On Propaganda

September 28th, 2010   Submitted by Sima Qian

In, “What is to be Done?” Rothbard argues that our objective is to “advance our principals—to spread libertarian-individualist thought… among the people and to spread its policies in the political arena.” The liberty movement has two main objectives: “boots on the ground” action and creating and disseminating propaganda. The propagandist wing of the liberty movement currently resembles a book club, albeit a large and decentralized book club. Currently the movement pushes forward with enough energy that even the layman not usually inclined to read is motivated enough to do so, however, we should not bet on this continuing. The book club model works fine for now, but it is essential that the propagandist wing further develops blogs and forums focused on different aspects of the liberal project, and particularly develops a means by which a layman may be exposed to increasingly radical ideas.

The two objectives of action and propaganda compliment each other. The better someone understands libertarian philosophy the more likely they will be to engage in action in support of liberty. At the same time, creative agitation can create opportunities for studying tactics, refining propaganda, and can be excellent opportunities to recommend propagandist literature and sites to others.

The many in the propagandist wing of the “Hard-core cadre” that existed in the Ron Paul campaign were quite content with recommending books to each other and reading recommended books, and, because of the Mises Institute, many of these books were available free of charge. This, I believe, set the tone for the hard-core cadre. In arguments books would be recommended and they would be read. If someone was beginning to have certain doubts about some aspect of the state they’d ask someone if there was already a discussion of the particular problem. Recently a good minarchist friend of mine told me he was having doubts about democracy and I recommended “Democracy: The God that Failed” and “For a New Liberty.” Recommending books is an extremely effective way of converting the hard-core cadre to more radical positions.


Unfortunately today many laymen receive a considerable amount of indoctrination from some people whom many in the hard-core cadre suspect of attempting to co-opt the movement and nudge it in a statist direction. While this is a challenge, in the short-term these groups and people are helping to radicalize many laymen relative to where they were in 2008. For now, many of these groups are also using the book club strategy, one of them successfully brought “The Road to Serfdom” to many best-sellers lists. Whether or not these non-hardcore groups are actively trying to shift the movement in a statist direction, it seems certain that they will not propagandize certain radical positions.

We therefore have three main challenges when trying to radicalize the layman: First, we have to reach out to them and expose them to more radical ideas, second, we must make sure those ideas are “Respectable” to the layman or else we will not convince, and third, as enthusiasm wanes the layman’s subjective valuation of reading whole books will likely decrease. To counteract this the hard-core cadre must continue to supply a stream of anti-state articles while expanding low-cost options for learning about liberty, like radio shows and videos. It may also be advisable to create new groups focused on some issue, arguing their position from a pro-liberty standpoint. (For instance, gay rights groups arguing the state should not have anything to do with adoption or marriage and pro-immigration groups arguing that people should be allowed to live wherever they please.) These groups would be able to attend events and attract people that would usually ignore, or never even be exposed to the hard-core cadre’s message.

The propagandist wing of the liberty movement has done a fantastic job of spreading the message of liberty. Because of this success, some groups have attempted to co-opt the message and move it in a statist direction. To counter-act this it is essential for the hard-core cadre of the propagandist wing to continue to engage laymen and expose them to more radical ideas. While doing this it must be done in a way palatable to the layman. As enthusiasm wanes it will also be necessary to expand the offerings of pro-liberty media. It would also be advisable to create groups focused on some issue in order to attract new people to the liberty movement. Fortunately many of these things are already in the works. We have made substantial headway in the past three years developing a strong, motivated center. It’s time to leverage this organization to get the radical message to the layman.

8 Responses to “On Propaganda”

  1. Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

    I think the best thing an individual can do now is to start new underground enterprises, especially ones that replace the state.

  2. tasmlabNo Gravatar says:

    Nice article. My favorite liberty ‘pamphlet’ of late has been Peter Schiff’s “How an economy booms and why it crashes”. While not taking many moral or intellectual stances against state power, it takes some pretty hard swings at state intervention, is a dandy introduction to Austrian economics, and is an entertaining 2-hour read.

    I wish there was an equivalent to Sam Harris’ “Letter for a Christian Nation” in its size and impact for liberty (maybe there is and I haven’t seen it).

    BTW, I found this site from the link from DP.com. I’m currently reading ‘human action’ now but was planning on trying some more Rothbard next if anyone from the anarchist community has a good suggestion. I’ve only read “What has government done to your money” and/but am growing interested in a world without countries (at least as a thought experiment/cocktail party convo to start)

  3. augustNo Gravatar says:

    I think another underutilized vehicle for reaching out to people who may not read or otherwise have any exposure to our ideas -is facebook. I know fb is annoying in a lot of ways, but I suspect that most people are like me in that they have dozens of friends from school, childhood etc. that will likely never hear our views if not from us?

    Of course, you’ll get called crazy. It has to seem crazy to have one’s entire reality challenged, but that’s a good thing. They need it.

    Not only can the articles spark thoughts but the conversations started from the comments can even more so.

    Post liberty articles on fb and see what your “normal” (non-liberty) friends do. If you get one or two people to think for themselves it will be worth it. Maybe each one of them will spread liberty articles to all of their friends and create two more, and so on, and so on, until? …Maybe liberty will go viral.

    The more seeds you throw out there the more likely they’ll take.

    • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

      Facebook has definitely been instrumental in spreading the message. I think the best way to do it is just to repost your favorite article every day. Don’t post too many because then people will just tune you out. Also, don’t be too preachy when you repost the article. Just say why you liked it if anything. Your friends who are interested will read it. Those who aren’t will not. Don’t be demanding and you never know who might see the light.

  4. Sima QianNo Gravatar says:

    @Seth. I agree that setting up counter-economic institutions is an extremely important task. Whether or not those institutions engage in civil disobedience, though, I believe is a personal decision.

    @Tasmlab: I agree with Seth, For a New Liberty really is one of the best books out there today describing the functioning of a free society. I’d highly recommend it.

  5. JacobNo Gravatar says:

    The only issue in “On Propaganda” I dispute is Sima Qian’s characterization of pro-liberty information as “radical.” Depredations of the state and its propaganda are radical, not the other way around. We should take the high road here and refer to the state as we see it, not the way the public has been hoodwinked to believe. It will increasingly catch on who the real radicals are.