In a politically aware community such as the one that exists among Liberty.me readers, we can always count on intelligent discussion about upcoming elections, and lots of it. I find the quality of that discussion encouraging. Questions will be asked, and answers offered, that would never be considered in mainstream talk shows and news commentary. By virtue of that fact alone, we can look forward to a more edifying exchange of ideas than would be available to us if we only listened to the extremely narrow range of politically acceptable ideas, and that is something to appreciate.

But regardless of its unusually high caliber, I’m not as encouraged by the quantity of such talk we can expect. As a participant in several liberty-loving communities, I have noticed that for about one in every four years—that immediately preceding an election, of course—the dominant theme of conversation is about which political candidate is best, or failing that, the least bad, for libertarians to support. And while I don’t oppose that discussion in principle, nor wish for it to go away entirely, I am frustrated by how as it becomes more prominent, discussions on the philosophy of liberty and of the practical applications of that philosophy to our personal lives and our relationships tend to fade into the background. Moreover, discussions of tactics tend towards political pragmatism, all too often to the exclusion of any alternatives.

This coming election year, in case you’ve been hiding under a very large rock and didn’t already know, it’s probably going to be all about Rand Paul. How libertarian is he, really? How does he compare to his dad, Ron? Isn’t literally anyone better than Hillary? And does it even matter how liberty-friendly he is if he’s the best we can get? Well, just in case you want my opinion in addition to all the others you’ve been hearing lately, here you go: No, it doesn’t matter, precisely because he’s not the best we can get. And he’s not the best we can get because the eventual victory of liberty depends very little on who becomes President in 2016, or in any other year.

The Presidency, both in terms of who holds the title and what he or she does, is far more effect than cause. He will need some sixty million people to support him in order to gain the office. These masses of voters will not be brought into existence due to hard-hitting good sense spoken from the podium. They will not be created during the campaign season. They already exist. They have been created over generations out of the existing material of American society. Whichever mass happens to be bigger and marginally less lethargic at the time of the election will pick the President. In other words, Hillary will not be elected to make America more “liberal”. She will be elected if first the Democratic Party, and then America, is “liberal” enough to elect her. Likewise, Rand Paul will not be elected in order to make America more libertarian. Assuming that he is as libertarian as his libertarian supporters claim, he will be elected if first the Republican Party, and then America, is libertarian enough to elect him.

I have no hope of that being the case. Regardless of any supposed latent libertarian fervor in the public at large, the Republican Party comes first. And I think it should incite no controversy if I say that the GOP, as an institution, is not the ally of a libertarian movement. That is not its purpose, and its form suits its purpose. Trying to achieve liberty through Republican (or Democrat) party politics is as likely to succeed as trying to blow glass with a plastic drinking straw. Though I may be accused of undue cynicism, I would venture so far as to say that if Paul could win the Republican primary, it would be evidence against his being of any use to a libertarian movement. And we should also consider the danger of giving the GOP any more credibility. To have the idea of political liberty attached to a major party for another generation (as was the case with Ronald Reagan) would not help our cause.

And yet, suppose that he were elected President. Here I defer to Jeffery Tucker who wrote this earlier this month:

One way to think about government is as a giant corporation with its own interests to better its position and power. The president is the CEO. How do you do a good job and earn the support of the stockholders and customers? Not by cutting the budget, driving down the stock price, and pulling back its market share. Everything that hurts government as an institution will be resisted at all levels and in every conceivable way. You win by boosting the prospects of the state.

This is why it is such an enormous and implausible effort to use the presidency to enhance liberty. Everything we know about government pushes against this.

To see this reality requires that we look much more deeply at the problem than any debate or campaign can reveal. As entertaining as this season may be, we do well to keep in mind that politics is more about cosmetics than reality.

So, do I write this to dash your hopes of a libertarian President? Perhaps. But not to dash your hopes altogether. Quite to the contrary: I write this to say that we need not worry whether Paul is qualified to be President, nor whether he can be elected.

I often encounter people who take it for granted that voting is the way we “win”. When they discover that I do not vote in elections, they are astounded. How, they demand, are we to achieve anything if we do not vote? Isn’t that how we get things done? Would you have us simply give up, do nothing?

I understand their questions. We have been led to believe that changing the political structure is our best way to effect change in society. We are raised to believe that government is how things get done, and that We the People are the government. Our schools told us as children that anyone—yes, even you, little Bobby and Jane—can become the President. Our textbooks make the state the fulcrum on which the forces of history rest. Our political leaders are regarded as having gained the highest achievements available to mankind.

They told us that politics is uniquely worthy to be the focus of our time, energy, and moral sensibility.

