Saturday, January 7, 2006

How should we preach libertarianism ?

Libertarianism has, for all intents and purposes, failed. It's been eighty years since Von Mises published his seminal Socialism, which predicted the flaws and eventual fall of communist nations. Proof has been given again and again that libertarianism is the only correct way to understand political and social relationships - by economic studies, by the utilitarian actions of the ruling class, by conceptual understanding.

And yet, libertarian ideas are unanimously rejected by anyone outside of the economic academia and a very small circle of individualists.

Furthermore, consider that everyone understands that politicians are corrupt, that government is inefficient and twisted, that government institutions are bloated and have no incentive to accomodate demand, and that even the basic functions of government - the police, the military, the justice system - need profound reform... and yet they still ardently believe that government is moral and that democracy is righteous, enough to go out and vote even though they know that their vote is worthless.

Why is that ? The answer is that morality runs the world. Arguments of efficacy, however numerous or powerful, cannot convince someone who earnestly believes that he is morally right. This belief can overcome the most atrocious facts - genocide, mass murder, racist hatred - as the belief systems of Christianity, Islam, Nazism and Communism have demonstrated in the past. Once moral concerns are pushed aside in the name of the moral superiority of one's belief system, then a man can have no qualms in committing the worst atrocities. What would his personal values matter if he diligently obeys a belief system which he believes has absolute moral standing ?

The way to preach any position, including libertarianism, is to show that it is morally right and that its opponents are morally wrong. I know many people are afraid to point out moral facts - that they assume collectivist systems do indeed have the moral high ground and that no one could ever say otherwise, or that to be "fair" we should not question the morality of our opponents, but rather give them a fair evidential hearing.

This approach has never led anywhere. The opponents of slavery did not argue on grounds of efficacy, or give their opponents the benefit of the doubt on moral standing. They did not try to pacify slavers. They did not argue that stopping slavery would raise economic efficiency by that much, or help the enslaved by this much. They reiterated again and again that slavery was morally wrong, until enough people broke from their belief systems and realized that this was indeed correct.

So how do we win the political moral debate ?

* By presenting natural moral assumptions and how collectivists break those assumptions.
(Everyone agrees that war is wrong / Taxes give government the power to wage war to bolster their own power / Taxes are morally wrong)

* By talking about the immorality of belief or collectivism itself.
(To believe in a political ideology just because you were raised in it is morally wrong)

* By practical moral comparisons.
(Politically unfree countries are the most corrupt - the most warmongering - the least safe - the most cutthroat)

In all cases, in trying to deconvert someone, one must never get bogged down in details of evidence, always keep in mind and come back to the basic points : government is morally wrong, political power is morally wrong, taxation is morally wrong, democracy is morally wrong.
(Now of course if you were seriously debating someone or writing an article for your fellow libertarians, you would want to talk about evidence, but a debate is not a debunking - both serve different purposes)

Here are some examples :

Q: Capitalism is bad.
A: It's moral for people to produce resources and make them available to other people. It's immoral for government to prevent that and take those resources to feed itself. Government is morally wrong.

Q: Wal-Mart is bad.
A: Wal-Mart makes stuff available to people who could not afford them otherwise. Wal-Mart commerce is moral. People who oppose Wal-Mart are against the poor and don't want resources to be available to everyone. People who oppose Wal-Mart are immoral.

Q: Government is necessary.
A: In a free society, people want to trade with each other and provide useful products. We can cooperate to provide necessary things to each other. Government does not produce anything. Government takes from society, fulfills its own needs, and uses force to impose those needs on everyone. Government is morally wrong.
Government is a win-lose system (govt does not produce anything, so whatever it gives you is taken from someone else). Libertarianism is a win-win system.

Q: Taxes are needed to maintain society.
A: Taxes are immoral because they give government power to control your life and gives it the power to make war. Taking taxes down is moral because it reduces the power of government, which hurts everyone and corrupts society. It's not moral for any group of people to steal.

Q: Democracy is the best system.
A: Hurting people is immoral, even if most people agree. Might does not make right. Civil disobedience is noble. Democracy is vile.
Democracy lets popular ideologies and beliefs, the rich, and the powerful control government, because they can give politicians more money and support than others. Democracy is not the government of the people : it is inherently elitist. The individual's vote is worthless. Democracy is anti-individualist and morally wrong.

Q: I understand that government is coercive, but I don't care.
You are willing to use violence to solve social problems. That is immoral, and makes you immoral. You are no different than a terrorist who wants to kill people of a different race or religion to solve political problems.

In all cases, keep your replies as close to the moral arguments as possible. Never concede any moral ground to your opponents. Statism is morally bankrupt and only by pointing this out will we succeed.


Delta said...

While I still disagree with some of the things that you said in that post, including the idea that there is some absolute moral "right" and that Wal-Mart isn't a total enemy of individualists (destroying small businesses and economically forcing the poor to work for less than a living wage) you make a good point about discussing issues with people and how to get them to come to your side. Arguments really do take a back seat, and many people, if they care about arguments at all, will only seek out the arguments that conform to their moral "findings".

These ideas should be kept in mind for us as atheists. We often talk about the lack of evidence for biblical or religious figures, how it doesn't make sense logically, but what we really need to do is focus on how it is morally wrong to believe and act on these ideas. We shouldn't complicate things by asking "what makes something morally wrong?" because the masses don't give a shit about that. AK does a pretty good job on his blog with this showing that afterlife belief is morally wrong and inhumane, and maybe more of atheistic blogging should be dedicated to moral arguments rather than intellectual ones. But of course other atheists don't want to read such posts.

Good post Tremblay.

Francois Tremblay said...

To be perfectly honest with you, I don't give a shit about your disagreements. If you don't get it, I'm not going to try to explain it to you, because that's not my job. I'm not doing this blog to deprogram people.

Young Physicalist said...

Francois Tremblay , you sound rather cultish and dogmatic. Why can’t you support your opinions with arguments or convince a sceptic? You really sound like religionists trying to convert people. You say why it is important; than when someone questions you, you claim they are “programmed” or too stupid to understand you. I do, in fact, believe Mike really did some damage to your libertarian argument at