Freedom because it works or freedom because it is right?

In any event, after the more recent decades of my libertarian journey, I am now struck by a different aspect of this longstanding debate, which has to do with our strategy for winning people over to libertarianism. Strategy 1 is to persuade them that freedom works, that a free society will be richer and otherwise better off than an unfree society; that a free market will, as it were, cause the trains to run on time better than a government bureaucracy will do so. Strategy 2 is to persuade people that no one, not even a government functionary, has a just right to interfere with innocent people’s freedom of action; that none of us was born with a saddle on his back to accommodate someone else’s riding him.

In our world, so many people have been confused or misled by faulty claims about morality and justice that most libertarians, especially in the think tanks and other organizations that carry much of the burden of education about libertarianism, concentrate their efforts on pursuing Strategy 1 as effectively as possible. Hence, they produce policy studies galore, each showing how the government has fouled up a market or another situation by its ostensibly well-intentioned laws and regulations. Of course, the 98 percent or more of society (especially in its political aspect) that in one way or another opposes perfect freedom responds with policy studies of its own, each showing why an alleged “market failure,” “social injustice,” or other problem warrants the government’s interference with people’s freedom of action and each promising to remedy the perceived evils. Anyone who pays attention to policy debates is familiar with the ensuing, never-ending war of the wonks. I myself have done a fair amount of such work, so I am not condemning it. As one continues to expose the defects of anti-freedom arguments and the failures of government efforts to “solve” a host of problems, one hopes that someone will be persuaded and become willing to give freedom a chance. …

If we are ever to attain a free society, we must persuade a great many of our fellows that it is simply wrong for any individuals or groups, by violence or the threat thereof, to impose their demands on others who have committed no crime and violated no one’s just rights, and that it is just as wrong for the persons who compose the state to do so as it is for you and me. In the past, the great victories for liberty flowed from precisely such an approach—for example, in the anti-slavery campaign, in the fight against the Corn Laws (which restricted Great Britain’s free trade in grains), and in the struggle to abolish legal restrictions on women’s rights to work, own property, and otherwise conduct themselves as freely as men. At the very least, libertarians should never concede the moral high ground to those who insist on coercively interfering with freedom: the burden of proof should always rest on those who seek to bring violence to bear against innocent people, not on those of us who want simply to be left alone to live our lives as we think best, always respecting the same right for others.

The Independent Institute

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