Ever since I founded FFF 29 years ago, there have been critics who say to me, “You just preach to the choir.” My response is always: “Yeah, isn’t that great?” Of course, I issue the response in jest, especially since FFF has long shared libertarianism with both libertarian and non-libertarian audiences, such as historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), where FFF has been holding anti-drug war conferences for the past few years.
Yet, when broken down and analyzed, it is easy to see that the “preaching to the choir” critique is actually silly and meaningless. After all, what is considered the “choir” within the libertarian movement? Does it consist of people who have been in the libertarian movement for many years but who are still striving to learn more about our philosophy? Does it include people who have just recently discovered libertarianism and who are trying to learn more about its principles? Does it encompass libertarians who have not yet been able to bring themselves to embrace all libertarian positions?
Over the years, I have been invited to address many different libertarian groups. My presupposition has always been to accept such invitations. For one thing, even though the groups consist of people who are already libertarians, there is always something new that can be learned about libertarianism, whether it’s about principles, history, economics, religion, or an array of other things. If I am able to able to share something new or interesting about libertarianism with a libertarian audience or cause someone to look at things a bit differently, I consider that a positive thing. Moreover, when I have spoken at libertarian functions, I myself have sometimes learned something new about libertarianism from the attendees. When it comes to understanding libertarianism, all of us are really students of the philosophy and there is always something new to learn.
Moreover, even though a group consists of libertarians, I have found that there are sometimes libertarians within the audience who are hewing to non-libertarian principles. The libertarian position favoring open borders is a good example. Many libertarians who have come into the movement from the conservative movement or the Republican Party oftentimes find it difficult to leave their conservative or Republican baggage behind and embrace libertarianism on this particular issue. Why is it a bad thing to share libertarian insights on that issue or others that libertarians are having a difficult time understanding and embracing, especially given that they have invited me to share libertarian perspectives with them?
A few years ago I was speaking at a forum that consisted of libertarian millennials. My critics would say that this was an example of “preaching to the choir.” On economics, the millennials were solid. But on foreign policy, some of them were disasters. They favored foreign interventionism, the war on terrorism, and the Pentagon, CIA, and NSA — i.e., the national-security state form of government that the United States has had since World War II. I suppose this shouldn’t surprise us. They grew up in the 9/11 era, when the government was propagandizing and indoctrinating everyone with the notion that the terrorists or the Muslims were coming to get us as part of a supposed worldwide Islamic conspiracy dating back centuries to establish a worldwide caliphate, which now supposedly included the United States.
Is there really anything wrong with explaining the libertarian position on foreign policy — that U.S. interventionism produces terrorist blowback, which is then used as the excuse for taking away our liberties, privacy, and money here at home — and that the conversion of the U.S. government to a national-security state after World War II is the root cause of all this crisis and mayhem and the dark-side practices that have come with the conversion, such as assassination, torture, coups, sanctions, embargoes, regime-change operations, and alliances with dictatorial regimes — and that the restoration of a limited-government republic would help restore peace, prosperity, harmony, morality, and freedom to our land?
I often wonder what happens when our “preaching to the choir” critics receive an invitation to share ideas on liberty with libertarian groups. Do they respond, “No, I will not accept your invitation because that would be preaching to the choir, which I absolutely refuse to do”?
There is another important aspect to consider, one that was emphasized many years ago by the libertarian thinker Albert J. Nock in an essay entitled, “Isaiah’s Job.” In his essay, Nock emphasized the importance of continuing to preach libertarian principles in order to build up and fortify people who already believe in libertarianism. Nock called this group “the remnant” and pointed out that this is the group that would ultimately restore liberty to our land. Since that was unlikely to happen in the near term, the remnant needed to be encouraged to keep the faith and to continue adhering to libertarian principles. Even though I have studied libertarianism for some 40 years, I myself still enjoy hearing a hard-core libertarian talk because it charges my batteries and inspires me to keep on keeping on.
Suppose that the “preaching to the choir” critics got their way and libertarian speakers began boycotting libertarian events. Who then should libertarian groups invite to speak at their functions — statists? And what then should libertarian speakers do — go to the airport and begin trying to convert “non-choir members” to libertarianism, like the Hare Krishnas used to do? How effective would that be?
In the very first issue of our monthly journal Future of Freedom — January 1990 — which at that time was called Freedom Daily, I told readers that FFF would be committed to adhering strictly to libertarian principles and that our methodology for advancing liberty would be based on that mission. If people read what they liked, I said, they would support us. If they didn’t, they would move on.
And so it has been for 29 years. We have remained committed to presenting the same principled libertarian message to all sorts of audiences, libertarian and non-libertarian. Along the way, we have gained supporters and we have lost supporters. But we have never wavered from our mission because we have always believed that adhering to principle is the way to achieve the society for which we libertarians yearn, one based on freedom, peace, prosperity, harmony, and morality.