Libertarians are our own worst enemy. If we want to effect national politics, we need to stop doing three things right now.
We have a lot going for us; the internet, globalisation, the crumbling of mass political parties, and the erosion of top-down, one-size-fits all public services. Yet its not all sunshine and lollipops. We’re doing ourselves no favours, and are probably slowing down the trend towards smaller, more flexible and responsive government.
Patriotism/nationalism is a thing. Get over it.
The libertarian argument against patriotism is that it is irrational to have a loyalty and affinity to a country because it’s merely an accident of birth. But by that token, loyalty and affinity to your family is equally irrational. Both are based on the same anthropological imperatives; humans are hard wired to feel close to people who are like them. Nation states (emphasis on nation states, not colonial constructs like Chad or Pakistan) are merely extensions of families and tribes. They share genetic markers, language, customs, histories, cultural norms and religious habits.
British libertarians are too quick to scoff at patriotism, or worse, equate it with racism. Not only is this borderline offensive and patronising, its also intellectually lazy. Rather than acknowledge this powerful, deeply innate human characteristic, we talk over it, and try to hammer people into submission. But they don’t submit, they switch off, and an opportunity to engage with somebody who might be open to our ideas has been lost because we couldn’t get past our dogma.
Nobody cares about your bloody philosophers
British socialism talked itself into irrelevance by entombing itself in an impenetrable linguistic fortress. It rolled out terms like the ‘Proletariat’, ‘means of production’, and the ‘dialectic’, yet was staggered when the average punter tuned out.
Though not quite as bad, British libertarians are far too quick to ream of names of thinkers and philosophers as if they alone will resonate with the voting public are influence a debate. Sorry to be harsh, but nobody cares what Locke thought about anything anymore. The same goes for Freidman, Rand, and Hobbes.
Even people with an interest in politics find this seriously off putting. This is not to say that these people and their works should be forgotten, but trying to crow bar them into debates only serves to reinforce the image that libertarians are socially awkward cranks, more at home in a dusty library than the real world.
Not caring doesn’t mean stupidity
Perhaps the most painful experience for a libertarian (with the exception of seeing your tax deductions each month) is to watch a fellow libertarian engage in debate with somebody who isn’t at all ideological. It can be summarised below:-
Libertarian: Wouldn’t it be better if private companies ran bin collections competitively?
Randomer: Erm, not really. Seems easier just to pay the council to do it.
Libertarian: But private companies could compete. You’d have better service or lower cost.
Randomer: Current system works well enough. Most people aren’t bothered, are they?
Libertarian: Well they should be. If you don’t think it would be better, you’re clearly an idiot. Or a socialist. Read Atlas Shrugged. Raaaaahhhhh
(I may have added that last bit for comic effect. Sue me) But so convinced are we of the correctness of our case, that we genuinely can’t comprehend others not seeing it our way. We’re like Sheldon or Spock, frustrated that logic isn’t prevailing. And we are right. We have studies and spreadsheets and graphs. All the good stuff. We just need to wrap our heads around the fact that most people are pretty content with most things, most of the time. They’re not all as angry as us. This doesn’t mean we should stop trying to roll back the state leviathan, but we should acknowledge that we won’t be thanked because we were never asked.
As I mentioned in my opening, the future is bright. The State has still got fight in it, but time is on our side. But for the love of God, let’s try and be a bit more realistic, a bit more responsive and a bit more relevant. Let’s listen to what people want, rather than telling them what they should want. Socialism tried that tact, but Brits don’t respond well to being told what’s good for them.
We’ve got the right policies, we just need to try and be…a bit more normal. Try it, honestly. It’ll be great.
If you enjoyed this,(and why wouldn’t you, its boss?) two recommended reads are this anayslis of libertarianism’s failings in the UK election system, and this excellent interview with Sam Bowman, of the Adam Smith Institute.
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