Home    Politics    Next   Email: harry@chaospark.com

Communicating Libertarianism

Speech delivered at the 1984 Libertarian Party of Florida Convention

David Bergland said "When people know what we stand for we have won." This is what's happening today with the Libertarian Party. We're telling people what we stand for, a communication process, one on one. The previous speakers have talked about politicizing the masses and this is a very important part of libertarianism. However, we should also seek people who are already active in other camps, who are idealists. We cannot offer much to the power seekers because we don't have any power to hand out. But we have something for idealists. We have an ideology for them that is more coherent, more powerful, and more spirited than the ideologies they have now.

A quote from Louis Brandeis:"The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachments by men of zeal. Well meaning but without understanding."

These people are all around us. They are full of zeal, they are well meaning, but they are without understanding. We must acknowledge that well meaningness, we must acknowledge that zeal. We must begin by recognizing that these people are trying to do good, and not immediately tell them how wrong they are.

I believe people who are opposed to us should still know about us. One local paper, the St. Petersburg times, is very hostile to libertarianism. During the Clark campaign the only coverage they gave was "Libertarian presidential candidate Ed Clark wants to legalize hand guns and narcotics." That was their total coverage. I was glad they published it; I would rather hear a hundred people speak against us saying things that are true than hear one person speak in favor of us saying things that are not true.

Let me tell you the story of Larry Holden. He is touring the country and plans to run for president in the year 2000 with the Human Party. He is full of compassion, full of caring, full of new age mysticism, he believes that we have to have a new mind, and he is 100% sincere.

He drives around the country in a used car with a total budget of $7000 and his media success is spectacular. He walks into a newspaper office and they publish an article with photograph on him, he walks into a radio station and they grant him a big interview. Why? Because he comes from the heart. Because he is full of spirit. Because he is a totally sincere in trying to communicate what he really believes.

I listened and found out his basic ideas then I asked him, "Have you ever heard of libertarianism?". He said he read some libertarian literature and he didn't really find anything in it he objected to but the libertarians he had met were empty of spirit, they had no heart, they were all intellectuals. So he didn't become a libertarian. He could be one of us today.

Now I will talk about communication techniques, and remember, techniques for communication are like techniques for sex; they won't help at all if you're not alert, sensitive, and responsive. You are dealing with a particular individual human being and they are dealing with you as a particular individual human being. I cannot too strongly stress this. Sales techniques are good but the first technique is to listen, to pay attention.

Maslow said when your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If the only thing you know how to do is argue ideological principles, every conversation is going to be an ideological argument. That's okay if you are talking to somebody else who likes it, if not, you will make no progress at all.

I'm going to call on us to spend a few moments in introspection exercises. They won't all touch everyone but I'm hoping to try to get everyone loosened up a bit with some emotional calisthenics.

First thing I would like us to experience is loneliness. Look around you. See us in this room, we're the biggest gathering of libertarians in the state. Think of how many millions of people there are in the state of Florida and how many dozens of people there are in this room. Ponder that for a minute. We're looking at ourselves as a big live wire movement but we are a very tiny minority. A frighteningly tiny minority when you consider the strength of the state. I think it's optimistic to say that one percent of the population really knows what libertarianism is about and is willing to get out there and vote and support us, like the activists in the Democratic and Republican camps. Robespierre once said "The defenders of liberty will be but outlaws so long as a horde of knaves shall rule." I think we have a horde of knaves ruling, and under those circumstances I think we can be described as outlaws.

The next thing I want to deal with is fear of oppression. I think this is the motivation for many of us. We're trying to start society moving in our direction and if we fail, which may very well happen, ten years from now we may not be able to meet in a room like this. Ten years from now we may have to be dispersed, letting only a few friends know we are libertarians. We should all be aware that we ride a razor edge and if things fall our way well and good. If they don't we would best be prepared to go into hiding. The fact that we are here, and our names are known as libertarians may some day wreak havoc with our individual lives. This is a chance we have all taken and a chance we should remain aware of.

