Three Inhibitors to Recognize in Achieving Liberty
by Eric Wojciechowski
In January 1997, Cato Institute's Executive Vice President, David Boaz, released an excellent book entitled, Libertarianism - A Primer. In the second chapter, he lays out the foundation and history of the Libertarian philosophies and points out that Libertarianism is not a new idea isolated to the United States. In fact, Boaz shows that we can trace this political movement as far back as classical western civilization and even into the era of circa 600 B.C. with the oriental philosopher Lao-Tzu.
Boaz informs us that many great thinkers in history fought for this ideal which continues into present times which comparable activists and thinkers. It was with the coming of the United States that the first country in history attempted to live solely within the Libertarian framework and to respect the reason of individuals and not the power of governments. Boaz informs us that there have basically always been two political philosophies that have served under different names. Those basics are Liberty
and Power. Boaz compares these by writing, "Either people should be free to live their lives as they see fit, as long as they respect the equal rights of others, or some people should be able to use force to make other people act in ways they wouldn't choose." (Boaz, p. 27).
Boaz notes that, "It's no surprise, of course, that the philosophy of power has always been more appealing to those in power." (Boaz, p. 27) With that said, we must wonder why it is that the power model has always won out when the majority of the people do not hold the power? I will attempt to show that the power model of government is enabled not only by those in power but even by those who do not hold any power. I will also attempt to show why that despite equal time in history (at least in concept but not in practice), the power model always seems to prevail over the Liberty model. And all this occurs with the people under the government grumbling in quiet but at the same time voting over and over for the same ruling fist. What is going on?
There are some questions we must ask and hopefully provide sufficient answers. Why is it that the Liberty model, with such a long history, has not carved a larger niche in the world? Specifically in regards to our country, since the United States was founded as a Libertarian society, how did we lose it and why have not the people voted to regain it? Why is it that we have yet to see the people of this country flock to the cause? If Libertarianism is the best way for a society to prosper, and if it is so obvious as we as Libertarians think, then why is it that the people are not knocking down our doors with membership dues? Why is it that if Libertarianism is such the ideal, and if it is thought that the majority of civilization craves such independence from oppression, we do not have it yet? And why, why, is it that most people claim to agree with the liberty model as the ideal but continue to support the power model?
These are questions that I believe have complex but, at the same time, simple answers. It has much to do with the lack of knowledge that the people have regarding politics and the foundations of civilizations. It also has a lot to do with a basic mistrust we hold against our neighbors. The solutions to the points that follow are even more difficult to come by. (As a note, the points made are geared toward the society of the United States but, without much effort, can be generalized to humanity as a whole).
1) Despite the historical base of the Liberty model, it is not seen as traditional.
Not traditional? After all, didn't I just note how old the philosophy is? Yes, but that truth is only revealed to those who care to investigate it. I have many times discussed the topic with co-workers, friends, associates, etc., and remained amazed at how these conversations exposed that most people hold the belief that the Libertarian Party (and the philosophy in general) is new to the scene. Their belief is that it is the Republicans and Democrats who founded everything! It is clear, and not only in politics but in their everyday affairs, that people act in the manner of tradition and what is familiar. They will always work with what has always been done.
It is a comfortable feeling. It does not seem to matter if a better ideal or philosophy comes around. It seems that the Republicans and Democrats have been with us for so long, ruling our country as if it has always been, and we have become overly familiar with them like the old neighborhood we grew up in. Not many people are ready to demolish the old school yard.
I suspect that regardless of our Libertarian proposals and solutions, membership growth will not excel as we wish because the Liberty model is still viewed as being "new" and "uncharted". It does not matter that this is not true. The population seems to believe it (from what I have observed) and that is what we must deal with. After all, how many people have even heard of the Libertarian Party? I have spoken to many that have not.
