The Way You Change Things…

I’m going to put out a minor heresy here:

People worry entirely too much about electing “the right candidate” as though that would be some magic bullet that would get them the government they want.  However, that’s going about it the wrong way.  You can vote for a candidate far outside the political mainstream and perhaps that candidate will actually win and perhaps will do some things that will make things better (in a limited fashion because there are all those other candidates in other races winning because they are in the political mainstream who will limit what your “right candidate” can do).  But it will not last, the next one along will simply undo the changes and probably double down on the “wrong things” (as you and your out of power “right candidate” see them) in backlash.

As Milton Friedman put it, the way we change things is not by electing the right people.  It’s good to elect the right people, but that’s not the way we change things.  No, the way we change things is by creating a climate of opinion such that it becomes politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right things.

That means that you need to worry less about the candidates running and more about convincing the electorate of the principles and values you want to further.

Anyone reading this blog very much should know that I lean very strongly libertarian.  What I mostly want government to do is “don’t.” Don’t do this.  Don’t do that.  That other thing?  Don’t do it either.  There are very limited areas where government can work to increase the overall liberty of the people.  (Being able to defend myself with arms is freedom; having to constantly do so because there’s no law and order is not.  thus, there is some small level of government where the freedom of the individual is maximized.) Yes, the bounds of those limits are fuzzy and hard to precisely nail down.  Yes, government will use any power it has to use that “fuzziness” to expand its power and continue to do so.  Those are part of that “eternal vigilance” thing.  It takes active, ongoing work to keep government in check to prevent it from growing beyond those narrow bounds.  And, sadly, humanity has historically seemed to have the attention span of a goldfish and so lets that vigilance slip so that government inevitably grows more and more invasive.

Ostensibly, the Libertarian Party exists to fight back against that growth of government.  the problem, from my experience dealing with folk involved in the official party, they tend to be focused too much on “electing the right people” (and generally focusing the vast majority of their attention on the Presidency) and far, far too little on “creating a climate of opinion.”

Outreach and recruitment is not exactly their strong suit.  Particularly since entirely too many have an all or nothing approach and so we get.

“You know, I really think government is much too intrusive, but if we cut all these programs cold turkey, a lot of people will be hurt at least in the short term and that will cause a backlash against…”
“Statist!  Taxation is Theft!”

“You know, I like the idea of a truly free society but if we import a lot of people who don’t believe in that then…”
“Statist!  Open borders!  People should be free to come here if they wish!”

“I really like the idea of free trade, but some places that don’t follow that have control of critical resources we need in order to maintain our standard of living.  Perhaps if we have some kind of leverage between just letting them bleed us and outright conquest then…”
“Warmonger!  You just want to impose your will on them by force!”


Frankly, I wonder sometimes if the Libertarians want to win.  After Jim Weeks, a prospective Libertarian candidate for President stripped down to his briefs on stage at the Libertarian candidate debate to…prove what exactly?  In my personal encounter with may Libertarian Party supporters I have come to the conclusion that they aren’t really interested in “winning” but in feeling good about their “no compromise” position. (Really?  How is support for forcing a baker to use his artistic skills to make and decorate a custom cake for a cause to which he is religiously opposed a “no compromise” position on Liberty?  Yet that’s one of the positions Libertarian Candidate Gary Johnson stated in the last election.)

If they want to make themselves feel good, that’s fine.  Just close the door behind you and wash your hands afterward.

What we need is more outreach, more persuasion, more attempt to shift that “climate of opinion” so that liberty becomes politically profitable.  That means being prepared to engage people and explain, calmly and rationally, why liberty is good both for them and for the public at large.  It means accepting that not everyone, not even very many, will agree with everything right off the bat.  And that’s okay.  As long as they’re moving in the direction we want to go right now, in the direction of greater liberty, be willing to let go the points of disagreement for the time being.  Get things moving in the direction of greater liberty, even if it’s only a little bit.  Keep the big picture in mind.  Where do we want to go?  Is someone helping us get closer or are they moving us farther away?  If it’s moving us closer, even if it’s flawed, even if it’s extremely flawed, then it’s something we should be encouraging.

One things are moving in the direction of more liberty and once people see that the increased liberty is good then, with further encouragement, that will further snowball into yet more climate of opinion in favor of liberty.

And then it will be much easier to elect the right people.  It will also be much less necessary to elect the right people because even the wrong people will be doing the right things.

