Do you know the feeling when you know how to do something, and you’re trying to explain it to someone who doesn’t know, and they just can’t get it right?
This would be the situation of libertarians in the political world, except that we aren’t even given much chance to explain the correct way. Do I sound too presumptuous, assuming that liberty is the ‘correct way?’ Well, after years of beating my head against a wall, trying so hard to understand the statists’ point-of-view, I have to conclude once again that while there is legitimate room for disagreement, liberty is always preferable to slavery.
That sounds like a self-evident conclusion, and most people — in their heart of hearts — embrace it, but when it comes to the details of freedom most show ignorance of what it means to be a slave. If I work for half a year to fund others’ programs and initiatives, to provide weapons that will be used against me, and I have no choice in the matter except to cast a statistically insignificant ‘vote,’ then I am a slave. Even African slaves were given some time to provide for themselves, and the difference between their condition and ours (as ‘citizens’ of modern nation-states) is only one of degree.
Libertarians are often left feeling alone and abandoned in a world of interpersonal violence, like the young child in a gang-infested project, knowing that what goes on is wrong but powerless to stop it or leave it behind. This despair must be a psychological trait of the type of person who would tend toward a absolute libertarian worldview, but it doesn’t reflect reality.
The reality is that most people thirst for freedom, if only because it is in their own interest. The problem is that ideology is like a game of darts: it’s easy to shoot around the mark, but hitting the bullseye consistently requires great skill. It seems hard for parties, groups, and movements to accept an entirely libertarian agenda. When they do, it seems hard for the ‘common folk’ to embrace said agenda. Of course, when a libertarian movement is a success, the region yields greatness for a long time after. The States are still reaping the fruits of a libertarian revolution in 1776, even as they actively squander those fruits.
If liberty makes sense and has demonstrable rewards far surpassing slavery in any form (socialism, nationalism, theocracy, majoritarian democracy), then why does it seem that freedom is constantly on the run? There are two answers.
One, freedom is winning the cultural battle globally. Globalization is, for the most part, the process of freedom expanded spontaneously — self-supported for the first time in history as flowing information and sheer economics weigh heavily on totalist regimes. For the first time, liberty is behaving like a fire, acting as a chain reaction that feeds itself and becomes harder to extinguish as it grows.
Two, being free men, defending our liberty and behaving in a civil and mutually beneficial way, is the highest state of being. Like any kind of maturity, it takes time and training to cultivate. Freedom is always under attack for the same reason that bullying often persists past the grammar school playground, onto prep school and then college: people are born naked and primitive. Civility is like a callus to animal temptations and shortsightedness; it must be built up through rigorous enlightening.
The end-point is that those of us who consider ourselves enlightened and outnumbered should not despair. Freedom does not always yield to tyranny, in fact that trend over history is in the other direction. It must be, for if tyranny always grew we would all be dead. Despair over one’s condition has never been known to help change one’s condition. I find that libertarians have such enthusiasm for their unusual political clarity, but burn out or sell out before they have a chance to make an impact.
Stewards of freedom, pick up your heads. This world rewards the smart, brave, and relentless. Any perceived advantage accorded to those who don’t play by the rules (of interpersonal respect) is only an illusion. Russian politics has, for example, been historically full of such disregard for human dignity, and that leviathan state has hobbled through the ages as a result. Keep trying for my sake, and I will for yours. Even if most people are too naive to support a sophisticated and free political order, we are dependent only on a determined minority to provide widespread salvation.