Over the last couple of decades, the ability to monopolize information as a means of controlling public opinion has been eroding. As this takes place and people are increasingly waking to the corrupt nature of our failing systems, a question on many libertarians’ minds is, why aren’t there more of us?
We predicted many of the problems currently ailing us, from the Federal Reserve’s influence on inflation, the dangers of mass surveillance, and the folly of interventionist wars. It was almost exclusively libertarians who had the vision and principles to be against COVID-19 policies on day one.
The more our movement grows, the more apparent it becomes that we need an alternative. However, at this rate, we will have to suffer worse catastrophes or hyperinflation before we experience the kind of exponential growth achieved in Argentina with the popularity of Javier Milei’s unapologetic campaign.
People don’t change until the pain of the present gets greater than the fear of the future. The better we can articulate a positive vision of the future, the less pain people will have to feel in the present to seek radical change.
If our solutions are as good as we think they are, the responsibility for preventing things from getting as bad as they could get lies on us.
Jonathan Haidt’s research into political psychology can help us explain why many of our arguments have not taken hold and provides a guide for appealing to people’s unique psychology when making your case.
Jonathan Haidt is the author of the “Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics.” His work on studying the psychology of the human mind and mapping its connections to who we support politically has had a large impact on how people think about politics since its release in 2013. He is among the most cited researchers in political and moral psychology and is considered among the top 10 most influential living psychologists.
His research outlines six foundational moral values people are predisposed to care about to varying degrees based on their psychological profiles.
Those values are Care, Liberty, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity. Whether someone has a loyal personality is not a direct indicator of more specific political principles, but it can lead to a correlation that can prove insightful.
The following figures show which values people in different political groups prioritize. As Haidt shows, social conservatives are fairly balanced among the six values, liberals prioritize care followed by liberty and fairness, while libertarians almost exclusively care about liberty.
As indicated by the “good people” part of the title, one of Jonathan Haidt’s goals was to generate some understanding and, thereby, tolerance in
an increasingly contentious political atmosphere. The less choice people are perceived to have, the less easily blame can be assigned for their views.
This creates tolerance by showing our views are connected to our inherent traits rather than simply being the product of a morally unfavored choice. However, that understanding alone does not give us an answer to the political problems we are facing, which only get worse during the increasingly rare moments of bi-partisanship Haidt longs for.
It would be a mistake to conclude that the existence of correlations between psychology and political preference necessitates a compromise along the current assortment of incoherent political principles.
Psychological profiles remain roughly the same, but political views change over time. As Michael Malice famously said, “Conservatism is progressivism driving the speed limit.”
An American in the 1880s with a liberal psychological profile would be more skeptical of fiat currency than a liberal, or even a conservative in the year 2000. It would be unnecessarily self-limiting to consider it impossible to spread ideas that used to be broadly held because people who exclusively care about liberty are a psychological minority.
Haidt’s research is not proof that we must be less radical and compromise. It helps us achieve success while staying true to our core principles. Its true value is as a guide for reaching people outside of your psychological profile when making a broad appeal for a single principle.
Although it is a more direct sale if you do, you don’t need to prioritize liberty above all else to be a libertarian psychologically, you only need to see libertarianism as a solution to what you value.
For example, a liberal values care/harm and fairness/cheating. If they are worried about the poor, our approach should not be centered around how we need to abolish Medicare because the state is fundamentally a coercive institution.
We should highlight how by eliminating the regulatory monopolies that create a single access point for corporations to unfairly control the market we could reduce medical costs by over 90%, drastically improve access, and reduce the conditions that make people so reliant on government violence.
You could get chemo safely from the comfort of your home for less than a massage, instead of going bankrupt over cancer. Stem cell injections could not only be legal but as cheap as getting an IV now. Doctors wouldn’t have to justify high salaries based on paying back school in increasingly expensive licensing monopolies.
Medicines and medical devices would no longer have their costs inflated by an out-of-control patent system or padded insurance bills. Safety would improve without granting limited liability for FDA-approved products that people blindly trust.
Liberals who are concerned with the disenfranchised have no reason to continue supporting regulatory agencies that prevent people from being able to provide life-saving treatments to their children so that corporations can unfairly prop up their market share.
Next, a conservative cares more than liberals and libertarians about loyalty/betrayal and authority/subversion. If they are worried about China becoming powerful and influencing global politics, or worse, subverting our domestic ones, don’t make fun of them for being afraid of neocon China propaganda without addressing their fear. Instead, talk about how poorer countries rarely get invaded by richer countries.
Sell a realistic positive vision for growth and security that appeals to our traditions. John Adams’ foreign policy of the “shining city on the hill” puts more pressure on foreign countries to become free than a military empire that threatens them or a failing country with internal turmoil that makes people reject our culture and not want to imitate our political system.
China was an example of this. Starting in the ‘90s, they got rich by expanding basic property rights and the creation of special economic zones because they were forced to copy our success and blue jeans after decades of communist misery. This resulted in rapid growth as poor agrarian countries have low public spending and a lack of entrenched regulatory bureaucracies.
However, China has not incorporated the principle of individual sovereignty that leads to the recognition of individual rights. It took China 30 years to get into massive debt, triple their public spending as a percent of GDP, and reassert the state bureaucracy’s control of the market. It took the US 120 years and massive amounts of propaganda to do roughly the same.
All people in the U.S. see is China’s rise, and think we need to emulate them, not realizing their success is compromised and came from copying elements of our tradition we shamefully don’t even understand and need conservatives to revive.
Libertarians hyperfocus on our core value of liberty gives us a better understanding than most of the dangers of state power. However, our inability to relate to the broader fundamental concerns of others is limiting our ability to advance our ideas as a whole.
Most people are followers. They don’t want to have to live in a totalitarian technocracy to protect us from China or get the medicine they need for their kids. They just think we need to because it is being sold to them by powerful interests who already understand psychology and use it to manipulate our fears and control our lives.
Entrenched political idealogues and those who personally benefit from the system will not be as receptive to these arguments. But for most people, if you respect their fundamental concerns and demonstrate to them that they can get what they value more effectively out of less coercive systems, they will generally be relieved to agree with you.
Especially considering that liberty is in the top two priorities of every psychological group.
After all, nobody likes being told what to do.