The First Step Toward Liberty: A Change of Ideas

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The First Step Toward Liberty: A Change of Ideas

Posted in : Government and Society on by : Michael Maharrey

So many theories, so many prophecies,
What we do need is a change of ideas.
When we are scared we can hide in our reveries but
What we need is a change of ideas.
Change of ideas, change of ideas,
What we need now is a change of ideas. – Bad Religion

Naysayers often claim a voluntary society “can’t work” because the majority of people don’t embrace a philosophy of liberty. As a result, any attempt to establish a stateless society will fail as  people rush in to fill the “power-vacuum” left in the absence of the state.

As it stands, this is probably true. Without widespread acceptance of basic principles such as non-aggression and private property rights, a free society won’t be able to sustain itself.

But isn’t this true of any political system? Doesn’t every societal institution depend on a general acceptance of the principles that underlie it? Can a democracy, or a constitutional republic exist if the majority of people don’t embrace democratic principles or constitutionalism?

Of course not.

This is abundantly clear in places like Iraq where the U.S. has attempted to impose its democratic political processes on populations rooted in tribalism and authoritarian political structures. It has been an abject failure.

It’s not like democracy just suddenly appeared one day. In the era of kings, the general population couldn’t conceive of “self-government.” It took a revolution in thought before the political structure could change. Until most people rejected the authority of a  king, the king remained on the throne.

Or consider slavery. In the 1500s. the vast majority of people couldn’t conceive of a world without human bondage. Everybody just accepted slavery as a given. Yet by the 1700s, the institution was beginning to collapse as more and more people rejected the ideas that supported human enslavement. Again, a change of ideas preceded a change in societal structures.

Even oppressive dictators require the population to acquiesce to the general principles of dictatorship to maintain their power. Once a critical mass of people rejects the authority of the dictator, his regime will collapse.

And once enough people reject the authority of the state, it too will collapse.

But not until then.

That’s why I believe the most important work for those of us who reject the coercion, force and violence inherent in statism revolves around spreading ideas and finding ways to show that they work. Political action has its place, and it can help mitigate the impacts of the state on individuals. But we can never abandon our foundational principles. We can never stop pushing for the abolition of the state. We can never stop pointing out its lack of moral authority and legitimacy. We can’t just give up because most people reject our message. Never forget, there was a time when most people rejected democracy, a time when most people rejected constitutionalism, and a time when the vast majority accepted slavery without question.

This notion that voluntary societies won’t work because most people don’t believe in liberty is true. Our job is to help them embrace liberty.

Ideas matter. Our ideas matter. And ideas can change the world.


Photo by Stencilab via Flickr


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