I am currently listening to The Libertarian Tradition, a lecture series provided by the Mises Institute. In the lecture entitled “More Free or Less Free?” Jeff Riggenbach states:
“There is no political shortcut to a free society. Our primary job is education, not politics, and our victory, when it comes, will come not in the next election but in the long run.”
As a libertarian who believes that change lies primarily in culture, rather than direct politics, I strongly agree with this statement. Of course, culture and politics are inseparable in many ways. They are both present in the funhouse of mirrors that constructs a society, in which everything reflects everything else, making it almost impossible to discern precisely where things originate. In a political system like we have in the USA, or the UK, however, I would argue that – although it certainly fails to entirely reflect the preferences and values of its citizens – our political system does quite accurately reflect the general cultural climate. If we take this to be true and accept that politics tends to respond to culture, rather than the other way around, is it not backwards to be trying to generate a libertarian movement within the political realm?
Libertarianism attracts a number of thoughtful people who are interested in economics and politics, and who understand the benefits of a free-market. This is hugely important, don’t get me wrong, but in my opinion it will simply never be enough. Our current culture does not respect individualism, personal responsibility, liberty, and a human’s capacity for creativity and reason nearly enough to adopt libertarian principles within the political realm. Libertarians should, therefore, be focusing instead on penetrating every aspect of our culture with these values and ideas. The simple fact is that the closest thing we currently have to a free-market is the market of ideas. We can engage in this market as entrepreneurs through literature, art, philosophy, film, or, more locally, through the choices we make in our daily lives and down at the pub with our friends. If libertarians want to see the libertarian movement take hold, they need to start walking the walk and doing so shamelessly. In the market of goods and services the belief is that people copy the more successful entrepreneurs and over time production becomes more efficient and valuable to society. Why shouldn’t the same principle apply in the market of ideas? People need to understand the benefit of a free-market but even more fundamentally people need to value the foundations of libertarianism. The cultural shift that needs to occur in the common appraisal of man and existence is not going to occur solely through politics: Libertarians need to realize the power of the manifestations of values and ideas, like literature, that form our cultural climate and are the foundations of change.