All Commentary
Wednesday, September 1, 1965

The Libertarian Movement and Its Propaganda

Man’s essential task is self-im­provement. The improvement of self, in a very real sense, is not really for the ultimate purpose of selfish-self-improvement so as to shine above others, or to have powers above others.

The average American is not likely to have heard of the Liber­tarian movement or what it rep­resents and seeks to achieve. But, it seems to be clearly out of its embryo stage, prepared to exert an increasing influence. Though quieter and less noticed than the earlier Fabian movement, its approach is also educational.

The Libertarians and the Fa­bians are distinctly opposed philo­sophically but their appeal, methods, and slow growth, as well as possible historical significance, may be said to bear certain simi­larity.

The Libertarian name was cho­sen when it became clear to serious students of liberty that authoritarian movements and ideas had pre-empted and perverted the free­dom ideals for which the term liberal once stood. However, we are here concerned not so much with the theories or ideas of Liber­tarians as with the propaganda or educational methods they use, par­ticularly as outlined in an 183-page guidebook by Leonard E. Read entitled Elements of Libertarian Leadership, with the subtitle, “Notes on the Theory, Methods, and Practice of Freedom” (Foun­dation for Economic Education, Irvington-on-Hudson, New York, 1962. $2.00).

The Elements of Libertarian Leadership is intended to furnish a method and a guide toward “propagandizing” free market ideas. It is perhaps the most un­expected and most unlikely book on techniques of propaganda ever concocted. The book is a kind of philosophy and rationale for avoid­ing indoctrination. Low-grade purposes and goals may be served by indoctrination, but not the goal of freedom.

Self-Improvement Comes First

The first lesson for the embryo leader is that he sought to perfect himself rather than others. He who has gained a considerable knowledge of freedom will nat­urally and magnetically draw those seeking a better under­standing.

The Libertarian point of view teaches that each individual is an end in himself and is a precious creation of God. A man’s individu­ality must always be respected, and the very condition of individ­uality is difference or variation. What the Libertarian most abhors is the attempt of authoritarians to make every one of their fellow citizens over into their own image of virtue and righteousness. The Libertarian believes that educa­tion has a proper place in the nurture of freedom. But, even here, the chief emphasis is placed on educating the one each of us has the best chance of educating, that is: one’s self.

“Why” asks the author, “do so many regard as hopeless the broadening of the single con­sciousness over which the individ­ual has some control while not even questioning their ability to stretch the consciousness of others over which they have no control at all.” (p. 129) The answer, he believes, is as complex as the psy­choanalysis of a dictator or the explanation of why so many peo­ple dote on playing God. The na­tion (as well as the world) must be saved by the salvaging of pri­vate selves. The Libertarian lead­er must keep his eye on his own perfection, never on repairing the shortcomings of others.

Freedom has to do with the “be­coming,” the evolution of the in­dividual human being. “All that retards the development of the human potential is anti-freedom. All that advances the individual’s wholeness or completeness as a spiritual, moral, and wise human being is freedom in action.” (p. 113ff.) Furthermore, the Libertar­ian cannot use bad means to achieve good ends: “The more de­structive the end in view, the more fitting are compulsive means, dis­integrative methods; the more creative the end in view, the more antagonistic to a solution are com­pulsive methods and the more must reliance be placed on attrac­tive, integrative forces.” (p. 115) Education, or advancing other peo­ple’s understanding, cannot utilize the methods for selling soaps, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, autos, houses, or the something-for-noth­ing ideas of current politics. Crea­tive objectives, such as those of education, must resort to methods of “attraction” rather than com­pulsion. But creative objectives are also in a series of levels. “The higher the level, that is, the more creative, the more must reliance be placed on the power of attrac­tion.” (p. 116) “Freedom is as high in the hierarchy of values as is the emergence of the individual human spirit and must be so eval­uated by those who would advance an understanding of it.” (p.117)

Helping Others Help Themselves

If we concede that advancing an understanding of freedom be­longs to a high scale of values, the problem for the Libertarian “is nothing less than influencing others to expand their conscious­ness, to increase their perceptions, to enlarge their cognitive powers.” (p. 117ff.) You will note the em­phasis here is to help others to expand their consciousness, to in­crease their perceptions, to en­large their cognitive powers: their powers and not anyone else’s. Each individual must do the job for himself; the job of expansion, increase, and enlargement of pow­ers. What matters most is the ex­pansion of consciousness.

At the core, no Libertarian should feel that he knows all the answers to all the problems—or that any group or person has them. The Libertarian trusts in a Divine Wisdom which aims at some good evolutionary end. He trusts in the essential goodness and worth of the individual who must be encouraged to be himself by realizing his own potential most completely.He is willing to permit spontaneous choice, even if that choice should go against him. The Libertarian believes that his own champion­ing of the free market ideas and the necessity of spontaneous individual action, individual choice, and an individual decision is most worthwhile and necessary; but he is willing to permit spon­taneous choice and decision to op­erate even if the choice should go against him.

