The Few, The Ornery, The Libertarians


I discovered libertarian political thought listening to radio fill-in host Brian Wilson on WBAL in Baltimore in the late '90s. He was an entertaining radio personality who kept interjecting the words 'freedom' and 'Founding Fathers' into his discussions with callers. He challenged his listeners to think and gave them reading assignments. As a consequence, I discovered a political philosophy that fit my worldview and personality. I want to contrast Wilson 's show with that of Mark Scott's, who was on the air in D.C. in the late '80s. I had my first introduction to Objectivism when a family friend gave me The Fountainhead to read when I was about 18 years old. Therefore, I was intrigued to discover a speaker for Objectivism in a public forum. While my roommate and I were thoroughly entertained by Scott's bashing of callers with put-downs like 'bubble-headed' and amused by his quotes like 'love your enemy after he is hanged,' I don't believe (though I don't have dates to reference) that he lasted a year on the powerful WRC transmitter. Furthermore, when he was replaced, a refrain repeated by callers to the new host was 'I'm glad he's gone.' I don't know if Scott converted any listeners to his way of thinking, but without a doubt, he created some motivated enemies.

As believers in individual freedom, we are 'demographically challenged.' To begin with, our numbers are small. Furthermore, many of us have a creed that boils down to 'stop oppressing me, you ignorant jerk,' which doesn't win many converts to the cause. Meanwhile, our opponents are as numerous as the sands of the hourglass, among them:

The Tin Cup Brigade. Without a doubt, a huge percentage of the population believes you owe them a living down to the marrow of their bones. To use just one example of the brigadiers, there are many veterans of foreign wars who believe that countrymen of theirs born after their adventures who may now be wholly opposed to what they were doing, nevertheless owe them and their families cash payments in perpetuity. Neither will any amount of talking convince them otherwise. This is boilerplate belief, and if you try and resist their claims on your wallet, many brigadiers are willing to extract your wealth from you by any means necessary. They won't lose a second's sleep if you are deprived of your liberty and life in the process.

The Simpleton Society. Millions of our neighbors are barely more than self-aware. Life is just a string of attempts to satisfy the impulse of the moment. For the most part, these people don't care one way or the other about ideas or institutions, so they are not our enemies per se. But since classical liberalism rests on people embracing individual responsibility, these people are de-facto followers of the 'do what I tell you, and I'll take care of you,' hucksters.

The Brotherhood of Blood. This is the vicious lot of intelligent and competent people who would like to recreate the world the way they think it should be, and if that means throwing you into the grinding gears of change, then in you go. For example, a member of the brotherhood may have cherry-picked the belief that his neighbors should drive smaller cars to reduce the collective demand for gasoline. If you show them more of their neighbors will die in wrecks because of being forced to adopt their rules, this will not faze them. Their victims are usually the invisible, people like the disarmed victims of criminals or the afflicted sufferers of disease carrying (pesticide-liberated) insects. My hope is that these people will each see their individual day of reckoning.

The High Priests of Plunder. The self-anointed priests of egalitarianism also wish to remake the world as they want it to be. They differ from the brotherhood in that they are not willful murderers, but stealing is their way of life. If Bob can afford to pay for college because he planned, worked and saved, but Ben ' for whatever reason ' can't afford the same, a high priest is ready and willing to take a portion of Bob's savings to give to Ben for that purpose. Property rights (outside of their own possessions) are an alien concept to these people.

Classical liberalism will not go away. If all of us believers in individual freedom were gathered up and liquidated, the philosophy would not disappear forever because it's derivative of a moral and rational view of ourselves. On the other hand, neither would the enemies of liberty disappear because sloth, stupidity and hard-heartedness also seem to be hardwired into people. Demographics are destiny. Therefore, it is in our self-interest to increase our own numbers and subtract from the ranks of those who would oppress us. Since we don't initiate force, our only tool is persuasion. Toward that end, we have to present our message in as palatable a form as we can manage.

Libertarian ideas are a hard sell to blacks. For a lot of us, outcomes have become more important than principles or process, especially where we still have fresh wounds from past institutional abuse. For example, my grandmother died at home because an ambulance wouldn't come to take her to the hospital. In D.C. in the mid-1950's, if you lived in a black neighborhood, they sent a police car by your house to overlook the situation first, and then the police would call an ambulance. My grandmother died in the hours that it took a lackadaisical local police force to come by and then call an ambulance. After 50 years, my mother, her sisters, and her brothers still bear this emotional wound, and they're not buying my arguments about the irreconcilable inefficiency of monopoly state-run police and ambulance services. Instead, a demagogue who advances a law that forces equal treatment regardless of whether the property rights of a private ambulance service are trampled in the process will win their support. However, I have been able to get family members to read my commentaries on STR or my book The Amazing Liberteens, and after the fact, we will discuss the virtues of freedom absent the distortions of lifetimes of propaganda. While they turned their noses up at the horse pill, 'a spoonful of sugar does help the medicine go down.'

Our true enemies are legion. Gaining numbers is in our self-interest, and you can attract more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.

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Columns on STR: 27

Bob Jackson is the author of "The Amazing Liberteens."  His libertarian comic book can be viewed online by clicking the SANCTUARY link at