Here’s something I wrote some time ago that might be of help.
So, you’ve discovered the joys of liberty. You’ve started reading and listening to Rothbard and Rand and Mises and Barnett and Kinsella and Molyneux and dozens of other thrilling writers and YouTubers. You’ve found your way to the treasure sites of the Internet—the Mises Institute, Cato and others. You talk to other like-minded people.
But what about everyone else?
Are you filled with an evangelical passion to spread the good news of liberty? If so, how do you go about it?
If someone shows a polite interest in the subject, do you talk him to death? Flood them with more information than a library could hold? Do you buttonhole total strangers who’ve never done you any harm and talk at them? Do you become angry when your listeners fail to be convinced by your brilliant arguments? Do you wait impatiently for others to stop talking before resuming your monologue?
There are so many ways to go wrong in preaching the gospel of liberty that it can be useful to learn from the experience of others. There is no experience so cheap as that of other people.
Michael Cloud has written a number of books on what he calls ‘Libertarian Persuasion’ and I’m going to cherry-pick and adapt some of the ideas from his books that I have found most useful. [Michael Cloud, Secrets of Libertarian Persuasion, Cartersville, GA: Advocates for Self-government, 2004]
Remember, you’re speaking to people, not machines. Your aim is to persuade them of the truth of what you say not to beat them into intellectual submission. So, talk by all means, but listen, really listen. You’re having a conversation, not giving a lecture. St Francis is reported to have said, “ I preach constantly—sometimes, I use words!” It’s no use winning an argument if you lose the person.
The most important element in your evangelical efforts is you. If people believe IN you, they’ll be willing to believe you. If they don’t believe IN you—because you’re insensitive, crass, rude, impatient, unwilling to listen, offensive—they won’t believe a single word you say and, instead of adding another liberty lover to our efforts, you’ll have made things worse.
Let’s say the person you’re talking to brings up an objection. You respond immediately and without pause: ”That’s just the usual X argument which has been conclusively shown to be nonsense.” Good job, Einstein. You’ve managed to insult your soon-to-be-leaving-for-an-urgent-appointment interlocutor. No matter how many times you may have heard this objection, treat it with respect. Failure to do so is to treat the other person disrespectfully. Try pausing for a moment and then saying, “Yes, that’s a good point. If your objection could be met, would that make libertarianism more appealing to you?” On the off chance that your listener asks a question that you can’t immediately answer, do you dodge around and pretend as if you know or do you come right out and say “That’s a really good question. I’ll have to think about that and get back to you. Would you be interested in continuing the conversation then?”
One thing that people often do when they feel that they’re being browbeaten into a certain position is to resist. So, how about getting them to persuade themselves! Ask, “What one thing more than anything else does Government do that it shouldn’t do at all” or “What does Government do that would be better done by individuals or groups?” Now you’re starting from where your listener is, not from where you’d like him to be. The danger of being disrespectful is greatly lessened. And your listener will be far better convinced by his own ideas than by yours.
Libertarians are so passionate against so many things that we run the risk of being taken to be naysayers. We also defend ourselves by saying what it is we’re not in favour of.
The message we need to get across is what we are for—We want little or no government so that people can take personal responsibility for themselves, their families, and their communities. We think that all human dealings should be voluntary. We believe that people should be free if they choose to care for those less fortunate than themselves.
Suppose that you are successful in persuading your listeners of some libertarian point. