When trying to attract members from the center of both the left and the right into libertarianism, it’s extremely tempting to carve out a spot in the middle in order to attract the centrists. It’s not all a bad strategy, but it’s best to be careful not to win a battle and lose the war. It’s important to consider that only by convincing people of the merits of libertarianism that they will become true supporters. There is a good case against moderating for the sake of moderation.
In most cases, the desire to moderate for gaining greater influence extends from the belief that most people are in the middle, and therefore, a more moderate message will bring more people into the fold. The two major US political parties have, more often than not, made this mistake in their primary elections for decades, and they have also made the same mistake in attempting new legislation and new ideas. The entire debacle of fixing health care has been stymied by members of the GOP who believe that moderating their stances will gain greater support from constituents. The problem is that stances without principle become utterly unconvincing.
Because a desire to moderate often extends from a desire to make messaging have a broader appeal, it is essentially marketing that is being considered. There are three parts to marketing: product, price, and promotion (the “three Ps”). The product, in this case, would be the core of libertarianism and all its representative philosophies. It is what defines libertarianism as true political ideals. If the product is modified, then it is no longer libertarianism, but then becomes something different, like centrism.
There is nothing wrong with centrism, in and of itself. It is a real set of political positions and philosophies that can be principled. However, it is a different product. It is not the same thing as libertarianism. Changing the product is doing something different from changing messaging. One does not have to become a centrist to make libertarianism convey a message appealing to centrists. This refers to both the price and the promotion.
There is a term in economics called “opportunity cost” that expresses the cost of an opportunity not taken. For example, I might pass on an opportunity to buy Bitcoin and instead use my money for a down payment on a new car. If the value of Bitcoin doubles, then I have had an opportunity cost of that gain versus the value I place on owning a new car. In the case of political marketing, I would think of part of the “price” portion to be similar to opportunity costs. If one accepts a political position, there is an opportunity cost of having rejected an alternative. So, by accepting a candidate for office that subscribes to libertarianism, one is rejecting alternative philosophies, such as the left or the right – and in some cases even the center. Maybe someone from the center might say to themselves, “If I select a libertarian, I am losing out on some policies that taxes the rich more heavily than the poor, or I am losing out on some socially conservative policies that I believe make the country a safer place. But, I am gaining a position of social acceptance and less extreme government spending.”
So, the second part of that equation the centrist might be considering is the promotion part of the marketing. The promotion is the messaging of what benefits are gained for the opportunity costs paid. If I have a customer come into my retail store, in order to have the best chance at making a sale, I present the benefits of the potential product of interest in a way I think will most interest the customer. I would be a fool if I attempted to sell the customer something by presenting him with everything I think he might dislike about the product. I am not hiding anything. If he asks me about the negatives, I happily discuss them with explanations of why I believe they are actually a positive for him, in the end.
While business marketing demands a serious consideration of changing a product when it isn’t selling well, that isn’t much of an option for political philosophies. We have to focus more on the price and promotion. We do not have to change libertarianism in order to sell it. We simply present the aspects to each group of potential supporters to fit their interests. When people say there is a benefit to changing libertarianism to a more centrist’s stance, and when people want to moderate libertarian positions to make them more palatable to non-libertarians, they are changing the product. We can present a different and appealing message without changing the underlying principles. Moderating for the sake of moderation is unprincipled, and people see right through nearly every time. In almost every case where a moderate position is sought out for the sake of creating a moderate position, it does not sell. Without the principles to back up the position, it cannot stand.
There is nothing wrong with tailoring a message, and there is nothing wrong with trying to recruit centrists to support libertarianism. There are very open opportunities for doing so, especially in the US, where centrists don’t typically have a very good voice. However, positions must always tie back to core principles that do not change. Truth always remains truth, and if you believe you have the truth, there is absolutely no reason to step away from it until someone convinces you otherwise. We don’t have to hide things away from people because we fear they might not like it, but we should always present the benefits different groups of people will like the most.
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