13 November 2011
Quote of the day

“It serves no useful purpose to fight mystical dogmas with reason.  There is no teaching fanatics.”

Ludwig von Mises, Socialism (Liberty Fund Edition), p255.

25 April 2008
LA Conversion: How to win the libertarian argument

Another classic LA pamphlet.  Another classic Brian Micklethwait LA pamphlet in which the author argues that no one ever wins an argument at the first attempt, that it’s far better to be understood than to be agreed with and by implication that intellectual honesty is always the best intellectual policy.



The first rule for winning the libertarian argument is that you must have it.

That sounds fairly obvious, does it not? Yet how many times must we libertarians listen to self-styled “practical” and “realistic” comrades, who tell us that the way to argue for the abolition of income tax or the legalisation of heroin or the abolition of compulsory education is to start these arguments by arguing instead for the lowering of income tax by two per cent, the legalisation of marijuana, and the introduction of education vouchers. The idea is that having bought these mild and diluted versions of libertarianism, people will then be drawn into accepting the more “extreme” manifestations of libertarianism, as if being enticed into the back room of a pornography shop.

The error embodied in this kind of “realism” is the confusion between someone on the one hand being told an idea, and on the other hand agreeing with that idea. These are two absolutely distinct processes, and understanding this distinction is the beginning of wisdom as a libertarian propagandist. There are, to put the same point slightly differently, two ways of being an “extremist”. One consists of not only expressing one’s views with clarity but also of trying to combine this process with that of immediately being agreed with, of saying what you think and of saying why the person you are talking to has no excuse for thinking otherwise. This is obnoxious and counter-productive. Your victim will simply back away, and make a note to seek other conversational companions in the future. The right way to be an extremist is to say what you think and why, while absolutely not assuming that the person you are talking to has any sort of obligation to think likewise, and if anything while making it clear that you rather expect him not to. You think what you think, and he thinks what he thinks. And if he hasn’t told you already what he does think, then an obviously polite next step would be to ask him to talk about that. The two of you can then try to pin down more precisely how you disagree, assuming you do. It is possible to be an extremist without deviating from good manners, and that is how.

Another obvious way to present an “extreme” idea to somebody, in a form which does not grab him by the lapels and shake him around and generally spoil his day, is to present that idea in writing. Publishing is, you could say, a branch of good manners. No matter how “extreme” is the opinion I may read in a pamphlet or magazine, I am never, so to speak, at its mercy. I can stop reading it at any moment, and so in the meantime I need not feel threatened or even discomforted by it. The number one task of the Libertarian Alliance is simply to get the libertarian case spread around - especially in writing of course -to anyone who is interested in it. Whether any particular reader agrees or not doesn’t matter. The point is to spread the ideas.

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