Social Change and Friends of Liberty

In the October, 1948, Partisan Review, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., wrote, "I see no obstacle to the gradual advance of socialism in the United States through a series of New Deals."

On June 14, 2001, columnist George Will wrote in The Washington Post that we have now experienced "the intellectual collapse of socialism."

Both of these claims could be true. Socialism may continue to advance even if it is intellectually dead. In the United States, as in eastern Europe, the song may be over, but the malady lingers on.

Socialists win most elections in Europe and elsewhere now. Despite the remarkable advances for liberty in Chile some years ago, the current president of Chile is a socialist.

In the United States, proponents of more liberty certainly now have the intellectual initiative. The promoters of big government have no proposals as intellectually stimulating as:

  • Education vouchers and other means of choice in education
  • Personalization of Social Security
  • Medical savings accounts
  • Economically stimulating tax cuts of many types
  • Deregulation of private enterprise
  • Privatization of many services long provided by government
  • and many other creative and valuable ideas

These ideas for social change all make good sense and have been described and advocated by innumerable scholarly studies.

But those who hold government power in the U.S. are closely divided on these and other questions of liberty. The future of public policy regarding these and other matters which involve liberty is very much up for grabs.

Although the friends of liberty have the new-idea initiative, the left's old policy agenda (more government) still resonates sufficiently to win many public policy battles when promoted by skilled leaders and covered uncritically by the major communications media.

Socialism's Appeal to the Darker Side of Human Nature

The evidence is overwhelming that liberty works, but liberty runs counter to some powerful instincts -- the propensity for groups of a species to band together and to accept individual leaders (often described by biologists as alpha males or matriarchs) and hierarchical arrangements (sometimes referred to as a pecking order within the group).

Certainly human nature includes a desire to tell others what to do, to give orders, as well as a seemingly contradictory tendency to look for and to accept strong leaders who may achieve desirable things. Opponents of liberty freely exploit both traits.

"Something for nothing" is always alluring, and those seeking status as its beneficiaries are easily led to believe something for nothing is their right.

Among the other human characteristics useful to those who want to accumulate and keep power is envy.

In a 1992 trip to Bulgaria, two widely separated Bulgarians told me this story as characteristic of their problem in restoring liberty to their country:

Two poor Bulgarian peasants lived side-by-side. One had a cow. The other found an old lamp on a beach. When he rubbed it, a genie appeared and said, "I will grant you one wish, anything in the world you want."

The peasant replied, "I wish that my neighbor's cow would die."

Human nature includes such desires, a fact well-understood and shamelessly exploited by the opponents of liberty.

Lenin learned ways to achieve social change. He wrote repeatedly that scientific socialism was the key. I do not believe he ever actually defined it, certainly not in his essay, "Scientific Socialism," other than to attack other socialists as "non-scientific." But judging from his writings and his actions, it's fair to define Lenin's "scientific socialism" as the empirical study of how to accumulate and keep power.

Lenin was aptly described by author Eugene Methvin as "the man who harnessed hate." In his newspaper, Iskra, Lenin wrote, "Our task is to utilize every manifestation of discontent, and to gather and turn to the best account every protest, however small... Concentrate all droplets of popular resentment. Combine all these streamlets into a single gigantic torrent."

The Communist Party promised they could eventually deliver freedom, prosperity and high-quality services to everyone. Quite attractive, but all false.

Nevertheless, through skilled use of political technology, communists systematically recruited large numbers of disciplined members, as well as many enthusiastic and dedicated fellow travelers. Communist ideology, and the ideas of many non-communist intellectuals, provided and still provides an attractive rationale and justification for anyone who wishes to increase and centralize government power.

If socialism has collapsed intellectually, then why do so many intellectuals in the prominent communications media have an obvious bias toward big government?

Former Russian Prime Minister Igor Gaidar told Paul Weyrich, "The Soviets spent millions infiltrating your media. Just because the Soviet Union collapsed doesn't mean these people all went away." Not that all or even most proponents of larger, more centralized government were communist agents, but the enormous attractiveness of socialism still gives it dangerous intellectual momentum. A poisonous snake whose back is broken remains deadly for a long time. It still knows how to bite, and it's especially angry.

One reason why journalists are so often hostile to the market is that their pay is generally far lower than they feel is their due. Close to ten times as many people graduate with degrees in print or broadcast journalism each year than the number of journalism jobs available.

Most journalism graduates never get paying jobs in that profession. Those who do succeed in journalism must endure many lean years as they build their reputations. No wonder so many journalists consider the market basically unfair.

