Lack of Action
Even the slightest familiarity with most libertarians will show the observer how much libertarians love to talk about the slightest philosophical disagreements, as well as how much time libertarians devote to libertarian literature and propagating the ideas of liberty on the Internet. However, even with that immense passion, most libertarians seem to be averse to actual economic and political action that would increase the amount of liberty in the world. In fairness, some move to New Hampshire for the Free State Project, some work on start-up societies, and there are gray market alternative products sold by libertarians. However, the amount of effort put into learning liberty does not seem to match up with the amount of effort actually spent on advancing liberty in the real world. Libertarian philosophy may win hearts and minds until the end of time, but if libertarians are not willing to go outside the statist quo, there can be no real world change.
Contrast this inactivity with the progressive movement that swept the United States in the early 20th century. The progressives opened public areas, worked on local communities, and did so in order to spread their progressive beliefs. It was a complete hands-on movement intent on creating actual change and composed of people who were willing to work, leave their houses, and participate in their community. If libertarians want to achieve any level of cultural advancement in a libertarian direction, there can be no expectation of it being created by arguing on social media about whether or not abortions or borders are libertarian, but rather by engaging in social activities in a voluntary manner to spread liberty. Recently, a man built a $100,000 dollar staircase for just over 500 dollars for his community, and this great act of voluntary improvement was removed by the state. There are examples over examples of how children have their lemonade stands shut down when they are trying to make some pocket money. There are constant news stories of how adults who do business on a very small scale without any harm and without selling illegal items get shut down due to the lack of a permit. Every time this happens it gets massive media traction. Imagine if all these people were devoted libertarians and used their platform as a way to spread libertarian ideas, how much more exposure libertarianism could get. If these people flew the black and yellow flag and wrote “taxation is theft” on the side of whatever they were making, they could spread the message of liberty. They may be censored or ridiculed, but it would demonstrate how the libertarian philosophy is practical and beneficial.
This does not mean organizing Libertarian Party caucuses or running for office. Rather, it means breaking laws and making sure that breaking those laws will improve the community in which the law-breaker resides. When there are attempts to combat the injustice of the state, there must be people willing to take risks, and some people must be willing to improve their own communities to make their own lives and the lives of their communities better. If there is no one willing to go against the state and no one willing to get arrested, fined, or subjected to other injustices, then mouthing off on the Internet becomes a waste of time. It is good to try to increase the presence of libertarian ideas virtually, in think tanks, or in politics, but real change comes from individuals acting locally to create a more libertarian society.
This need not be non-political; any libertarian could go out, talk to people, hand out fliers, and do whatever else is necessary for the principles of liberty to be spread in a physical manner. But if libertarians cannot organize a local club, cannot make and print out some fliers to hand out, and are thus unable to actually advance the principles of liberty, they will get nothing done. In fairness, there are libertarians in Cuba who build libraries and take action; there are libertarians in Europe who translate great libertarian texts into their own languages. There are many libertarians who already do such things, but nowhere near enough in comparison to the amount of people who are passive libertarian cyber-intellectuals.
Lack of Charisma
Many libertarians are abrasive, intense, and ill-suited for social interaction. This is a problem which tends to arise when any ideology is based on abstract economic and intellectual arguments rather than arguments which are more relatable to the layperson. This means that libertarians must try to become more charismatic if there is to be a chance for spreading the principles of liberty without forceful imposition. Advocates of these principles cannot stay within a bubble of abstract arguments. Libertarians must become more sociable in order to recruit more people to become libertarians. It is easy to see how this has worked every time it has happened; Ron Paul brought more people over to the liberty movement than perhaps anyone else in the history of libertarianism. The intellectuals who have spent a lot of time being sociable (Walter Block, Tom Woods, and Murray Rothbard immediately come to mind) have converted more people than anyone else who wrote some treatises but never personally taught anyone the principles of liberty.
Music and art are great tools when it comes to spreading the message of different philosophical positions, and it seems that everyone else, from communists to fascists, understands this. That is why Ayn Rand was so important to libertarianism and Objectivism; she made philosophy accessible through her works of fiction. Since libertarian philosophy can affect people deeply and show them truths that they never realized before, it is vital that libertarians focus on making free-market and property-based positions more presentable without corrupting the message. Having to read dozens of dry books and have hundreds of intellectual conversations in order to properly and fully understand libertarianism when some good works of fiction and a few bands could expose the philosophy to a much wider audience in a more effective manner is a travesty. Backwordz is one such exciting libertarian project, as they serve to make libertarianism more accessible, but libertarians cannot relegate an important task in spreading the message of the cause to a few projects. Libertarians should focus more on creating works that are accessible to large audiences. There are many people who lack artistic talents, but if one is blessed with these talents in even the smallest capacity, they could use their time more effectively by utilizing these mediums in order to create a more libertarian society and to make libertarianism more palatable.
This is also the case for the “meme war” that has been happening on the Internet. This is a tactic in which the far-right uses poignant viral images to create propaganda that spreads on its own. This can captivate people who might never be convinced by a logical argument. Libertarians have mostly failed at this and have not often demonstrated the humor necessary to make this tactic work. This is just one small factor of the whole picture, but when one considers the possibility of free viral marketing just by demonstrating a small bit of humor, it becomes very odd that there so little focus on this. Furthermore, it is unnecessary to have this one strategy of viral marketing. Libertarians tend to be individuals who are at least moderately wealthy, so it would be easy for them to buy billboards, put up posters, or purchase online ads that direct people to libertarian websites and beliefs that focus on property and justice. Most people have never been exposed to a true representation of what libertarians actually believe, seeing only the gross caricatures of the establishment press and other statist propagandists. Being able to make the movement and the cause more present and more public would greatly increase the number of people who identify as libertarians. One incredible example, simply for comparison, is that of the flat-earthers who put up a billboard. They are a much more fringe community with an obviously false message, and they still managed to generate enough money for a billboard that gained them at least a small amount of media traction. How libertarians have failed to engage in this method boggles the mind.
