How to maximize a combination of liberty, equality, nature, and morality.
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Rules for Reasonable RadicalsCarl Milsted, Jr on May 7 20:43:45
Originally published January 20, 2020
So, you have some fresh outside-the-box political ideas that you think are wonderful – and some of them are. Or maybe you want to restore some excellent ideas from the past that have fallen out of favor. How do you get your ideas implemented?
And how do you get them implemented before you are too old to enjoy the benefits?
Well, let us start with what not to do.
- Do not expect to get very far with “education” alone. Most people aren’t theorists, and most of those who are will take your theorizing as a challenge for debate. (When I say “aren’t theorists,” I am include many who have the brain power for serious philosophizing but just plain aren’t interested of using up brainpower on ideas with no plan for application.)
- Do not rely overmuch on woo woo, flim flam and/or positive thinking. Yes, mind games can persuade and motivate, but they can also lead to delusions and dead ends. Appeal to Reasonableness – a mix of Reason, empathy, and common sense based on observation.
- Do not wait for society to collapse and then come knee walking to you and your party for a solution. Bad systems can last for a very long time. Rome did not fall in a day. Britain has yet to recover from William the Conqueror. Russia has yet to recover from the Mongols.
- Do not resort to violent revolution. The benefits of your ideas are uncertain. The death and destruction of civil war are a certainty. And most revolutions fail.
- Do not point at the Man Behind the Curtain. Conspiracy theories are for losers – even when the conspiracies are real. Trying to get the public to pay attention to hidden power centers rarely pays off, and can make you look like a crank. Take positive action instead. If you are effective the, hidden powers will come out from behind the curtain to fight you.
So what should you do?
Recognize Your Constraints and Work Around Them
Fresh ideas are by definition unpopular. New ideas are by definition untested. Reactionary wisdom is tainted by the associated errors and injustices of the past. You have uphill battle ahead of you. Be willing to drop down into low gear.
Theoretical persuasion will require large blocks of attention: speculative fiction, documentaries, college courses, seminars, meetings, religious sermons, etc. And you will only reach a minority by these channels.
Most people will require a demonstration. This is true for both new ideas and for old ideas which have long fallen out of favor. You have a Catch-22 situation!
And the bigger the change you propose, the more people will require a demo.
Even a great journey begins with small steps. The members of the Fabian Society understood this and were shockingly successful. Britain went from being the birthplace of modern capitalism to a borderline socialist basket case thanks to the Fabians. The followers of Antonio Gramsci and other cultural Marxists have been worming their way into into our cultural institutions for decades with great success. Our humanities departments have gone from being developers of character and preservers of wisdom to being festering pools on nonsense and envy.
I implore you to incrementalate better causes!
Selling your entire programme to a political majority is hard. Selling the appropriate pieces as reforms to handle the Crisis of the Day is feasible.
Key word there: appropriate. By using it I have earned the Wrath of Rothbard via his followers. To limit action to those which are currently appropriate is to be Unprincipled, to admit that the concerns of those outside your ideology might have merit.
So what ideas are appropriate?
Recall from earlier in this series that the probability of success has two factors:
- Probability of Implementation
- Probability that Measure will work as advertised
If an idea is wildly unpopular, it has a low probability of being implemented.
Worse is an idea which is implemented but doesn’t work under the current environment. Back when I was running the Libertarian Reform Caucus, I wrote an essay entitled “Atomic Libertarianism.” In it I made the case that we should make cuts in government which stand on their own merits, even if no other cuts are made.
For example, tax cuts are a bad idea by themselves. Federal deficits were huge then and are astronomical today. Any tax cuts need to be preceded by huge spending cuts and paydown of the federal debt, else they would make things worse.
Ditto for going to a gold standard. Inflation is a major bother. It makes contracts uncertain, creates an entire spurious industry of guessing what the Fed will do next, and gives workers automatic pay cuts. But our debt laden financial system has already factored in future inflation. To go to a hard money currency without first paying down trillions of both public and private debt is a prescription for Great Depression II.
The constraint applies to other ideologies as well. Medicare for All requires a massive tax increase to pay for it. Using deficit spending to pay for a gigantic new entitlement is not only national suicide, it’s regressive. Deficit spending is a subsidy for the investor class at the expense of the working class.
Environmentalists violated this constraint when they pushed automobile mileage standards beyond what technology is available. They basically outlawed the family sedan. So families drive vans, SUVs, and crew cab pickup trucks instead.
By definition, you are a political minority. You need to work with and serve larger groups, including some that are boringly mainstream. A purist political party is pointless in the U.S.
For ideas on possible coalitions, see the main site.
Note especially the political niches I identify in the New Party Manual. You can insert some radical or reactionary ideas into a creative mix of mainstream ideas used to triangulate in three way races, or move to the local center in Gerrymandered districts.
Deploy Your Lunatic Fringe Effectively
Every political movement has its enthusiastic ideologues who will not heed most of the ideas in this article. Let them write your party platform and you will lose elections. Shun them and your movement loses vigor.
