Ten rules for advancing conservative and libertarian ideals
Several days ago, I published The Key to Republican Victory (for real this time!). It features a fairly intense call to arms from David Horowitz, and a preamble that defends Horowitz’s approach. And the approach is certainly valid. When one is getting repeatedly struck in the face, it is reasonable to take all necessary steps to end the assault. I contend that when meeting such an assault, the first goal is to “tell it like it is.” In other words, do not mince words about the abject failure of the left and its ideas. Do not retreat in one’s critique of these ideas, nor in one’s defense of the ideals of liberty and natural rights.
Horowitz’s call is best directed at the Republican Party itself. He is providing directions for how to engage in a simpler, more visceral form of broad-specturm messaging. And, indeed, the Republican Party does need to get simpler, more visceral, more focused on the constituencies it needs . . . and it needs to do a lot more plain-speaking “telling it like it is.”
But there is another kind of messaging—one that can be used in the more direct, personal interactions in which one might engage with people of general goodwill and genuine intellectual curiosity. For that, I highly commend Advancing Liberty in 2013: Ten Rules of Thumb by Lawrence Reed. Of course, some of the more complex and nuanced approaches therein appear conflict with Horowitz’s call to simplify the message and make a more emotional case. I think it is fair to say that both approaches have their time and place.
Reed’s ten rules begin . . .
1. Get motivated. Liberty is more than a happy circumstance. It’s a moral imperative, worthy of every ounce of passion that good people can muster. It’s not just about getting keyed up in an election year, or responding to some issue of the day. It’s always the difference between choice and coercion, between living your life or others living it for you (and at your expense). If liberty is lost, it may never be restored in your time or in that of your children and grandchildren. For solving problems, avoiding conflict, and bringing people together, there’s no worse course than politics and force, and no better path than liberty for peaceful exchange and cooperation to flourish.
2. Learn. More precisely, never stop learning! To be an effective persuader, there’s no good substitute for commanding the facts and the foundations. Know our ideas backwards and forwards. You can never read or listen to too much economics, history, or philosophy to be the best persuader in your neighborhood. Let the other side talk in bumper stickers. Come armed with substance as opposed to slogans.
3. Be optimistic. It’s tiring and disheartening to hear the defeatists talk like this: “It’s over. The Republic is lost. There’s no turning back. Our goose is cooked. I’m leaving the country.” What’s the point of such talk? It certainly can’t be to inspire. Pessimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Pessimists only disarm themselves and dispirit others; there’s nothing to be won by it. If you truly believe all is lost, the best thing to do is defer to the possibility that you may be wrong and let the optimists lead the way. (That means leaving pessimism at the door.)
4. Use humor. Even serious business needs moments of levity. Seasoning your case with humor can make it more appealing, more human. If you can’t smile when you’re making the case for liberty—if you can’t evoke a smile or a chuckle from the person you’re talking to—then you’re on the way to losing the battle. Humor breaks the ice.
5. Raise questions. You don’t have to lecture every potential convert. Learn to deploy the Socratic method, especially when you’re conversing with a rigid statist ideologue. Most of the time, such people hold the views they do not because they’re well acquainted with libertarian thought and have rejected it, but because they just don’t know our side. A skilled line of questioning can often prompt a person to think about their premises in ways they never have before.
6. Show you care. It’s been said that people don’t care what you know if they don’t know that you care. Focus on real people when you argue for liberty. Laws and policies inimical to liberty produce so much more than bad numbers; they crush the dreams of real people who want to improve their lives and the lives of those they love. Cite examples . . .