I'd like to move us into another state, a state of humility. This is unique to libertarians because the Democrats and the Republicans and the populists and the fascists and most of the other groups believe they know what's best for everybody. We're unique, we believe that everybody knows what's best for themselves. This is our unique humility, this is something the other movements lack. It is this ability to say "I don't know what color you should paint your car. All I know is that you are the person who should decide what color to paint your car." Most of the other movements are out there arguing over the right colors and telling people what color to paint their cars. We're not saying what you should do. We're saying you're the one to decide what you should do, and this makes us unique. Remember this uniqueness, it is one of our greatest assets.

There's a problem I've observed among libertarians. It traces back to Ayn Rand and I can only call it "fear of altruism". Perhaps this is heresy but I believe there is nothing wrong with wanting to make the world a better place to live. Just because other people do it with bad effects doesn't mean that it's something that we should not do. It's natural and normal to want your fellow human beings to be happy and healthy, and to devote your own time and energy toward that end. This is not something to avoid. Just because altruists wreak havoc doesn't mean that we should avoid altruism.

Which moves close to another feeling that I would like us to consider, exhilaration. This is an adrenaline rush. Whenever you get involved in political power, it's exciting. That's like being in a football game. You can feel it raise your heart rate when politics gets going, when you really get into a discussion with someone. There's nothing wrong with this but beware, it's a drug. I don't have anything against drugs but be careful of this one, because it doesn't discriminate between good and evil causes. It's something that also thrills our opponents. This is what the Nazis felt. The more we are aware of it in ourselves the more we can be aware of it in others. The more empathy we feel with others the better we can understand them, the better we can communicate with them. By knowing of this feeling, by being aware of this exhilaration, by feeling this rush that people get from the challenge and the combat of politics, only thus will we become able to communicate with and perhaps convince those who mistake excitement for a guide to constructive action.

I'd like to tell a little story. Years ago, in Davenport Iowa, I was visiting a woman who was going to a political dinner, I came along for the companionship and the food. I got my food and sat and talked to the people around me at the table. This was my first exposure to either democratic or republican politics as they were practiced on the grassroots level. The air was thick with a feeling of great conspiracy, like we were about to pull off some incredible crime. When the speaker got up I was absolutely appalled and horrified. He said "This is what we have to do in order to get power. Once we've got power then we'll be able to make everybody do what we want and won't that be great!". That was the whole message. It was all tactics and techniques for getting power so they could make everybody do what they wanted. That gave me a bad taste for the whole process which I'm still getting over. There's nothing wrong with power as long as you don't exercise it.

Enough of the introspection. That may be a little more exercise than most of you were ready for but I wanted to start out with that just to get you loosened up and feeling that this speech is also a one on one process.

Now we will move on to empathy, a crucial part of communications. Unless you can see things the way someone else sees them, you will find it impossible to communicate the way you see things to them. I had a fortunate experience these last few years of being involved in a course in aikido. This is a harmonious and peaceful martial art, although that may be hard to imagine. One of the first principles of aikido is to never meet force with force, never. When someone attacks you pivot, turn, move yourself sideways alongside them so you can steer the energy of the attack. Don't oppose it, steer it. You can only steer if you're facing in the same direction. You can only control something you're moving with. You can't control things you oppose. The same is true in dealing with people. If someone comes at you with an argument, a hostile argument like an attack, if you meet that attack directly you'll do nothing but butt heads. No one will come away with any changes. If instead you can pivot and find something in that attack with which you sincerely agree you will gain the capability of steering that argument in the direction you want. You control a two ton automobile at 70 miles per hour by moving the wheel with one finger. It's because you're not opposing, all of the force you're exerting is steering. When someone comes at you with an argument don't try to stop it. Try to find something in it to agree with so you can try to steer that argument in the direction you want. Part of this process of course, is listening to feelings. Don't just listen with your ears, listen with your heart. When people talk to you it's because they care. It's because there's something they want to communicate. Find out what it is. Find out what they care about. You'll only find that out by listening to them. The first step for getting someone to pay attention to what you say is to pay attention to what they say. If you do it in a half-hearted or insincere manner then all you're going to get back is half-hearted or insincere attention. It's a difficult process, a process many of us are not used to, and yet something we should cultivate.

