot be "convinced to become,
'radicalized,' or even ideological."27 on the other hand,
Murray Rothbard was optimistic after 1976, even more so because
"all this was accomplished without any compromising or watering
dowzn of the pure libertarian message."28 Equally optimistic
was Ed Crane, then national chair. Writing in the August, 1977
issue of Reason, he felt that the LP was a success.29 This
article provides sane insight into Crane's view of the game plan
for the LP.
When talk of a libertarian party first surfaced,
there were two main reservations expressed. The first
was the concern that involvement in electoral politics
would lead inevitably to compromise of our principles.
The second, expressed by Murray Rothbard and others,
was that the project was premature. There was, they
thought, no point in advertising to the world how few
libertarians there were. Those predictions, it seems
to me, have not turned out to be correct.30
The point by Crane is that most Americans "do not think about
political issues and the intervention of government into their
lives except within the context of elections and party
politics."Most are not scholars desiring to read academic
papers from a think-tank, even if the work is frcm the Cato
Institute or Center for Libertarian Studies. For Ed Crane, the
future course of action would be along electoral lines.
The LP during this period was receiving some exposure
through national media. It was not overwhelming, but more than
followed the 1980 Presidential campaign. The articles seemed to run
the spectrum. James J. Kirkpatrick, never a shirker from sarcasm,
commented that the party's problem was one of "purity."32 one
author argued that the LP was soundly based upon a scholarly
foundation.33 Another stated simply: "Laugh not at the
Libertarians."34 By and large, the media had yet to figure out
exactly the raison d'etre for the LP.
Ed Crane left the post of national chair in 1977 and was
succeeded by David Bergland. This caused only a slight diminution
in Cranes power in the LP. After his departure, he became director
of the Cato Institute. A creation of the Koch Family, Cato was a
think-tank for libertarian ideas. It was extremely veil-funded,
publishing Inquiry and Cato Review.35 it was a perfect
institution from which Eld Crane could continue his power in the LP.
Cato had moved to Washington, D.C., where the LP national head-
quarters was. The same people often worked at both.36 This is
not bo say that the two became alter egos, because they did not.
Ihe year 1978 saw the election of Dick Randolph to the
Alaska state legislature.37 He was the first elected LP
candidate bo a state office. A second LP member would be elected in
1980.38 The 1978 election also provided a surprise when Eld
Clark run a strong race for governor in California, receiving
380,000 votes(5.5% of the total). Based upon this showing, he
would became the LP Presidential candidate the following year.
For Eld Crane, the year 1978 marked the brief period when
he was able to forge an alliance of sorts between many party
factions. He had enlisted the help of Murray Rothbard, Bill Elvers,
and others of the "purist" wing. They did, in fact, align
themselves with Crane. Both Rothbard and Elvers also became part of
the Cato Institute. This liason was to last for only a short time.
For Murray Rothbard the break with Crane and the Koch
family would come in 1979.
Crane was the political arm of the Kochtupus(sic),
it was called. At first I had no real problem with this.
We were always a poor party. Here this guy comes along,
almost a billionaire, a radical libertarian. Well, that's
great. I have no objection to billionaires who are radical
libertarians. He set up Cato...39
Rothbard provided the theoretical work for the what was to be
called the Crane machine. The split came over where the LP was
headed at the time.
What began to happen in the spring and summer of
'79, it became pretty obvious to usr Evers and myself and
others, that the Kochtupus and Crane machine were
engaged in major reorientation of the whole strategy
and doctrine. And, of courseit was in the sense when
the Communist Party changes its line, those who are
disagreeing are not told until it's too late. We had to
find out sort of over many months.40
Rothbard and others in the "purist" wing saw a weakening of the
radical LP ideology. There is little question that they were
correct, as Crane perceived that a hard-line, radical approach
would not appeal to the voters in 1980. Even those who now vilify
him concede that he was a shrewd political figure and ran a
professional campaign for the LP ticket in 1980.41
By the time of the national convention in September, 1979,
the LP was undergoing strains. Fifteen hundred delegates attended
the convention. The Presidential nomination fight was between Ed
Clark and Bill Hunscher of New Hampshire.42 Clark was to van
the nomination, with Dave Koch of the Koch family being nominated
for the Vice-Presidential slot. The platform looked similar to that
approved four years earlier in New York. The struggles were
beginning that would tear the LP apart in 1983.
Rothbard described his attendance at the '79 convention as
uncomfortable.43 Even though he had broken with the Crane
machine, other "purists" did not know this. These delegates were
concerned about the orientation of the party. As described by
Robert Poole of Reason magazine:
It had also been the case in '78. Ed Crane and his
people were working at that time closely with Murray
Rothbard and Bill Evers, and between then and the 1980
campaign, there was a big split, with Rothbard and Evers
leaving the Cato Institute....And, I think, the Cato
Institute and Ed Crane and his whole people undergoing
a shift toward a more gradualist, pragmatic approach
and with Rothbard and Evers retaining the idea that
this was wrong. And that to be a true Libertarian
you had to be and come across as radical and present
everything in that sort of a way. Very much away from
the idea, of an electorial party and strictly on the
Crane and the Koch family wanted a high visibility campaign for
1980. More importantly, they wanted to elect candidates, not merely
educate the populace. That would require some "softening" of the
radical ideology. The "purists" could not accept this.
Another struggle involved the more immediate concern of
strategy for the 1980 campaign. Roger MacBride broke with Crane
over what role the LP should play in 1980.
I opposed Clark as the nominee. The fellow I wanted
to run was Bill Hunscher. My thought was, following on
what we did in '76, that was the year we should have
concentrated not on vote-getting so much as building
party organization state by state, getting a viable, firm,
wide organization established wherever we could, which
in that year could have been in most states. I thought
then that it would be Reagan the following year... I
thought that what we needed to do was build the party
par se...to lay the foundation for some serious local
races in '82 and the Presidential race in '84 which,
looking at it fron the perspective of 1979, should have
been our year to get big votes.45
Clark was handpicked by Crane as the nominee, partially on his
showing in the 1978 California race. MacBride perceived that,
though an expensive campaign was waged, it did not help local
parties. He now concedes that part of the conflict at that time was
over who was to be "kingmaker" in the party, he or Crane.46
The 1979 convention concluded on September 9, 1979, wnth
Bergland being re-elected to the position of national chair. It is
clear that he was not, at the time of his election, the premier
party leader. Ed Crane was. The struggle between the "purists" and
"opportunists" had been won by the latter. For many of the
"purists," this meant sitting out the 1980 campaign.47
The 1980 Presidential campaign was one of higher
visibility for the LP. The Clark-Koch ticket was well-financed,
with total expenditures at almost three million dollars. Most of
that came from Dave Koch. It was a professional campaign, with
television being utilized throughout the country. The "purists"
were offended by the content of the Clark-Koch message.48
Ultimately, the Clark-Koch ticket would receive approximately
920,000 votes, or a little over 1% of the total votes cast.
The 1980 campaign had been laid out by Bd Crane.49
Though profesionally managed, it often did not involve local
candidates.5 Roger MacBride's fear was borne out. local
parties were not developed, with the national ticket receiving less
than overwhelming acceptance. The campaign did provide a great deal
of exposure for the LP and its ideas, though not in the fashion
that Murray Rothbard and others wanted.
The seeds had been sown for the battle in September, 1983.
