I had another great time at Porcfest, the annual libertarian festival in Lancaster, New Hampshire, sponsored by the Free State Project, whose objective it is to get libertarians to move to New Hampshire. I don’t know exactly how many times I’ve been to Porcfest but it’s several. This time, it was sold out, for the first time ever.
The title of my talk was “Lessons Learned in 40 Years of Advancing Liberty.”
The biggest lesson I’ve learned in that time is that if we are to achieve the genuinely free society, libertarian reform measures simply will not cut it. That’s because reform isn’t freedom. It’s reform, which means that it assumes the continued existence of the state infringements that are depriving us of our freedom. If we are to achieve freedom, we have to dismantle, abolish, end, and terminate infringements on liberty.
I pointed out that I was one of those libertarians who have not given up on achieving the genuinely free society. Sure, I said, I know that things are bad. In fact, I’ve seen them get worse and worse with each passing year. But one never knows what tomorrow will bring. And things can turn on a dime.
What we need to do is continue standing fast for the principles of a genuinely free society. We have to continue making the case for liberty, with the aim of finding people who will join up with us.
The idea is to arrive at a critical mass of people who understand liberty and who passionately want it. In that way, if an unforeseen catalyst occurs, that critical mass will be able to rise to the surface and shift the direction of the country toward liberty.
How many people are needed for this critical mass? It’s impossible to say, but my hunch is that it is much less than a majority. Throughout history, there have been freedom movements that have been led by small minorities of people.
The worst thing would be to give up and settle for reform, have the catalyst happen, and then not be able to take advantage of it because the critical mass isn’t large enough.
How do we arrive at that critical mass? Another lesson I’ve learned is that one cannot convince people to become libertarians. People have to convince themselves. Our job is actually to find libertarians, not make them. In other words, we need to find people like ourselves — people who are naturally disposed to libertarianism but don’t know it.
How do we find those people? By making the case for liberty, not for reform. If we settle for making the case for reform, we find reformers, not people who want to be free.
An analogy is one that I have used in the past — slavery. If a group of reform-oriented libertarians in 1855 Alabama worked to improve the plight of the slaves with laws that provided for fewer lashings, better food and healthcare, and shorter work hours, the slaves undoubtedly would be grateful for the reforms. But they would know that it wouldn’t be freedom. To gain freedom, it would be necessary to dismantle the structure of freedom, which means making the case for freedom, not for reform.
Over the years, some people have said that achieving genuine liberty is utopian. They say, therefore, that we need to settle for Republican and conservative reforms like Social Security “privatization,” school vouchers, health-savings accounts, regulatory reform, drug-war reform, Centers for Disease Control reform, Medicare reform, Medicaid reform, CIA reform, NSA reform, Pentagon reform, selective foreign interventionism, and getting libertarian-leaning conservatives in charge of regulatory agencies and welfare-state departments.
They are wrong because utopian means impossible to achieve. Freedom might be difficult to achieve freedom but not impossible.
I pointed to late 19th-century America to show what is achievable: a society without income taxation and the IRS, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, immigration controls, minimum-wage laws, price controls, Centers for Disease Control, DEA, FDA, drug laws, economic regulations, public schooling systems, CIA, Pentagon, military industrial complex, NSA, Federal Reserve, fiat (i.e., paper) money, FBI, mass secret surveillance, foreign military bases, torture, state-sponsored assassinations, foreign interventionism, foreign wars, gun control, and more.
If they could do it, so can we. They showed what is achievable. We can achieve what they achieved and build on it.
Today, I pointed out, both Democrats and Republicans are leading America to disaster, especially with their out-of-control federal spending and debt. We might well end up experiencing a perfect storm involving monetary, economic, and foreign-policy crises.
American libertarians have the potential for leading the world out of this statist morass. But we can do so only by adhering to libertarian principles and making the case for a genuinely free society.