Garrison State Hegemony in U.S. Politics

A Critical Ethnohistory of Corruption and Power in the World’s Oldest ‘Democracy’

by Robert A. Williams (Author)
©2021 Monographs XVIII, 244 Pages


Guided by Gramsci’s question of why so many victims support the labyrinth of their oppression, Robert A. Williams queries garrison state machinations in electioneering to promote hegemony. This pioneering ethnography explores the role and function of the U.S. garrison state in U.S. electioneering through participant observation of the United States’s largest third party—the Libertarian Party (LP)—as a window to wider sociocultural dynamics of covert power in U.S. politics. Some three decades of insider membership roles within Libertarian Party electioneering combined with two years of doctoral fieldwork provide an ethnographic window into cultural hegemony in U.S. electoral politics and sociological analysis of the information warfare that sustains it.
Anchored in original and extensive participant observation including interviews and surveys, this ethnography of United States’s sociologically understudied Libertarian Party (LP) probes the power of cultural hegemony to constrain human agency in electioneering. Through a privileged membership point of view by becoming the phenomenon, the author provides a critically reflective analysis of the sociocultural context in which LP electioneering unfolds. Membership roles in Libertarian electioneering range from donors to candidates, from volunteers to party officials, and from anti-authoritarian libertarians to authoritarian conservatives. Exploring its transition from a radical anti-establishment party to a party more in line with mainstream opinion, Williams shows how a member’s relations of shared cultural logics constrain her or his behavior to ultimately reproduce garrison state social practices.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Part I Alternative Visions
  • Chapter One: Culture and Libertarian Politics
  • Chapter Two: Organizing for Votes
  • Part II Ethnography of Alternative Electoral Politics
  • Chapter Three: Representations by the Local “New” and the Local “Old”
  • Chapter Four: Fair Booths
  • Chapter Five: Electoral Campaigns
  • Part III Genealogies of Hegemony
  • Chapter Six: Cultural Logics and Duopoly
  • Chapter Seven: Political Economy of “Third” Parties
  • Chapter Eight: Political Thought and [Re]Invention of Traditions
  • Part IV Hegemony in Electoral Politics
  • Chapter Nine: Ideology and Hegemony
  • Bibliography
  • Index

←viii | ix→



Growing up in Ohio during my first decade of life under an emotionally and physically abusive father until my parent’s divorce was a significant factor in the later formation of my political views. My violent childhood was contextualized by a decade of relatively sparse school beatings as corporal punishment; the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Malik El Shabazz (formerly Malcom X), and Martin Luther King Jr.; the growing Vietnam War and looming conscription; and, at age 12, the joint FBI/Ohio National Guard massacre of unarmed Kent State University students. Together these hardships taught me not to trust anyone in authority and drove my later interest in politics and participant observation.

When I joined the US Air Force in early 1980, my distrust of authority deepened a year later when President Jimmy Carter’s term ended and my new Commander-in-Chief, President Ronald Reagan, was shot and critically wounded by the adolescent friend of our Vice President’s son Neil Bush. After a full year of living in a total institution as an enlisted airman on Alaska’s Shemya Island with a remit to maintain surveillance on the Soviet Union, my appreciation grew for a macrolevel perspective of the wider sociocultural aspects of America’s “garrison state” political economy (Lasswell, 1941). As Giddens put it, “The impact of war in the twentieth century upon generalised [sic] patterns of change has been so profound that it is little short of absurd to seek to interpret such patterns without ←ix | x→systematic reference to it” (1985: 294). Grinder and Hagel III explained, “the military has emerged in the post–World War II period as a key intermediary between the state apparatus and the ‘private’ sector” (1977: 71).

At a time when Murray N. Rothbard’s notion of voluntary government was at peak influence within Libertarian Party (LP) politics, my discovery of libertarianism and Libertarians four decades ago presents its own idiosyncratic set of methodological implications. My initial portal into Libertarian electioneering was provided by a noncoercionist segment based in Norman, Oklahoma during the early 1980s. Unlike the majority of LP members across America, I have never been a classical liberal proponent of limited or smaller involuntary government. Significantly, as a mixed race American with deep colonial Dutch Mennonite, Welsh Quaker and Yoruba Muslim roots, I have never voted for Democrats or Republicans. Portions of my biography have contributed to a fair amount of “cultural dissidence”, which have left me “averse to all use of power” (Goldschmidt, 2001: 799). I continue to draw upon this aversion and my biographical experiences as a supplement to my later British training in “sociological imagination” (Mills, 1959). This combination helped me to maintain a useful degree of critical reflection in fieldwork for this case study.

