All Commentary
Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Open and Closed Libertarians

There is nothing more dangerous to the enemies of freedom than an open libertarian. And yet great swaths of our kind are decidedly closed-minded.

“Alternative perspectives are rejected, even cursed or demonized,” write Don Beck and Christopher Cowen of this type in Spiral Dynamics. “My way is the only way a rational person could think, they believe.” People who don’t think like the closed libertarian are seen as “heretics, idiots, renegades, criminals or fools.” Sound like anyone you know?
Cultivating open-mindedness is both a process and a goal. It doesn’t mean we’ll agree with everything we read in this issue, nor come to agree with everything anyone says in the future. It means we learn to think outside the cramped-but-cottony confines of our own perspectives—perhaps to take on another’s perspective, even for a moment. It means observing, filtering, and integrating new insights so that an improved self can emerge tomorrow.
Why is an open libertarian dangerous? Because the open libertarian is adaptable. He is sensitive to others’ starting points. He understands others have different ways of seeing the world and tailors his messages of persuasion—one to the next—to diverse audiences. He is worldlier, wiser, and more tolerant. But he is also more powerful. He’s dangerous because people listen to him.
The closed libertarian is a solipsist. At his best, he has righteous anger. At his worst, he spits venom from his lonely corner of the comments section of a blog. He is obsessed with criticism—at the expense of constructiveness. He does not invite people to explore his principles; he wields them like a blunt instrument upon everything and everyone. He does not inspire others, because he has allowed that capacity to atrophy. His sense of life is shriveled and hidden behind his ego and his arguments. He cannot conjure wonder in people, like Leonard Read did. The only things he builds up in others are emotional walls, and anything brilliant he has to say gets lost in caustic delivery. You probably know this person. He may be smart, but he only delights those who share his checklist of dogmas.
The open libertarian is a kind of maven or evangelist. She knows how to tell stories and to get people to let down their guards. She knows how to engage her adversaries rather than infuriate them. She knows Luke Skywalker is going to prevail because he’s going to listen to Obi-Wan’s counsel. She lets her principles shine through both in her words and actions. The open libertarian is, ironically, more of a distinct individual than the closed libertarian because she does not engage in either in parroting or peacocking. She can see others more clearly; others can see her more clearly. She resists creating caricatures, stuffing straw men, and selling stereotypes. People respect her even if they don’t share her principles.
When it comes to gaining ground for liberty, the first question is not whether we want to be more persuasive. The first question is not even whether we want to be more open or more closed. The first question is whether we want to be dangerous. 

* * *

In 1962, Leonard Read published Elements of Libertarian Leadership. Max Borders says Read carved a path for us—though it is currently one less traveled by. 
Our civilizations change over time. But what about our psychologies? According to one theory of human development, despite our individual natures, we are malleable enough to become more complex people within more complex societies. And libertarians can lead the way. Troy Camplin explains. 
Obamacare is coming online. Gregory Cummings, a Canadian friend, warns us about the problems and perils of socializing medicine.
Before heading overseas to teach people in poor countries how to farm, says Mike Reid, rich-world people infatuated with sustainability should take a moment to consider who is more likely to know best how to provide for their own needs and wants. 
Richard Powers's Gain is consumed with growth: Does it kill or cure us? Is it a curse or our best hope? Can companies get too big? Sarah Skwire has the story.
Simplistic calls to “tax the rich” are often based on, at best, imprecise assumptions. But as government intervention grows, it gets harder and harder to say who earned their money fairly and who simply plundered it, says Sandy Ikeda.
Labor law allows unions to impose themselves even on workers and employers who do not want to associate with them. That's not freedom of association, it's coercion and extortion, says Gary Galles
We're better off trying to build a wealthier world than spending resources to rein in greenhouse gases, says Daniel Sutter.
The post-9/11 surveillance State trumps even the most egregious abuses of power by the British Crown and violates everyone's rights on a continual basis, says Faisal Moghul.
Our columnists have plenty to tell you. Lawrence Reed says we’re still dealing with the bad luck from the last year that ended in 13; Doug Bandow describes a complex situation in Kuwait; and David Henderson contemplates life without a microwave and what it says about consumer surplus. 
Our book reviewers take a look at a defense of capitalism and an anthology defining free-market anticaptialism, and Aeon J. Skoble explains what three books he’d take to the proverbial desert island and why. 
—The Editors

  • The Freeman is the flagship publication of the Foundation for Economic Education and one of the oldest and most respected journals of liberty in America. For more than 50 years it has uncompromisingly defended the ideals of the free society.