The struggles between the "purists" and "opportunists" would
continue to that point, though perhaps no one knew then exactly
vkiat would occur later. For the LP, the year 1980 may well turn out
bo have been the high water mark of visibility and electoral
1 David F. Nolan, interview on September 17, 1985.
4 David F. Nolan, "The Road to Liberty," Reason, May,
3 David F. Nolan, interview on November 23, 1984.
6 David F. Nolan, "The Road to Liberty," p.39-40.
7 John Hospers, Libertarianism: A Philosophy for
Tomorrow(Los Angeles: Nash, 1971).
8 "The First Ten Years," pamphlet published by the
Libertarian Party for the 1981 Convention in Denver, Colorado,
9 Edward Clark, telephone interview on March 22, 1986.
David F. Nolan, "The Road to Liberty," p.42.
11 Donald Bruce Johnson, National Party Platforms(Urbana
University of Illinois Press, 1978), p.820.
12 Murray Rothbard, For a New Liberty: The Libertarian
Manifesto(New York: Collier Books, 1978).
13 "The First Ten Years," p.52.
14 "MacBrides March an Washington: An Interview with .
Roger MacBride," Reason, October, 1976, p.26.
16 "ifte First Ten Years," p.53.
17 Murray Rothbard, telephone interview on March 10,
13 Donald Bruce Johnson, National Party Platforms,
19 Murray Rothbard, telephone interview on March 10,
20 "The First Ten Years," p.54.
21 David F. Nolan, "Spotlight", Individual Liberty, May,
22 ibid. Roger MacBride ooniraented in his telephone
interview on March 27, 1986 on the Trotter situation as follows:
There were several things combined, any one of which he
might have gotten by on..The two or three things that he had
done made him, in my opinion, an extremely vulnerable
candidate. The object that year...was to mate us the third
largest party in the country and to expose our views to the
American electorate as best we could. It was my thought that
we could never be the third largest party nor would we
succeed in exposing our views in their broad spectrum if
we had a candidate for the Presidency with a serious
liability...sane obvious fault that differentiated that
person from the American public deeply..That sort of public
liability, I thought, would ruin our chance to get our
balanced views on foreign policy, domestic policy, and so
on, out in a fair way before the public. It would always
be the case of the media saying "you didn't file your tax
return, did you?" and "your running mate doesn't believe
in paying taxes, does he?"
23 David F. Nolan, "The Road to Liberty," p.43.
24 Tibor Machan, "Libertarianism: Has Its Time Really
Arrived?," Reason, December, 1975, p.33.
25 Robert Poole, Jr., "Whither the Libertarian Party?,"
Reason, August, 1977, p.8
27 e. Scott Royce, "Failure!," Reason, August, 1977,
28 Murray Rothbard, "The Achievement of the LP," Reason,
January, 1977, p.32.
29 Edward Crane, III, "Success!." Reason, August, 1977,
30 Ibid., p.15.
31 Ibid., p.16.
32 James J. Kilpatrick, "The Libertarians: Nothing if not
Consistent," National Review, October 10, 1975, p.1117.
33 Carol Polsgrove, "In Pursuit of Liberty," The
Progressive, January, 1978, p.38.
34 Carey McWilliams, "Second Thoughts," The Nation,
October 20, 1979, p.358.
35 ibid. McWilliams pointed bo the fact that "since
January, 1977, the Cato Institute has spent about $1.25 million per
year to establish itself as "a public-policy research foundation of
the tax-deductible variety."
36 Murray Rothbard, telephone interview on
37 "ihe First Ten Years," p.55.
33 Ibid., p.56. Ken Fanning was elected to
Legislature in 1980. Andre Marrou has since been
Randolph and Fanning no longer are in the Alaska
Randolph is no longer in the LP.
39 Murray Rothbard, telephone interview on
41 Ibid. Murray Rothbard commented: "Kb question about
it. It was a slick campaign, t.v. commercials and all that. But it
was terrible, the form and the content."
42 Roger MacBride, telephone interview on March 27,
43 Murray Rothbard, telephone interview on March 10,
44 Robert Poole, Jr., telephone interview on February 6,
45 Roger MacBride, telephone interview on March 27,
47 Murray Rothbard, telephone interview on March 10,
48 ibid. Also David F. Nolan, "Spxotlight," p.5.
elected, but Dick
49 Roger MacBride, telephone interview on iMarch 27,
50 David Bergland, telephone interview on January 28,
THE STRUGGLE FOR THE PARTY
The 1980 Presidential campaign left the LP in an odd
position. Ed Clark and David Koch collected nearly a million votes,
but they had not endeared themselves to some. The campaign served
to intensify the inner divisions of the party.
The post-mortems by those within the LP were varied.
Perhaps most disappointed were those in the "opportunist" wing who
had viewed 1980 as the year of major electoral gains. The national
press before the election had pointed bo the 1978 election results
as predictors for 1980 (1.3 million votes had been cast that year
for LP candidates)J One nationally syndicated writer, Nicholas
von Hoffman, had endorsed the CLark-Koch ticket.2 Even Murray
Rothbard had expressed seme optimism eighteen months prior to the
The results were disappointing to most LP members, even
those not aligned with the "opportunist" camp. A lot of money had
been spent on the campaign. The reasons for the disappointing
results were many, but the factional fighting arose again bo bhe
forefronb. Murray Robhbard oonsnenbed in March, 1981:
As for the Libertarian Party, as Uncle
Walter Cronkite said contemptuously but accurately
on election night, "it was nowhere." After an
unprecedented hype and a highly expensive campaign,
it managed bo corral only one percent of the vote.
It is nowhere near its goal of becoming a third
major party, especially if the Anderson party
' continues, as it threatens to do. And Barry
Goimioner did better on his first try than the
Libertarians did four years ago ..A
His concern was that which had begun before the campaign: the
content of the message. Ebr Rothbard, the election of Ranald Reagan
had signified that a great many Americans had become conservative,
not libertarian. He blamed Crane and the election staff of Clark.
Sothe optimistic hype is over. The quick
victory model which the hyperoptimists have
foisted upon us is seen to be nothing but a snare
and a delusion. If liberty is ever to triumph,
there is no substitute for patient education,
for sticking to principles, and for life-long
commitment. Libertarians had better wake up to
this fact of life.^
David Nolan was also one who blamed Crane.
As you know, I was very disappointed by Eld
Clark's campaign. I like Ed personally, but I think
he got a lot of bad advice, fell in with a bad
crowd, so to speak, and wound up taking stands in
many cases, that were very, very weak and watered
My own belief is that we should take the hard
core stand, and make the other parties move toward
us; we shouldn't being moving toward them! I'm
not saying we should come out for complete
abolition of the state overnight; we shouldn't.
But we should never fail to mate it clear that
we are challenging the fundamental right of the
state to do all the things it does.
