This article was published in the Summer 1999 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation

Purism vs. Practicality

by Richard O. Hammer

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Many libertarians love to debate the principles of liberty. But do they love debate more than they love liberty itself?

For several years I attended Unitarian-Universalist fellowships. UUs tend to be intellectual, like libertarians. They love to discuss issues. They discuss and discuss. In fact they tell this joke about themselves.

When UUs die their souls come to a fork in the road, where they see a sign.

UUs all go to the discussion group.

Now, among libertarians, I often meet one who stubbornly debates some point of purity. It seems to me that these libertarians would want nothing to do with a new free nation unless their condition X were met. X might be:

These purists are eager to debate at length why I must settle for nothing less than perfect X. But I think liberty is a relative thing. Some countries are more free than others. More free countries are better places to live than less free countries. A new country which had 90% less government than America would be a big improvement, in my view. And I would choose to go to that country if it became an option while there appeared to be no immediate promise of getting an even greater reduction in government.

I think that we, who study the history of constitutions from a libertarian viewpoint, have learned enough that we can constitute a new nation with greater liberty, and with more protections for liberty, than ever before in history. But I do not expect that we are perfect, just yet.

So, fellow traveler, which direction will you turn, if you find yourself facing this sign? D


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