Two years as assistant squadron historian in the 964th Airborne Warning & Control Squadron (AWACS) during the early 1980s saw me recording surveillance sorties over Iran, Iraq, and more political hotspots, which further developed my eye-in-the-sky macrocontextual perspective of “a country made by war” (Perret, 1989). Too few ethnohistories give consideration, as I attempt here, to the totality of the structural footprint by the world’s largest military upon the cultural logics and agency of individual Americans. Not only is America’s corporative economic order a creature of the state, it serves Pentagon needs. Targeted forms of quasi-martial law of the type experienced during WW2 by Sewell Avery, Chief Executive Officer of the now-defunct Montgomery Ward department store chain, are always at ready should the civilian sector fail to provide.

I agree with Cicourel (1964), Jorgensen (1989), and Gill (2005) that there is no such thing as a bias-free researcher and with Belmonte that “a stance of pure objectivity (eliminating the self) is as destructive” to participant observation “as is a stance of pure subjectivity (eliminating the other)” (2005: x). Therefore, the challenge remained of how to put my idiosyncratic bias for individual agency to work for greater objectivity and otherwise keep subjectivity to a minimum. The issue of the researcher’s own bias affecting the course of fieldwork was addressed by adopting an approach employed successfully over the years by increasing numbers of participant observers, which involves temporarily “going native” in order to see things the way insiders do then returning to the original scientific mindset ←x | xi→to critically reflect upon their beliefs and ethos (see Jules-Rosette, 1975; Smith, 2011). The native perspective in this ethnohistory is largely a salvage one of the diminished purist or noncoercionist segment of the LP. Even so, I sought to situate my experiences and the experiences of newer members and segments in the wider cultural, social, and political contexts that constrain and influence social constructions of party. Holding simultaneous insider and outsider perspectives has strengthened my ability to absorb various perspectives of LP social dynamics.

At another level I am no longer the 24-year old part-time University of Oklahoma political science student wrestling with Hampden-Turner’s Radical Man (1971) when I read the LP’s Statement of Principles in the student newspaper and then promptly joined to become an activist. Decades later I now question the identity of the Statement’s writers, their motives for writing it, and how it developed into its discursive form. I am also curious about the sociocultural reasons for my initial affinity towards the Statement and my subsequent attraction to the LP when I encountered both in the autumn of 1981.

←xi |

←xii | xiii→



Before this study began as a doctoral project in 2009, several academics had contributed to my approach to explore Libertarian electioneering as an ethnographic case study. From my undergraduate days at the University of Oklahoma and later Walsh University, historian William W. Savage, Jr. and sociologist John W. McKeon (1947–2012) encouraged me to take academic study seriously. Through graduate studies at what is now Bangor University in Wales, sociologist Stephen Hester (1947–2014) impressed the significance of ethnography and ethnomethodology upon me. In England, historian Wray Vamplew at De Montfort University did the same for cultural, economic, and historical appraisals.

At England’s University of Birmingham, social anthropologist Alexander Thomas T. Smith guided my launch into fieldwork. With the unexpected closure of Birmingham’s School of Sociology and my subsequent transfer to the University of Huddersfield, political theorist Peter S. Woodcock stepped forward to lead with steadfast supervision. I am also grateful to the University of Huddersfield for the tireless support by historian Brendan Evans and political sociologist James McAuley.

My greatest gratitude and love go to my wife and my parents for their tremendous support during this demanding project.

←xiii | xiv→

←xiv | xv→


List of Abbreviations

ACLU American Civil Liberties Union
AIM American Indian Movement
ASAP as soon as possible
AWACS Airborne Warning & Control Squadron
BOE Board of Elections
CIA Central Intelligence Agency
DPM Democratic Party of Michigan
E-advertising electronic advertising
EXECOM Executive Committee
FDR Franklin Delano Roosevelt
GOP Grand Old Party (Republican Party)
HCLP [Heartland] County Libertarian Party
HUAC House Un-American Committee
IRS Internal Revenue Service
JBS John Birch Society
L & R Left and Right
LCLP [Local] County Libertarian Party←xv | xvi→
LNC Libertarian National Committee
LP Libertarian Party
LPM Libertarian Party of Michigan
LPO Libertarian Party of Ohio
LWV League of Women Voters
PAC Political Action Committee
TR Theodore Roosevelt
UK United Kingdom
US United States
WW1 World War One
WW2 World War Two
YAF Young Americans for Freedom