Journalism students surely believe they deserve rewards from the outset greater than, say, the lunkhead engineering students, who couldn't even spell well, who sat next to them in freshman English.

And yet graduate engineers have corporate recruiters standing in line to hire them at good salaries. Supply and demand work regarding journalism graduates, but many of them remain bitter about the effect of the market in their chosen career. Never mind that any engineering curriculum is much more demanding than journalism courses.

A similar analysis would apply to academics, except that, unlike journalists, employed professors can force their audience to study their ideas.

Lessons for Friends of Liberty

Those who are friends of liberty can defend and expand freedom through understanding and action. Here I will discuss briefly the following topics: The real nature of politics; preference and intensity; public opinion and public policy; movement and organization; power and influence; the design of government; education and activism; and what is to be done.

The Real Nature of Politics

Being right in the sense of being correct is not sufficient to win. The winner in a political contest is determined over time by the number and effectiveness of the activists on the respective sides.

The number and effectiveness of the activists on a given side is determined by its use of political technology, which includes organizational technology and communications technology.

Most political technology is philosophically neutral, which makes it inherently unattractive to people who are motivated by their philosophy. Nevertheless, you owe it to your philosophy to study how to win. You have a moral obligation to study how to win.

Most scholars who value liberty highly do not fully understand these political realities and are not particularly helpful when it comes to designing successful action to change society.

Academics are as unlikely to come up with a non-academic solution as a stockbroker is to advise a client to purchase real estate as an investment. Most don't understand the subject, and they realize they can't profit when clients invest in it.

Only a rare, superb stockbroker would carefully study the real estate market and other available investments in order to give his client truly complete investment advice.

Preference and Intensity

Despite all the media coverage of public opinion preferences, preferences mean little or nothing. Intensity, not preference, motivates action.

In my political education and training lectures I frequently demonstrate this by asking a class to indicate a preference by show of hands. I say, "If each of you had to choose and eat right now either a good apple or a good orange, how many of you would prefer an apple? Now, how many of you would prefer an orange?"

Having established the class's preference, I ask, "Now if Jimmy, who preferred an orange, were a candidate for public office, how many of you who preferred an apple would vote against Jimmy for that reason?"

The class may include a big majority who prefer apples, but none of them say they'd use Jimmy's preference for oranges as a reason to vote against him.

Many politicians whose polls indicate a wide margin of public preference for more restrictions on private ownership of guns have destroyed their chances of election by advocating increased gun control. It happens that the opponents of gun control are much more intense in their preferences. They say, "You will take my gun only from my cold, dead fingers. God made man, but Winchester made men equal!"

Intensity motivates action. Strongly motivated people tend to take political action. The direction of social change depends on the vector sum of the forces brought to bear on society.

Public Opinion and Public Policy

Public opinion doesn't control public policy, even in a democratic government of limited power. Those inside the different branches of government make public policy.

If public opinion ruled in the United States, there would be more gun control and no compulsory unionism. And thousands of wasteful and damaging government agencies and spending programs would be easy to abolish.

Persuading people to change their opinion, therefore, has little or no effect on public policy, which changes only after the development of intensity and the application of skilled activity to the public policy process.

Movement and Organization

Those who desire to promote liberty effectively often show a longing for a single organizational solution. "There are so many good groups out there looking for my support. Why can't they get together into one organization?"

Without going deeply into the matter, suffice it to say that a movement composed of many organizations which often work together in the public policy process is much more effective for those causes than those groups would be if formally united in one organization.

Public policy groups are often led by one person who serves as an organizational entrepreneur. In a movement, different leaders have different strengths and appeal most effectively to different people, thus involving more people in concerted actions.

A healthy movement is much stronger than any single organization would be, because people can be led to make the same political choice through different paths. The more, different, controversial issues a group undertakes, the smaller its base of voluntary supporters will be. That's counter-intuitive, but certainly true.

Friends of liberty should rejoice that there is, in fact, no vast, right-wing conspiracy. If all good groups were united in one, tightly-led, disciplined organization, that organization would have all the efficiency of the old Soviet economy. Adam's Smith's invisible hand works in changing public policy as well as in creating wealth.

Power and Influence

Power is the ability to make things happen.

Influence is the ability to have one's views at least taken into account by those who have power.

Friends of liberty must not settle for influence. They must strive for and achieve power. That requires political action.