NOlan further thought that big financing ought not to control the
direction of the party. "We should do what's right, what's
principled and ethical, and if someone doesn't like it, then we're
better off without them."^
The "purist" wing was determined not to sacrifice
principles. Roger MacBride remained upset over the lack of local
party development, while the "opportunists" either remained quiet
or looked at the election results as optimistically as possible. As
for Ed Clark, he believed that the campaign was run as well as
possible. As for what he would have done differently, he indicated
only that he would have tried to be nicer to Murray Rothbard and
Bill Evers, as their attacks did hurt him personally.8
The direction of the party was the key issue at the
convention in Denver in September, 1981. Whether there was a true
party identity crisis is a matter of conjecture, but there was
certainly a question as to direction.^ Factional fighting began
over the position of national chair. John Mason declared his
candidacy and was supported by Rothbard, Nolan, and others from the
"purist" wing. Mason was and is a resident of Denver. Kent Guida
was the candidate of the Crane group. He had been a worker in the
1980 campaign Just prior to the campaign, Alicia Clark
declared her candidacy for the office. As the wife of Ed Clark,
she was well-known in the LP and offered her candidacy as one for
peace between the factions.^
Alicia Clark was elected national chair at the convention.
It was hoped that she could bring sate compromise to the party. As
reflected upon by David Bergland:
Alicia Clark won the election in 1981,
I believe, because roost people saw her as a
unifying candidate, one who wasn't aligned
with these factions and could make the whole
This view was probably a correct one, but was not without its
qualifications. The "purists" perceived that Ed Crarie had attempted
to keep Ed Clark neutral in the race, even though his wife had
become a candidate. 13 Clark remained an extremely influential
person within the party and ultimately did support his wife.
Perhaps partially as a result, Kent Guida lost early on in the
balloting.1^ The factional fighting should have stopped with a
compromise candidate. Such was not bo be the case.
After her election, Alicia Clark filled other national
committee positions with people from the various factions.15
Even though not initially aligned with a faction, she had on-going
problems with the Crane people and Eric O'Keefe, the national
director, who had been hired by David Bergland.
The National Director position is the
hired hand who runs the national headquarters and
is a salaried executive...I was national chair
prior to 1981 and I appointed Eric O'Keefe as
the national director when there was a vacancy.
Be and I got along reasonably well, primarily,
I think, because I left him fairly free rein to
run the national headquarters. But Eric was
pretty much aligned vrith the "opportunist" faction
or the Crane faction or whatever you want to call
it. I usually called it the New York-Washington
This closeness with Ed Crane and his supporters led bo continuing
friction with Alicia Clark.17 She finally fired O'Keefe in
August, 1982.18 The impact was felt most by S3 Crane and his
That was a very significant blow to the
New York-Washington folks because at the time and
for a few yearsI forget exactly how long it had
been, about three years or soyou had the Cato
Institute in Washington and the LP national
headquarters, which was kind of a revolving door
situation. A lot of the people who worked at Cato
were also volunteers at the headquarters and it
was kind of one big happy family and they all
pretty much saw eye to eye, which was pretty much
along the lines of the New York-Washington folks.
And when Alicia canned Eric, that meant that they
did not have access to the national headquarters
and its resources.^
This was coupled with a lack of action or negative action by
various members of the national canmittee aligned with Crane during
this same period.20 The "purists" viewed the sacking of O'Keefe
as the end of Bd Crane's control over the national committee.21
Alicia Clark's action was most probably perceived as one that
aligned her with the "purists," but that is partly speculation, as
Ed Crane has never responded to this writer's inquiry.
After the firing of Eric O'Keefe, the national
headquarters was moved to Houston, Texas. Volunteer helped had
dried up in Washington.
Everybody in Washington was a Crane machine
member...Ws couldn't leave it(national headquarters)
because there would be no volunteers. There would be
no nothing. Vfe had to move it scmewhere and Houston
was as good a spot as any.22
The move of the headquarters also divorced the LP from Cato and Ed
Crane. It also placed the party outside of the seat of government
that it wanted to substantially reduce or abolish. This was
significant for the "purists." It was for the "opportunists"
further. evidence that the LP was moving away frcm any position as a
viable electoral alternative for the populace.
The in-fighting between the "opportunist" members of the
national committee and Alicia Clark was to continue through the end
of her term in September, 1983. Upon reflection, it was clear that
the LP was splitting apart.
The struggle eased somewhat with the announcement in
February, 1983 by Gene Burns that he would seek the Presidential
candidacy.23 Bums was a radio talk show host in Orlando,
Florida. Though he had not been particularly active in the LP, he
was articulate and understood the ideological perspectives of the
party. Roger MacBride, who had resolved by that time most
differences with Ed Crane, commented:
When Bums announced his intention to run, both
of us felt very tepid about it, neither of us knew
Bums, but he was reputed bo be somebody who is
articulate and could spread the word, and we just
. thought.."well, there's not anything to object to".,
maybe it's time for us to sit back and let somebody
else run the show.24
Bums' early announcement virtually closed out others who had some
passing thought of running. This was the case, as it provided a
means of reducing the tension between the factions.
Burns did campaign to a limited degree around the country
seeking the nomination,. He raised some money for his
candidacy.25 it was assumed that the fight for the Presidential
candidacy was over. This assumption was not correct.
Approximately one week before the national convention was
to open in New York on September 2, 1983, Gene Burns withdrew his
candidacy. His announcement came in the form of telegrams sent to
various LP leaders in all factions. Ha complained that he was not
going to receive large financial support.26 yet, there is some
indication that he did not ask for it, at least not from Roger
MacBride and others.
He had gone around the country campaigning and
soliciting funds, and I believe he'd raised some
modest sum, ten to twenty thousandsomething like
that. But he never troubled to get ahold of me. He
never troubled to get ahold of Bd Crane. As far as
I know, he didn't get ahold of the Koch family...in
other words, he ignored those who had led the party
through two separate Presidential campaigns...how
the hell could he expect to complain about not being
bankrolled when he made no serious effort to be
Bums was apparently expecting the same type of funding that had
occurred in 1980, and that simply was not to be, even with Koch
family support. Bums' withdrawal threw panic into the LP. Though
the in-fighting had subsided, it was still present beneath the
surface. The decision of Gene Bums was to be the catalyst for the
The "purist" and "opportunist" factions were shellshocked
by the Burn's decision. Each side began to scramble to find a
candidate for President. Roger MacBride invited a number of
prominent LP leaders to his summer home in Biddeford, Maine. He
claims that this meeting was to have been purely social.28 Even
if that is correct, the meeting that occurred took on a different
tenor after the Bums' withdrawal. It is clear that a wide
diversity of thought was present at the meeting. Besides Roger
MacBride, some of those in attendance were Ed Clark, Paul Grant (a
"purist" an! soon to be national chair), and Dick Randolph(LP
representative in Alaska).2^ MacBride described the meeting as
a hectic time, with everyone on the phone trying to figure out what
to do.30 An outgrowth of the meeting was a document that became
known as the "Biddeford Agreement." It was simply an agreement
Which stated that signators would support the LP nominee for
President, whomever that might be. The agreement was created partly
by MacBride. When asked if it was a unity agreement, his response
was "I've forgotten now."31 The meeting at Biddeford was more
than merely a social gathering. It was so intended from the time
that it was set.
With the convention scheduled bo open, two primary
Presidential candidates declared. The first was Earl Ravenal, a
professor in international studies at Georgetown.22 He was the
pick of Ed Crane and the "opportunist" wing of the party. The other
was David Bergland, former national chair, VP candidate in 1976,
and attorney in California.22 He became the candidate of the
"anti-Crane" elements in the party, rather than just the "purist"
faction.24 There were other candidates, including a retired Air
Force Colonel and Toni Nathan, VP candidate in 1972 with John
The convention convened on September 2, 1983. The keynote
speaker was Dick Randolph, who by then was also the Ravenal
campaign manager. Ravenal picked up the support of Roger MacBride.
