To put it lightly, the liberty movement isn’t the most successful ideological movement in history. Sure, many people are being introduced to libertarianism on a daily basis. But we’re also losing quite a few to other ideological groups, including the alt-right.
There are plenty of ways to fix that; the easiest being to abandon the term ‘statist.’ As convenient as it is to refer to every single ideological opponent with a single word, the term has no other use besides insulting anyone that doesn’t agree with you entirely on every issue. In several ways, the term does far more harm than good.
Nobody identifies as a statist. At least, not since 1967. To give credit, I first heard this point from liberalist Carl Benjamin in his video Answers for Libertarians. Since nobody actually identifies as a statist, the term can only be an insult (and ‘authoritarian’ works just as well).
It’s too broad. ‘Statist’ can refer to anyone that thinks the government should be involved in something in some way, which happens to be just about everyone besides the anarcho-capitalists. Since the term is only used when debating the size of government, it’s already self-evident that one side supports more government intervention than the other.
It’s juvenile. Libertarians are trying to portray themselves as deep thinkers and intellectuals. We’re trying to show people that we should be taken seriously. Gary Johnson isn’t helping, and neither are you when you replace a well-argued point with the term ‘statist.’
If you disagree with me, you’re a racist bootlicking cuck. If you’re not already on my side, that last sentence probably didn’t change anything. Ideological groups take the worst thing they can think of and turn it into an insult. For progressives, it used to be the term ‘racist’ (and we’ve all seen how convincing that is). Now, they use ‘white supremacist (as if that’s any better). For the alt-right, it’s the word ‘cuck’ (if you’re not a fan of racial collectivism, see if being called a cuck will change your mind). For Marxists, it’s ‘bootlicker’ (because voluntary trade somehow makes you a slave). For libertarians, it’s ‘statist’.
It’s not an argument. People won’t take our arguments seriously if we don’t provide any. ‘Statist’ is not an argument. In fact, it’s does the opposite. When your opponent starts hurling insults at you, you know you’ve won.
You used to be a statist. Most likely you were born and raised with conservative or liberal viewpoints. It’s also likely that your path to libertarianism was long and slow. People tend not to go from progressive to anarcho-capitalist overnight.
Assume the person you’re talking to might know something you don’t. This is Rule 9 of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. Discussion and debate isn’t just about pushing your own ideas. It’s also about constantly critiquing what you think you know and reevaluating your positions. If you’re engaged in honest debate, the desire to throw out the word ‘statist’ should never come up. It’s always possible (however unlikely) that the ‘statist’ might be right.
It’s lazy. Expanding the liberty movement is hard work. It requires lots of time and energy invested in researching and learning. It’s also sometimes difficult to introduce people to these ideas and to answer their questions. For some people it’s a futile endeavor, while others will come up with loads of counterarguments that need to be addressed. The lazy option is to deal the statist card and give up. It’s also the counterproductive option.
Certain libertarian organizations seem to think it’s a good idea to water down our message to the point where even socialists feel at home in the liberty movement. I reject that plan completely. Instead of watering down our message, why not toss out the more than useless parts, like the word ‘statism,’ and replace them with a strong case for individual liberty.
* Nathan A. Kreider is the host of The Conversation, a podcast about ideas and how to spread them. His video and written content can be found on nkreider.com.
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