An Appeal to Morality

Martin Luther King Jr. did not say, “I have a dream that one day we can join hands so that we can have greater economic growth.”

Rosa Parks did not take a seat in the front of the bus and say that others should be happy because the back of the bus is actually quieter and more enjoyable.

Thomas Jefferson did not start out the Declaration of Independence saying that the King of England should let American colonists have more freedom as it would be more beneficial for free trade.

Gandhi did not live his life preaching utilitarianism.

All of these people advocated their cause by appealing to the moralities of others.

Libertarians have two main ways of advocating liberty.  There is an argument based on pragmatism and there is an argument based on morality.  Luckily, for libertarians, the two things rarely conflict.

While it is important to argue the benefits of liberty from a utilitarian/ pragmatic point of view, it seems that the morality argument often gets overlooked.  And while it is certainly important for libertarians to understand and to be able to articulate the major issues, we also cannot win this fight for freedom without appealing to the morality of others.

Whether it involves domestic issues or foreign policy issues, it seems that the opposing sides always try to win the moral argument.

On foreign policy, it is common to hear conservatives say that we need to fight this war or intervene in this country because we need to stop a madman dictator or we need to help spread democracy.  They ask questions such as, “do you support having a madman running that country?”

On economic issues, it is common to hear those on the left say that we need certain government programs to help the poor and less fortunate.  They ask rhetorical questions such as, “so you just want to see poor people starve?”

Now, libertarians can certainly go into common sense arguments saying that we don’t have the money to fight wars overseas and that we will be bogged down in an unwinnable war.  We can also argue economic issues saying that the best way to help the poor is by having less government and more capital investment, which will eventually lead to more economic growth, which will then trickle down to the poor.  All of these arguments may be true, but are they really going to convince someone to consider the libertarian viewpoint in most cases?

Instead of trying to use only common sense arguments, appealing to someone’s morality can oftentimes have a more powerful effect.

When someone talks about foreign policy, libertarians should immediately talk about the human death toll of wars, and not just on one side.  When that same conservative is boldly talking about disposing of some madman overseas, we can ask if little children deserve to die because our government wants to start a war.  We should be quick to point out that two wrongs do not make a right, particularly when an innocent person will be the one to suffer.

On domestic issues, it is important to point out the government guns.  For the leftist who wants to tax and redistribute wealth, he should always be asked why he wants to point a gun at someone and use the threat of violence to takes other people’s money.

Ask someone if he thinks it is acceptable to go to a neighbor’s house and demand money at the point of a gun.  When he says “no”, tell him that it would be for a good cause like providing homes for homeless people or feeding the hungry.  If he thinks that is acceptable, then leave him alone.  If he does not think that is acceptable, then help him understand that using the force of government is essentially doing the same thing.

The majority of Americans and the majority of people around the world are basically good people.  They would never think of using initiated violence against others.  If they can understand that virtually all of government involves the initiation of force, this will change minds and people will start to withdraw their consent.

It is not to say that utilitarian arguments should be abandoned.  They are very important.  But different people have different journeys towards libertarianism and we should not underestimate the moral arguments to be made.

When more people understand the moral arguments for libertarianism, their minds will open up to the other benefits of liberty.  The detailed understanding of the issues will eventually follow.

Libertarians have morality on their side and they should not be afraid to use it.