Libertarian Membership Pledge
The Libertarian Pledge, which all must agree to in order to join the Libertarian Party, declares, "I hereby certify that I do not believe in or advocate the initiation of force as a means of achieving political or social goals." LP co-founder David Nolan created the Pledge in 1971, and offered the following explanation for it in 1993 in response to an inquiry from David Aitken on behalf of the Libertarian Party of Colorado:
- Question: What does the pledge on the membership form mean? We ask our members to disavow the initiation of force. This does not mean that you cannot defend yourself; you DO have a right to defend your life, liberty, and property. It does mean that you cannot use the coercive power of government to forcibly achieve your personal, ethical, or religious goals. This commitment helps us maintain our principles and provides us with a measuring stick to determine if we have strayed from our common goal: a society where all relationships among persons are based on voluntary cooperation.
- Reply: Dave, This is a perfectly good explanation of what the "pledge" or "oath" means. Interestingly, most people in the LP do not know why it was originally placed on membership applications. We did it not because we believed that we could keep out "bad" people by asking them to sign--after all, evil people will lie to achieve their ends--but to provide some evidence that the LP was not a group advocating violent overthrow of the gov't. In the early 70's, memories of Nixon's "enemies list" and the McCarthy hearings of the 50's were still fresh in people's minds, and we wanted to protect ourselves from future witch-hunts.
Whether or not the Pledge is primarily about keeping the party non-violent and opposed to terrorist actions against the government, or is itself intended as a statement of the Non-aggression principle, has been disputed. Libertarians have variously argued that it is both, or only one or the other.  The above quote from Nolan appears to favor the view that the exigent purpose for requiring it as a condition of membership was to protect the Party from accusations by the government, but it is also a description of the non-agression principle or non-initiation of force principle. Some libertarians believe the pledge does not necessarily preclude violent action to resist tyranny, because tyrannical governments initiate force, and therefore, revolutionary acts qualify as self-defense.
- Timothy McVeigh is not just a mass murderer; he's a very confused mass murderer. Besides having no appreciation for the value of human life, McVeigh apparently has no understanding of the meaning of the word libertarian. Just to set the record straight, real libertarians wholeheartedly reject the use of force to achieve political or social goals. Real libertarians see violence and try to prevent it, see problems and organize cooperative solutions, and see government abusing its power and work peacefully through the political system to protect our rights.
The pledge has both passionate supporters and critics. It has been cited as a reason why policies such as the so-called "Fair Tax", a plan for a national sales tax, militarized borders, restrictions on campaign contributions, and other policies that have been supported by some Libertarian candidates and members, are in fact un-libertarian, due to the fact that these policies involve initiating force.
There have been many proposals to change or eliminate the Pledge. The Pledge has been criticized for allegedly allowing only pure anarchists to join and for stopping members from advocating incremental changes towards freedom. . However this is countered by noting that the architect of the Pledge, David Nolan, was not an anarchist at the time and surely did not create a Pledge that would exclude himself. Another criticism of the Pledge is that it does not prohibit the use of force for goals other than political and social ones. Opponents of that view respond that the Pledge was intended to be an include-all, but is a statement regarding governance-a position affirmed by David Nolan. The early Party would have considered all issues concerning the state to fall within the broad categories of "social" and "political." Ray Roberts proposed changing it to, "I believe force should only be used to protect life, liberty and property from attack." Brian Holtz offered another proposed Pledge, "The Libertarian Party will always stand for more liberty and less government on every issue. As a member of the Libertarian Party, I will NOT attempt to change this." with the purpose of being welcoming to anyone who wants less government on some issues but do not agree on others. This, however, would be a departure from any of the prior interpretations and the primary purpose as articled by Nolan as an assurance to the government that the Libertarian Party were not violent revolutionaries.
The Pledge is required by Section 5.1 of the national bylaws and many state affiliates of the Libertarian Party also have bylaw provisions requiring it. At the 2006 Libertarian National Convention, the Libertarian Reform Caucus attempted to repeal the Pledge but failed to obtain the necessary two-thirds vote.
The current contributor newsletter now known as Liberty Pledge used to be known as Libertarian Pledge.
- "Libertarians rebuke Timothy McVeigh", Libertarian Party, LP.org, April 17, 2001.