Recognize that some of your ideas are ready for a vote, and some need to be mulled over by the masses. Indeed, some ideas are so Out There that the masses won’t even think about them rationally until quite a few repeated exposures to desensitize kneejerk reactions.
Create separate organizations to do those exposures, to widen the Overton Window. Make them fun or profitable, for they won’t bear fruit for years.
Consider PETA as a model. PETA wins no votes. But PETA gets huge amounts of press coverage on the cheap. Dressing super models in lettuce gets attention. And its a hell of a lot more fun than gathering ballot access signatures or debating a political platform.
Such separate organizations make your more sober proposals seem moderate. And if your unruly enthusiasts get to let it all hang out at times, you might channel their energy for more dignified efforts – such as getting those petitions signatures.
Federalism is Your Friend
Some people want to live in Bernietopia. Others prefer Galt’s Gulch.
Why not place them side by side and let the rest of us compare the result? We could use a couple of small states, such as Vermont and New Hampshire. Or we could let the libertarians have some floating islands instead of a gulch…
Such is closer to my current dream. While my ideal level of government is neither of the above, I really want to see more experiments done. I want socialists to have their communes and coops. I want environmentalists to have their hobbitats and heirloom organic vegetables. I want anarcho capitalists to give competing protection services + personal machine guns a chance.
But I’m getting too old and family oriented to participate myself. I dislike cold weather too much to move to New Hampshire.
To make these experiments possible, however, there also needs someone to play more mainstream politics to keep the central government out of the way of such experiments.
Powerful forces want to move all power to the central government. Nearly as powerful forces want to go further: on to world government. These forces I oppose, even if it makes me look Trumpy to some.
Were I to get back in the game and launch a party, core elements would include a restoration of federalism within the US., and sovereignty to other nations – including those experimental islands.
The good news about federalism and sovereignty is that it is compatible with many ideologies. This is a big coalition opportunity.
Experiment Outside of Government
Some ideas can be tested without taking over a government.
You don’t need worldwide revolution to start a commune or worker coop.
Ditto for many ideas within the libertarian playbook. Keep in mind that both Uber and Lyft are implementations of ideas proposed in David Friedman’s The Machinery of Freedom as an alternative to public transportation. The Koch Brothers became astoundingly rich applying libertarian ideas to the internal rules of their mega corporation.
Given how Gramsciites and Social Justice Warriors have ruined the value of a liberal arts education, opportunities abound for Christians and conservatives to get back into the business of founding universities.
The opportunities for environmentalists are truly enormous: better energy storage, more efficient internal combustion engines, quieter generators, carbon sequestration from farming techniques… Bill Gates is even investing in eco friendly nuclear energy. Much of this can be done without any changes in law or regulation. (I wish I had the capital to engage in such efforts myself. Eco tech tinkering is fun.)
I am particularly excited by the idea of testing alternative voting systems and parliamentary procedures within non governmental organizations: social clubs, churches, corporate boards, communes, unions, etc. Getting governments to adapt those reforms that prove successful after testing.
Don’t Forget to Play Defense!
To make things better, make them better.
Corollary: if they are getting worse, do something about it, pronto!
The environmental movement started out playing defense. It worked. On many fronts the environment has gotten better – at least in the US.
Libertarians have focused on offense, and they have made progress against the Drug War and on sexual liberties.
But on many other fronts liberty is dying. The paranoid predictions of Ron Paul and others have come true. Using cash for major transactions is virtually illegal. Financial transactions all the way down to grocery purchases are recorded in computer databases thanks to discount cards, credit cards, and Amazon. Televisions are morphing into the telescreens of Orwell’s 1984. Your cell phone is your portable KGB agent. The Bill of Rights is becoming an archaic relic. The 9th and 10th Amendments have been inverted by the courts. The Fifth Amendment has been rendered moot by plea bargaining. Judges don’t even know what the 7th Amendment means (I asked). The police steal more than common crooks via Civil Asset Forfeiture. No knock searches in the middle of the night were once a nightmare ascribed to totalitarian societies; they are routine in the US. today. The Ugly Left is now going after the 1st and 2nd Amendments and winning. Republicans attack the right to vote with Gerrymandering and trumped up felony convictions; Democrats have gone full in for voter fraud. (Voting is one of the few acts that don’t require ID!)
Likewise, traditional, Christian, and family values are under viscous attack. The Leave it to Beaver lifestyle is an option only for the few. The safe neighborhoods in most cities are too expensive for most single income families. Rural America has been devastated to a large degree. To get a career started is so ridiculously long that celibacy before marriage is an unreasonable expectation. The Welfare State and the Prison State work hand in hand to break up black families (and many not so black families as well. Progress!). While crime is down from its peak, it took an archipelago of prisons and near abolition of the Bill of Rights to get there. The country is becoming Post Christian, and sincere Christianity is becoming illegal in Silicon Valley and other blue areas.
For me, and many others like me, defense now trumps distant utopian dreams. It’s long past time to win some victories, even if small.
Now is the time for freedom loving radicals and reactionaries to get reasonable, and start winning.
Carl Milsted, Jr on May 7, 2023 8:47 PM
Not sure if the police are stealing more than crooks these days, now that shoplifting is effectively legal in many cities.
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