Friday, May 9, 2014

No Easy Walk To Freedom

I listened to the music of Peter, Paul, and Mary for 35 years before I began to understand what they were singing about.

Peter Yarrow and Margery Tabankin
©1986 Silver Dawn Music (ASCAP)

Oh, bread for the body, there's got to be
But a soul will die without liberty
Pray for the day when the struggle is past!
Freedom for all!  Free at last!  Free at last!

No easy walk to freedom,
No easy walk to freedom,
Keep on walkin' and we shall be free
That's how we're gonna make history

There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires. -- Nelson Mandela

Conservatives and liberals think of themselves as holding principled positions and I don't dispute that — although their principles are not easily put into words and thus, with no firm or formal basis, no Ten Commandments, the application of those principles takes on a distinctly squishy appearance.  Republicans and Democrats are party-people;  they're content to be led by the party leadership (presumably chosen by the led in some mutually agreed format) and their principles (to the extent they can be said to have any at all) are enshrined in the party platform, principally focused on winning the next election, and subject to change at the whim of the convention.  The same may be true of Greens, Reformists, Socialist Workers, and others;  I don't know enough about them to hold an informed opinion.

Libertarians differ from all of these in a special way.  We've all had to fight our way to this point, and for many the journey has, indeed, been no easy walk to freedom.  Our single principle, that which defines us, is what L. Neil Smith calls 'the Zero Aggression Principle' (ZAP):

A libertarian is a person who believes that no one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being for any reason whatever;  nor will a libertarian advocate the initiation of force, or delegate it to anyone else.

Those who act consistently with this principle are libertarians, whether they realize it or not.  Those who fail to act consistently with it are not libertarians, regardless of what they may claim.

I've often said that nobody becomes a libertarian overnight.  There is always some resistance to ZAP simply because our whole life has been lived under a regime of 'do this or else...'.  It is difficult under the best of circumstances to envision a world where 'or else' does not involve somebody doing something unpleasant.  There is no 'Eureka!' moment when it all suddenly becomes clear.  Almost always it's a process that takes years rather than months.  Consequently, there will always be in any gathering of libertarian-minded folk some who are further along down that road and others who haven't quite made it as far.  This is a constant source of conflict as those far-advanced berate the rear guard for not being as ideologically pure as they ought to be.

This has to stop.  Anyone who has started their walk to freedom must be welcomed as a real 'fellow-traveler' (the Communists got that right) and be encouraged rather than harassed.  Those who haven't started their journey: conservatives, liberals, and other party-people; must be won over, but that, also, will be no easy walk.  Too many of them think of freedom as a tool with which to fashion the ultimate prize: a new world.  They seek power in the unsupported-by-experience belief that power in their hands can deliver freedom;  it can, but it will not. 

We own their hearts when they begin to understand that freedom is the prize, that it cannot be imposed, and that any polity awash in freedom will need no further fashioning.  The truth of this is not intuitively obvious.  All those non-libertarians, alas, will each have to make their walk to freedom on their own, and the only thing libertarians can do for them is to stand at the forks in the road as guides.

"Freedom this way.  Watch your step.  It's no easy walk."

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