No matter how bright an intellectual may be and no matter how rigorous and conclusive his logic, his ideas will not change society until he or leaders he has persuaded and intensely motivated actually achieve government power through the public policy process.

The Design of Government Matters

In Western civilization, history shows a remarkable correlation between limited government, free markets and protection of private property on the one hand and prosperity on the other. And geographical expansion often accompanies prosperity.

Surely the original, tiny city-state of Rome could not have grown to dominate so much of the known world had its political structure not incorporated so many peculiar impediments to government action:

  • Two chief magistrates, consuls, elected annually, each with the right to veto the decisions of the other
  • Many elected tribunes, each with the right to veto proposed government actions
  • Elected religious leaders with the right to delay and sometimes to prevent government actions
  • Other elected magistrates with tenure and powers independent of the consuls
  • A senate of former magistrates, men of substance and experience who often controlled the resources available to the magistrates.

No wonder the concept of private rights against government power took root in the Roman Republic. No wonder citizenship came to convey valuable rights. No wonder that Romans developed remarkable patriotism for the system which protected those rights.

Adam Smith could have explained why the liberties built into their republican system of government resulted in prosperity for Rome. F.A. Hayek could have explained why the peculiar government structure of the Roman Republic enabled Rome to expand so greatly in competition with the hundreds of other, less limited, governmental systems which surrounded it.

The origins of the Roman Republic's system are largely lost to history, but it's almost as if their founders intended to make it as difficult as possible for the government to do anything. And we know for certain that the Founding Fathers of the United States did their best to structure a government of guaranteed rights, separation of powers and checks and balances to make it very difficult for the American government to act.

In any case, like the United States, the Roman Republic succeeded spectacularly while so many other contemporary systems stagnated or fell.

Similarly, the earlier success of Athens and the subsequent success of the British Empire can, I believe, be traced to the development in Athens and in England of free markets, private property and individual rights against government power.

The Roman Republic lapsed into despotism when the democratic aspects of its constitution, requiring mass assemblies at a single location of those who voted, proved inadequate to govern a rich empire stretching over much of three continents. The inherited republican virtues could not be sustained when there was so much wealth to be looted and those who actually could vote at Roman assemblies were largely poor, easy to buy and small in number relative to the population of the republic's empire.

Athenians lost their empire, their liberties and their prosperity more quickly, largely because the constitution of Athens lacked effective checks and balances and therefore ambitious demagogues frequently set the whole force of the state behind ill-considered, disastrous policies.

Neither Athens nor the Roman Republic ever developed the concept of representative democracy, which appears to be necessary to the preservation of liberty in a democratic republic larger than a small city-state.

Britain, of course, built its tradition of liberty, its prosperity and its empire during the period when it enjoyed its fullest checks and balances among the branches of its government.

Education and Activism

Many years ago, my Leadership Institute accepted a fine intern at the recommendation of someone I didn't know, a friend of liberty in Argentina who happened to be a provincial bureaucrat there. Some years later, I conducted a political training seminar in the bureaucrat's home town.

While there for my seminar, I met the man who had suggested the fine intern to me, and I learned from his insights.

"I have carefully studied what you and your friends are doing," he told me. "I'm doing in Argentina what you do in the United States, creating leaders who will be effective for liberty. But you have it so much easier in the United States than I do here.

"In the United States, your culture contains so many good influences. You have many good books widely available. You have many magazines and newsletters which promote liberty. Many of your religious leaders support economic liberty and the right to property. You have radio and television programs and active organizations which oppose socialism.

"Many parents in your country clearly understand the philosophy of freedom and teach it to their children. You even have some university professors who understand economics.

"In my country, we have almost none of that. Very few good books available, no good periodicals, few if any good professors, no broadcasters who understand liberty and no active groups which support it. The Church in my country is totally dominated now by 'liberation theology,' which at root is Marxism.

"You already have millions of people who think right. I do not. When I find bright young people, I have to do myself the hard work of forming them philosophically. That takes years. Only then can I proceed to teach them how to be effective in promoting liberty here."

He understood clearly what must be done. He worked systematically with the limited resources available to him. And he had the order of leadership training right: first make sure their heads are screwed on right; then teach them how to be effective.

Neither education alone nor activism alone will do. Education alone is feeble. Activism alone is dangerous.

What is to Be Done: How to Achieve Social Change

What's a friend of liberty to do?

We must efficiently apply our time, talent and money to bring about social change.

What's a friend of liberty to do?

