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Libertarians Need to Back Up

June 11, 2013

One fundamental problem libertarians have with communicating with non-libertarians is that they don’t share the same worldview even in the slightest. As Jonathan Haidt’s research shows, people make moral judgements using six “foundations”.

1. Care/harm for others
2. Fairness/cheating
3. Liberty/oppression
4. Loyalty/betrayal to your group, family, nation.
5. Authority/subversion for tradition and legitimate authority.
6. Sanctity/degradation, avoiding disgusting things, foods, actions.

Conservatives focus primarily on 4, 5, and 6. Progressive liberals focus on 1, 2, and 5. Libertarians focus on 1, 2 and 3. Although the questions tend to have a touchy feely bias for care/harm, libertarians I’ve met are far more concerned with care/harm than any other group once you factor in the effects of free trade, opposition to war, and immigration reform.

Most people don’t care about privacy. 56% of Americans say that NSA’s wiretapping operations are acceptable. You can’t just point to what is happening and expect people to change their minds. If people cared one bit about privacy, they wouldn’t put half the stuff they do on Facebook, or use passwords like “123456“.

Most people don’t care about war. America has been in a perpetual state of war since 2001. Most people can’t even remember what peace was like. While the draft was a horrible affront to liberty, it has one major advantage; it reminded normal people that there’s a cost to war. These days, war is funded by debt and few really feel the pain. U.S. casualties are fairly low and prostetics are getting better every day. It doesn’t even matter that there are no tangible benefits. So long as most people’s everyday lives are unaffected, no one cares.

Most people like class warfare. People like Bloomberg’s 16 oz drink regulation and ban on trans fats, because it hurts those fat lazy poor people. Most people like drug prohibition, because hey, its’ not like middle class white people ever go to prison for smoking pot, just the underclasses no one likes anyway. Don’t even start on defending the rich, stockholders, or speculators. If a policy hurts the rich, it’s good, full stop. The natural state of humanity is zero sum thinking, so until people move past that, don’t expect spiteful policies to be unpopular.

It has been a fairly long time since a democracy has fallen into dictatorship. Most people don’t know what to look for, they don’t know the warning signs. Even if they did, I don’t think there is much support for the ideals of democratic government. The whole idea of a government constrained or guided by the wishes of the majority just doesn’t have much appeal. If there haven’t been terrorist attacks lately, that just shows the security state is working. If there have been terrorist attacks lately, that proves the security state needs to be expanded, fast. No one needs to know what they are doing, how much money they are spending, who they are killing, or who they are torturing. People would just rather assume that everything is fine and the only people who worry about abuses of power are those loony extremists.

I have had people with top-secret security clearances say to me that if the American people knew what was going on behind the scenes, they’re would be riots or even a civil war. I really doubt that, because Americans approve of everything. Americans approve of torture, so why hide it? Just say, we’re torturing terrorists. Done. Americans approve of the NSA reading emails. Just admit it. Who cares? Americans approve of clamping down and intimidating whistle blowers. Those guys are traitors anyway.

What is to be done?
Libertarians need to spend less time debating the finer point and focus on fundamentals. Don’t bother with minimum wage. Don’t bother talking about farm subsidies or free trade. Those issues are moderately important in times of peace and prosperity, but right now, we (libertarians) need to tell people why facism is worse than democracy, why it is a bad thing that the president can kill whoever he likes for no reason at all, and why scapegoating ethnic groups for our problems is bad. Shut the hell up already about taxing the rich. You aren’t going to win that fight. We might, maybe, I hope in my heart of hearts, I pray, still be able to save democracy from the barbarity of dictatorship.

Arnold Kling makes some very good comments.
Eli Dourado Comments.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Shauna Hopper permalink
    June 14, 2013 3:10 am

    Under the USA Patriot Act, civil libertarians say, judicial oversight of surveillance has been weakened and the bar for culling an individual’s financial, medical, student and other records has been lowered. Its definition of terrorism could cover groups that bear little resemblance to Osama bin Laden’s foot soldiers.

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