Libertarianism is vastly different from today’s bipartisan politics in that it is as much an ideology as it is a political party. As libertarians, we are driven by the principles of liberty and a market economy as opposed to the goal of sculpting our country’s socioeconomic policies.
While we are all united by these principles, we are at different stages of development within the libertarian ideology. Regardless of where we stand now, we all started out somewhere. I believed myself to be a staunch conservative before coming to the realization that I was a libertarian at heart. For myself and many others, this was a very easy transition due to our upbringing and life experiences. We were raised to hold ourselves personally accountable for our decisions and actions and to think for ourselves. For many people who were not raised as we were, and therefore are not wired as we are, this transition will not be an easy task.
It can be said that those of us who had an easy transition were blessed, however, I have seen in my own experience this can also be a curse. It can, and for many, it has, lead to the development of a libertarian superiority complex in which we enter into the hackneyed “us versus them” mindset. While this isn’t always entirely detrimental, it can have an adverse effect on our relevance in the political realm. It is imperative that we understand how statists feel when we begin talking about limiting government if we want to remain relevant and continue to grow as a movement.
For a statist, removing government institutions is closely akin to walking a tightrope without a safety net, or for those who are more involved in politics, it can even be nearly synonymous with losing their religion. At the risk of sounding tacky, Morpheus said it best in The Matrix. “You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.” With an understanding of how a statist’s mind works, we can begin to chisel away at the mental barriers that have barred them from seeing libertarianism as a relevant and plausible alternative to the two party system. For example, when the infamous “but who will build the roads” argument comes up, nobody will benefit from simply screeching “statist scum”. A calm, collected refutation with examples of other methods is much more successful. This is where we must be cognizant of our libertarian superiority complex.
It is easy to fall into the trap of disregarding someone as a brainwashed statist while hurling ad hominem attacks from our moral high horse. That is not to say that this is an unacceptable practice in extreme cases, but when dealing with an average statist this approach will not suffice. Consistently refuting arguments and offering counter arguments in a calm collected manner is more likely to sow the seeds of liberty in the minds of those who are receptive to our ideas. Likewise, being offensive has its uses. Sometimes in order to drive a point home, you have to shock the system in order to agitate a reaction that will lead to further investigation on the part of the offended individual. However, being offensive for the sake of being offensive damages the movement. For example, telling a conservative that the troops are just welfare whores, even though the reaction you get is hilarious, shuts down any further debate or education and shines a negative light on the entirety of libertarianism. This takes us back to the old adage “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar”. Of course, this approach will not always be successful, many will simply write us off as being utopian idealists. However, even in those who disregard our statements in such a fashion, there is the possibility of introducing the spark of independent thought to the otherwise dull and gloomy world of state subservience.
By and large, libertarians are intelligent people. We’ve done our research on the ethics of liberty and the feasibility of a free market economy. These are the qualities that we need to promulgate in order to further the cause of liberty in society. The more we give in to our urges to act morally superior to those who do not yet think like we do, the more we promote the idea that libertarians are a group of childish frat boys who don’t like taxes.
I’ll end this with a challenge to libertarians everywhere. Give pause before entering a debate or discussion with a statist or group thereof. Try to get inside their head and understand where they come from before formulating your argument. Use their own assertions and ideas as workarounds for cognitive dissonance, and most of all be mindful of your own tone and verbiage to avoid mounting that high horse.