The balloting for the Presidential nomination was fierce and highly
divisive. On the fourth ballot, David Bergland received the
nomination by cxily a few votes.36 with nothing more, this
result might not seem important. Leading up to it, though, were
charges by both sides, as well as several important developments.
A unique aspect of the LP is that one need not reside
within a given state to belong to the party there. As an example,
Murray Rothbard is a member of the California LP.37 Further, at
a national convention a state leader could allow anyone to sit with
the delegation of that state, if that delegation was not filled.
That meant that anyone could become a delegate to the national
convention simply by being there and agreeing to join the LP on the
spot.38 Both factions accused each other of packing delegations
and literally bringing in people for voting.39
During the early part of the convention, Ed Clark had
become an important figure. He had remained neutral on the Ravenal-
Bergland race. Ha had known Bergland for seme time, but did not
know Ravenal. He met with Ravenal for lunch during the convention.
As a result of this lunch, he decided to support Bergland. Though
not formally committed prior to the lunch with Ravenal, he had
prepared a letter endorsing Bergland. Unfortunately, this letter
was distributed prior to Clark discussing his thoughts with
Ravenal1 s campaign manager. Clark admitted that this was a mistake
with Dick Randolph becoming outraged at him.40 with Clark's
endorsement, Bergland's nomination chances were greatly enhanced,
especially since Clark had been Ed Crane's handpicked candidate in
The fighting between the factions was bitter. David Koch,
1980 VP candidate, ridiculed Bergland and his people as being
unable to present libertarianism in a professional way that would
be accepted by the electorate.4^ Much was made of Ravenal's
past experience in the McNamara Defense Department. Bergland was
pictured by many as politically inept and tending to radicalize his
message to the point that people were turned off.42
One final factor needs to be commented on. As a result of
Gene Bums' early announcement for President, some potential
delegates passed up the idea of going to the convention for a mere
vote of acclamation for him.
The ones who came to the convention, who had signed
up months before even when this was a cut and dried
affair, they were the ideologues. Hie ones who would
stay up until four in the morning arguing on whether
or not you should have compulsory vaccinations when
there is a bubonic plague raging through the land..The
kind who seriously debate how many angels could dance
on the end of a pin. That was the overwhelming
characteristic of the delegates to the 1983 convention.
That was the fault of the fact that we had no contest.
The "real people", as Ed Crane and I call them, didn't
go. And it was far too late to get them to go when Bums
dropped out three days before the convention opened.43
Whether this would have changed the result is debatable. There is
little question that Gene Bums' withdrawal found some potential
delegates at hone.
David Bergland was nominated late in the afternoon on
September 3, 1983.44 The following morning, when the convention
reconvened, Ed Crane, Roger MacBride, Dick Randolph, and many
others were absent. They had left the convention and, more
importantly, the LP. Roger MacBride commented on his departure
after Bergland's nomination as follows:
Well, I knew the party was finished, right then and
there. And I had been saying that during the convention to
various people, practically getting down on my knees and
begging people to vote for Ravenal. Sane of then did,
some of them didn't. Not enough, obviously. But
I knew instantly that the party was done, finished,
through forever. So why stand around?45
With Crane went the Koch family and its money. Those who left have
yet to return and most probably will not.
The departure caught many off guard. This was particularly
true in light of the "Biddeford Agreement." The reactions were
varied. David Bergland was puzzled.
There was an immediate withdrawal of all of the
central people, probably twenty to thirty people vho
were the real.guts of the New York/Washington group,
they didn't show up at the presidential banquet..They
all walked out, with a couple of notable exceptions,
one of them being Earl Ravenal, who I said is a real
gentleman..All that unity crap was nothing more than
Robert Poole of Reason was surprised by the departure, particularly
since the Biddeford meeting had been organize! for unity.
And the theme of that meeting which I think had
been organize! by MacBride an! Crane was of unity..and
it was important that the party not divide into factions
and that everyone agree to back the eventual winner. As
far as I could tell, it was instigated by MacBride, Crane,
etc. And yet, they immediately abandons! ship. I was
really upset by that, and a lot of other people were,
Ed Clark reflected the same type of surprise at the
departure.48 Some saw the walkout as a pius.49
The departure of the so-called Crane machine, coupled with
Roger MacBride, left the convention controlled by the "purists" for
the most part. The national chair position was placed with Paul
Grant of Denver who was a "purist." The remaining positions were
likewise filled from the same faction. The LP was controlled after
the convention by the "purists." How many total departed from the
LP after the Crane/MacBride walkout at the convention is unknown.
The figure of twenty to thirty put forth by David Bergland appears
low. Even his figure reflected a significant portion of the
political organizational base of the LP.
The convention generated only marginal media coverage.
What there was had fallen back into the mold of considering the LP
as eccentric.50 The coverage of the late '70's had evaporated,
with only passing interest being shown.
The end of 1983 saw the LP as a far different political
organization frcm when it started the year. Though the break-up
between the "purists" and "opportunists" was probably inevitable,
it came at an unexpected time. As will be argued later, the 1983
convention was the LP crossroads. The party has changed, will never
be the same as before, and has chosen a path even sane "purists"
may find wanting.
1 Michael Nelson, "The New Libertarians: Stripping
Government of its Powers," Saturday Review, March 1, 1980, p.21;
John Judis, "Libertarianism: where the Left meets the Right," The
Progressive, September, 1980, p.36.
2 Nicholas von Hoffman, "A Vote for Ed Clark," The New
Republic, August 30, 1980, p.11.
3 Murray Rothbard, "1978-The Breakthrough Year," Reason,
March, 1979, p.39.
4 Murray Rothbard, "The Election: The Case for Pessimism,"
Reason, March, 1981, p.46.
8 David Nolan, "Spotlight," Individual Liberty, May, 1981,
7 ibid at p.6.
8 Ed Clark, telephone interview of March 22, 1986.
9 David Nolan, "The Libertarian Party: Radical or
Reformist?" Frontlines, August, 1981, p.6.
10 Ed Clark, telephone interview on March 22, 1986.
12 David Bergland, telephone interview on January 28, 1986.
13 Murray Rothbard, telephone interview on March 10, 1986.
15 Ed Clark, telephone interview on March 22, 1986.
18 David Bergland, telephone interview on January 28, 1986.
17 Ed Clark, telephone interview on March 22, 1986.
10 David Bergland, telephone interview on January 28,
20 Ed Clark, telephone interview on March 22, 1986.
21 Murray Rathbard, telephone interview on March 10,
23 David Bergland, telephone interview on January 28,
24 Roger MacBride, telephone interview on March 27, 1986.
25 Anne Groer, "Libertarian Lark," The New Republic,
October 3, 1983, p.16.
26 David Bergland, telephone interview on January 28,
27 Roger MacBride, telephone interview on March 27, 1986.
29 Ed Clark, telephone interview on March 22, 1986.
30 Roger MacBride, telephone interview on March 27, 1986.
32 Richard Brookhiser, "Saving the UOS," National Review,
October 14, 1983, p.1274.