Now if one agrees that the Lib­ertarian can best influence others by serving as an “exemplar,” from what source must the expanding individual consciousness which would serve as exemplar derive its new acquisitions regarding truth and freedom? Through rev­elation, through intuition, and through attunement with Infinite Consciousness, which draws man into its infinite orbit. While there is never any relaxation of the mag­netic power of “Infinite Conscious­ness,” it does encounter hu­man resistances such as arro­gance, willfulness, know-it-allness. Some among us are less encrusted with such obstacles to the mag­netic pull of Infinite Conscious­ness than others. “More suscept­ible to this force, they experience with relative ease such of its re­wards as insights and inspira­tion.” These persons are referred to as “intuitive” or “creative.” The Libertarian leader must de­velop intuitive powers; and yet, “for the most of us the expanding of consciousness, the increasing of perception, the developing of intuitive powers, takes a lot of doing.” (p. 120)

The Source of Wisdom

The understanding of freedom, we are then led to believe, is of the same high level of quality, as well as of technique, as the mys­tic’s search for enlightenment from the Source. “First, there is The Source which the individual in the loneliness of his own soul can decide to heed and, to the ex­tent of his ability, harmonize with.” (p. 123) The selling or marketing method does not fit the freedom objective because the means would be destructive of the ends. “No,” says the author, “the gaining of wisdom or the under­standing of freedom is not to be imposed by man upon man, nor can it be. It is not marketed or sold.” (p. 124) Whatever the Lib­ertarian scholar has made his own is distinguished by its at­tracting quality. The truth is inher­ently attractive, regardless of where it exists on our earth level or in Infinite Consciousness. “The power of attraction is not outgo­ing but ingathering. It draws to itself whatever is susceptible to its force. That is at once its mer­it and its limitation.” (p. 125)

The Libertarian must “ever­lastingly concentrate on getting the ideas, making them available to those who seek, and let it go at that.” But note again that the ideas are made available to those who seek. The initial response for the ideas must come from those seeking enlightenment. Those who need, want, and are ready for Lib­ertarian teachings will seek them out, as well as be drawn to them magnetically, so to speak. “Ideas have a built-in communication sys­tem of their own, which works very well unless short-circuited by offensive methods of propagandiz­ing for them.” The concept of keep­ing the Libertarian philosophy secret unless others ask for it, is an important safeguard against the aggressive or obtrusive behavior. The paradox is this: “Secrets are rarely kept, and ideas whose time has come can never be con­tained.” Furthermore, “Ideas on Liberty cannot be kept secret; we’ll tell about them or burst. But we can hold in reserve the ideas we possess until other minds invite them in, invitations that are cer­tain to come if the ideas be worthy.” Only the seeker for truth and freedom can know when he is ready to sample what Libertarians champion. But they hold them­selves in readiness. This is rem­iniscent of Milton‘s line: “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Five Booby Traps

In the first chapter of Liber­tarian Leadership are listed five erroneous approaches toward the objective of freedom which Lib­ertarians must avoid:

1.       The belief that freedom can be obtained by uncovering card-carrying communists. This posi­tion seems to hold that our ills originate in Moscow. But com­munism originates as much in the minds of the American people as in any other and is a worldwide phenomenon.

2.       There are those who believe that loss of freedom stems from what is called “the ignorant mass­es” and that the solution is sim­ply to teach the man in the street that there is no such thing as “free lunch or some other such simplicity that can be grasped as he passes a bulletin board or drowsily reads baby-talk literature in a barber chair.”

3.       There is a considerable num­ber who would offer political ac­tion as their highest bid for free­dom. Organize “right down to the precinct level” and elect “the right people” to public office. This is futile under present circum­stances as if freedom could be had by activating the present ab­sence of understanding, so as to shift existing ignorance into high gear!

4.       Another group believe that the price of freedom need not be much higher than the cost of beaming radio reports behind the iron curtain, and telling those slave peoples how luxuriously and splendidly we live in our freedom, our gadgetry, and our affluence.

5.       Then there are those who feel that a “free world” can be assured if we tax our own people heavily enough to give to foreign govern­ments and thus purchase friend­ship in exchange for cash. It is as if subsidized relationships were the basis for freedom.

High-Level Goals Cannot Be Attained by Low-Level Means

Man’s essential task is self-im­provement. The improvement of self, in a very real sense, is not really for the ultimate purpose of selfish-self-improvement so as to shine above others, or to have powers above others. Indeed, self-improvement would be impossible if this were the aim. High-level goals cannot be attained by low-level means.Leadership problem is not a mass reinformation problem The perfection of self is a matter of perfection for use—making of one’s self a more perfect channel (vessel is the medieval or religious term usually employed) through which the evolutionary purpose of the Creator of men may function.

The leadership problem is not a mass reformation problem. If we had no way of remedying the present socialistic drift except as the “millions come to master the complexities of economic, social, political, and moral philosophy, we would not be warranted in spending a moment of our lives in this undertaking—it would be like expecting the majority of Ameri­cans to compose symphonies.” (p. 89) It is the nature of politics and political leadership that it can only reflect influential opinion. “There is no way to improve the quality of political leadership ex­cept as we lift the level of influen­tial opinion—and this is an edu­cational task.”

Above all, implies Mr. Read, the educational methods of Liber­tarian propaganda should be con­sistent with the voluntary ex­change of the marketplace.