Stephan Kinsella On Libertarian Activism

At Lewrockwell.com:

We principled libertarians have no problem recognizing the difference between what is right and true, with what is likely and what we can get away with. They are different questions. But strategists have trouble seeing past strategy and “what works”. If a principles-based libertarian says, “public education is unjustified and ought to be abolished,” a typical reply of a tactician-activist is “but that is not practical” or “but that is not going to sell with the average person”. In other words, the activist makes the mistake of confusing what will sell with what is true. But the committed activist too often relegates something that will not sell now, today, as useless, and in effect as untrue – or, more to the point, he adopts the view that what is true does not really matter; only results matter. Sure, both inquiries – what is the best strategy to achieve liberty? what is liberty? – have their own value and roles. But they are not the same.

The only thing I would add to the above analysis is that this activist mindset, the focus on what will sell to the great mass of men, is the result of focusing on a collective solution (specifically mass persuasion) to the problem of liberty. Libertarians can avoid the problems Kinsella points out by focusing on individual solutions to liberty rather than collective ones.

In fact, libertarians will do better in general to focus more on individualism and less on collectivism. Not only will individualist solutions not get you into the ethical trouble that collectivist solutions will, but sometimes the individualist solutions will actually produce a little liberty for you. And that’s a bar that collective solutions to the freedom problem haven’t yet been able to cross.

23 thoughts on “Stephan Kinsella On Libertarian Activism”

  1. Well, but what kind of individual solutions that can produce a little liberty can exist that are even remotely possible? I mean, getting your friends together to bust open a jail and free drug prisoners seems like an option, or not paying taxes or refusing to get a business permit. All these things are both individual, as you suggest, and avoid the collective “let’s play politics” mentality that tries to change things from within the system (which I think it’s impossible).

    So while you make fair points, I can’t think of many individual solutions that will both make a change (or a dent) and will allow you to stay out of jail.

  2. Manuel,

    Well, but what kind of individual solutions that can produce a little liberty can exist that are even remotely possible?

    Fair question. In response to the pissing and moaning over the Kelo decision, I wrote What Can You Do About Things?. That piece contains some specific solutions to the problem of the government taking your property.

    Much more important than specific solutions though is the philosophy that allowed me to manufacture those solutions.

  3. How about a proletarian revolution by the people? Overthrow the capitalist ruling class and establish local businesses and juries with direct democracy! That’ll get some results…

  4. How about a proletarian revolution by the people?

    “The people” are invited to fuck themselves. The endless tide of empty heads isn’t required for any plan that’s even half baked.

  5. I tend to disagree with Stephan Kinsella (though he makes his argument really clear, what is good). Libertarians must stop moaning about ethics and ‘lost cause’ and start to ACT. It’s true, that sometimes we’ll be forced to compromise, but heck, it’s still better to be have 5% more freedom than less. Activists WIN: it’s a case that’s been proven by Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Lech Walesa, Nelson Mandela and lots of other pro-freedom _individuals_ (not necessarily libertarians). Also, Murray Rothbard himself has stated, that “libertarians should lead the masses, instead of being alieneted from them” (I don’t know if the quote is exact, but its meaning has been preserved in 100%). One who loves freedom should learn to *pay the price*, which includes compromises. What’s funny, the libertarian movement has no chance to bringing about liberty: it’s the transpolitical individuals (those that blend various schools of thought) that will. After all, who has DONE more for liberty: Libertarian Party or ACLU/EFF/givemeliberty.org/mindfreedom.org/… ? I’m sure that it’s the latter…

    In Liberty,
    Critto

  6. Critto,

    What the hell has the ACLU done to promote liberty? What are you talking about?

    You don’t promote liberty by doing; you promote it by not doing. Not initiating violence against non-aggressors is the only way to promote liberty. I suggest you read Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience to learn that passivism, not activism, is the only path to freedom.

  7. Passivism isn’t necessarily the best choice. There are active things that individuals can do that will improve their liberty. The problem really is that the sorts of things that most libertarians suggest are equivalent to smashing one’s face against a stone wall, repeatedly: “If we all smashed our faces hard enough and long enough, the wall would crumble!”.

    I dunno about anyone else, but my money’s on the wall.

  8. You don’t promote liberty by doing; you promote it by not doing.

    Ah, I see. So if a bunch of thugs steal from people and set themselves up as a rich ruling class, and hundreds of years later the rich ruling class is still around, then the correct thing to do to promote freedom is nothing?

    In effect, they are arguing that it is okay to reap the benefits of past initiations of force but it is wrong to try and rectify them. It is as if someone walks into a room of people, robs them at gun point and then asks that they should respect each others property rights from now on and only engage in voluntary exchanges with what they had left.
    Anarchist FAQ

  9. It is as if someone walks into a room of people, robs them at gun point and then asks that they should respect each others property rights from now on and only engage in voluntary exchanges with what they had left.

    It seems to me that the property rights in that circumstance are readily salvageable. That’s not that case most of the time, though. For instance: how do you propose to salvage the property rights to my last year’s taxes? Who do I collect from and why?

  10. Anonymous2,

    I wasn’t talking about what is right or wrong. Of course you have the right to restore your stolen property. But, in the reality in which we live, practically all social and political activists do much more to undermine liberty than to promote it.