33 ibid.; David Bergland, telephone interview on January
34 Ed Clark, telephone interview on March 22, 1986.
35 Richard Brookhiser, "Saving the UOS," p.1274.
36 David Bergland, telephone interview on Janaury 28,
37 Murray Rothbard, telephone interview on March 10,
38 David Bergland, telephone interview on January 28,
39 Murray Rothbard, telephone interview on March 10,
40 Ed Clark, telephone interview on March 22, 1986.
41 Robert Poole, Jr., telephone interview on February 6,
42 Roger MacBride, telephone interview on March 27, 1986.
44 New York Times, September 4, 1983, p.L30.
45 Roger MacBride, telephone interview on March 27, 1986.
45 David Bergland, telephone interview of January 28,
47 Robert Poole, Jr, telephone interview on February 6,
48 Ed Clark, telephone interview on March 22, 1986.
49 Murray Rathbard, telephone interview on March 10,
50 Richard Brookhiser, "Saving the DOS," p.1274; Anne
Groer, "Libertarian Lark," p.15.
THE FALLOUT FROM 1983
With the conclusion of the 1983 convention, the LP set its
course for the 1984 election. With the "purists" in control, the
campaign for President was to take a different course from that in
The Bergland-Lewis ticket appeared on the ballot in
thirty-eight states in 1984.^ That was down from 1980, but
reflected a continuing problem with ballot access that will be
discussed later. Jim Lewis had been selected as the
Vice-Presidential candidate. Ha published a book contemporaneosly
with the campaign, entitled Liberty Reclaimed.2
Bergland and Lewis travelled throughout the country but
generated very little publicity. Part of their strategy was to go
where national LP candidates had not gone in the past and to help
generate local interest.3 The net result was a dismal showing in
November, 1984. Sane two hundred fifty thousand voters cast their
ballots for the LP national ticket, a seventy-five reduction from
The reasons for the poor showing may be multi-fold. David
Nolan reflected that:
Deprived of the Koch family's millions, which bought
numerous national TV spots for Ed Clark in 1980, the vote
total for David Bergland and Jim Lewis fell by nearly 75%
from 1980's level of 920,000 to around 250,000. This is
close to 50% higher than our 1976 showing of 172,000,
but nonetheless represents a major setback.
Plagued by financial and managerial problems from
the start, the Bergland-Lewis campaign never really
"took off" in the way that the Clark campaign did
four years earlier...Campaign materials were produced
late and distributed sparsely. Virtually no national
advertising was ever placed...the lack of funds and
poor campaign direction combined to produce what
numerous Libertarians have dubbed "the invisible
Few people knew who David Bergland was and for what office he was
campaigning. Though heard or seen by few, the campaign did not
shirk from the hard line espoused by the "purists." One Bergland
brochure secured for this project stated up-front the following:
abolition of the minimum wage; privatization of welfare; abolition
of the IRS arri incane tax; and dismantling of the public education,
with the added comment that "ghetto parents have the most to gain
from freedom in education, since it is children there who are
getting the least out of the present system." Nothing was hidden
To the "purists" like Murray Rothbard, the 1984 campaign
was conducted as they had envisioned it. It was more in the mold
of an educational party campaign, rather than an electoral party
effort. Robert Poole saw the campaign as poorly run, lacking even
position papers on any subject and:
Designed basically to expose people to a fairly
pure version of an idealized libertarian philosophy,
rather than trying to present application of libertarian
ideas in the form of a political program, tailored to
the political office for which the candidate is running.^
The overall view of the campaigned was basically one of
Dave Bergland felt hindered by a lack of money and local
organizational help. In 1980, the Clark campaign had paid staff
which eliminated the need for local LP members to act as advance
persons. 8 As an outgrowth of the campaign, Berg land set up a
training program for LP members who will be running future
campaigns. Whether this will help is a matter of conjecture.
"The invisible campaign" of 1984 did not spark optimism
within the LP, even among those who were happy with its content.
The national convention in Phoenix, Arizona in August, 1985 was
attended by only three hundred and fifty delegates.9 The turnout
was much smaller than at immediate past conventions. David Nolan
was in attendance and remarked:
There was remarkably little factionalism, either
ideological or personality-wise, in Phoenix. It was
probably the cleanest and friendliest convention since
perhaps evercertainly since 1979. 10
None of those who had left in 1983 were in attendance in Phoenix.
Roger MacBride, as well as others, no longer consider themselves LP
members.H Those in attendance were primarily of the "purist"
wing of the party. The convention received virtually no media
coverage, with little being of newsworthy attention. There was some
discussion of simply folding the LP, though it was not extensively
discussed.Basically, it was a meeting of those who had won
the battle in the party struggle, but remained somewhat unconvinced
that they had won a war.
As the party looks toward 1987 and its national
convention, there is an aura of concern. There will be no struggle
next year between factions concerning a Presidential nominee. That
person will be a "purist", placing before the voters a message
similar to that carried by David Bergland. This has raised a
problem for one member. David Nolan has questioned whether
nominating a Presidential candidate makes any real sense.1 3
Yet, Murray Rothbard believes that the LP cannot now stop
nominating someone for President. Both agree that major efforts
must be made at the local level.
The 1984 campaign was a shakeout for the LP. The
"opportunist" wing was all but destroyed by the departure of Crane,
MacBride, and others. That departure changed the direction of the
party for all time.14 The disappointment over the campaign
should have been anticipated, as the majority of the leaders of the
1976 and 1980 campaigns were gone. !Vbre importantly, the term
"disappointment" is consistent with a party that is seeking
election of its candidates, not one that stresses principles
without compromise. As will be seen in the next chapter, the true
effects of the struggle in 1983 may only now being felt.
1 David Bergland, telephone interview on January 28, 1986.
2 Jim Lewis, Liberty Reclaimed (Meriden, Connecticut: Free
Forum Books, 19 84).
3 David Bergland, telephone interview on January 28, 1986.
4 David Nolan, draft of article for Colorado Liberty,
5 Campaign brochure printed by Bergland for President
6 Murray Rothbard, telephone interview on March 10, 1986.
^ Robert Poole, Jr, telephone interview on February 6,
8 David Bergland, telephone interview on January 28, 1986.
9 David Nolan, interview on September 17, 1985.
11 Roger MacBride, telephone interview on March 27, 1986.
12 David Nolan, interview on September 17, 1985.
14 Robert Poole, Jr., telephone interview on February 6,
THE LIBERTARIAN PARTY: HEADED WHERE?
The historical development of the LP provides insight into
how it fractured. In this Chapter, an examination will be made of
the LP's accomplishments, its failures, and its future. Finally,
the LP will be examined to see if there are lessons that may be
applied to other political parties.
To say that the LP is out of business and is a historical
footnote would be incorrect. The LP of today is not the party of
1979-80. There is an aura of pessimism among remaining party
members. It is indeed strange that such pessimism would exist, as
the "purists" have vron the battle. It is their party. More will be
said on this later.
The term "libertarian" has become part of the political
scene. The term further connotes a specific concept. This is the
direct result of the LP. Though the libertarian movement predates
the LP, it is the party that accomplished this feat. Robert Poole's
analysis is correct.
The term [libertarian] has been very much and
successfully introduced into the discussion of politics
and ideology in this country, and I think it was
primarily the Libertarian Party that did that. So even
if it doesn't have as big a role to play in the future,
which it may not, I think it has made an important
accomplishment in introducing the general idea and the
term into the whole debateJ
The concept of libertarianism was introduced over a much shorter
period than fifteen years. The dissemination of the concept
occurred basically through the campaigns of Ed Clark and, to a
lesser extent, Roger MacBride. The LP's visibility sank, after the
1980 campaign. The concept thus became part of the political
picture in a space of only slightly more than eight years. The
concept will continue even if the LP ceases its existence.