Friends of liberty must fight to roll back many aspects of government and against expansions and new concentrations of government power. Absorbing the lessons of history, we must cherish and, where possible, nourish individual rights, separation of powers, and checks and balances in government.

What's a friend of liberty to do?

We must learn to understand human nature, how to persuade others and how public policy is made. And then we must take effective actions to change society.

What To Do Regarding Education

When one considers how to change society, education comes first to mind, especially forming minds to appreciate ordered liberty properly. Without the immense educational investment made already in America by friends of liberty and described by my Argentine friend as "good influences," the cause of liberty would be virtually hopeless here.

Unique in the world, those huge investments have been made voluntarily here for many years and are still being made. They appear even to be growing.

I would never suggest that anyone reduce contributions of time, talent and money to teaching about the philosophy of liberty and how it applies to public policy. But the question arises as to how to direct those investments to have the maximum effect on the country.

Each individual's contributions, even large contributions, constitute only a tiny portion of the total spent for this purpose. Which investments are most productive?

Without leaders there are no followers and no chance of desirable changes in society. Support educational activities most likely to create leaders. And start with the brightest available young adults who can be directed into the most productive activity and potentially lead others for decades.

Youth require heroes. Heroic, successful examples inspire imitators, whose lives can change when they suddenly decide, "That's right!"

Few students can best their professors. Give them solid faith that they know leaders who in debate would make mincemeat of any socialist.

Systematically identify students already receptive to ideas on liberty. This can be achieved in many ways, some more cost-effective than others.

Identify the brightest, most charismatic scholars and leaders for liberty. Consider not only "Are they right?" but also "Are they effective in doing what you want done?" Are they brilliant? Are they persuasive? Are they intellectually attractive? Are they good enough not only to persuade but to motivate others intensely? Disseminate their most dramatic, inspiring and easily read writings and speeches, primarily among youth already inclined to accept their ideas.

One Milton Friedman is worth more than a hundred other free market professors and more than thousands of academic articles read mainly by people who already support liberty.

Youth respond best to personal contact. Arrange for the best advocates and leaders for liberty to appear before student audiences. Sometimes have them debate and devastate proponents of big government. In connection with their public appearances and in special meetings with selected participants, arrange for them to meet personally and at some length with the brightest and most receptive students.

Johnny Appleseed, a real man in Virginia named John Chapman, planted apple seeds and then moved on to plant seeds in other areas. His efforts achieved folklore status but would have had little result had no one bothered to tend the seedlings. Potential leaders for liberty, once they sprout, should be nurtured.

The late Frank Meyer, senior editor of National Review, was earlier a Communist Party intellectual. He once described for me how Communists used their network of academicians to place their people on college faculties. "When a young Communist got a graduate degree," Meyer said, "we could place him in a faculty position somewhere else within a week."

In academia and elsewhere, friends of liberty should support efforts which nurture and empower the very best of the rising generation.

My Leadership Institute, an educational foundation, focuses primarily on teaching philosophically sound people how to be effective in politics, government and the media. In 2000 we trained 3,556 students in 155 training schools of 27 types, with a revenue of over $7 million.

We deliberately leave to others the admittedly harder and longer task of forming people's minds to favor liberty. Numerous good groups do fine work of that type.

In many ways, my Institute serves as the human resources department for many educational groups committed to liberty. But I do give to our brightest students each year hundreds of the most powerful books by Friedman, Hayek, Bastiat and other intellectually captivating friends of liberty. Each of my graduates gets a booklet, "Read to Lead," which encourages them to dig into 25 educational books I recommend and many useful periodicals.

I also take special care to link the Institute's graduates to many good educational organizations. I urge students to contact specific groups. I provide lists of my graduates to good groups which agree to offer them opportunities to enhance their intellectual development, deepen their convictions and inspire them to act.

What to Do Regarding Activism

The proposition that ideas govern is a conceit of many intellectuals. Ideas don't govern. Skills govern. Ideas, at best, have influence.

Education is necessary but, I maintain, not sufficient to bring about social change. That is, education about issues and philosophy, about economics and morality, is not sufficient. Nothing moves unless it's pushed. How to do it is no less important than what to do.

While more of them must constantly be developed, I see no great shortage of people who think right. Too few of them are now leaders determined to take effective action. Here lies a spectacular opportunity for friends of liberty to change society by inspiring and teaching larger numbers of the people who think right to act effectively.

Knowing something doesn't necessarily cause one to act on it.

Political-technology training empowers people. Techniques are tools, as a knife is a tool, with no inherent moral or political content. A knife can serve opposite purposes, depending on the motivation and skill of the person who uses it -- to save a life or commit a murder, to create wealth or destroy property.

