A reader offers the following observations concerning “alternative” politics in the US at present.
I’ve been thinking recently about the state of what passes for radical politics in America, particularly in the context of third parties and the potential for pan-secessionism.
The handful of relevant third parties in the United States (and would-be third parties like Unity2020 or the Movement for a People’s Party) all speak, I think, to interesting if flawed attempts by more or less well-meaning people to reform a system they clearly grasp is broken. I am reminded of something you wrote earlier this year about how each of the various groups in the country trying to “fix” the system (both within and outside the mainstream) are all stuck in dated paradigms of their own, none of which by themselves has the answers.
Obviously, the mainstream Blue Tribe / Red Tribe conflict virtually monopolizes the conversation, pressuring and frightening people to “pick a side”, either as voters, or as street brawler LARPists on the extreme ends.
To my mind, the third parties currently relevant on a national level basically boil down to 4 (or 3) groups: the Greens, the Movement for a People’s Party, the Unity2020 gang, and the Libertarians. (Though, admittedly, calling any of them “relevant” is probably a stretch. But any other groups than these are even more on the fringe, like the PSL on the left—while those on the right, like the Reform or Constitution Parties, are probably largely Trumpists now.)
Green Party: eco-socialists, social democrats, leftover hippies, and blue-tribe fundamentalists who lost faith in the Dems as a vehicle for “Progress”
Movement for a People’s Party: same as above, maybe minus the hippies; mostly a breakaway contingent of neo-Rooseveltian “progressives” / Bernie supporters who refuse to go along to get along anymore in the Democratic Party, and have decided to make a new party rather than try to take over the Greens
Unity2020: relatively mainstream independents, liberals, and maybe some conservatives who feel alienated by the Red/Blue culture war, hyper-partisanship, and hyper-polarization, desiring a “return to normalcy/civility” of some sort (while retaining America’s place as a “sober” “leader” on the world stage [lol]), yet at the same time recognizing that some kind of substantive economic reform needs to happen (like Yang’s UBI, etc.)
Libertarian Party: Cato Institute-esque lessarchists (keep the state but make it smaller!), anarcho-capitalists/voluntaryists, leftover Ron Paulians/constitutionalist/paleolibertarian types, and (most recently) anarchists of a libertarian-socialist bent
Of course, none of these groups are ever actually going to successfully reform or fix the system. Still, I am curious to see what will happen with both the Movement for a People’s Party and the Unity group—will they fizzle out, or will they actually begin to pick up steam? They strike me as a bit naive about how power actually works, and neither seems to have much interest at all in decentralization. But, I am still curious to see where these efforts lead.
As for the Greens and the Libertarians, they both seem like dogmatic ghettos more bogged down by infighting over minutae and preaching to their own choirs than anything else.
To their credit, the Greens mention decentralization as one of their “10 Key Values”, and reading through their bullet point for it, it sounds good (https://www.gp.org/ten_key_values). But from what I can tell, their emphasis on the climate crisis and other Blue Tribe fundamentalisms reduce any decentralist impulse to mere lipservice. If your worldview demands action on a national or even global level via the state, to what extent can you really be decentralist? I could be ignorant here, but that’s my impression of their actual commitment to decentralization. Perhaps on other issues, they actually are decentralist.
As for the Libertarians, there is of course a fair amount of people espousing decentralist principles in some way or another. Unfortunately, most people within the LP seem more interested in either 1) doubling down on the old, boring mantra of smaller government, lower taxes, etc., or 2) trying to convert everyone to anarcho-capitalism, specifically. Predictably, to anyone outside the party or larger libertarian movement, they just come off like uber-Republicans who want to privatize everything and let the corporations take over even more totally than they already have, and freedom just means the freedom to become a millionaire if you’re lucky, or die in the streets. I’m not saying that’s a totally accurate or fair take, but I think to some extent the stereotype is justified. When I see libertarians (who are often culturally right-leaning) get triggered by a mild-mannered figure like Jo Jorgensen merely mentioning that people of color do end up getting collectively penalized to a greater extent by the criminal justice system, I can’t help but find them kind of stupid and self-defeating. The smarter thing to do would be to acknowledge that things like racial prejudice do play into the larger issues of police-militarization and over-criminilization, rather than just complain “stop pandering to the left”, which only causes any bystander to think “okay, so the Libertarians are indifferent to police brutality against blacks, I guess.”
I think Adam Kokesh had the right idea of focusing on a platform of decentralization explicitly (rather than a vague lessarchist platform that just sounds like Republicanism + pot to the average person, or trying to wholesale convert people specifically to anarcho-capitalism, with its often corporatist, cartoonishly Randian flavor).
Unfortunately, Adam Kokesh is kind of a narcisstic embarrassment more interested in self-aggrandizement than actually advancing that cause in a meaningful and effective way beyond his own vanity campaigns.
To the extent a third party could actually act as a meaningful pressure group in American politics, and not just a colossal waste of time delusionally chasing the ring of power for itself, what I would like to see would be an extremely big-tent party or meta-party organization united around just a handful of issues:
1) domestic political decentralization – particularly, selling the idea in a way that avoids the bugbear of “states’ rights” with all its baggage; maybe instead bring back “Small Is Beautiful”, or come up with new slogans like “Local Rights are Human Rights” for the lefties, and “Strong Communities Make a Strong America” for those on the right, and actively use both sets of slogans. Tapping into some of the impulses and spirit behind Unity2020, maybe even emphasize that decentralizing things may allow Americans to learn to get along again. Proposed anthem: “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” by War
2) opposition to all American imperialism, foreign military bases, and non-defensive war
3) opposition to the drug war / support for the total decriminilzation of all drugs on a federal level
4) a debt jubilee (“Wall Street has gotten bailed out forever, now it’s the people’s turn”)
5) strict neutrality on all social and cultural issues, as well as a commitment to free speech
You could even call it the Small Is Beautiful Party, or the Thousand Flowers Party, or the Localist Party, or the Neighborhood Party. In the naming, emphasize the goal (local power over national/federal power, local life over national life) rather than the scary-sounding act of “secession”.
Of course, such a program would be fought tooth and nail by TPTB, not to mention no small number of groups still invested in somehow “fixing” the system we have now. Even if explicitly non-anarchist, and explicitly anti-violence, it would no doubt be considered a dangerous organization and probably labeled a hate group.
I can dream, though.