Ignorance of the Opposition
One more item of criticism for libertarians is how most fail to understand the arguments of their opponents. Many people may have memorized points and counter-arguments from reading Rothbard, Hoppe, and other libertarian theorists, but there is usually a base assumption that the opposition comes mainly from ignorance and not from differences in knowledge, ethics, and sources. All ideas come from somewhere and although most people with those ideas parrot them to others, this does not mean that we can combat these points properly without knowing their intellectual origins. What makes this even worse is that libertarians may have come from the cultural status quo where most people started and understand those arguments; some libertarians may even have had a phase of being socialist without knowing what that would actually imply. However, most libertarians are libertarians in their premises. It is not an intellectual decision to be a libertarian for most people; we all tend to have some degree of libertarianism within our basic assumptions.
It helps a great deal to know where the opponents of property and capitalism are coming from. It helps to be able to assume their perspective without prejudice and be able to dissect their premises and arguments. Of course, by some metric of self-satisfaction, libertarians are able to think that they did something productive by telling socialists that they need to learn basic economics while ignoring the hundreds of years of socialist economic studies. This argument may have worked when socialism was something that people adopted just to be edgy and to rebel against the capitalist status quo, but in the age of the modern intelligentsia, Austrian economic arguments are less prevalent than socialist ones. In essence, libertarians are the ones who need to learn what other people consider to be basic economics if they are to refute socialists.
Furthermore, libertarians assume that everyone who is pro-state would stop being so if the violence of the state was exposed for what it is. This is false, as many people are completely fine with the state being an institution of violence as long as it serves their own interests. No matter how much anyone talks about the state being immoral or violent and how much taxation is theft, there will be a great amount of people who think, in a Hobbesian manner, that without this violence human beings cannot have civilization. These moral arguments may be fine, but libertarians need to present more perspectives that are better suited for people who approach the world more pragmatically. This is especially true for many socialists and alt-righters; they know that the state is violence and a pure forceful institution. Their question about this is simply, “So what?”. Libertarians cannot always change the moral premises of others by trying to get people to understand the conclusions of the personal moral premises that libertarians tend to hold.
Lack of Virtue
No matter the intellectual caliber of particular libertarians, there are a few problems that need to be solved with the ideology if libertarianism is to go forward. There are strategies and perspectives on how to create a libertarian society and what libertarians can do to approach the type of people who are ready to be libertarians. However, the overwhelming majority of libertarian theory focuses on how great everything would be if everyone already lived in a world where there was virtue, without providing methods of how to cultivate this virtue within the population that is to be made libertarian. The other minority focuses on how bad everything is while everyone is in an oppressive statist society, and other areas of concern are seldom talked about. Only in the past few years has there been even a start of sociological inquiry of these issues on a sustained and continuous basis.
Stefan Molyneux advocates peaceful parenting as an actionable solution for making the world freer. Many libertarians say that education is the best solution. Some propose economic solutions to show people how property benefits them. Some advocate violent revolution. But cultivating the sort of virtue that is necessary to maintain a libertarian social order is not so simple. Anyone can parent peacefully, yet still it can turn out that there is no virtue cultivated in the children within a society. People can educate a person who is not virtuous himself and he may not become virtuous when he knows all the facts. Libertarians can show people how property rights may benefit them, but they may still try to undermine it, provided they are not individuals who have the virtue of respect for property rights.
This needs to be a strong point of libertarian tactics; not only how to make people more receptive to a society based on virtuous behavior, but rather how to make sure that the people are sufficiently virtuous to maintain a libertarian social order. Libertarianism needs to come out of the value-free lull where the focus on intellectualism has left it and delve deeper into the fields of sociology, psychology, and other areas where further research is needed for how to increase the virtue within populations. As it stands right now, libertarians may have good strategies for libertarianism and how to create a more libertarian world when libertarianism already has this support, but far less on how to cultivate libertarian virtues within society.
Lack of Breadth
Libertarianism has overwhelming amounts of substance, but the substance it has is very limited in content when it comes to anything other than economics and philosophy. Though this is by design, in that libertarianism itself is only an answer to the question of when the use of force is appropriate, this does not a complete worldview make. Economics is never enough to run a whole society; there must be values and character traits beyond the economic. There cannot be a healthy society in which the only relations are that of material exchange; this kind of society would certainly fall apart as soon as it was revealed as the husk it is. Even though the intellectual side of libertarianism may call for a value-free economic analysis, a pragmatic and objective political strategy, and a philosophy that can create values beyond what people would consider moral, this is inapplicable to many people. Everyone has values, most people have morals, and people want to see these morals reflected in their societies.
This writer has proposed abandoning political libertarianism as a strategy and focusing instead on advancing local autonomy as much as possible. It would serve to make libertarianism more relatable and to show people how libertarianism can serve to bring their values into the world. However, there is much work to be done on this. Only now are the first efforts being made of a very deep examination and expansive practical project.