Proper training can make talented people powerful and greatly augment the effectiveness of those with even a little inherent talent. That is why I focus my life on efforts to identify, recruit, train and place good people in the public policy process.

More than 300 of my Leadership Institute graduates now work in congressional offices. My Broadcast Journalism School now has 178 graduates known to be working full time in the media, 68 of them in TV news. My field staff has helped local students organize 220 independent campus groups active now in 37 states.

Because I've trained good people for decades, I've seen many students I taught grow in effectiveness and make the winning difference in public policy battles. Because those who hold government power are currently so closely divided, I see greater opportunities than ever before.

Most good ideas are easier to think up than to implement.

Creative friends of liberty often bubble over with good ideas. When they offer public policy advice to those who have actual power, they often discover why it is said that advice is the one free thing nobody takes.

Too rarely do they decide to study how to make things happen and set out to gather the resources of time, talent and money necessary to do the job themselves.

Society changes for the better when committed friends of liberty learn the real nature of politics and how to organize, how to communicate, how to raise money, and how to lead in the public policy process.

Successful efforts inspire imitators who suddenly see: "It works!"

Thousands, tens of thousands of proven techniques are available for study and use by those friends of liberty who conclude, however reluctantly, that being right, in the sense of being correct, isn't sufficient to win.

Proven techniques include many simple but valuable lessons such as which type faces are easiest to read, principles of layout for printed material, how to recruit good candidates, how to handle negative information, meeting dynamics, even techniques regarding name tags used at meetings.

Individually, effective techniques often have only small, incremental effects. But combined they can produce great advantages over the proponents of socialism in battles over who shall hold government power, which bills pass and which are defeated, and which legal principles prevail. Lose enough such battles, and we would suffer massive social changes fatal to liberty.

The recent book, Reagan in His Own Hand, prints photographic reproductions of Ronald Reagan's handwritten copy for many of his radio broadcasts.

Reagan edited his own drafts carefully. Every one of his handwritten edits enhanced the effectiveness of his message. Reagan was a great communicator. As Mark Twain once advised, "The difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug."

How many friends of liberty haven't learned that?

How many friends of liberty have learned how to create and direct emotion as well as our opponents do?

How many friends of liberty know how to work effectively for common purposes with others who disagree on some issues? How does this compare with the skills demonstrated by socialists?

How many friends of liberty make the perfect the enemy of the good by always rejecting incremental gains, insisting on all or nothing? How much would proponents of socialized medicine have achieved if they had rejected all incremental gains?

Teaching skills and tactics is far easier than forming minds. And faster. And cheaper.

If I am right that the winners in public policy contests over time are determined by the number and effectiveness of the activists on the respective sides, then teaching skills to like-minded people should be a high priority for every friend of liberty -- an essential investment which will affect our society for the better in the short term and in the long run.

Friends of liberty already invest heavily in education on issues and philosophy. That's necessary but not sufficient.

What if they spent as much of their resources of time, talent and money (or even 25% as much of their resources) teaching the right people how to take effective action? Society would then move rapidly and decisively in the right direction.

Compared to the amounts spent on teaching good ideas, very little is invested in teaching sound people how to change society. Large contributions for these purposes would dramatically increase the number of skilled activists and leaders.

Although my Leadership Institute is the only educational foundation focussed on finding philosophically sound people and teaching them how to be effective, the task is far greater than any single organization can accomplish.

Friends of liberty should demand that pro-liberty groups they support put new emphasis on teaching practical skills as well as the right ideas -- a request not easily accepted by otherwise brilliant intellectuals who still believe, in their heart of hearts, that victory should fall into their deserving hands like ripe fruit off a tree because their hearts are pure.

I stress that there are already more than sufficient people who hold the right views to defend and expand liberty if they were identified, activated and properly led.erty

The temptation to accumulate and keep power will never be eradicated as was smallpox. This malady is inextricable from human nature. The battle for liberty will never end in total victory. But it could be lost.

All that friends of liberty have achieved could be lost as completely as all the ideas, history and literature lost in the destruction of the Ptolemys' library in Alexandria.

Whether the friends of liberty like it or not, the battle rages, the forces are closely matched and the result is uncertain.

Those who strive to move society in the right direction by increasing the number of effective activists on the right side ask their fellow friends of liberty, as Winston Churchill asked the United States in February, 1941: "Give us the tools, and we will finish the job."