The biggest difference between people who do effective political work and those who don’t is how they see the world. Theory, and thus ideology, are divorced from pragmatism. While Saul Alinsky is roundly criticized by those on the Right, he recognized this fact and many have successfully used his playbook in campaigns regarding politics and issue advocacy. Seeing the world for what it is now can enable you to one day see the world as you want it to be.
I believe in the precepts of anarcho-capitalism, and believe it would be the most ideal means of organizing society. However, I need to preface my statement of belief with the fact that, while I believe in that type of a society, I’m realistic enough that I have not divorced myself from pragmatism. I see the world for what it is. Personally, I believe the best way to move liberty forward is through election to local, state, and Federal office and through public policy. I’ve been criticized for being involved with politics and issue advocacy, being told that I’m only legitimizing the system I claim to be against. In a sense, I’m being called a sell-out by fellow libertarians for trying to advance issues in the best way that I can, the way that I believe is the best means of success.
In no way am I demeaning the actions of those who are attempting to blunt the force of the state through academia; they should know as students of economics that division of labor is an important concept. We need people of all stripes to make an impact. I have learned much from those in academia. Did the Pauls, Justin Amash, and other seminal figures in our movement not learn from Rothbard, von Mises, and Hayek, which they have applied (in the pragmatic sense) to their careers at the national level? In that sense, I’ve also learned much about liberty and economics from those authors, learning which I hope to apply one day on a local, state, or federal level when I run for office. From latter-day authors like Gene Healy of CATO and Judge Andrew Napolitano, I have learned much about the abuses of power and law. Those who teach and write books have just as much of a place in the movement as the statesmen I mentioned.
Just as we cannot all run for office, we also cannot all be academics. Academics have the principle of living theoretically- seeing the world as they want it to be and not for how it is. To this extent, I don’t fault them. They offer an important insight into what the world can be: if the right people advance the message and get policies passed that will incrementally advance us to that point.
Some of these academics do not appreciate that I’m not fully advocating Rothbard’s vision to potential voters. That’s not a pragmatic solution to the problem; voters are often people who grew up in a Democratic or Republican household, and that’s how they’ve always voted. To understand how to effectively communicate, one must understand who they’re talking to and how to stress different things that the voters value based on their income, their education, or their family situation.
Alinsky stated the following: “It does not matter what you know about anything if you cannot communicate to [the voters].” A one-size fits all statement of economic theory will not mesh with most people, as it’s nebulous and foreign to them. While I realize most academics aren’t seeking to do political work, their input on what I’m doing is what Hayek referred to as the Knowledge Problem. Just as I try not to make judgment calls on the work they do (as I don’t know about it or have experience in it), they shouldn’t be making judgment calls on the work I do or how I go about doing it. The difference between us is how we view things. As someone who must work around voters who tend not to spend the time we do studying political science, economics, or law, I must see the world from the voters’ point of view to be able to communicate to them effectively.
While I believe in the idea of a voluntary society based on contract and not coercion, I believe the best way for me to go about achieving that is through the means of politics. For others to fault me for such a belief because their ideology blinds them to the big picture would be just as bad as if I was to criticize them for their involvement in academia. Both those in the political sphere and the academic sphere are important, but those who actively participate in the political sphere are able to do more to incrementally advance us to such a point where entrepreneurs and private businesses will build and own the roads.