A paradox most libertarians (if not all) are acutely aware of is the gap between the self-evidence of libertarianism, on the one hand, and the difficulty of communicating it to nonlibertarians on the other hand. The fact that people have the rights to life, liberty, and property seems to be as self-evident as the fact that 2+2=4. The fact that the free market is the only economic-political system which makes human existence possible—as human existence—seems to be very easily demonstrable.
Yet how many persons whom you have tried to win over have actually become libertarians? Now, this paradox may drive (and it has driven) many libertarians to despair. The world seems to be too crazy, to be beyond the "fail-safe" point of trying to save. Let's give up.
This approach, however, is mistaken. It derives from a failure to comprehend some simple facts—which are all, surprisingly enough, facts a libertarian (of all people) should know.
- Libertarianism is an idea. And ideas are products, to be sold on the market. This implies, basically, that to turn another person into a libertarian you have to sell him the idea. And selling involves salesmanship.
- To sell a product, you must wrap it in an attractive package. If you try to communicate an idea in a form which contradicts the basic convictions of your client, you will fail. Thus, if you explain to a Catholic that libertarianism is based on the virtue of selfishness, or to a communist that libertarianism is for pure capitalism, you will fail. The words you use will turn them off, and they will never consider the idea. This, in turn, implies the following principle.
- To sell libertarianism, you must sell it under a formula which corresponds to the basic convictions of the guy to whom you sell it. In effect, to try to change his basic convictions, to try to make a Catholic accept Rand's thought first and then libertarianism as a byproduct, is utter folly. You may either fail immediately or succeed after eight years of hard work. So you have produced one more libertarian in eight years…
Now, my purpose here is to provide some concrete examples and applications of these principles. This article may seem somewhat cynical and opportunistic—but if you read it closely you will see that it involves no falsity or deception. The point is that you can use tricks—and you'd better, if you really want libertarianism to have a fighting chance.
Libertarianism for decent folk. A decent, hard-working, never-thinking bloke will not buy "individual rights"—he does not understand what you are talking about. It is quite too late to send him to a Montessori kindergarten to develop his conceptual faculty. Instead, what you can do is to explain to him that libertarianism is just against one thing: CRIME. By crime you mean just what he means: theft, robbery, kidnapping, enslavement. He will of course agree, because he thinks this is obvious. Then you just explain (at great length, and with many examples) that taxation is armed robbery, that inflation through deficit spending and money printing is theft—as well as forgery of money—that draft is basically kidnapping, etc.
You know the line. The point is one of equity: If you are not allowed to do any of these, why should a group of people called the government be allowed to do them? Clearly, he will object that the government is a totally different thing. But he must resort to explaining that the government is, basically, against crime, and then he has a paradox on his hands—and a paradox which he can understand.
Libertarianism for romantic souls. A romantic soul is not interested much in economics or in politics, but he has great admiration for greatness. (That is why many Randists are ex-romantic-souls). He is all for the good, wise, great, smart hero, for the genius, against mediocrity. For him, libertarianism would make sense simply as the context where greatness would not be persecuted, hampered, restrained, destroyed. So that is the only point on which you sell libertarianism to him.
Libertarianism for justice and freedom fighters. You will find this individual in the left radical movement, fighting for what he was told is freedom and against what he was told is slavery. So assure him that you are just against one thing: enslavement. Assure him that you are just for one thing: social justice. Having this agreement, start to communicate to him the true meaning of slavery—and why taxation, controls, draft, are slavery. (Start with draft, because he is already against that.)
Libertarianism for hippies. The hippie has the right to take marijuana, walk naked on the beach, and have his own sex without anybody interfering, hasn't he? Isn't that just what libertarianism is all about? Libertarianism was created to free him from the oppression of a conformist, square society, imposed on him at the point of a gun.
Libertarianism for communists. The communist believes that the proper, natural thing for men to do is to live in communes, where each gives according to his ability and gets according to his own need. Isn't he entitled to a society where he can create such a community and live in it with other same-minded individuals? Why should he be persecuted as a subversive? Why should he be connected with the bloodshed in Russia and the like? After all, he is humanitarian, isn't he? He wants everybody to become a communist freely, not to be forced into a communist society. And he also believes communism could really work, were it given the chance. Well, in a free society it would have all the chance it needs.
Libertarianism for religious folk. Well, isn't it horrible how the government, infiltrated by communists, imposes atheism and materialism throughout? Isn't one entitled to live in a society where he is not forced to hear atheistic broadcasts from government-monopolized or -controlled TV?
Also: What about charity? How can he give to charity in the way he considers fit, namely, to his own church, if he is taxed so much? And why is his money used to support atheism in state schools? Also, didn't God, when he created Adam and Eve, grant man freedom?
Libertarianism for ecologists. Isn't it horrible how the whole atmosphere of the planet is being destroyed by pollution? And the land is being destroyed? And all is due to governments, you know. If any piece of land would be the private property of somebody, he would take care of it, and he would be entitled, by law, to defend himself against any bloody capitalist who pollutes his air and land.
Libertarianism for wishy-washy tolerant guys. Anybody is entitled to his point of view, isn't he? Isn't it bloody wrong that one guy thinks he is so right as to enforce his opinions and values on another? Wouldn't it be better if we would have a society where each man lives by his own creed and no man has the power to enforce his values on another? Isn't that what libertarianism is all about?
Libertarianism is a correct political philosophy. Truth is distinguished in its ability to solve all relevant problems. Every point of view is based on recognition of some real problem and grasp of some truth. It involves, usually, many falsifications of facts.
The point, however, is that you can make an individual a libertarian on the basis, almost, of whatever point of view he possesses—if you communicate the idea to him in his own frame of reference, based on his own fundamental convictions, in his own terms and words. Libertarianism, you should remember, is a political philosophy, not an existential one. Qne can be libertarian for many (and mutually incompatible) reasons. Your problem, as a libertarian, is to create a libertarian society. To do that, you need many, many new libertarians. Their other convictions, whatever they are, are none of your business. They concern you only insofar as you use them—as the basis for your sale of libertarianism.
Moshe Kroy teaches philosophy at LaTrobe University in Australia. He is the author of Conscience and Moral Competence.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Marketing Libertarianism".