The LP has further carried on a quiet fight for ballot
access. This fight has often been with other political parties or
candidates.2 The LP experienced from its very inception a system
organized and protected by the two major parties. Roadblocks have
been thrown in the way of all third parties. The LP has won a
number of legal battles, gaining access to ballots throughout the
country. The party's contribution to this fight will mean that
other third parties will not have to endure the same battles.5
The very vitality of a democracy requires a diversity of thought
available to voters. This battle wall continue, whether through
lawsuit or legislative lobbying and change.4
The party has further accomplished a significant task in
getting members to run for office.5 Though few have been elected,
some have. Dick Randolph, the first elected Libertarian in Alaska,
left the LP in 1983 with others. He is now running for Governor of
Alaska as a Republican, with a reasonable chance for election.5
The LP certainly has run more candidates that other recent third
Whether the LP has made significant changes in society is
a matter of conjecture. The apparent drift to the right might have
been inevitable. LP members view the Reagan administration with
horror, especially in the area of civil liberties. As David
Nolan has pointed out, the 1984 Republican platform, as it pertains
to economic matters, appears very libertarian.7 He agrees that in
practice it is not. The LP has had sane difficulty in creating a
dividing line between that which is libertarian and that which is
conservative. That blurring of ideas has created problems and will
continue to do so for sane time. It may well be impossible to
quantify the changes the LP has brought to American society. The
important accomplishment is that libertarian solutions are now
often presented for consideration. The concept is discussed, though
perhaps not followed.
The 1983 break has created a question of viability. There
is a serious question as to whether the LP tried to go too far in
its dicussion of pure libertarianism. Those who left wall most
probably never return. Roger MacBride believes that the LP is
dead. By his analysis, no party has ever arisen from such a
split. Robert Poole thinks that the movement, as contrasted from
the LP itself, has taken a different road.
The movement already is trying a lot of other things.
I think sane of the real successes in spreading liber-
tarian ideas are occurring precisely in the area of
public policy research in which the Reason Foundation is
involved, in which the Cato Institute and the Manhattan
Institute, the Pacific Institute, and the National Center
for Policy Analysisthese four or five think tanks are
all run by libertarians. They're all producing professional
studies. All gaining significant media coverage for the
output they produce, .having a growing impact on opinion
leaders in this country, and I think this sort of effort
is perhaps the most important in terms of results that
is now going on by libertarians.^
By his account, the LP simply radicalized itself too much. It has
become a radical educational party in Poole's eyes.^
The change from electoral to educational party may have
already occurred. This is a direct outgrowth of the 1983 break. In
the first place, the desire of Rothbard, Evers, and others for
purity in the message was followed in 1984. The result was the
"invisible campaign." Those who left book with them the
organizational experience of the preceding two campaigns. Without
organizational skills, no political party can function effectively.
The message of the 1984 campaign was not widely spread, and it
generated little public media attention. It many respects it was a
libertarian campaign geared to libertarians. Its educational
effectiveness, if any, may well have been to an already converted
The second reason is that the "purists" may have planned
such a result. Roger MacBride believes that the LP is exactly where
Rothbard and other "purists" want it.12 He further believes
that they set the "game plan" which has now cane to fruition. It
might be easy to dismiss such comment as biased, yet there is some
truth to it. Murray Rothbard's concept of the party is rather
The idea of a compromise party is ridiculous. If you
want to compromise, join the Republicans or Democrats. Why
fiddle around with a crappy little crazy party. The only
point of having a third party is an ideology, rather than
getting a patronage job.13
Clearly the "purist" concern, as set forth by Rothbard, is for pure
ideology. That fits within the classic realm of the educational
party.14 Such an approach is self-fulfilling. The LP has become
an educational party because that is what many of its now prominent
members perceive it bo be. This wall render the future election
of candidates to office difficult, if not impossible.15
The third reason the LP has become an educational party is
one of finances. The reliance on the Koch family fortune was a
mistake. Though the LP has been and still is reasonably broadly
based, it became dependent upon Koch money. Little was done to
generate other contributors. Perhaps David Bergland is correct in
saying that the LP needed to have the Koch money leave and that in
the long haul it will be better for the party. ^
The fourth reason may simply called one of mind-set. The
radical "purists" truly hate government.^ to elect someone to
something so hated is almost a contradiction. That being the case,
the LP should cnly be the messenger of the need to abolish
government. The "ultrapurists" may be called anarchists, for they
truly are. A political party becomes unnecessary in a society with
The transition to educational party has not been without
its problems. As mentioned earlier, there is an aura of pessimism
hanging over the party. David NOlan' s concern may be emblematic of
many. Ha would like a strong party ideology, but would like also to
see the LP accomplish something electorally. He helped start the
party to accomplish political ends, not educational ones. Though
he has written on libertarian ideas, he is not in the think-tank
business. Ha is not unlike many in the party who want political
change. That may not be possible for an educational party. As Ed
Clark appropriately indicates, sane people not only do not want
to write academic treatises on libertarian theory; they also do not
want to read them.^ ^ People who want change have become
conditioned to seeking it through political party action. Citizens
who cannot write treatises may be able to organize more mundane
political activities such as neighborhood canvasses, local
meetings, telephone phonebanks, and the like. The retreat of the LP
from electoral politics will leave many potential libertarians
without a party job or outside of the party altogether.
The real problem with an educational party is that it
soon becomes a very small group. Another "invisible" campaign and
lack of demonstrable vote-getting ability will further lighten the
LP membership roles. Dave Nolan believes that some libertarians
voted for Reagan in 1984 just to be with a "winner."^ This
analysis is open to question, but corresponds to Murray Rothbard's
belief that the 1980 vote was "soft" and uncommitted.20
Rothbard undoubtedly is correct in saying that a number of citizens
voted for Ed Clark in 1980, even though they were not LP members or
truly committed to the concept. Yet, that is exactly what a
political party is supposed to do. The peak of popularity for the
Progressives and Socialists saw many non-party members voting for
these parties' candidates. The net result was a shift in many of
society's programs and concepts.
The LP is unlike other third parties. It is newer than the
Socialists, Communists, or Prohibitionists. Its foundational
ideology is in a relatively "new" form. There is no Karl Marx or
renewed dream of an alcohol-free society upon which to fall back.
The basic ideology of libertarians remains somewhere between
minarchist and anarchist. The bottom-line problem is that the party
may not be able bo attract or keep members if it remains oily an
Looking back to 1983, there are many questions that are
raised by the split. Sane have been posed, but others need bo be
commenbed upon. Roger MacBride's oommenb thab many pobenbial
delegabes sbayed heme because bhey believed bhere was bo be no
oontesbed Presidenbial race warranbs further examination. The
babble bebween "purisbs" and "opporbunisbs" cerbainly exbends back
bo the late 1970's. The events described between Alicia dark and
members of the national committee belonging to the Crane
organization were part of the fight for control of the party. If
the "real people" were interested in controlling the LP, they would
have wanted to place their people into national committee
positions, including that of national chair. Even if Earl Ravenal
had been nominated, there is no indication that the national
committee would not have been controlled by "purists."
The nomination of David Bergland appears only to have
provided an appropriate departure point for sane members of the LP.
