How Libertarians should speak to non-Libertarians

Written by Ian Tartt


All good sales associates know that it does not matter how good the products they’re selling are if they can’t convince anyone to buy them.

To do this, they try to give potential customers a vision of how their lives will be improved if they buy the products. That’s very similar to the way it works in the liberty movement. If we can’t persuade people to give liberty a chance by effectively giving them a vision of how much better their lives will be in a free society, then we stand to lose everything.

In this article, I’ll mention a few subjects and talk about good ways to message them to the American people while avoiding fairly common mistakes. My hope is that this will people become better messengers. Without further ado, here we go.

Military Veterans

Most libertarians oppose war, but that doesn’t mean we have to bash military veterans.

We don’t automatically know what someone in the military did or why they joined, and treating them badly is only going to turn them away from our ideas. There are a lot of veterans who are libertarian or lean libertarian (in some cases their views change to become more libertarian after they sign up) and we should do what we can to draw them to the liberty movement, not push them away. It’s possible to take a strong stance against war without alienating or demeaning veterans. We can take a principled stance while also being decent people.

When it comes to war, most libertarians are familiar with how politicians have meddled in the affairs of other nations and many cases lied, provoked another country into going to war, or done something else so they can send military personnel into a conflict. Seeing as how politicians have access to more information about this stuff initially than civilians, and seeing as how veterans more often than not sign up because they want to help protect their country, the bulk of the blame for war rests squarely on the shoulders of politicians. Instead of calling out veterans for fighting in wars, why not call out politicians for starting those wars?

Outreach to Liberals and Conservatives

Depending on the issue, libertarians can end up sounding somewhat like conservatives on some issue: for example,  when talking about gun rights, tax relief, and limited government.

Other times libertarians might sound like liberals: for instance, when talking about gay marriage, ending drug prohibition, and supporting a more peaceful foreign policy.

As such, while not being cut from the same cloth as either conservatives or liberals, libertarians can find an occasional ally in both. Because of this, it makes little sense to push them away by calling them names, yelling at them, or getting upset that they don’t immediately understand everything about the libertarian philosophy.

It’s true that there are some who will never agree with us or want to work with us no matter how civil and logical we are to them. Once these people are identified, the smartest thing to do is bid them farewell and look for someone with whom we can work on our common ground.

But since libertarians have enough trouble as it is, we shouldn’t make things harder on ourselves by alienating someone who could be a potential friend.

Social Security, Healthcare, and Welfare

There is a prevailing view that libertarians are indifferent to the plight of suffering people because we don’t support a big welfare state or government-controlled healthcare and have mixed views on Social Security (some oppose it while others support a modified version of it). Essentially, the perception is that we want to take away good things that are helping people in need.

There are several things we can do to change this view.

The first is by far the simplest and easiest: don’t talk badly about people dependent on government programs. 

Regardless of why someone is using a government program, the perception is that they would suffer greatly or die without it.

So, if libertarians are seen criticizing, mocking, or shaming people dependent on government programs, then other people will think we want harm to come to them. Thus, anyone who’s using one or more government programs undoubtedly will not join us if they think we hate them or want to see them suffer.

The next, and perhaps most important thing, we can do is help people in need whenever we can. 

While it’s true that many libertarians are working several jobs and stretching every dollar as far as possible just to make ends meet, there are some who have plenty of resources with which they can help others.

Further, thanks to GoFundMe, anyone with even a little extra cash can be one of many contributors to a good cause. This makes GoFundMe similar to mutual-aid societies in days gone by that existed and helped people (they still exist but aren’t nearly as common as they used to be). There are plenty of things many of us can do to help people in need: donate money, buy them a meal, give them clothes, pay for their gas, fund a lifesaving medical procedure, and so on.

Lastly, we can show people how government programs have hurt the very people they were apparently designed to help. 

To paraphrase the late Harry Browne, politicians have broken the legs of people in need, handed them a crutch, and said, “See, if it weren’t for the government, you wouldn’t be able to walk.”

Whether it’s the massive increase in healthcare costs because of Medicare and Medicaid, trapping people in poverty by giving them enough to survive on but not enough to move into the middle class, making senior citizens dependent on a failing retirement scheme, or any of a number of other things, we’ve got to try to show people how much trouble government programs have caused.

If we do all three of these, then the perception of libertarians may very well shift from “They don’t care about the poor” to “They care more about the poor than anyone else, and they’re always trying to help them.”

It would be clear to everyone that, instead of trying to take away good things from poor people, we’re trying to get people away from things that are hurting them and offer them opportunities that would help them.

At that point, it would be much easier to move away from government programs and bring back mutual-aid societies, community-based aid, free markets, and private charity. Then, everyone would benefit, especially the people with the greatest need.