After all, it will be in their political self interest to do so.

22 thoughts on “The Way You Change Things…”

  1. Yeah. Libertarians argue about what the policy should be on such-and-such once they have complete control of the government, rather than tell people, for example, why more gun control won’t stop school shootings.

    It’s like arguing with your high school girlfriend about the color of drapes you’ll have in the living room once you get married (after college, in five years — yeah, right), rather than having a good relationship with each other right now.


  2. This situation fits the dictum, “The Best is the enemy of the Good.”
    This also closely emulates the traditional conservative/Republican methodology of constantly carping about the statists/Democrats and their agenda, but fading in the clinches– not doing anything to roll back the Leviathan when they actually gain power!

    …I was repeatedly frustrated by the failure of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives (after 2010) to
    simply cut funding for some of Obama’s more outrageous schemes. “All spending must originate in the House.” I reasoned, “If they don’t appropriate it, he can’t spend it!”
    Though it would have been a nice Hooraw if he went ahead and did so, anyway…

    Definitely: we need to constantly remind people that they are better off deciding things for themselves!


  3. Well put. Reminds me of what the late Jerry Pournelle used to say, that libertarianism is a vector, a direction we’d like society to move in, not a position we want society to move to. (I forget his exact pithy wording.)


  4. In my personal encounter with may Libertarian Party supporters I have come to the conclusion that they aren’t really interested in “winning” but in feeling good about their “no compromise” position.

    Ahh, yes, I’ve seen this sort of scene acted out many, many times before and in more than just the context of a Libertarian Party true-believer arguing politics. You may have too. For example, that Jehovah’s Witness who knocked on your door didn’t really expect to convert you but to get a buzz of internal affirmation for her mental meme complex because you ‘persecuted’ her, cementing in her mind that those who are persecuted for righteousness’s sake will be rewarded in the hereafter. Once you recognize the pattern, you see it re-enacted in many diverse contexts.

    IME, libertarians aren’t morally strong enough to maintain even a society with a Nozickian minimalist night-watchman government, never mind a libertarian society free of any formal state at all. They’re not honest enough nor charitable enough to make it work.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What I mostly want government to do is “don’t.”
    In Jonah Goldberg’s words: Don’t just do something, stand there!

    (and generally focusing the vast majority of their attention on the Presidency)
    Yes. Because, while one of our problems is the nationalization of everything, you really need to get those candidates into county positions, state positions, and Congress. That’s where you can begin to unfetter the people most easily.

    once people see that the increased liberty is good
    Exactly. The people have to *want* freedom – not just license, which is often what Libertarians propose – and they have to then guard it zealously. THAT is what keeps the government in check – not a piece of paper (no matter how wise and good the writing upon it is), but the people enforcing that piece of paper.


    1. Absolutely. If the people wanted freedom, all our political whores would be offering it, and there would be no need for an LP. But they’re not — they’re offering free s*t, because the people want free s*t. People don’t need to be taught to want free s*t, it comes naturally — unlike wanting freedom and all its accompanying responsibilities. That’s why having an LP is meaningless as long as its focus is electoral politics. Ayn Rand saw this immediately — it took me two decades to appreciate her wisdom on that issue.


  6. “Frankly, I wonder sometimes if the Libertarians want to win.”

    Same thing the “deplorables” wonder about the GOPe. After a decade spent watching them doing nothing about Democrats, and sabotaging the few candidates who wanted to do more (see Mo Brooks in AL for the latest example), we decided to give the political system one more try by electing Trump.

    They’re proving that political system is useless for the last two years. Now it’s just a matter of waiting for the critical mass to catch up.


    1. Oh, they want to win — that’s why they’ve abandoned principled nominees for the name-recognition of flagrant non-libertarians such as gun-banner Bill Weld and drug warrior Bob Barr. It’s one thing for absolutists and vector gradualists to disagree; it’s another to diss them both and nominate proven enemies who express no remorse.


  7. Oh, and thoroughly agree on general. Humans have a craving for a savior it seems, and will draft politicians into that role fairly easily.


  8. Politics is downstream of culture.
    And elite intellectuals are one of the not so many wellsprings of culture.

    It’s an open secret that Universities are allowed to discriminate against Republicans, so they do. Those that do, or have done so, should lose their tax-exempt status (at least until there is parity with Dems on the Professor level faculty and in administration).