A Ravenal candidacy might have prolonged this, but the split was
caning. NOt having delegates at the convention becomes an excuse.
As mentioned before, few seemed to have much knowledge of Gene
Burns. His presentation of the ideals of the LP might have been
more articulate than David Bergland. Conversely, it might have been
of the "purist" mold, thus creating more problems for the
"opportunists." His withdrawal, of course, did exacerbate the
Earl Ravenal's nomination might have continued the
tacit control of the party by the "opportunists. The campaign
would have been better funded, if for no other reason than other
sources of money would have been available. It would have been
more professionally managed, as he would have had access to those
who conducted the two previous campaigns. It would have been a
campaign subject to the same internal attacks by the "purists" as
in 1980. The split would have widened.
On the other hand, the "purists" now have the party. It is
controlled by them, with a "purist" campaign conducted in 1984.
The same will occur in 1988, with conceivably the same results. The
disappointment from 1984 should have been expected. With a
substantial portion of the populace relying upon governmental
programs for their living, not many are going to be excited about
dumping all governmental programs immediately. The ghetto or barrio
family that views education as the only legitimate avenue for its
children's improvement in life is not going to cast votes for a
party that wishes to privatize such education. That is especially
true if the family has to rely upon governmental programs for
eating and housing.
The political savvy that left the EP in 1983 does rot
appear to have been replaced. Many in the party have sane
legitimate complaints about Ed Crane and his friends. Yet, he and
his friends had carried on the most visible and educational
campaign for the LP. Ed Clark was presented to the voters as an
articulate, moderate spokesman for the party. Even Murray Rothbard
concedes that some voted for the Clark/Koch ticket who otherwise
would not commit to membership in the LP itself. Perhaps this was
due to the message delivered by Ed Clark. If so, there is a lesson
to be learned.
Coupled with this is the issue of the dearth of recent
media attention on the LP. Excluding libertarian periodicals, the
national media have paid little attention bo the party since 1980.
The LP has sunk into the abyss of "others." The media obviously no
longer consider the party as able to challenge in elections. It
thus has become an educational party in media eyes. This means that
coverage will be the same as that given to the Communists,
Socialists, and Prohibitionists: a small article on a back page.
Media coverage in the late 1970's was upbeat. That no longer is the
If the LP is relegated to the role of educational party,
then it will be competing against sane of those who left in 1983.
The Koch family money funds the Cato Institute. The radio program
"Byline" is a Cato Institute production heard on one hundred
seventy-five radio stations in the United States, as veil as two in
Toyko.2^ It is professionally done; its message is moderate.
The Reason Foundation provides similar radio programs, both in
English and Spanish.
What is the LP going to accomplish educationally that
others are not already doing? This is the critical question facing
the LP. The party has elected candidates. Andre Marrou's present
position in the Alaska legislature is proof that the LP can
work electorally. When the party ceases to be taken seriously, that
will not be possible. When the party members see themselves as
being unable to elect candidates, then the same will be the case.
An educational party with a highly developed and rigid ideology
will not elect candidates. Reger MacBride's analysis that political
action and educational action are different is a correct one. The
person who is desiring immediate political change will take his or
her talents to another party, much like Dick Randolph has done in
Alaska. For some "purists" this may be fine, but it will relegate
the LP to something that was not intended by its founders in 1971.
There is one other aspect of the split that should be
commented upon. Intertwined with the dispute between "opportunists"
and "purists" were serious personality disputes.22 David
Nolan's analysis merits consideration. He saw three areas of
dispute: anarchist versus minarchist; strategic; and personality.
He estimated that at least seventy per cent of the division dealt
with personality conflicts; "things that promote division between
people who should be allies."23 There is a bitterness between
many.24 whether personality disputes accounted for such a high
percentage of the split is debatable. It certainly did not help.
With many of the personalities gone, there may be
opportunity for remaining members to examine the past. Robert Poole
was upset at Crane's departure in 1983, but now agrees with Crane's
view that the party needs to be taken seriously if it is going to
have any electoral success.25 The disappointment of many
"purists" may require a examination of what those who left had to
say. Often people quit listening to what others may say, if there
is friction between them. That is the case here, and many "purists"
may well agree now with what Crane, MacBride, Randolph and others
had to say. That may not alter the path of the party, but it might
rekindle debate on strategy.
There are some lessons that may be learned from the LP's
experience. These may well apply in other political situations. Hie
first relates to the financial reliance on the Koch family. Hie LP
had relied too greatly on this money. David Koch's contribution to
the 1980 Presidential ticket was due only to his being a candidate.
Federal law allows a candidate the right to loan his campaign an
unlimited amount of money; it prohibits third-party individual
contributions of more than $1,000 and political action committee
contributions of $5,000.26 The 1984 campaign could not have
been financed as well as that of 1980, unless Koch had again been a
This money was used for party functions and was missed
when it left. The fact remains that other sources of support were
not developed. Any political party or group that does not attempt
to develop a broad base of financial support may face the sane
exact problem. Even if members contribute oily small amounts, they
will be part of the party. They will also not rely upon another's
financial control of the organization, particularly if they
disagree with that person's political outlook.
A second lesson is that dealing writh political ideology.
Tb an outsider, the separation between minarchist or anarchist,
"opportunist or "purist" appears to be small. All appeared headed
toward the same end, with differences only as to how to reach the
ultimate destination. The ideological struggle within the LP is not
unique, as the socialist movement has gone through similar internal
debates and splits. Any political movement will have to be aware of
such ideological friction. Unless there is either compromise or a
consensus, such splits will occur. The factions within the LP did
not seek either compromise or consensus. The result was predicable,
even among allies.
A third lesson deals with the shifting nature of the LP.
The 1983 convention brought charges that "ringers" were brought in
to be delegates. Che estimate was made during research on this work
that the "opportunists" had invested seventy thousand dollars to
bring people in to vote.27 There appears to be little support
for such allegation, but it points to an internal dilemma facing
the LP. The party's dislike of regulation led to the lax rules for
national convention voting. Tb be able to show up at the national
convention and become not only a party member but also a delegate
frcm a state in which you do not live is a bit much. Whether David
Bergland represented the choice of the majority of the entire LP in
1983 is unknown. His nomination represented the majority decision
of national convention delegates, some of whom may have joined the
party only hours before their vote.
Murray Rothbard's criticism of the 1980 election was that
results were "soft."28 Those Who voted may not have been com-
mitted bo the LP or libertarianism. This criticism may be correct,
but how much commitment is there from a delegate to a national
convention who literally has been brought in off the street to join
the party? The answer is one of common political sense. Perhaps
the approach by the LP to its national delegates reflects naivete.
A necessary element of any political movement is development of
mechanisms to presmote loyalty and attachment to the party. Such
appears limited in the LP. A local member wauld be less than
enthusiastic about a decision being made by delegates who have few
ties to the party.
