Here we are at the end of what essentially amounts to an apologetics guide to dealing with a particular type of heretic. That is, as devout libertarians, we have a burning zeal to reach the heathen masses. And some of the heathen are more heathen than others. The law-and-order cult is a particularly virulent form, and it not only has a long history to it, but it also has some of the most vocal advocates in today’s political culture, especially at a grassroots level.
So, let me take a break from the dispassionate analysis for a moment and suggest that, to some degree, resorting to insults and ridicule may be one of the stronger strategies. Just to clarify, I’m not suggesting that anyone engage in ad hominem attacks as ordinarily understood. Something like, “You support the cops only because you’re such a pathetic coward,” is not going to be effective, even if the person in question happens to be a pathetic coward. One can be a pathetic coward and justifiably fear and detest the police, too.
But shaming and ridicule serve a useful function when they’re focused on identifying both how poorly the position is defended and how disgusting many of its conclusions are. For example, people often reference Godwin’s Law as some kind of prohibition on comparing anyone’s ideas to those of the Nazis. But obviously, if someone were to explicitly say, “Hey, let’s round up Jews and gypsies and homosexuals, brand them, and then ship them off to detention centers,” then clearly they should be compared to the Nazis and rejected and shamed for the same reasons.
What libertarians recognize better than anyone is that outright slavery, a la antebellum South, and today’s world, where people can spend decades in prison for possessing a plant (or selling a book; RIP Irwin Schiff), is on a continuum, not a distinctly different type of existence. So, when you hear people advocate forcibly tattooing undocumented immigrants when they are arrested by the border patrol or ICE, it’s appropriate to call out the fascist nature of that act, even if you know the person saying it won’t support gas chambers and so on.
But that kind of comparison takes the right kind of person, the right kind of target, and the right set of circumstances to be really effective and not make one sound like an unhinged extremist (more so than usual). More likely to hit home is to key in on aspects of the traditions that the law-and-order crowd are happy to associate with and then point out how they’re constantly on the wrong side of that history. For example, the rhetoric of the British officials prior to the War of Independence is pretty standard law-and-order stuff, and it almost perfectly mirrors how modern-day conservatives talk about respect for the police, respect for the law, respect for authority in general, and so on. Probably those who are more adept at marketing will come up with better means, but I’ll just suggest referring to such arguments as Redcoat logic. Work within the system, don’t resist authority, submit to all orders immediately and without question, and generally just make sure that you know your place.
Of course, this is exactly what was said to the colonists even as they were doing the exact opposite. Point this out relentlessly. Force them to disavow their heritage if they want to hold on to this mentality. Make it clear how much they have betrayed their own country’s history and turned the nation’s founders into traitors and scofflaws. They’ll resist this, but unfortunately for them, the history is pretty clear here.
Another way of getting at this is to take their own rhetoric about the 2nd amendment and get them to see where it leads. For conservatives of the Tea Party variety, the 2nd amendment is a bulwark against a corrupt government. Its intent is to empower ordinary people to physically resist and threaten the power of the (federal) government if necessary. And if the 2nd amendment were ever in jeopardy of being overturned (which it’s clearly not, nor will it be anytime soon, but they continually believe that it is, so this is perfectly legitimate speculation and nowhere near unrealistic from their perspective), ask them what would justify resisting gun confiscation at that point. Most of them will ‘Like’ comments that imply (or outright state) that anyone coming to get their guns will pay the ultimate price for doing so. Ask them how that fits with the rest of what they supposedly believe about the law and about their duty to comply with it at all times, no matter what. This is very likely the one time they will have to admit to an exception. That admission is a key to undermining the rest of what they think on this question.
The line of thought here is that Authority generates Order, and Order allows for the protection of important attributes of society (Sanctity) while also allowing for Liberty, provided that Liberty doesn’t conflict with any of the other three. So, Liberty ends up dead last and always subordinate in relation to other commitments. The real problem here is the causal understanding of how these elements relate. Liberty ends up as an afterthought, something that you perhaps hope to get but that really has to wait for everyone else to get theirs first. That’s nowhere near how LnO advocates would normally present themselves. Get them to realize that they’ve placed Liberty as a consequence, rather than a foundation, of a healthy society.
Finally, you will occasionally run into people who openly recognize that what they’re advocating is a form of ‘might makes right.’ Not so much that they actually believe that might makes right, but that they realize that that is how things work, practically, and so, they have adjusted themselves to that world and are willing to figure out how things work best without getting deluded by some idealized view of the world. These people are actually some of the easiest to deal with, even if you can’t convince them to change their mind. They’re honest enough to recognize that the legal system and law enforcement in general amounts to bullying, and they don’t attempt to apply any shiny moral veneer to it. It stinks, but it stinks less than all the alternatives.
These people are at least potentially open to being shown an alternative. They don’t have an emotional investment in how things are. They aren’t going to go through any life-shattering crisis if it turns out that the apparatus of arbitrary forces we live with doesn’t actually hold society back from the abyss. Encourage them, don’t insult them, don’t try to shame them. Praise them for their honesty. And then give it time for them to open their eyes a bit.
Please feel free to share any success stories or any lessons on what not to do as you try to apply these ideas in the wild.
Thanks for reading.