At the core of libertarian belief is the free market. But now everybody believes in that too, including Communist dictators in China and the rajahs of India’s corrupt bureaucracy. Even villainous crony capitalists who reign over much of the rest of the world (and aren’t exactly absent in the U.S.A.) believe in the free market – if they can keep other people out of it.
The next day I was talking to the new president of a libertarian think tank. “Have you been to many of these conferences?” he asked. I hadn’t. He said, “They bother me a little.”
“Preaching to the converted?” I ventured.
To make a ridiculous comparison, it’s as if the Twelve Apostles (minus Judas Iscariot — played by Bill Maher) never left Jerusalem. They just hung around the Mount of Olives evangelizing themselves.
“No,” said the think tank president, “it’s not just to whom we preach but what we’re preaching.”
That is, people love to hear what libertarians have to say until those people go into the voting both. Then limitations on the size, power, and expense of government start to get personal.
According to the Census Bureau, 49 percent of Americans receive some kind of government benefits. And political scientists Suzanne Mettler and John Sides of The Century Foundation (which is liberal-centrist) say that if you throw in everything that can be construed as a government benefit, e.g. mortgage interest deductions, 96% of Americans are on the take.
What would be a good yard sign for a libertarian politician?
Vote for _______
He Can Give You Less
It would take a demagogue with a powerful ideology to convince people to make the necessary sacrifices for libertarianism. But libertarians disapprove of demagoguery and consider ideology to be nobody’s business but your own. I guess Ayn Rand was a sort of a libertarian demagogue. But she attracted Alan Greenspan, not crowds.
How do we go about creating a mass movement when we don’t believe there’s such a thing as the masses?
We do have manifestos. But they tend to run a little long — On the Wealth of Nations, for example.
If we marched we’d go in all different directions.
We could host teach-ins. But what we’d teach is Econ. 101 and I doubt attendance would be large.
We could hold sit-ins — sitting home alone watching a DVD of Milton Friedman’s “Free to Chose.”
We could stage boycotts. But if you believe in “Free to Choose” what do you boycott, freedom or choice?
Libertarian civil disobedience is a possibility. But all Americans practice libertarian civil disobedience already, on their IRS forms.
I suppose we could infiltrate the government and do nothing. But federal employees, at the V.A. for instance, seem to have that base covered.
Terrorist bombings are out of the question — contrary to our rule of keeping your hands to yourself. And, given the mechanical aptitude of most of the libertarians I know including myself, also contrary to keeping your hands.
We don’t even have a plausible slogan.
I didn’t care much for the setup of the article or the strawmanned libertarian stereotypes (‘randians’ ‘goldbugs’ ‘constitutionals’) but he raises a great question, although he is wrong about libertarians who “don’t believe in the masses” — I would say they simply don’t believe in COERCING the masses, but everyone I’ve talked to has acknowledged the existence of ‘the mass’ as a psychological unit. It’s the crowd, mainstream media, pop culture, etc.
He made another good point, “If we marched we’d go in all different directions.”
However the title of his piece indicates this is his “problem” with libertarianism. Good, let it be HIS problem because what it sounds like is that he frustrated with what OTHER PEOPLE are thinking and the minute he deviates from that, and tries to start to forcefully coerce people to think and behave differently he’ll have missed the point entirely.
He’s trying to think of libertarian philosophy in the context of government because he hasn’t taken libertarianism to its logical conclusion: anarchy.
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