Saturday, March 1, 2014
Running to win is unlibertarian. So why should a libertarian run for office, if not to win? There is actually a much better reason to run. Unlike every other stripe of politician, a libertarian can run to persuade. And should.
Running to persuade is perfectly in accord with principles of liberty. There is no dilemma for the libertarian candidate, so long as the one who is running to persuade does not win. If such person does win, there is a dilemma. Should the one who ran to persuade take the ring of power and rule by force, just because of an electoral plurality?
That unlikely dilemma is fairly thorny and deserves more attention than I can give it today. Because you can't actually carry the ring of power to and fro, and drop it into a fiery volcano once a sufficient amount of entertainment has been gleaned from the quest. No, our allegories require less care and feeding than the real world -- which is why they are nice to keep as pets, but have their limitations once it comes to guiding real-world moral choices.
Today I am limited to contemplating the two kinds of leadership in the world. There is leadership by force, inevitably accompanied by hypocrisy, deceit, and fraud. There is leadership by example, by non-coercive persuasion and truth, without hypocrisy. That's it. There are only two broad classes of methods by which a leader can cause others to do as the leader desires, whether those desires be wise or foolish. For convenience, I'll call the first method "dominating" and the second method "persuading."
Leadership by government officials is always some mixture of these two methods. But we must be careful to distinguish between inconsistent mixtures of dominating and persuading, and what is essentially dominating while having an appearance of persuasion.
An example of the former, mixed leadership, would be requiring payment of taxes, fining or imprisoning tax evaders (dominating) and providing basic public services with the tax revenue, but otherwise allowing the tax subjects to engage in every activity that does not violate the natural rights of other tax subjects. This is minarchism. Minarchism means forcing people to pay for services they do not want. That is its essence, and it doesn't seem much like good leadership to me. Tax-funded services by definition are unwanted, because if someone is willing to pay for the service voluntarily without any fear of tax enforcement, what is collected is a fee, and not a tax. Whatever the merits of the arguments for minarchism, it could fairly be described as a sort of mixture of dominating and persuading. Even though the actual "minarchy" part of it is merely a form of dominating, it leaves a wide playground for the tax subjects to romp around in without fear of being molested by the minarchy, which promises (in theory) to never provide any service that is unwanted, or any service that can be better provided by the free market. Minarchies are extremely commonplace, about as common as unicorns, or as jokes that are guaranteed to make people laugh no matter how delivered.
An example of dominating leadership that appears to be partly persuasive, but is wholly dominating, is leading a nation to war by inventing a terrorist threat that does not exist, or by blaming economic shortages caused by government policies on a foreign enemy. War may seem to be popularly supported, but would not be if the populace were not regularly and systematically lied to. No people in full possession of the truth would sacrifice their lives and well-being to participate in actions that create inter-generational enemies by sowing death and destruction among strangers, as wars do, unless their survival was at stake. Except, of course, for that fraction of the people who stand to personally benefit from the war, who are the dominating leaders I write of. All the rest who voluntarily support war are those who are fooled by those dominating leaders, in such circumstances. Lying to a people to bring them to war or to keep them on a permanent war footing is unmixed, unadulterated dominating. What appears to be persuasion is actually fraud. Unfortunately, this type of dominating leadership is historically quite common, much more common even than unicorns, perhaps being rooted in the natural drive for dominance over other members of one's own species. This lust for power is found in both leaders and members of the general public. Those members can be all the more easily fooled by that lust into following a dominating leader, by a desire to be part of the dominant faction, or by fear of being left out of the dominant faction, even when their leaders bring great destruction and misery upon them.
With the two types of leadership in mind, consider elections for public offices, and the public offices themselves. Public officials are often figureheads or merely administrative, and while they can wield a certain amount of power, may reasonably be supposed to do so subject to powers held by various unelected individuals. Because wealth is unevenly distributed, those who control an inordinate share of wealth also enjoy an inordinate share of political power. The unelected corporate groups and individuals who control most of the world's wealth via the modern monetary and regulatory system, including major news and entertainment media, also control major elections and candidates on both sides, more or less. And after elections are over, these unelected people continue to influence if not directly control the elected officials.
Under this view, elections are not a means for expressing "the will of the people." Quite the contrary. Elections, from this perspective, are rituals carried out to preserve an appearance of representative government, the outcomes of which are not even particularly important, thereby diverting the attention of the masses away from those truly in power. Those in power behind the scenes continue to advance their own agenda, regardless of whom is elected, precisely because those politicians want so badly to be elected, rendering them susceptible to influence. By this perspective, electoral politics is a fraudulent tool of domination by unelected leaders. "Democracy as a fraudulent opiate of the masses" is not the only way to view electoral politics. But it is a fairly widely held view, and there is no lack of evidence to support it as objectively true, at least to some degree.
Another view of electoral politics sees popularity contests useful for ensuring that at least a plurality of the electorate views the winner as no worse than the lesser evil. That is, "majority rule" is supposedly better than "minority rule" (although we might ask why there need be any "rule by rulers" at all.) So long as votes are collected and counted fairly, so the thinking goes, the public can at least be assured that the lesser scoundrel takes office, and that the dominant faction does not comprise a minority. Even to the limited extent that this aspect of elections can be true, elections of ruling officials cannot effectively implement the preferences of a majority. Politicians are never held to promises made while running for office, making elections substantially meaningless as an instrument of majority rule. More fundamentally, popularity contests are not naturally immune from lying candidates, influence peddling, and biased media reporting. On the contrary, the zealous desire of candidates to win at all costs subverts any social choice function elections might otherwise have. Candidates who want to win are highly motivated to avoid truthful presentations of their own views, experiences and abilities, in favor of presenting a manufactured public image that is calculated to win majority support. Those who run to win cannot speak frankly about their qualifications or intentions, and must inevitably serve the elite interests who fund their campaigns and control the major media. Thus, the desire to win -- "running to win" -- is the root of all evil in electoral politics.
Nonaggression means renouncing use of force or fraud for political or social purposes. A libertarian candidate must set aside the desire to win insofar as it conflicts with the nonaggression principle. This means being truthful and independent of special interests, at all costs. It means seeking to persuade, and forsaking running to win. It is only by seeking to persuade, that liberty and truth can ever win.