When the deeply free-market oriented Libertarian Party held their National Convention in New Orleans this year, the show was momentarily stolen by a self-described anarcho-communist during the contentious race for the Chairmanship of the Libertarian National Committee. During the official chairman debate, chairman candidate Matt Kuehnel became the main character of a controversial, memorable moment in Libertarian Party history, proudly broadcasting his controversial point of view in three controversial words: “Rent is theft.”
Besides setting an unusual precedent, Kuehnel broke the mold of acceptable Libertarian discourse. The statement was met with a litany of boos and Kuehnel was awarded an extra 10 seconds to his response to counter the interruption. Though the convention was just a little more than a month ago, his words are getting other state affiliates talking; considering the validity of rent being a form of theft.
A testament to the paradoxical libertarian commitments to both open-mindedness and divisiveness respectively, the Libertarian Party, which is a third party in every sense of the term, is seemingly divided into differing groups of “caucuses,” each with their own interpretations and parameters. Kuehnel’s words resonate intrinsically within one of these circles: The Libertarian Socialist Caucus of the Libertarian Party.
“‘Rent is theft’ is a slogan for calling attention to the exploitative effects of the land monopoly’s titling scheme. It’s not saying rent is categorically theft in all times and places, it’s saying that modern contractual relations built on the titling scheme aren’t wholly voluntary because of the intervention of the state,” explained Libertarian Socialist Caucus founder Mike Shipley.
“It’s actually a deeply refined analysis that one would think Austrians in particular would appreciate, given their focus on subjective value theory.” Said Shipley, in reference to the adherents of “Austrian School” economics, a liberal and laissez-faire method of examining economies and business cycles.
The South Carolina Libertarian Party adopted a resolution Sunday expressing that “rent is not theft,” a direct response to Kuehnel’s statements during the New Orleans convention.
“Taxation is theft, but rent is you renting something whether it’s a property or a lawn mower,” stated South Carolina LP Chairman Stewart Flood continuing “it’s a contractual voluntary transaction.”
Flood explained how the delegates were upset at Matt Kuehnel’s rhetoric and that upon returning from the convention, a meeting of the state committee was called to discuss the resolution which, predictably, passed unanimously. “I’ve never found anyone I detested more than Arvin Vohra until that,” stated Flood, referencing the controversial and recently deposed Libertarian Party Vice Chairman made infamous by his numerous negative statements about the military and public school teachers, among others. Flood went on to explain that he didn’t understand how libertarian socialists could consider themselves libertarian.
LNC Secretary Caryn Ann Harlos also commented on the resolution stating that state affiliates should encourage their region representatives to get the national party to adopt the resolution as well.
Though the Libertarian Social Caucus is a small and unusual group, their opinions have been made known. Members of the Caucus soon displayed their contempt for this resolution through social media although most expected this reaction and are not concerned.
“The SCLP board is not a platform committee, it is an executive committee for an affiliate in which there are both LSC members and non-LSC left libertarians,” stated Shipley, continuing “These members ought to have their voices represented with due consideration as they would with a representative platform committee, rather than the top level board which is subject to political pressures that aren’t conducive to rational consideration of deep ideas.”
Shipley even went as far as to cite Murray Rothbard, famed heterodox economist and anarcho-capitalist, stating that even Rothbard suggested that rent is not always legitimate, and that the statist land monopoly is an important discussion that many Libertarians have not yet had. A quick glance at Rothbard reveals the Rothbardian opinion:
“All that ‘feudalism,’ in our sense, requires is the seizure by violence of landed property from its true owners, the transformers of land, and the continuation of that kind of relationship over the years. Feudal land rent, then, is the precise equivalent of paying a continuing annual tribute by producers to their predatory conquerors. Feudal land rent is therefore a form of permanent tribute.” – Murray Rothbard, Ethics of Liberty
“I think it exposes where some people’s priorities are, and it’s not on topics that interest their voters,” responded Kuehnel. “I think all it really does is get our message further debated and embedded into Libertarian discussions.”
The Michigan Libertarian felt that the South Carolina affiliate wasted time on this resolution that could have been used on other things and felt that the resolution purposefully ignored selective forms of government interference.
“I think the worst part about the resolution is that it did not address real life where rent is anything but voluntary and people are being exploited, while offering libertarian solutions. They could have mentioned inflation of fiat currency, cronyism of the banking institution, even city building codes that prevent affordable housing. Instead, they chose to make some ideological point that will go over most people’s heads, and insult those that know better,” he claimed.
The South Carolina LP’s full statement:
“At the Libertarian National Convention in New Orleans a month ago, there was a small but very vocal group of people who have labeled themselves Anarcho-communists. Forget for a moment that Anarchism and Communism are mutually exclusive philosophies. This group of people made the assertion that property rights don’t exist through their slogan that, ‘rent is theft.’In response, the South Carolina Libertarian party adopted the following resolution:
WHEREAS, Libertarians believe “respect for property rights is fundamental to maintaining a free and prosperous society, it follows that the freedom to contract to obtain, retain, profit from, manage, or dispose of one’s property must also be upheld,” as stated in the party’s platform;
WHEREAS, theft is the action of taking the property or service of another without their consent; and
WHEREAS, rent is the payment for use of another party’s property as a condition of voluntary contract; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, the South Carolina Libertarian Party asserts, without equivocation, that rent is not theft.
While it may seem ridiculous for the SCLP to respond, some members intend to introduce this resolution to the national party at the next convention. To do so in good faith requires us to adopt it here in South Carolina first.”
At the risk of looking ridiculous, the Libertarian Party of South Carolina took up arms in a conflict wherein the underdog members of an underdog party presented a controversial opinion on the national stage. The symmetry is beautiful, as both the state Libertarian Party and the libertarian socialist minority within the national party are using the same abbreviation: “SCLP.” Such conflicts are nothing new to Libertarian politics, and the trend of resolving such controversial statements on an official level is likely to continue into other statewide Libertarian Parties as this movements makes its way to the national level to reaffirm something that Libertarians are already aware of: that the Libertarian Party is a free market party.
Now we wait for the antics while the LP figures out what that means.
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