Many people relate to the political process with a parent child model. If you listen to how someone relates to government and politics you will find a lot of people behaving as if they are a good or bad child to the parent government. This is something we grow up with. We learn at a very early age to deal with our parents and I think that is a model for the way we deal with authority the rest of our lives. Some of us are fortunate enough to have libertarian parents. Others have had very authoritarian parents whom they really loved and they follow authority the rest of their lives while others really hate it and rebel against authority the rest of their lives. Whether you follow it or whether you rebel against it, you may be controlled by it, because you can be controlled by what you rebel against just as you can be controlled by what you agree with. I think we can learn a great deal from the spread of early Christianity. The Christians were very apolitical. They would rarely be trapped into making direct statements for or against the government. It was strictly "give onto Caesar that which is Caesar's". There was a lot of politics going on back then and Christ's advice was "be wise as serpents and harmless as doves". Good advice for us too. Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Because if we threaten people, they're going to come back and stomp us, there's a lot more of them than there is of us. We threaten nobody. The other side of the coin in these parent child relationships is the person who says "Well we have to take care of the poor, don't we?". This is a statement like "I have to take care of my children, don't I?".

It's the same relationship. You're not going to change that relationship, the best you can do is try to convince someone that they aren't really the child of the government, they aren't really parent to the poor. The problems come from this parent child relationship with the government or the people. You'll never change the way people relate to their parents or children but you can try to change the subject of those relationships.

Another story. I learned something from arguing with a very bright lady who was concerned about the oil companies buying up the solar cell industry. She was convinced that they were conspiring to withhold photovoltaics from market until the oil ran out. We talked about this and I finally realized that she couldn't envision the kind of bloodthirsty competition that actually takes place in industry. If you've been in small communities, small groups, and families and you've always been around cooperative people, the cut throat competition in industry is difficult to imagine. It is much easier to imagine the oil company presidents getting together and saying "All right, we're not going to develop solar cells until the oil runs out." than it is to imagine the fears of each oil company president thinking "If I don't get these things out first and the other company does, I'm dead in the water." Competition in industry is like war without violence. While many within an industry may become personal friends, the relationships between corporations are made of distrust and malevolence.

Now I want to move on to some specific emotions you will encounter in others. Remember the principle of aikido, find areas of agreement. Once you have agreement you can start steering. As long as you remain in a state of disagreement, all you will do is butt heads.

First I want to touch on something so common you can get almost anybody started on it, fear of war. A lot of people out there are very afraid of war and this is appropriate. We had this TV show, "The Day After" we have the nuclear freeze movement, not to be confused with the nuclear winter, we have lots of media activity on fear of war. We can exploit this because we have a great deal to say about war. We have real strategies to reduce the likelihood of war. Talk about signing a no first strike agreement. Talk about pulling out of NATO. Talk about ending the draft and bringing overseas troops back home. Don't shift the subject. If somebody is afraid of war, that's good, we're afraid of war too. We even have a plan that offers some hope. This is what I mean by steering. If somebody is afraid of war, don't fight that, use it.

Closely related is fear of crime. This usually translates into fear of violence. I think we have a great deal to say to this too. Yes, the streets are dangerous. Yes, you have to lock your car. Yes, you have to beware of burglars in your home. These are scary times we live in. Talk to them about some of the things that can help. You might consider going armed. You might consider encouraging other people to go armed so it would be scary for the criminals too. Consider diverting police resources away from victimless crimes toward crimes of violence. When you have some agreement, lead the conversation to other topics and look for other points of agreement.