They lied.

In the first place, as I suggested earlier, and to which effect I have quoted Mr. Tucker, the state is not suited for bringing liberty into reality. Those who would have us spend our efforts in reforming it would, I think very cynically and deliberately, have us waste those efforts.

But furthermore, the idea that the state changes a society is, I believe, completely backwards. Rather, the state is an effect, as opposed to the cause, of the shape and character of a society. Political philosophers have often stated that a people’s government is a reflection of its prevailing moral philosophy. Robert P. Murphy has argued that our discussions about the viability of a free society must presuppose a society that is capable of being free. Henry David Thoreau wrote that “‘That government is best which governs not at all’; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.” The question, then, ought to be: How do we get people ready for that kind of government? The answer, I think, is certainly not to reform the government in the hopes that a people who so clearly believe, with even a religious fervor, in the political means will embrace a freer society on sight if it is offered to them.

Now, I do not intend to preach a sermon against political involvement by libertarians. I only mean to say a few things by way of encouragement, which share a theme with the very title of my blog: Political reform is not the only way to achieve greater freedom. Nor is political reform the best way to do so. In fact I would go so far as to say that political reform is probably the worst way, both in terms of effectiveness, and of the moral problems presented by participation in the political process. We have at our disposal a better way. More than one, in fact.

So, then, we have no need to get exercised about who is the President. It’s not our game. We don’t have to play it. As much as we may want to cheer for one side over the other sometimes, in the long run who is the President makes as much difference as whether the Dodgers beat the Yankees when they next play. (No offense intended to baseball fans in general, or Dodgers fans in particular.) Yes, the stakes are obviously much higher in the political game than in a baseball game; but nevertheless I insist that it is not worthwhile for us to become too invested in the game. Our opponents make the rules, and the rules say that as long as we play by the rules, they will win, every time. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that theirs isn’t the only game in town. We have multiple strategies available that do not depend on politics. We don’t need to convert a scientifically-created mob of voters, nor create one of our own, to vote for our candidate. We don’t need a Constitutional Convention. We don’t need to fight for or against term limits, salary caps, or audits, as useful as any of those things might be.

So, here are just a few things you can do that do not depend one bit on who wins the next election. If you’ve never considered them before, look into them now, and take some respite from your political anxiety in thinking about them instead of thinking about how to beat Jeb and Hillary. If you are already familiar with them, then be reminded that there are other, better ways to spend your time and energy than on the political race.

  1. Education. Remember Rand’s dad, Ron Paul? He didn’t win his presidential election. But that’s the point: he didn’t need to, and he always knew it. His goal was to educate, and that’s what he did, with great effect. This is primarily how we change our country so that it is ready to accept liberty: we talk to people. We don’t change society by changing the government. We change society by helping other people to change. People need to know that there is a better way than the political means before they will even start considering what that might be. That is a change effected in the individual hearts and minds of those with whom we have relationships.
  2. Personal independence. Think about off-the-grid solutions to your food and energy needs. Join a food co-op. Make a hugelkultur mound in your backyard, or an aquaponics system in your basement or garage. Encourage your neighbors to do the same thing. It doesn’t matter who the President is if we are completely dependent on the government and its corporate cronies for our basic needs, and you don’t need a better President than the one we have now for you to take steps towards independence.
  3. Protect your privacy. If you’re not a crypto-nerd, that’s okay. I wasn’t either at about this time two years ago. But if you’re reading this on a computer screen, you are capable of learning the basics of protecting your privacy on the internet. You don’t need a President who will appoint a pro-privacy Attorney General for you to do that. It’s not up for a vote. You can start now.
  4. Be a part of alternatives to government. While the politicos argue about welfare spending, you can join a charity that doesn’t depend on welfare dollars. While they squabble over police funding, you can join an organization dedicated to nonviolent dispute resolution—or start one yourself! While they debase the US dollar, you can join the Bitcoin economy. While they kick around the education spending football, you can teach your own kids things far more important than they would ever learn at school.

The point is that you don’t need them. While others argue over who gets to be in charge of the government, you can be taking steps to render the government irrelevant. They may seem small steps, even insignificant in terms of large-scale change. But they are not insignificant. You will be doing far more good for yourself, your loved ones, and your community than any President ever will do for you. In which case, does it really matter how libertarian Rand Paul is? Does it matter whether he can win? In terms of what is possible to achieve towards your life, liberty, and happiness, not much. Whether you vote or not, don’t waste your hope on a politician. And consider spending the coming election year focusing on all the things that are far more important than elections—which is pretty much anything, really.


The featured image was taken by Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 3.0 — photoshopped).