A Review of Principles Vs. Pragmatism

Bad Arguments Vol. 22


Quite often in libertarian or general political circles, you will see the debate between two distinct factions. Those that declare that anything other than the pure and virginal version of their politics is tantamount to sin if it comes from someone that claims to be from their side is one such camp. The other are those that state that you can augment and repackage or even throw away key portions of principles for the sake of gaining supporters or voters. While this will likely be the first and last time I quote the show, I need to borrow a line from Rick & Morty: “You’re both pieces of shit and I can prove it mathematically.”

Let’s address the Principles crowd first. For you, I have a simple question: What value does your politics hold if you can’t get them enacted? You can personally act in according to your principles, as everyone should, but if you hold libertarian ideals then you would likely agree that we need to reduce the state. Further still, your principles probably include wishing to do so in a non-violent fashion. To reduce the state non-violently requires a little pragmatism. We need to be able to attract people to the cause, and that involves careful messaging. It easy enough to start with removing excessive taxes or talking about the various crony industrial complexes that bilk the taxpayer. Don’t jump directly to abolishing public schools and Rothbard’s market of children. Not only does it scare those off that haven’t grasped the underlying ideas that lead to some of those conclusions, but it also looks like overcompensation and fringe political insanity.

Jumping directly to the late-state Anarcho-Capitalist ideas with someone that just started to think that maybe there’s another way than forced taxation will only turn them off. Individualists or not, there is strength in numbers. The Dallas accord in the LP brought classical liberals, minarchists, and anarcho-capitalists together despite the massive differences in those ideologies. Now if we are trying to changes the hearts and minds of those outside of those ideas we need an open approach. Sometimes that means shutting up and focusing on the basics. Other times that means being open to ideas outside of the standard libertarian circles and drawing lines between them. The point is that having to espouse your principles at full volume to people you could be converting does far more harm than good.

Now for you pragmatists. While, as I said above, the more supporters we get the better, it only actually aids us if they believe in what we believe in. Trying to change the mind of a “rent is theft” type is a good plan. Just inviting them in with that idea intact is moronic. We can’t completely lose who we are in the name of messaging. The pragmatic approach is needed so we can push libertarian ideas. What purpose does the pragmatic approach have if the meaning of “libertarian ideas” shifts as far away as we’ve seen with Libsocs? Can we even call ourselves the party of principles if we nominate Bill “I’m With Her” Weld again?

The answer is no. The liberty movement, especially with its capitalist leanings, ought to be treated like a business. Yes, we want to expand both in size and in our share of the market of ideas. Yes, we want to raise more money and get ballot access and win elections and make change. A business doesn’t get there with bad staff and poor planning; we won’t either. Those in the liberty movement, whether with the party or just in general, are our staff. You wouldn’t want an employee that constantly tells clients your competition is better, and the liberty movement doesn’t need people saying that we’ll enact UBI.

Messaging is important, but so is ensuring that what we are messaging stays in line with what we stand for. The entirety of the “Principles vs. Pragmatism” debate is short-sighted on both sides. The goal should be to change the minds of the masses to the principles we stand for. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater to accomplish that is simply foolhardy.

You can read more from Killian Hobbs on Think Liberty here.


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