One of the things working against us is fear of anarchy. As soon as someone gets a fairly clear idea of what libertarianism means this fear of anarchy comes up pretty often. "Oh my God, what are we going to do? People are going to riot in the streets!" and so on and so forth. What people actually fear when they talk about anarchy is actually fear of violence or theft. Libertarians are strongest of all against violence and theft. So if someone starts talking about anarchy, ask "What are you really afraid is going to happen?" Ask for a description, try to make it concrete. Once it becomes concrete it will be much easier to show that we're really on their side. We share that fear. We don't want people looting and rioting in the streets either. There's no disagreement there. So you're not really in opposition to someone who comes out with that kind of a fear of anarchy although you may want to move away from the term "anarchy". I believe that we will see a lot more riots and looting under the administrations of Democrats and Republicans than we would under Libertarians. While I'm at it I would like to point out that of all of the ideologies available to the voter, ours is the most explicitly nonviolent. Unlike the others, we don't believe in violent means no matter how good the ends. Any association we have with violence is completely undeserved and it is up to us to change it.

Fear of poverty is also common. I think most of us have experienced it at one time or another. Those who haven't, I'm sure will. I've been there so long I'm getting used to it. We can say quite a bit to this. We can show how the government destroys the prosperity of the country and causes poverty. People are poorer because they pay taxes. Mention all the government roadblocks to making money; licensing, minimum wage, red tape, all that stuff. My step son, Denny, took a course in horticultural technology and got a good job with a landscaping company. He was getting ready to leave town so he quit, but his leaving town was delayed, so for the last few weeks he's been mowing lawns. He came up to me the other day and said "You know, I've been making more money mowing lawns than I got working for the landscaping company." This brings me to our amazing underground economy. May I suggest that we begin calling it the "informal economy". This is more descriptive and up beat. Every success of the informal economy is an argument for the adaptability of laissez faire capitalism, and successes surround us. Marijuana may now be the second largest cash crop in the United States, next to corn. Drugs passed tourism years ago as the biggest business in Florida. Estimates of the size of the informal economy range from ten to twenty five percent. Visit a flea market and you will meet hundreds of shoppers and merchants who may or may not obey the law but who generally have no use for it.

Moving along, we come to discouragement. There are a lot of people out there into discouragement. Nothing seems to help. Nothing the government does seems to really cure the problems. Nobody has the answers. Remember what I said about humility? We don't have the answers either. All we have is the idea that people should be free to find and implement their own answers. So we agree that nobody has all the answers, everyone has their own answers. We need an opportunity to implement those answers. I have a slogan "If you want the Democrats or Republicans to run your life, then vote for them. If you want to run your own life, vote Libertarian." Communicate this to people in discouragement. We don't really care so much what is chosen as who does the choosing. The key factor is who makes the decisions, not how they turn out.

Now we come back to something I covered earlier, fear of oppression. Sometimes you will wind up talking to someone about libertarianism who is into social systems. My approach to them is that libertarians do not oppose any voluntary social experiments. If a bunch of socialists want to get together and they want to set up their socialist community, as long as none of them are prevented from escaping, libertarians will never stand in their way. This means that we can relate to fear of oppression in people who want to do social experiments. We can say "We will not stop you in your social experiments as long as they're voluntary. As long as the people involved are not forced to participate, we're not going to interfere. We're not going to stop you from propagating your ideas". They have more chance to bloom and flourish under libertarianism than any other system because nobody but libertarians can tolerate such diversity. Of course as libertarians we all believe they are doomed to dismal failure, but they don't know that, and they certainly don't want to hear it from us. They will learn only by experiment, and the more they can experiment, the faster they will learn.

