Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 431, August 19, 2007

"None of the bureaucrats could understand why I was upset."


What's This Movement About?
by Paul Bonneau

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

I must confess to some confusion about the libertarian movement. Is this, in the end, nothing more than an intellectual circle-jerk?

That is often the impression I get. I became libertarian because I want to be free. But that does not seem to be the aim of many libertarians!

Why? Well, what are the tools for freedom? I can think of three: escape (to Pallas, no less!), persuasion, and failing that, violent resistance (always defensive, of course). We cannot use violence in an aggressive way; we can't force people to be free. Aggression is out, for us. Why then is it, that so many libertarians have such a disdain for persuasion; or just as bad, have no idea how it's done? Is it that they are just waiting around for the violent resistance phase? But why do I get the impression these same types will be the first to fold when that phase comes about? How many own even a gun, never mind a battle rifle?

Now, I understand that individuals can find freedom no matter what society they live in. The first place you have to be free, is in your mind. But beyond that, is it not better to be free living in an environment comparable to early 19th-century America, than in a gulag of Stalinist Russia? Is there nothing to choose between the two? Freedom in one's mind does not require persuasion of others, but I sure know which place I prefer to be free in. The instant you make a preference between societies you want to live in, you admit the need for persuasion of others.

Now then, how does one account for these statements, found on entry to TLE? "Although most of us are politically active, as contributors to The Libertarian Enterprise, we have no interest in converting anyone to anything. Our experience is that few individuals are qualified to be libertarians, that it requires more patience and genius than today's products of public education are capable of, and that anyone who must be persuaded to be free probably doesn't deserve to be."

We can't use agression, we disdain persuasion, so what's left? Telling each other how superior we are to the "sheeple"? Looks like a circle-jerk to me. No wonder we get nowhere, despite the fact that, as Ron Paul says, "freedom is popular". We are our own worst enemies.

That paragraph is preceded by, "Our one goal is to tell the world what libertarians think about things." And to do it in as offensive a manner as possible, so the world dismisses us? But at least we get to feel superior to them?

Why should we "tell the world"? What is the point in doing so? What is our aim?

The problem is not just TLE, which claims to have a limited mission (for who knows what end). This attitude among libertarians is ubiquitous.

We have a message. The message is good. There are potential recipients of our message out there, with varying degrees of receptivity. And there is us, the bearers of the message. Why doesn't the message work? Is it the message itself? No, I don't think so. Is it the recipients? Most libertarians seem to think the recipients are hopeless (now there's a recipe for defeat). But the real problem is with the bearers of the message. They don't really care if it gets across, or they are incompetent to transmit it properly.

Look for example at the article, "The Problem with Conservatives". Even the title is a mistake. The author did not care about transmitting the message of freedom. He just cared about showing how right he was and how stupid his conservative associate was. Finally, they no longer talk. Now that's progress! And he even comes here to boast about it!

It is truely idiotic to expect instant conversions away from firmly-held beliefs; yet when such do not occur we again complain about how ignorant people are. Well, there is ignorance (and puerile impatience) here, but it is in us, not in the person we are talking to. Read, and re-read again, Nock's essay "Isaiah's Job". Or read about how people really work, in Dale Carnegie's classic How to Win Friends & Influence People, an excellent manual on how to get along with the rest of the human race (if you care). Carnegie's book deserves a place of honor next to Atlas Shrugged!

In that book, for example, Carnegie discusses the mistakes of a young, tactless Benjamin Franklin, who sounds much like so many libertarians today. At one point he is berated by an old Quaker friend: "Ben, you are impossible. Your opinions have a slap in them for anyone who differs with you. They have become so offensive that nobody cares for them. Your friends find they enjoy themselves better when you are not around. You know so much that no man can tell you anything. Indeed, no man is going to try, for the effort would lead only to discomfort and hard work. So you are not likely ever to know any more than you do now, which is very little." To his credit, Franklin took this to heart and turned himself around, becoming one of the most influential men in history, not to mention a tremendously effective advocate for freedom.

No doubt, in reading this, some will immediately think, "He wants to water down libertarianism!" Ah, no. I don't think hard-hitting commentary is automatically counterproductive; for example, see Mencken. But it has to have some thought behind it.

I want to be free. I'm not satisfied with a circle-jerk, and I don't want to live in Stalinist America.


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