The Pragmatism of Principles

Leonard Read, the founder of the Foundation for Economic Education, said principles are not compromised; they are abandoned. Principles, by their nature, are utilized or they are not.

That is an important reminder for those who believe the maximum role of government should be the protection of life, liberty, and property — which I think, logically construed, means self-government; however, I respect that others disagree. Our time is going to be most wisely spent improving ourselves and building relationships with like-minded liberty people. Even still, while the conventional political process is still dominant, there are ways for principled people to use political tools for their own benefit.

The conventional political dichotomy is a struggle between short-term opportunism and long-term progress. I think there is a simple reconciliation that can be made between the two camps. That is, under no circumstances, never ever, should we ever support an expansion in the role of government or a further restriction on a peaceful person’s liberty. Second, any policy support should be done with the explicit purpose of decreasing the role of government and directly benefiting peaceful individuals.

Any strategy or policy goals that we recommend or follow should be consistent with the purpose of restoring individual liberty and responsibility. I understand the importance of intermediate goals or markers to help fully achieve our ultimate purpose. But our means of achieving that purpose should not be contradictory to that end. For example, a lot of politicians try to justify tax cuts because they believe it will actually increase the total revenues to the government treasury. I believe this is wrong and sends an inconsistent message.

The goal of a tax cut should be to reduce the burden of government. Again, we should not advocate the re-legalization of cannabis on the grounds that it will raise tax revenues, but because prohibition is immoral and counterproductive. Expanding government and further restricting the liberty of others to correct another ill-fated government policy is an abandonment of principle. As Ron Paul said, “Few Americans understand that all government action is inherently coercive.” Reducing the level of coercion in people’s lives is a worthy goal.

Principles in Practice

The goals that we have should be radical — not liberal- or conservative-lite. This serves two purposes. First, it provides cover for not-so-radical views to be considered more mainstream, thus limiting the fear of ostracism people might have for holding these slightly less radical views. It provides an objective guidepost — like a lighthouse — for gauging the success of our efforts during darker times.

I would also like to suggest two methods of communicating these ideas. We should definitely take the time, on an intellectual basis, to refute anti-liberty or collectivist ideas. But we must acknowledge that the people advocating these mistaken ideas are not dimwitted. In fact, many know exactly how they benefit from these policies. They are ripping us off, so we must make direct, populist appeals that reveal that fact.

By its nature, government is crude and unaccountable, so there will be an infinite supply of aggrieved individuals. Ideally, that means that we don’t have to convert individuals fully to the virtue of liberty before taking action together. Over time, I hope that those who are “liberty minus one” or “liberty minus whatever” come to see the error of their ways.

Some Ideas to Bat Around

Sometimes, pick losing issues to get the message out by presenting a pro-liberty analysis. I’m not saying be a stick-in-the-mud. The situation might provide an opportunity to get some free media publicity or lay the groundwork for winning progress on the issue in the future. Liberals have deployed this technique by pushing socialized health insurance and environmental regulations.

Now, I don’t even know how possible this next one is. Those arrested for committing consensual crimes could be high-target prospects for the liberty message. When I’m passing out Fully Informed Jury Association literature on jury nullification, those called for jury duty are naturally receptive to the material I am providing. I’ll usually stay a little past the time when potential jurors are due to report in downtown Fort Worth in order to catch any stranglers. When I do, I just happen to pass out literature to defendants, and they are just as interested in the concept of jury nullification as potential jurors, if not more so. There has got to be a way of contacting those folks by getting ahold of  some public records.

Image credit: john curley, with Creative Commons license