Selections from an AMA with Robin Koerner. Founder of WatchingAmerica.com, the original "Blue Republican" and author of "If You Can Keep It".
Q: Hi Robin, thanks so much for doing this AMA. What's the most striking difference you see between the fortunes of human liberty in the US vs. the UK?
A: The US has a conscious, explicit and foundational tradition of liberty. I couldn’t do what I do in the UK (go around talking a lot about liberty and how to sell it) simply because the political vocabulary and interest in that concept per se are largely absent. That is a huge thing.
It’s not just that the US has a classical liberal Constitution, but that the spirit of that constitution is “in the air”. It’s actually in the culture. It’s popular. As a result, mostly unconscious, when Americans are considering any political issue, which necessarily involves the government, they are always thinking not only about the issue per se but also about the nature of government/governance itself.
On the flip side, I am more scared of the US government than the British (as a citizen of both countries). Because Americans, despite their self-narrative of rugged individualism, have a respect for, and deference to, authority, including most importantly political authority (people in the office) and law enforcement (people in uniform) that you would never find in Britain.
So in short, there are many dimensions on which the US/the UK are ahead of/behind each other in the liberty-stakes. But if you ask me to pick one best place to protect liberty, I still choose the US, once I net it all out. And I voted with my feet.
Q: The expenses associated with Brexit are going to be astronomical. While I see the need for Britain to retain its sovereignty, is it worth the cost?
A: With respect to “retain its sovereignty” – and the general thrust about weighing freedom with economic benefit, yes it absolutely worth it, for exactly the same reason that “picking cotton will become more expensive” was not a good argument against freeing the slaves. Getting out of the EU must be done at almost any cost if the British people are going to be not only free in the long run, but also, simply, a self-determined people.
Regarding the premise about the high cost of leaving, I don’t believe it’s necessarily the case. The EU side – and therefore the pro-EU media – has a massive interest in pumping out the propaganda that it’s going to hurt the UK to be outside of the union. But we heard the exact same thing when the UK didn’t join the Euro – and then when we voted for Brexit (which was before any negotiations apparently going to have a massive negative impact on our economy: the opposite happened, of course).
But there is absolutely no legal reason that this has to cost us any more than the adjustment costs that will be borne by large private and public companies that invested based on one future (if they were not very good at reading the public) and now have to adjust to another. But that’s life. That’s just what it means to operate in a dynamic marketplace.
Q: What would you say is/are the toughest obstacle(s) for Liberty activists to overcome in order to persuade others to consider or support a different perspective (e.g. Persuading a leftist or neocon to support libertarian views)? And how can they overcome those obstacles in order to gain supporters for Liberty?
A: The biggest obstacle is lack of intellectual humility. They can overcome this one by seeking out smart people (preferably smarter than themselves!) they can respect with views that oppose their own, and deeply engaging the objections from a position that isn't motivated by "let me find where this is wrong" but rather by "let me see where this opposing view points to something that I've not fully considered/assimilated".
The second is mistaking the map for the territory. A political philosophy is an abstraction of reality. Its test is against the experiences of other people, who are the only ends of politics. If you keep not being able to persuade people (real things) of your version of libertarian ideas, that's as likely to do with a mismatch between your ideas and human nature or the current experiences of human beings in our culture (which must be taken into account as the context for any political change) as it is to do with the fact that everyone else is an idiot. (They're not.)
In short, to persuade person X of Proposition Y, it is more important to understand the nature of X than the logic of Y. So activists should spend a bit more time on the former and a bit less on the latter. Literally, spend more time exploring those fields than re-reading the Creature from Jekyll Island (awesome as that book is!) It's a corollary of "seeking first to understand before being understood". Travel (to different places, cultures etc.) is good for that too.
Q: You were heavily involved in 2012 prez election and saw the "movement" first hand. I think you might agree that there are fewer people around today who might be classified as a liberty "activist" in the sense that people were in those days. It is not obvious to me that this is regrettable. I would rather see sincerity and sophistication rather than sheer numbers. What is your view of this?
A: There are always more people doing anything that is getting more attention in the media and culture. “What we focus on we make bigger”. The presidential election is (alas) like a presidential super bowl that goes on for years… which means there’s plenty of time for people with myriad reasons to latch on to do so. The more attention something gets and the more of the “cultural space” it occupies, the more personal reasons people will have to get involved. It’s not unreasonable, it is attention and cultural space that presage real political change after all. (Culture precedes politics.)
So now that that presidential super bowl is over and especially since our (Liberty’s) team (Ron Paul) was playing, inevitably fewer fans are engaged (if you’ll allow me to stretch the analogy).
The citizens committed enough to set the direction of cultural and political change are always few, sincere and sophisticated. So like you, I am an optimist. Because our activist core is sincere and growing, and with this generation I believe, determined to become more sophisticated, using the new technological communication- and education-related tools for just that purpose.
Q: What's your favorite beer?
A: Now we're getting to what really matters! Not a single favorite, Grant. Rather, I love to explore the amazingly diverse and flavorsome Belgian beers (anything from Duvel to a Lambic). Closer to home, I'm partial to a good locally brewed IPA on draft...