On Converting Statists

August 23rd, 2010   Submitted by Sima Qian

Seeing the LRC post on how the conversion time from being a libertarian to being an anarchist is about two years again made me think about whether it’s better to help libertarians on the way to anarchism or voluntaryism or to try to convert overt statists to libertarianism. After considering the question for a bit I realized the answer was neither, or rather, both. When talking with either one, however, it is important to remember the goal is not their immediate conversion to antistatism, but rather, to try to help nudge them along the way

In my experience it is quite common to be working with minarchists to agitate the public. We attend many of the same meetings and often work together passing out literature at events. These are excellent opportunities to not just push the general public toward less government, but also to convince the minarchists that less government is always better, as in having no government is best. It gives you a chance to hit two birds with one stone. The only word of caution I would give is to make sure your discussion with the minarchist(s) does not interfere with your work with the general public. Try to hold them during the trip there and back (if you’re traveling together) or during lulls in your activities.

Everyone has their favorite techniques and talking points. One of mine when I’m trying to convert a minarchist is to point to police power. This has two advantages. First, it is something that is “fundamental” in minarchist thought. Of course police power has to be provided by the state! If this belief is shattered it often leads to a lot of reflection on the part of the minarchist. Second, thanks to the rise of the militarized local police it is an easy target. I single out a case of police brutality that resonated with the locals wherever I am, (This is disturbingly easy) and then cite that in my conversations, pointing out that if there were a market for security that the cop would have at least been fired after the incident, and probably long before such a catastrophe.

Rothbard, in his Confidential Memorandum to the Volker Fund, “What is to be done?” points out that it is vitally important for the libertarian-individualist cause to develop a “hard core.” This is the group that continues to radicalize the movement and prevent drift from core principles, “Left-wing opportunism.” I believe that anarchists naturally fill this role in the broader liberty movement. Nevertheless, we must not fall into the trap of rejecting progress simply because it is not everything we want, and to not “scare away” the general public. There is no need to go into a lengthy discussion of how an anarchist society would work. Stating that there are two ways to deal with people, with force and without it, and that you believe that the preemptive use of force is wrong would work just as well, if not better.

If your goal is to convince everyone you meet that anarchism or voluntaryism is the only feasible system in a single conversation, you will be disappointed. However, if instead you try to leave the people you talk to thinking about the state in a new way (whether that’s as simple as “maybe the government shouldn’t ban drugs” or as monumental as “wow, I guess the state isn’t necessary”) you will find that you make progress every day.

2 Responses to “On Converting Statists”

  1. Anarchia VirusNo Gravatar says:

    You know, it only took me 6 months to go from being a neo-centrist (with some socialistic neocon leanings) to being a full blown market anarchist. And it probably would’ve happened in one-fourth that time if only the concept of market anarchy had been presented to me earlier. As soon as I started reading about Murray Rothbard, I was totally on board.

    The thing about me is that I never really had much of an emotional or cult-like attachment to the “U.S.A.” or “the Flag” or the “Founding Fathers,” etc. And I was pretty much open-minded, because at a gut level (and even concious level) I knew that politics just didn’t make logical sense to me – it didn’t add up. I only supported the U.S. government because any sort of alternative was literally unfathomable to me. And honestly I think a lot of people are the same. They don’t really worship the State in a religious or nationalistic sense. They just can’t think of an alternative, even though they sense that politics are wrong. They think that the Left basically sucks, and the Right basically sucks, but getting rid of the System altogether would be “chaos!”

    So I think you’re right. The best thing to do is to plant seeds, and get people thinking on a simple, fundamental, moral level. “Coercion is wrong.” There are 3 ways that people can deal with eachother: (1) everybody coerces everybody, (2) some people coerce some people, (3) or nobody coerces anybody. …And another key point for me was that morality and legality are not synonymous….

    If you point these sorts of things out, then people who are actually free-thinkers, and not conformist androids, will start to think about them and come around at their own pace. I think what we want to do is lay out the “dots”, but let people connect the dots themselves. That way they feel smart, like it was “their” idea to be an anarchist. They don’t want to be “told” that anarchism/libertarianism is the way, even if they agree with it. …The majority of people already have anarchist leanings, in that they generally believe “freedom=good” and “violence=bad”, they just need to be prompted in some way to take those pre-existing beliefs to their logical extremes.

  2. Sima, top post! One of my favorite things to do with someone who is highly averse to the idea of anarchy (once I’ve dropped that word anyway), is to observe that we live nearly all of our life (and certainly the most enjoyable and rewarding parts) in a state of anarchy. In contrast of course, the vast majority of things which we loathe or find to be a nuisance are constructs of the state and its coercive nature. Of course people don’t think of the average day as one lived in a state of anarchy, so that’s a fun seed to plant. Also, if the state happens to intervene (speeding ticket, tax notice, etc), they make that association too.

    For those on the hard core right … or even most tea partiers, there is a huge roadblock on the way to anarchy (or “liberty” or “the market society” as is best used when around them).

    They have to first renounce their religion and their god. Not “the God of the Jews” or Jesus … but the one symbolized by the five sided building on the Potomac.

    Until they’ve done that reasoned arguments don’t work. After they’ve done that you hand them Anatomy of the State, The Market for Liberty, The Ethics of Liberty, Our Enemy the State … sit back and wait.

    For the Constitutionalist Conservative (as opposed to the outright Neocon), there is a bifurcation point in their search for The Path to Liberty. This is from my experience anyway (having gone the anarchy route, and seeing others go the other way).

    There are CCs who get obsessed with the Constitution and Constitutional law/history/etc while failing to realize it is a failed system. They will in fact say that it hasn’t failed, but that we have failed it (???). The read and read and read about the Constitution, founders, court rulings, and all the excuses that are required to justify the wretched power grab that was the Constitutional Convention itself, but they miss THE POINT. They forget that their original goal was to discover how people can be free … not to justify systems that have clearly failed to maintain freedom.

    The other CCs manage to keep the idea of Liberty in mind the whole time and as they dig into the Constitution, they realize it’s a load of rubbish. Even the Declaration. One day they read:
    “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men”
    and realize that Government in this context (the state) is the antithesis of those very same rights. Thus ends their Constitutional Conservative phase and begins the Anarchist phase.