    1. All of this. Which is why it is so important for those of us who believe in the value of a free society to get out there and use whatever influence we have to try to persuade others. Persuade. And may I suggest to some of the die hard “Big L” Libertarian types that insulting anyone who is not 100% in agreement with you is, perhaps, not the best strategy for doing that.

      Encourage folk in points of agreement. Educate in those where they don’t. Recognize that there are areas where reasonable individuals can legitimately disagree.

      Do not drive away people who want to move in the direction of greater individual liberty just because they disagree on how to accomplish that or on just how far that move should go. Even if you think they don’t go far enough so long as they’re helping move things in the right direction they are potential allies.

      Referring back to another comment up above, yes, there’s an issue with the major media, the education-industrial complex, and most of the entertainment industry are all in the “enemy camp”. Add in the “deplatforming” by big social media sites and the deck definitely seems stacked against us. That just means that personal contacts are that much more important. Use of the platforms we do have.

      What we need is modern day “committees of correspondence.”


  9. This is a well-written and insightful blog post. Unfortunately, it completely fails to take human nature into account. While people like freedom in THEORY, and while freedom is actually beneficial to them in FACT, the simple reality is that most people actually hate freedom, when it comes right down to it.

    H. L. Mencken put it best when he said, “The fact is that the average man’s love of liberty is nine-tenths imaginary, exactly like his love of sense, justice and truth. He is not actually happy when free; he is uncomfortable, a bit alarmed, and intolerably lonely. Liberty is not a thing for the great masses of men. It is the exclusive possession of a small and disreputable minority, like knowledge, courage and honor. It takes a special sort of man to understand and enjoy liberty — and he is usually an outlaw in democratic societies.”


    1. So what, then, is your recommendation? Say “Fuck it” and give up?

      Far from “failing to take human nature into account” it recognizes that in that convincing people of the value of liberty is work. It isn’t easy. We managed to have a mostly free society (there being no perfection short of the grave) for quite some time in the US. What has been done can be done.

      But it requires work, hard work. And not giving up, not taking every setback as though it were a final, unrecoverable defeat.

      Despair is, perhaps, the ultimate sin.


      1. Yeah, I despair.

        Our forefathers tried to design a system in which those who wanted to be free would never be at the mercy of those who would use government power to interfere with them. They established core rights (the explicit enumeration of which was considered a foolishly superfluous gesture by some of the optimists among them), and attempted to make them invulnerable to government law or popular vote. Hey, I give them credit for trying. But then they put the power to “interpret” those rights away to the very people against whom those rights were supposed to protect us, in essence putting the fox in charge of the henhouse padlock. Worse, they prescribed no penalties for government officials who would so that sort of thing — short of treason, which they made impossibly narrow and unusable for any practical domestic purpose.

        Ernie Hancock has said for the past 20 years that in all of recorded human history, no people anywhere have ever *voted* themselves freer, and in all that time, I’ve never come up with a counterexample. And in fact, Jefferson implied much the same thing.

        What I find inevitable is TINVOWOOT: there is no voting out way out of this. I’m convinced that now, as always, freedom will require blood to be sacrificed. I don’t see any other way. And yes, that depresses me.


        1. there is no voting out way out of this. I’m convinced that now, as always, freedom will require blood to be sacrificed.

          And then what? ( People have this strange idea that if we fight a civil war the government that emerges will somehow, magically, be better than we have now. In the American War of Independence, the delegates first to the Continental Congress which established the Articles of Confederation, then to the Constitutional Convention were selected by their respective States. Do you honestly think that the same States which send Pelosi and Schumer to Congress will do better in sending to a new Constitutional Convention?

          If you intend any form or representative government you still have the “climate of opinion” problem, made worse by creating the situation where there is now no constraint on the application of that climate because thanks to the “revolution” they’re starting fresh. So, in either case you have to address changing that climate of opinion.

          The other option is to simply impose your will, by force, on the rest of the nation. There is a word for that and it is not “freedom.”


          1. No, I’m under no misimpression that any actual revolution will necessarily result in the “correct” resolution. I realize that most revolutions that actually end, end in the wrong direction.

            I also strongly believe that it wouldn’t end with everyplace within our current borders sharing one unified government the way they do now, which clearly isn’t working. Why end a war, only to continue to be held hostage to the same social groups who elect Pelosis, Newsoms, and Cortezes? Die surrendering, or die fighting, only the nuances make a difference.


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