Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Plea to Young Activists - Embrace Liberty

A Plea to Young Activists—Embrace Liberty 


Jeff Godley

Introduction from Anand Venigalla, chief host: I had recently gotten a Facebook account, and in my encounters I stumbled upon a young Christian anarcho-capitalist by the name of Jeff Godley. I talked with him through private mail regarding many interesting things, and when I mentioned my blog, he asked if he could be part of it, as he has hosted other blogs as well. In this article, Jeff argues that young activists should embrace the libertarian philosophy, explaining why he finds libertarianism to be better than statism.

I hope that everyone who reads this blog will welcome Jeff. May his writing inspire us. :)

University students and young adults often find themselves swept up in the current of political activism. Having left home, often for the first time, we find a new freedom to think our own thoughts and embrace our own beliefs. These beliefs often lead us to actively pursue social, political or economic change through activism.

This new life is not all roses, however. We soon discover that not everyone shares our concern over the issues we have chosen. Some of our peers may disagree with our positions; others may simply not share our enthusiasm. These experiences can bring us into conflict with our peers, and leaves many of us wondering, is there any issue on which we can all agree? Is there any issue which can truly unite all of us?

I submit that there is one, and only one, issue on which can bring all young activists can stand in solidarity. That issue is liberty.

Liberty simply means the right of every individual to self-determination. I choose my words very carefully here: liberty is an individual right, not a right which is given to members of a specific group. One group of people cannot have “more liberty” than another, for liberty does not come from groups. And the right of liberty is one to self-determination - it is the right of a person to make their own choices regarding their life, their actions and their possessions. 

The truth of liberty may seem obvious, perhaps even not worth mentioning. Yet liberty is under attack everywhere, and often political activists, young or old, are partly to blame. Pick any contemporary political issue - environmentalism, economics, poverty, crime, drugs, gay marriage, to name a few - and you will the majority of people within the debate believe the solution is to take away the right of a certain group to make their own choices concerning their own lives, actions or possessions. Instead of liberty, they embrace coercion.

My plea to young activists is this: do not fall into this temptation. Do not seek to coerce others into accepting your agenda. Pursue whatever social change seems best to you; but above all other goals, pursue liberty.  

There are three reasons why I believe liberty ought to be considered the one issue which unites all activists.  

First, all of us became activists through liberty. We were each afforded the freedom to think our own thoughts, to embrace our own beliefs, to act in the way we thought best. Why, then, do we seek to deny this same freedom to others? In order to remain true to our own political goals, we must seek the same liberty for others that we claim for ourselves. 

Second, the complexity of social issues demands liberty. Coercion may seem the more attractive option for achieving change. After all, not everyone will agree that change is necessary - how do we deal with these people? Perhaps it is best simply to force them to comply with our demands.

The problem is that coercion, by definition, insists on uniformity. Coercion presumes that there is only one viable solution to a problem. By forcing others to accept our solution, we hinder social change. The great driver of human progress is innovation: changes in the way we approach problems and the means we use to address them are what ultimately lead to real, lasting change for the better. Science is the easiest example: where would we be if the great inventors of ages past had been told to embrace another person’s plan instead of creating their own? Social change is brought about not by those who conform, but those are free to transform. 

Third, only liberty ensures that social change is permanent. Coercion as a solution can never bring lasting change. If we choose to bring change by forcing others to conform, we have no choice except to continue coercing them forever. Coercion does not change hearts or minds; in fact, it tends to do the opposite. The more we seek to force others, the less likely it becomes that they embrace our cause of their own free will. After all, if our agenda was so great, why would we feel the need to force it on anyone? So the change lasts only as long as the group in charge remains stronger and more belligerent than the group being forced to comply. 

Some might object, “I can live with this situation of perpetual coercion, so long as my group remains strongest.” The problem with this is twofold. First, you cannot guarantee that your group will ever remain strongest, and if ever you lose your grasp on power, all your work can be lost in an instant. Second, any mechanism you put in place to maintain power over others can one day be used against you. If that should happen, the change you lobbied and legislated and voted so hard for could be permanently lost.

Liberty, on the other hand, does not seek to coerce others, but rather to persuade; it does not seek to make solutions mandatory, but rather to make them attractive; it does not seek to remove all alternatives but always seeks to innovate and find a better solution. Liberty, and not political coercion, is the true path to real and lasting social change. 

How, then, do we pursue liberty in our activism? 

Simply this way: instead of seeking a State-enforced solution to a problem, seek a voluntary one. It has become so common-place to think that the State is the engine of social change that this may suggestion might appear outlandish. Yet consider the abysmal record of state intervention. Since the 1950’s governments the world over have thrown vast amounts of money toward alleviating poverty. Government spending on poverty continues to climb, but so does the poverty rate. At some point, we have to ask: how many dollars will finally tip the scales? which increase will be the final one? If state intervention was the cure for poverty, surely we would have seen some qualitative improvement as result of the last 50 years of spending?

Poverty is just one example of an important issue which is wrongly delegated to government. The consequence of this is not simply a lack of improvement of poverty, but a lack of innovation. We still use the same methods to combat poverty that were in use 60 years ago - because that is the result of coercing others to embrace the solution we think best. How much better off today’s poor be if, instead of demanding a coerced solution from the state, activists had spent their energy seeking a creative and voluntary solution, and persuaded others to take part?

The solution to social problems does not lie in greater intervention of the state, not in enforced conformity. Quite the opposite, what is needed is liberty - the freedom of people to innovate, to create, and to do so without having another’s will imposed on them. In the short term, yes, this may mean that many will refuse to take up the cause. But it is unnecessary that a majority of people embrace the cause in order for a solution to be found - all it takes is a few motivated individuals dedicated to finding the right innovation.

Only the change that is chosen voluntarily will last. As tempting as government solutions can be, the state can never foster sweeping social change. Liberty does not demand that we abandon all of our other causes; it does however, demand a radical change in how we pursue them. Thus, my final plea is this: whatever cause you advocate for, embrace liberty. Persuade, do not coerce; pursue a voluntary solution, not an imposed one. Seek change that will truly impact the world for the better in a real, lasting way.

Liberty is the issue that must unite us all. 

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