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Maricopa County Libertarian Party

The Language of Liberty

February 12, 2010
 by Kimberly Ruff


There is much internal debate within the liberty movement as to what's the best message and method to communicate to outsiders. Some groups opt for a no-holds barred approach of shock and awe, while others prefer a battle of attrition using gentle persuasion. Both are certain theirs is the best method, when in truth there's not only room -- but a need -- for both.

From an outsider’s perspective we’re a collective, but within the “liberty movement”, we are little more than disparate, ideologically-similar organizations cobbled together to form an organic whole. Even within our respective associations, we are mere individuals with our own agendas, ideas and goals. This is not an uncommon dynamic for groups, but given the ideological bent of us all, our rugged individualism makes the competition fierce. We don’t capitulate quickly; we don’t work for the “greater good.”

As such, we have a hell of a time getting anything done.

Within our movement is an ongoing debate as to what our message should be, and how best we can communicate it. Some groups opt for a non-holds barred approach of shock and awe, while others prefer a subtle battle of attrition using gentle persuasion. While both messages and methods have their own unique strengths, neither one is the best. Rather, it is a combination of both - appropriately timed and tailor-made for one’s audience - that will serve us best in the long run.

That is, if we can swallow our prides long enough to recognize the inherent value in a far-sighted approach.

Case in point: our current internal debate about the City of Phoenix’s Food Tax. We all agree that the Food Tax is bad news for the citizens of Phoenix, but we disagree on how best we can communicate these sentiments. Since Mayor Gordon has pitched the Food Tax as necessary to maintain security (i.e. fire and police), some feel that our best message is to challenge the necessity of these state-run departments in lieu of privatized or voluntary organizations. No doubt, these questions are critical and must be asked. After all, what is the value of having the State run fire and police? Is there a free market alternative? If we continue to allow the State to provide protection, how will this affect us, as citizens, later on?

But the debate that would invariably ensue will be a long-running, heated one. To even get to a point where we could have a respectful, deliberative discourse about the police state with an average, non-libertarian citizen, would take far longer than we technically have, as we’re working on borrowed time. If local libertarians want to put the kybosh on the City Council’s food tax, they have to manage to gather 15,000 signatures in less than 30 days for their referendum to mean anything. This does not mean we should bite our tongues and shy away from asking the tough questions, but it means that we should recognize, in a situation where we’re racing against the clock, we need to opt for what’s politically expedient.

In this case, political expedience requires quick coalition-building, and not every individual or group we will need to align with is going to see things the same way we do. We need to acknowledge that the bulk of Phoenix residents are not libertarian and, as such, continue to see police and fire as critical departments within government. Even limited government types within libertarianism would argue that these agencies fall under the cap of “necessary evils.” Thus, if we want to garner sizeable support in short order, we have to focus on the issue at hand. The City Council knows what we know about public attitudes towards police and fire. So they threaten to put them on the chopping block, unless we pony up the dough. It’s a scare tactic used to gain compliance. It’s subterfuge. If we pull back the curtain on the City’s rhetoric and show that it’s all just smoke and mirrors used to obscure the fact that the City badly mismanages their finances and is trying to manipulate us into bailing them out, we will be successful in the short-term.

After the short-term, however, we still have long-term concerns. This is where the hard questions about the inherent value of the State, whether in whole or in part, need to take center stage.

What we are dealing with here, in a big picture sense, is a war against the State. To conquer your enemy requires knowledge of your enemy. Our enemy did not become what it is today by amassing power through leaps and bounds. It became what it is through a battle of inches. A loss of liberty here, a loss of liberty there, a period of time for the citizens to adjust to their tightened restraints and get fat, happy, and complacent again, and repeat. It has been a slow, methodical process. Thus, if we want to truly take down the State, we need to engage in a battle of attrition. A gain of liberty here, a gain of liberty there, a period of time where we educate citizens on the immorality of the State so they can help with the fight, and repeat.

In this battle, there will be times to shout and times to whisper. There will be times to shock and awe and times to gently persuade. There is room for all messages and all methods, as long as they all come from the same, principled framework. Remembering this always, we will prevail.

Related Content:

So It's Either Food or Security, Mayor Gordon? - Kimberly Ruff
Phoenix, Drunken Politicians and a New Food Tax - Jim Iannuzo
Phoenix Offers No Reason For CityNorth Appeal - Jim Iannuzo

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"There is room for all messages and all methods, as long as they all come from the same, principled framework."

Sounds like you're requiring that all be principled, that all have the same principles, and that all deduce their messages from principles. That's precisely the dogmatism that has made the US libertarian movement self-defeating

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