Want to know how to convert a statist into a libertarian? It’s actually not that hard. It’s all about how people view government. In this three-part series, I explain the three central arguments libertarians need to make to win over progressives and other statists.
Most non-libertarians, especially progressives, make three inherent assumptions about the United States government. They assume that our government has our best interests at heart, is inherently transparent, and is fundamentally democratic. Those core beliefs explain why they can see government behaving badly, see the NSA and Watergate and a thousand other messes, and still vote for more government.
They see those actions as the exception, occasional mistakes by our otherwise benevolent elected officials.
Want to convert a statist? Tackle these three assumptions. Last week I dismantled the idea that government has our best interests at heart. On to assumption two: government is transparent.
Proponents of the idea that government is transparent will point to public disclosures, and especially the Freedom of Information Act, in the theory that government sees the citizenry as its employer and as such practices transparency. And, some times and most often after the fact, government can be transparent. But too often, government agents willfully lie to the American people.
Libertarians making this argument might point out how the NSA routinely works with the DEA to gather illegal evidence and then lie about it, in the news room but also in the court room. Or how the FBI spied on and tried to discredit Martin Luther King Jr, starting in 1963. Or how President Bush lied to his own FBI Director Robert Mueller — who disagreed with the practice of warrantless wiretapping — about what was really going on.
Government doesn’t just lie to the people. It lies to itself.
James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, brazenly lied to both the United States people and to Congress about NSA surveillance. Asked on March 12 by Senator Wyden, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”, Clapper replied, “No sir…not wittingly.” As Slate points out, he knew he was lying, and later defended his statement as the “least untruthful” statement he could make.
When the standard for honesty becomes the “least untruthful” statement, our government has a transparency problem. The NSA scandal has brought home what MLK, Robert Mueller, and even judges lied to by the DEA have experienced first-hand: the federal government, no matter who’s running it, is rarely transparent.
Last in this 3-part series, I’ll deal with the assumption that our government is democratic.
Addendum: These points is not intended as the final word. Rather, they a starting point. Too many Americans make basic assumptions about our government that, while sometimes true (government has, believe it or not, done some good), are often false. If libertarians want to become a force in politics, we need to recognize these assumptions. And then, using clear logic, powerful arguments, and honest facts, we need to rebut them (if you subscribe to this blog, by the way, my weekly articles will help you do that).
If we can combat the mindset of statism, the future of libertarianism looks very bright indeed.
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