    I guess I should have qualified what I said: you can promote liberty by opening a business and/or by employing other economic means. However, once you start utilizing political means, you invariably undermine the cause of freedom and liberty.

  11. There are active things that individuals can do that will improve their liberty.

    Correct. There are active things that you can do for yourself. Again I need to clarify: doing things for yourself falls under passivism in my lexicon. By activism, I mean social and political activism.

    By passivism, I don’t mean that you sit idly by as your property and liberty are being stolen. I mean that you do whatever you can do to protect these yourself, as opposed to calling an ACLU shyster. Supporting organizations like the ACLU will do nothing to promote and protect your liberty.

  12. There are all sorts of “collective solutions to the freedom problem” which have actually produced liberty for real people, from tax-limitation ballot initiatives to wars that have overthrown genocidal dictatorships and paved the way for non-genocidal democracies.

    I have yet to hear how unilateral individual action is supposed to be able to solve the problem of freedom-hating terrorism.

  13. I’m so glad to have you back, Tim. Did you cone back to answer my questions?

    I didn’t think so. But, I’m glad you’re back anyway. Michael Savage is on a commercial break and I need my conservative entertainment.

    I have yet to hear how unilateral individual action is supposed to be able to solve the problem of freedom-hating terrorism.

    1. Whose problem of terrorism? I was never attacked by terrorists, so I have no problem to solve. Were you ever attacked by terrorists?

    2. Individual action as opposed to what? Collective action? Coercive action? What’s your alternative?

    3. Whatever your alternative is, how is it supposed to promote freedom? Has it promoted freedom in the past? At what cost?

  14. Tim,

    There are all sorts of “collective solutions to the freedom problem” which have actually produced liberty for real people, from tax-limitation ballot initiatives to wars that have overthrown genocidal dictatorships and paved the way for non-genocidal democracies.

    Can you name one ballot initiative or one war, ever, that produced you more freedom due to your participation?

    I have yet to hear how unilateral individual action is supposed to be able to solve the problem of freedom-hating terrorism.

    If you want to protect yourself and your loved ones from terrorists, move away from target areas. Educate yourself and your family about security practices. Find employment that doesn’t require air travel.

    You can solve your own personal terrorism problem easily enough, it isn’t like you live in Iraq. Thing is that you want to solve “terrorism” like the average liberal wants to solve “poverty”. Thus you’re forced into collecitivist solutions for the same sorts of reasons that they are, solutions which necessarily include the same omlettes-from-eggs calculations that they make.

    It’s unpersuasive of multiple fronts, not the least of which is the public goods aspect: there’s no reason in the world why I or anyone else oughtn’t sit on the sidelines and jeerlead your best efforts, because my participation or lack thereof in your central plans isn’t gonna make a hill of beans’ difference in the amount of terrorism that I get.

    And that problem nicely scales to every individual in creation.

  15. # John Lopez Says:
    September 7th, 2006 at Sep 07, 06 | 10:31 pm

    Critto,

    Isn’t it true that the ACLU will produce the same amount of freedom for you no matter how much you personally give them?

    No John,
    ACLU is based on the actions of the *individuals* who join this organization or help it in its activity. If nobody helped ACLU, the organization wouldn’t function: it’s not a computer, after all, and even computers have to be programmed by a human first:) This means, if I had any case that ACLU would like to represent me in (and provided that I would be American citizen, resident or other inhabitant (probably even an illegal emmigrant or prisoner of war); as Polish living in Poland I don’t think I’d qualify), their victory in *my* name would mean more freedom for me and for everybody else in the USA; it would be a case of me “hiring” ACLU for my case in the similiar way one hires a commercial law firm.

    Regards,
    Critto

  16. Uncle Sam Staples Says:
    September 7th, 2006 at Sep 07, 06 | 10:45 pm

    Critto,

    What the hell has the ACLU done to promote liberty? What are you talking about?

    Uncle Sam Staples,
    ACLU has done many things to promote individual liberty, if liberty means freedom from (eg. from persecution). It has led the successful campaigns to abolish: censorship (among others, Communications Decency Act, the case ACLU v. Reno; it’s good to mention, that ACLU defended both “politically correct” speech, and the extreme organizations like Ku-Klux Klan from persecution for their views only), sodomy/cohabitation/fornication laws, racial and other discrimination forced by a government (in contrast to the discrimination as a free choice eg. of the employer), forced mental medication, and many more. It has empowered the concerned individuals (because it was always some individual, that suffered from the statist oppresson) with the legal aid, friendly support and confidence in one’s rights.

    Regards,
    Critto

  17. Critto,

    No John,
    ACLU is based on the actions of the *individuals* who join this organization or help it in its activity. If nobody helped ACLU, the organization wouldn’t function…

    I’m not speaking of everyone else or even of anyone else. I’m speaking of you: Isn’t it true that the ACLU will produce the same amount of freedom for you no matter how much you personally give them?

  18. Ha. Imagine Critto gives $1000 a year to the liberty interest group of his choice for twenty years. For the same twenty years Lopez invests $1000 a year in a market index fund or perhaps some other form of equity.

    Other things being equal isn’t it a cinch Lopez will be better off after twenty years? Lopez gets the same benefit from Critto’s investment that Critto does plus all the benefit from his own investment.

  19. Ha, no wonder David Friedman calls the public good’s problem and prisoner’s dilemma the “dark side of rationality”.

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