A final lesson may be drawn from the 1984 Presidential
campaign. The disappointment by sane in the LP over the results of
the election is probably inappropriate. The LP candidates for
President and Vice-President are not going to be elected to those
offices in the near future. Neither are similar candidates in the
Socialist, Prohibition, and other third parties. The high
visibility campaign of 1980 had the salutary effect of providing
information on the party and movement; it had no chance of being
successful. Reger MacBride's criticism of the Crane-directed
campaign of 1980 was that it was too much, too soon.29 He
wanted to develop state parties. Had his plan been implemented, it
is entirely possible that additional local candidates might have
succeeded in races in 1982 and 1984. At the very least, the party
would be stronger. It would have weathered the 1983 split in better
The emphasis on a Presidential race by a third party is
misplaced. It is an educational tool, even if the party is seeking
electoral gains. Granted it provides media exposure, but it is an
act of futility. Even John Anderson learned in 1980 the hard
realities of third party politics. Any third party would be well
advised to keep this fact in perspective in any Presidential race.
There is some irony in the realization that the 1983 LP split
occurred, in part, over the content of the 1980 Presidential
campaign. This was, of course, a race that Ed Clark had no chance
If a third party seeks only bo be an educational effort,
then a strong Presidential campaign makes sore sense. If the party
seeks to gain electorally, then placing large efforts into a
Presidential campaign may be counterproductive. The LP campaign of
1980 may have served an educational function unintentionally, while'
setting back the long-term electoral goals of the party. The
strategy employed by the LP is worthy of consideration by other
parties when deciding what steps should be taken to gain sore
There should be one note of caution in trying to draw
conclusions from the LP's experiences. Each party has its own
peculiarities and nuances. The LP is no different in that regard.
No other party presently on the national political scene espouses
an ideology seeking to abolish government or, at least, to minimize
it to an extreme. The lessons of the LP may not be applicable to
other parties, particularly those parties advocating an expanded
governmental role in society.
There should be one further comment about the path of the
LP. It is still a new political party. Sane of the struggles it has
undergone probably could have been anticipated. There is no reason
to believe that there will not be additional battles in the future.
The bitterness of the split of 1983 will take tine bo overcome.
Only when such bitterness subsides will there be any reflection on
what happened. Further, only then will future LP members be able to
evaluate what happened in the period from 1976 to 1980.
The more immediate problem will be that of dealing wath
the raison d'etre for the party. Whether the party wall ever be
able to mount a strong electoral challenge is open to debate. The
issue for immediate resolution is that of whether to be an
educational or electoral party. The party will have bo resolve this
dilemma in order to confront other problems facing it.
1 Robert Poole, Jr., telephone interview on February 6,
2 Baer v. Meyer, 728 F.2d 471(10th Cir., 1984).
3 Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U.S. 780(1983). The LP joined
with John Anderson's National Unity Campaign to attack Ohio's
restrictive electoral laws on Presidential electors. The United
States Supreme Court rule in favor of Anderson and the LP, allowing
easier and later access to state ballots.
4 David Bergland, telephone interview on January 28, 1986.
3 David Nolan, interview on September 17, 1985.
6 Roger MacBride, telephone interview on March 27, 1986.
7 David Nolan, interview on September 17, 1985.
8 Roger MacBride, telephone interview on March 27, 1986.
9 ibid. He believes the examples of the Progressives in 1912
and Socialists in 1936 are applicable to the LP. Neither party was
able to function effectively after their internal splits.
10 Robert Poole, Jr., telephone interview on February 6,
12 Roger MacBride, telephone interview on March 27, 1986.
13 Murray Rothbard, telephone interview on March 10,
1^ Alan R. Gitelson, M. Margaret Conway, and Frank B.
Feigert, American Political Parties: Stability and Change(Dallas:
Houghton Mifflin Gompany, 1984), p.65.
13 Robert Poole, Jr., telephone interview February 6,
1 David Bergland, telephone interview on January 28,
17 Roger MacBride, telephone interview on March 28, 1986.
18 Ed Clark, telephone interview on March 22, 1986.
19 David Nolan, interview on November 23, 1984.
20 Murray Rothbard, telephone interview on March 10,
21 Cato Policy Review, January/February, 1985.
22 David Nolan, interview on September 17, 1985.
24 The lingering bitterness was reflected in interviews
with David Noland, David Bergland, Roger MacBride, and Murray
25 Robert Poole, Jr., telephone interview on February 6,
26 2 U.S.C. Â§441a
27 Murray Rothbard, telephone interview on March 10,
29 Roger MacBride, telephone interview on March 28, 1986.
The Libertarian Party has brought to the Merican
political scene the concept of libertarianism. This accomplishment
is not to be minimized. It has succeeded in doing this within an
extremely short period of tine. The political concept will not
fade, even if the party does.
Whether the LP has any long-range hope for viability is a
good question. The struggle for control of the party has been among
those who truly should be allies. Ed Crane and the Koch family
continue through the Cato Institute pursuit of the same goals as
the LP. They do so without reference to or alliance with the LP.
The "purists" control the party, but may have only obtained a
pyrrhic victory. Though many "purists" welcomed the departure of Bd
Crane, the loss of Roger MacBride may not have fully impacted upon
the LP as yet.
Robert Ppole foresaw the future in 1977 in his editorial
But LP members have failed to come to grips with
the problem. The debate within the party on gradualism
vs. absolutism is really a debate about vhat kind of
role the party should play-but the issue has not been
identified in those terms. The members and leaders of the
LP must face up to this question and decide what kind
of party they prefer it be (emphasis by Mr. Poole
His comment seems as equally relevant today. The party has yet to
really discuss this issue. Until it does, it will continue in a
In discussing a free market, the LP really means just that. This is
contrasted to the conservative view of a market that remains
dependent upon certain governmental regulation and support.
The LP truly does have a political philosophy that is
unique. It would be a tragic loss for political thought for the
party to whither and die. Though libertarian writings would
continue past the demise of the LP, it is the party that has been
able to transform the concept of libertarianism into everyday
usable language. No other political party presently existing in the
United States has the same philosophy, with most desiring a
significant involvement of government in everyday life.
Whether the LP can continue is a good question. Hie
struggle for control of the party has been among those who should
have been allies. Ed Crane and the Koch family continue through the
Cato Institute the pursuit of the same goals as the LP. They do so
without reference to the LP. The "purists" welcomed the departure
of Ed Crane. His departure, along with that of Roger MacBride, may
only now being felt.
Robert Poole foresaw the future in 1977 in his editorial
But LP members have failed to come to grips with
the problem. The debate within the party on gradualism
vs. absolutism is really a debate about vhat kind of
role the party should play-but the issue has not been
identified in those terms. The members and leaders of the
LP must face up to this question and decide what kind of
party they prefer it be (emphasis by Mr. Poole). ^
His comment seems as equally relevant today. The party has yet to
really discuss this issue. Until it does, it will continue in a
state of limbo. The philosophy of the LP is one which should be '
considered by all voters. Granted that it may be rejected, but the
important point is that libertarian thought needs to be part of the
electoral scene. That may not be possible if the LP is solely an
Though the LP may now be an educational party, this has
only been by default. It was not the result of a conscious
decision, reflecting a party consensus. On the contrary, the LP is
still searching for an answer to the question of what it should be.
A decision to become an educational party would eliminate the
continuing need bo battle for ballot access and for large-scale
fundraising. Cn the other hand, the LP will have bo gain polibical
organizabional skills if ib desires to elect its members to
If value judgments appear to have been made in this work,
it was not the intent of the author. The LP must decide its own
future. It has accomplished a great deal during its short life. It
would be indeed sad for the nation if the LP were to cease its
existence. The message of the party should continue to be heard.
Whether that will occur will depend on the course the LP charts for
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August, 1977, p.8.
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2 U.S.C. Â§441a