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11/19/2003 Archived Entry: "Maunderings on leadership"

MAUNDERINGS ON LEADERSHIP. I belong to a small (non-political) activist group that operates in two towns. It's supposedly one group, but the members in this town were recruited by a no-nonsense local businesswoman, while the members in that town coalesced around a dedicated, long-time volunteer. That volunteer is hard-working and talented, but to put it technically, he's a complete crosseyed muddle-headed looney-tune who just avoids a padded cell by sheer luck.

The result: The core group in this town is strong on methodical organization, rational thinking, dispassionate judgments, and getting things done in a long-term way. The core group in that town is ... well, a bunch of complete crosseyed muddle-headed looney tunes with drinking problems, religious manias, twisted fantasy lives, and periodic disappearances and freak-outs. Their activities constantly toss on a sea of histrionics and manufactured "emergencies." However, that group also gets more short-term work done than we do because they leap in and "do something" while we're still deciding what actions best fit our long-term plan.

These two groups are going to collide and shatter someday. Everybody knows it. In the meantime we circle each other diplomatically and attempt (not always successfully) to appreciate each others' strengths.

We're a perfect example, in microcosm, of the effects of leadership.

For years, I thought (and hoped) that libertarians didn't need leadership. After all, we're the great believers in individual

initiative. I still like the model of the invisible hand, in which limitless numbers of decentralized, individual decisions create a well-functioning system. But when it comes to actually getting some specific thing done, libertarians need -- and crave -- leadership as much as anybody else.

More's the pity.

Unfortunately, when it comes to leadership, the only difference between us and the worst statists is not to our credit: If nobody leads us, we stand around and bicker and carp and philosophize and do nothing. But if anybody dares step forth to lead, we turn like a school of pirhanas and unleash our bickering, carping, philosophizing, and utter damnation upon him.

Jason Sorens of the Free State Project was one of the first libertarians in years to "get away" with leadership. Not that folks didn't bicker and carp. But Jason put together a solid plan and a solid crew and pushed ahead despite the naysayers. Now that Jason has had to take a less active role in the FSP, the bickering and agenda-promotion threatens to overwhelm the valiant few who are trying to hold things together.

In the wake of the FSP's announcement that New Hampshire would be the state of the free, a gaggle of western free-state projects hatched. I signed onto four of their listservs. I signed off the first one (the notorious W.A.L.L. list) after three horrified days of flames and nonsense. I lasted a few weeks on others. I watched people spend a month trying (unsuccessfully) to decide, by consensus, what to name their group. I watched groups -- allegedly set up for strategy and planning -- become consumed by heated discussions of how a libertarian community would deal with someone who opened a penis-shaped brothel across from an elementary school or built a vulva-shaped house from which crack was sold to minors. Or stop dead for discussions about whether there was a mole in their midst, as if a mole on an open-membership public listserv was a shocking thing.

One group renamed itself and re-founded its discussion group four times in less than six weeks, each time announcing that this time there would be only serious planning, not idle chatter. Each time, within days, the few who were actually trying to talk about strategies were drowned out by The Usual Libertarian Blather.

There were some smart heads on these groups. And there's one person who shows signs of real leadership. But when he dared cut through the ineffectual dithering to announce that he'd set up a planning conference, he was resoundingly damned as a usurper.

Now, you might have noticed that I'm carping. And I'm saying I watched, rather than stepped into any leadership role myself on any of these group-wannabes. Right. I'm not a leader. Never claimed to be. Never wanted to be. Been there, done that. Herded many libertarian cats, to my dismay, and I'll never do it again. I'll do my part, sometimes to the point where volunteer activities dominate my life. I'll self-start and self-drive, and yes I've offered to do some behind-the-scenes work on the FSP. But I won't take responsibility for what others do. I'm a mere hermit writer & sticking to that story. Besides, I'm the one who doesn't believe in leadership.

But when it comes to freedom projects, especially the FSP and other free-state projects, I find myself wishing a leader would just step forth -- damn the bickering, full-speed ahead!

Call me inconsistent. I'll cop to that.

What's really scary, though, is that while libertarians crave leaders, yet damn all would-be leaders who appear, the rest of the world follows leaders all-too-blindly. And it's a matter of luck, as much as anything else, whether we get the reasonable, Jeffersonian kind or the looney tune kind that keep us in constant turmoil and "crises." Our luck hasn't been so good for the last 100 years or so. And, with libertarianism so incapable of getting off its philosophical duff and get moving, our luck isn't likely to change anytime soon.

Posted by Claire @ 10:01 AM CST

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