Although you may not see it as an emotion, I'm going to talk about the feeling of fairness. We've had a lot of discussion of rights and closely related to rights is justice. Rights and justice are very hard terms with hard definitions. Fairness is a feeling. Instead of talking about someone's rights, ask "Does this feel fair to you?". Don't say people have an inalienable right to property, say "Do you feel it's fair to take away what someone has earned?". You're saying the same thing except now someone can look within themselves and respond, "Well no, I guess that's not fair." Now you've got some agreement. If you start talking about property rights, someone's going to try definition matching, "Do I believe in rights? What is just? What is right?" A process all taking place in the head. Appeal to people's fairness. That's different, that comes from the heart. People will agree that something is or is not fair much sooner than they will agree that it is or is not right, or just, because they own the feeling of fairness. If you say "I think this is right." you have to look in some book to see if you're correct or not. Fairness comes from the heart, and everyone has their own feeling of what's fair.

Now we come to what I honestly believe is the most powerful emotion that we can use, it will eventually wind up fueling us better than anything else. It's love. Here is another slogan, an example of love in the form of compassion; "Peaceful honest people don't belong in jail." It's short enough to remember and hard to dispute, yet I think it is pure libertarianism. It creates the image of peaceful honest people sitting in jail. Good image, great image for people to ponder. "Gee, am I really supporting that? Am I in favor of that?"

I talk to liberals about the poor, and what I find is compassion for the victims. I got into a fine talk once about wage and price controls and they were sorry for the poor farmers. I said supports drive up food prices. The poor spend the largest part of their income on food. There's a lot more poor people than farmers. Shift your victims. Don't think of the farmers as victims, there's only a few of them. Look at all those poor people out there paying more for food. Think about their status as victims, have some compassion for them too. Point out how horribly oppressed the poor are by the actions of government. Encourage people to have compassion, encourage them to express love. Say things like "Should everyone have to pay for things that only a few people enjoy?" That doesn't seem fair does it?

One of the commonest expressions of love is the desire to help. People want to make the world a better place to live. Remember fear of altruism, this is what we shouldn't avoid, this wanting to make the world a better place to live. We want to make the world a better place to live too. There's nothing that liberals can claim on that stand that we cannot. We can point out that government presently does a lot of harm. Real human lives are hurt by people who want to help. They're not bad, just mistaken. Just needing a little one on one communication.

One of the things that I've been learning to communicate is the importance of directness in helping. If you want to help the poor, help the poor. Give them your money. If you feel that what you're giving isn't enough, give more. If you feel that other people should give more, give your time in soliciting and distributing their contributions. If you feel that other people should be forced to give more whether they want to or not, reconsider your perspective and decide if forcibly imposing your value system on others is really helping them.

I'm going to quit now and go to questions, but first a little poem.


A flea market is a happy place, a little like a fair.There's smiling faces all around, and freedom in the air.I stroll the aisles of anarchy and mingle with the crowd,The shoppers and the merchants, telling tales and laughing loud.I buy a trinket for a dime, the man says "Penny tax."I smile and say "Someday we'll get those bastards off our backs."He looks up, startled, as I drop a penny in his hand.The sparkle in his eye shows me he starts to understand.He grins and says "You bet your ass!" and cheers me on my way.The sun is bright, my tread is light, subversive Saturday.The experts tell of gloom and doom and danger all aroundBut our economy is strong and healthy, underground.

Question:When I Say, "Is it fair to pay for something you don't use?" people come back and say "Is it fair to use something you don't pay for?"

Response:Look for agreement, say "No, and this is the unfairness of the system." You have to participate in unfairness in order to live. You can't get from one place to another without driving on the roads that others have been forced to pay for. Two years ago I was at Fort DeSoto Park at a fourth of July party. I got into a fine talk with someone there. I said I don't like to go to Fort DeSoto Park, I don't like to go to any public park, because I feel that people who can't be here are forced to subsidize my leisure. It detracts from my enjoyment because I am oppressing people just by being here. That's the best response I know to that line of argument. It's not fair and I hate to use things that I haven't paid for. That is one unfairness of the system, that it is very difficult to avoid oppressing others. That's one of many unfairnesses we are trying to change.