Liberty Matters

Other Tactical Possibilities

I tend to agree with this, from Jeffrey Tucker:
People can become wildly passionate about [their preferred tactical approaches], pushing their own view as if there is only one way. If you vote, you are evil; if you don’t vote, you are not helping the cause. If you eschew academia, you are not invested in serious ideas; if you are in academia, you have sold out. If you don’t protest in the streets, you are unwilling to get your hands dirty; if you do protest in the streets, you are contributing to the problem of mobocracy. And so on. People suppose they have the right way, and it is the only way.
There seems to be some deadweight loss to arguing about tactics too strenuously. Even a less-than-optimally effective tactic may in some sense do some good, while fighting merely about tactics is never going to persuade anyone to become a libertarian. (That is, unless a certain type of outsider likes to fight about tactics -- in which case we’ve been attracting them all along. This could explain a lot, but I digress.)
I'm not sure that there is any one best way​ to win people's minds​. And if there isn't, then a ​varied approach is ​probably a good idea.​ ​
I hope with​​ mixed emotions that Tucker is ​also ​right when he claims that "Enterprise is outpacing the ability of the state of keep up with regulating it.” If the claim is true, then it makes my job at the Cato Institute a bit redundant​: The people are in for more liberty no matter what we do. We could presumably even switch sides, and it might not matter. Our time might be better spent preparing for the change, not advocating it. Gardeners don’t write letters in favor of spring.
I wholeheartedly agree with this, though, from George H. Smith:
Although still not part of the intellectual mainstream, libertarian ideas are at least regarded as credible enough to be debated in public forums and defended by serious intellectuals. This is an essential first step in changing public opinion. A belief system that lacks credibility will never gain enough traction to become a serious contender in the court of public opinion.
I recall when I was perhaps 13 or 14 -- that is, before my own libertarian conversion -- ​how I saw ​a group of protesters in downtown Cincinnati. They were demonstrating in favor of legal marijuana. "These people," I told myself, "are hopeless.” As to the facts, I was certain the demonstrators were wrong -- because everything I've ever heard about marijuana was ​negative. And as to the appearances, well, what could they expect to gain by protesting?
I would never have bet on the protesters' success. ​And yet their demands are now in the slow, perhaps inexorable process of being met. So what were they -- or their close allies -- doing right? One view is that it must have been something, even if I have counseled being reasonable, and even if they at the time seemed anything but.
Another view says that the pro-pot demonstrators were like the fleas on the back of an elephant. That the elephant turned toward the water has nothing to do with the fleas’ hopes in either direction. This second view has an incredibly attractive cynicism to it, but on closer examination it’s ungainly: It conjures into existence unseen social forces with ill-defined attributes, whose only evidence for existence in the first place is the fact that a change has occurred. Theories like these are probably not falsifiable, and we will likely do better to look at the protesters and their struggles.
Or we might look at the opposition. As the editor of a debate journal, I have often found that it can be very difficult to find sincere, competent advocates of certain positions at certain moments in time. This lack is often predictive of the defeat of the side in question. I remarked, perhaps too cattily, at the death of James Q. Wilson, that the War on Drugs had just lost its only real defender. Other supporters of imprisoning people over recreational drug use have generally held, and hold, pro-Drug War positions either through inertia or through the fear of not seeming respectable. The latter rationale is rapidly falling apart. The advocacy groups on the pro-Drug War side have either been hollowed out over time or have never been more than transparent shams. The results may well speak for themselves.
These are huge and interesting questions, but there is a sharp edge to them: We might after all be fleas. Worse, if there exists a single most effective method of convincing the public, ​irrespective of the truth of one’s claims​​, and if that method is yet to be discovered or deployed to its greatest effect, then what we have before us is an arms race -- and one that we may or may not win. ​The choice may even be a Socratic one, between effective philosophy and beguiling rhetoric. ​But I doubt it. I like to think that eventually the less wrong side will win. I can hardly think otherwise and keep at the work that I’m in.