Garry Reed combined a professional technical writing career and a passion for all things libertarian to become The Libertarian Opinionizer.
Commentary From Your Libertarian Opinionizer
In an article in The Zeroth Position (“The premier site for libertarian reactionary thought”) a libertarian advocate advocates that libertarians should stop just advocating libertarianism and launch a “hands-on movement.” Apparently, this person has missed all of the libertarian hands-on activity going on around him over the past seven decades or so.
The article written by Insula Qui (which according to translate.google.com is Latin for “the island” and is therefore likely a nom de plume which is French for “pen name”) is titled “A Critique of Libertarian Strategy” in which the author faults libertarianism for its lack of action, charisma, virtue, and breadth as well as for ignorance of the opposition.
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But fret not, libertarians need a good constructive reaming out by their fellows and sisters now and then and there’s a lot of reaming going on in Insula Qui’s article, beginning with . . .
Lack of Action
“Most libertarians” the libertarian advocate chides, “seem to be averse to actual economic and political action that would increase the amount of liberty in the world.” Progressives, the writer offers, didn’t just sit around advocating their progressive philosophy; they got out into the real world and did real things about their beliefs.
And so they did. Progressives supported female suffrage, started labor unions, infiltrated socialist thought into public school curricula, became trust-busters, and advocated for government regulations of all kinds.
Insula Qui does list out some modern libertarian out-of-the-house activism and misses others, such as (1) the Institute for Justice that sues governments on behalf of their clients’ civil rights, (2) Downsize DC that encourages people to pressure their federal representatives on specific issues, and (3) self-declared “Tyranny Fighters” who put their bodies on the line in front of courthouses to advocate for jury nullification.
Honest Evaluations of Libertarianism
What the author seems to forget is that the Modern American Libertarian Movement – not to be confused with the European usage of “libertarian” dating from 19th century Europe that means anarchist socialism – only began around 1943, at least according to Brian Doherty’s 2009 Radicals for Capitalism, A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement. (By “capitalism” is meant the free markets and entrepreneurial kind, not the Marxist exploitation and “wage slavery” kind.)
In other words, it’s easy to see the successful results of activist progressivism since that philosophy got its start with the Age of Enlightenment in Europe beginning around 1715, some three hundred years ago. It had a whole philosophical movement behind it before it even became a political movement.
As others have pointed out politics is merely the practical application of philosophy. Without a libertarian philosophy, there can be no meaningful libertarian politics other than running political campaigns not for winning votes but for educating people. So give American Non-Aggression-Principle (NAP) Libertarianism three hundred years and then compare notes with progressivism!
Lack of Charisma
“Many libertarians are abrasive, intense, and ill-suited for social interaction,” complains Insula Qui, and that is absolutely true. But then, the same can be said of many progressives too, which makes this an issue of individual people, not philosophies per se.
The author personally nominates people like Ron Paul, Walter Block, Tom Woods, and Murray Rothbard as exceptions to the “ill-suited” rule but failed to note the obvious charm and charisma of The Libertarian Opinionizer.
Insula Qui goes on to cite music and art as “great tools when it comes to spreading the message of different philosophical positions” but can think only of Ayn Rand as an example of doing this for the libertarian philosophy. (Most would put her in the “abrasive, intense, and ill-suited” category.) Yet libertarianism, even in its current infancy, has already produced Golden Age science fiction writers like Robert A. Heinlein and Eric Frank Russell, singers like Tatiana Moroz and Astra, “Voluntaryist” comic book creator Jaime Sherman and Reason cartoonist Peter Bagge, and libertarian celebrities like Penn Jillette (the larger, louder half of Penn and Teller) and Clint Eastwood. If libertarians aren’t familiar with some of these people then shame on libertarians.
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Still, the critiquer wants something grander. “Libertarians should focus more on creating works that are accessible to large audiences” and offers “one incredible example, simply for comparison,” from a group even fringier than libertarians, “is that of the flat-earthers who put up a billboard.”
Really? The Island must have missed the many billboards put up by Jury Nullification advocates, Objectivists, Anti-TSA activists and LP Candidates over the years.
Lack of Virtue
The claim here is that libertarians focus too much on how to create a libertarian society, how great it would be and how bad things are now. In short, libertarians need to stop focusing on intellectual strategies and “cultivate libertarian virtues.” By “virtues” the author appears to mean, but doesn’t explicitly say in this section, libertarian morality, ethics, empathy, humanity, personal integrity and responsibility.
Yet vast swaths of pixels and paper have already been dedicated to the basis of libertarian virtue, that being the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP) against coercion, intimidation and fraud. It is frequently and rightly compared to the Golden Rule and the Live-and-Let-Live idiom. Yet Insula Qui barely acknowledges the existence of this fundamental libertarian moral principle in the strategy critique article.
Vastly more should but has not been written about libertarianism’s noble pedigree: The 500 year expanse of human psychological, philosophical, technological, social and cultural progress embodied in the Reformation, Renaissance and Enlightenment. It needs to be emphasized over and over that libertarianism – not progressivism – is the natural and legitimate heir and future extension of that great and wondrous tradition. Either libertarianism’s time will come or humanity will collapse back into another Dark Age.