←2 | 3→


Culture and Libertarian Politics

Painted on TV as “the worst Drug Warrior in Congress” over his opposition to medical marijuana, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analyst under Director George Bush lost his job in Congress on August 20, 2002 (Libertarian Party, 2002a). For weeks the primary race between Congressman Bob Barr of Georgia’s 7th District and Congressman John Linder was too close to call. Yet Barr fell quickly behind after Libertarian challenger Carole Ann Rand sponsored a two-week series of nearly 4,000 disparaging TV commercials. On voting day, Barr managed only a third of the primary votes to Linder’s two-thirds.

Having identified Barr as a threat to liberty, Rand employed sport metaphor to cheer Barr’s exit from Congress—“Barr’s defeat is a victory for every American…Like Babe Ruth pointing to a spot in the bleachers and hitting a home run, we pointed at our target and helped knock him out of Congress” (Libertarian Party, 2002a). Invoking violent American gun culture metaphor, Libertarian Party (LP) Political Director Ron Crickenberger echoed Rand’s sentiment—“[The Libertarian Party’s] ‘Incumbent Killer Strategy’…fired a warning shot for every drug warrior in Congress to hear. And any member of Congress…could be next on our list” (Libertarian Party, 2002a).

The LP’s media attack brought Barr’s Congressional participation to an abrupt end. Once regarded as indomitable but now cast beyond the halls of Congress, ←3 | 4→Barr retreated into the deep structural spaces of power and privilege that constitute the US garrison state. Not content with burying himself in the banal practices of a law profession, Barr employed a counterintelligence strategy not outside his training at CIA to triumph over the Libertarian Party by joining them.

Many recently quit Republicans accompanied Barr in crashing the LP. The LP’s comeuppance was delivered in 2008 after six rounds of voting at Denver when Barr secured the delegates’ nomination to conclude its presidential primary convention. Significant numbers of noncoercionist libertarians and other longtime members promptly quit the party. At the time I, too, was shocked. Four years later, with mission accomplished, Barr returned to the Republican Party.

After the LP had purchased nearly 4,000 TV ads urging voters to remove Barr from his congressional seat, why then did a majority of LP delegates later give support to Barr and his fellow party crashers? What was (and is) happening inside and outside the LP that eventually saw Barr erupt from his political coffin to secure top place on the LP’s 2008 presidential ticket?

The irony of Barr’s ploy lessens upon consideration of the historical role by garrison state wordsmiths in US politics. Rebranding pre-World War Two (WW2) noninterventionist Old Right segments as “libertarian,” post-WW2 CIA wordsmiths successfully restructured the Republican Party around pro-war segments. This understudied connection between the garrison state and major party duopoly in the field of electoral politics makes the LP an invaluable window for exploring these relations.

In the Ohio setting, the post-Barr LP became increasingly corporative and bureaucratic in structure. The accompanying cultural and ideological shift towards the authoritarian right paradoxically marked a period of continuous organizational growth. Exploration of this social phenomenon begs ethnographic attention to Libertarians’ reliance upon wider cultural logics in their social constructions of party and in their discursive attempts to sell candidates to voters. First, I will share my conceptual approach and methodology to explore the LP phenomenon. Next, I share ethnographic data from 24 months of participant observation, including rising authoritarian tendencies. Moving forward, the historical, cultural, and economic contexts of the American political party system are surveyed as components of an ideologically prescribed cultural model of social control of which the LP is part. I suggest that if we are to understand the social animation of the LP, it is useful to consider Antonio Gramsci and his concept of hegemony in relation to covert power in electoral politics (1971). With an expectation for members to conform to multidimensional cultural logics, an empire-dependent warfare state is ultimately served.←4 | 5→


XVIII, 244
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (March)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2021. XVIII, 244 pp.

Biographical notes

Robert A. Williams (Author)

A political and urban ethnographer with British training in history (PGDip, De Montfort) and sociology (MPhil, Bangor; PhD, Huddersfield), Robert A. Williams conducts fieldwork in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates while teaching online technology and human values courses for The University of Akron.


Title: Garrison State Hegemony in U.S. Politics
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