The power model has been acted upon civilizations for as far back as one may care to look. Although the liberty model has as long a history, it has existed more in the form of a philosophy and not as a practice. We are taught that most (if not all) historical societies operated as power models. It will be a great challenge to make the Liberty model as familiar as the alternative.
2) The misperception prevails that government protects and without it, the stronger will overpower the weak.
It remains an annoying belief among most people that I have spoken with that the natural state of humanity is evil and selfish and there would be those who would take advantage of you if government programs were not in place to protect you. I attempt to point out that this occurs regardless of government attempts at control but it remains true that society seems to believe that government, acting as the parent, is better to have than to have not. There is clearly a love-hate relationship going on with the power model. This ties in quite well with point #1 as noted above. We have had the parental form of government for so long that we do not remember or even know what it is like without it. The strange thing about this is that everyone who makes such claims about the nature of humanity fails to include himself or herself within that framework. This leads us directly into point #3.
3) All people believe themselves to be naturally good, but think that others are not.
This is the oddest claim of all one can make. We have all heard it. We hear the basic claim that people, in general, can not be trusted to do the right thing but the ones who say that always fail to include themselves within the group of "people". It is believed that we need a form of control and force (government) to keep our neighbors in line. This may be the scariest of all the points I make. This basic mistrust of one's neighbors is what I believe to be the main reason why we are a long way off from obtaining a Libertarian form of civilization and why the power model has been dominate throughout history. Today many of us are so afraid and mistrustful of others within our society, they believe that we must control those unlike us. And this "fear" projects us into adopting a power model of government in order to control those who do not do as we do. We are afraid that without government controls, the industries and corporations will pollute our air and water. We are afraid that without gun control laws, our neighbors will go on shooting rampages. We blame drugs and not people for poor actions some chose to partake in while under the influence and we create laws to prevent all people from using. Our government, with the blessings of the people, meddles in health and child care. Our government creates education agendas and policies. It meddles in every aspect of our lives and we clap during the State of the Union address. The basic break down is clear: FEAR of thy neighbor!
I believe that a Libertarian society will never be achieved as long as the people hold a basic mistrust and fear of those around them. This is why I believe the power model has always prevailed. The Liberty model can only come about when the majority of people begin to change their minds about human nature. Speaking as individuals, we believe that we will do what is right and, in the converse, we usually fear that our fellow man and woman will fail to follow suit.
We are so familiar with government taking on the paternal role that we have forgotten, or better yet, failed to learn and accept self-responsibility. Time and time again, I have spoken with many people who always fall back on the fear of others as the rational for maintaining the power model. I ask them Harry Browne's famous question, "Would you give up your favorite government program if it meant you never had to pay income tax again?" Regrettably, the answer I get on many occasions is that they hate paying the taxes but believe the benefits are good. Their main reason for gladly paying taxes is to maintain the military and police forces. This explains it all in regards to point #2 and #3 despite my objections as I propose Libertarian alternatives to taxation. They just do not believe them plausible and this brings us to the familiarity issue in point #1. The point is that we are creatures of habit. We are also self-preserving animals. Unfortunately, we have had the parental form of government for so long, as well as continue to encourage it, we have failed to learn for ourselves that healthy and self-sustaining living can be achieved even better under the Liberty model.
So what are we, as Libertarians, to do to change all this? I suggest we continue along the path we are already on. We have to make our name as familiar as the Republicans and Democrats. We must make our political solutions just as familiar. This means that over and over and over again we must present the message to the public the best we can. We also have to work on changing society's perceptions of human nature (which is a big and possibly unrealistic task). We have to try to convince people that most people do act in responsible ways without coercive action. We have to continue to point out that we as people continue to cooperate with one another on a daily basis and that the fears of thy neighbor, as they exist in such extremes, are unwarranted. With this said, and with the preconceived notions that exist today, it remains a clear fact that the Liberty model will not come about over night.
Boaz, David. (1997) Libertarianism - A Primer.
New York: The Free Press.
Mr. Wojciechowski can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org