Immeasurably more needs to be studied and written about that!
Lack of Breadth
This is a familiar one. The complaint is that libertarianism delves deep into economics, politics and philosophy but fails to fill in all the expanses of social, cultural, spiritual and interpersonal values necessary to serve as a truly universal, holistic, philosophical worldview.
And that’s true, and the author gets it and yet the author doesn’t get it. What is gotten is that “libertarianism itself is only an answer to the question of when the use of force is appropriate, this does not a complete worldview make.”
And our essayist even says that “this is by design” but still doesn’t seem to get why this is by design.
The design is that Libertarianism is an individualist philosophy. The non-aggression principle is the bedrock of the philosophy – a moral foundation – but does not or should not tell individuals what kind worldview – what kind of house – to build on that foundation.
Libertarianism should never tell what size, what style, what color, what materials, how tall or wide or what breadth any individual’s house should be any more than it should tell what idea, what ideology, what politics, what philosophy, what religion what lifestyle any individual’s worldview should be.
The non-aggression principle is fit to be one kind of foundation only and that is the foundation for every kind of peaceful, voluntary, selective, mutual, freely entered into interaction among people; it should never presume to tell any individual anything beyond that.
When Insula Qui says “Libertarianism has overwhelming amounts of substance, but the substance it has is very limited in content” he should be lauding the philosophy for that, not condemning it.
That’s because while the NAP is the moral foundation of the philosophy the basic principle of libertarianism rests on the existence of human life, of human beings living as human beings through self-ownership. But that’s another entire article, or book, or encyclopedia, or library.
Ignorance of the Opposition
“One more item of criticism for libertarians,” the Criticizer criticizes, “is how most fail to understand the arguments of their opponents.”
This he gets entirely right. Even as “the opposition” tends to think all libertarians who disagree with them are ignorant and terms like voluntaryist, agorist, objectivist, rationalist, mutualist, minarchist, ancap, post-statist, anarcho-libertarian, libertarian-leaning, Libertarian Party and Libertarian Wing of the Republican Party are all the same thing, so too libertarians tend to treat their opposition as a single witless entity called Democrat, liberal, leftie, left-winger, anarchist, progressive, statist, socialist, communist, collectivist and authoritarian.
Most on both sides – or rather all sides – typically parrot memorized talking points at one another and never bother to learn much about their own beliefs, let alone the “other’s” beliefs.
“It helps a great deal to know where the opponents of property and capitalism are coming from” the author says.
In fact it’s good to know that some, but not all, non-libertarians believe that property is theft, that all property belongs to the community, that some make a distinction between public and private property while some distinguish property from possessions while still others such as those who call themselves mutualists or free market socialists are far closer to free market libertarians than they are to the hardest hardcore collectivists.
It also helps to know that when most libertarian detractors say “capitalism” the very word is such a knee-jerk pejorative to non-libertarians that in their minds Marxist capitalism, crony capitalism, corporatist capitalism, anarcho-capitalism, laissez-faire capitalism, just plain unhyphenated capitalism and even free markets are all equally the same thing and equally evil.
So what to do? If a libertarian wants to advocate libertarianism the first lesson to learn is “Know your audience.” You don’t sing hillbilly songs to an opera crowd and you don’t call Marxists a bunch of Nazis. Educate yourself first, advocate second.
Insula Qui, or The Island, or whoever the author is, concludes this section with the following observation: “Libertarians cannot always change the moral premises of others by trying to get people to understand the conclusions of the personal moral premises that libertarians tend to hold.”
But the most important thing of all that libertarians should understand is that they should never even attempt to change anyone’s mind. Others don’t change people’s minds, people change their own minds. The best libertarians can do is to simply state their beliefs and move on. Debate but don’t argue, don’t rant, don’t insult, don’t demand or condemn or preach. Always take the high road no matter how low your lowdown opponents go.
A few things libertarians should keep in mind:
Mahatma Gandhi said,"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Modern Libertarianism is already past the “Ignore” stage and is now somewhere in the “Laugh at” and “Fight You” stages, so libertarians must be doing something right. As for the “You Win” stage…
The long view:
“Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society.” – RPI News, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, July 2011
The Really Long View (to repeat):
The Age of Libertarianism is the obvious and logical next step in humankind’s long climb out of savage tribalism and violent authoritarianism that began with The Renaissance, The Reformation and The Enlightenment/Age of Reason.
Insula Qui has written an important and thoughtful critique of libertarian strategy. But this, perhaps, is one key element that was missed: Libertarianism is an individualist philosophy, and all who advocate it must each have one’s own individual strategy.
After all, until we are each able to understand our own mental workings as individuals we won’t much be able to work together voluntarily for our mutual beliefs. And working together voluntarily as individuals is how libertarians work best together.
So do you write? Teach? Lecture? Organize? Orate? Discuss? Produce videos? Run for political office? Figure out what you do best and do it. Don’t just think and talk libertarianism, live it! That’s your strategy. Together, it’s our strategy.
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This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.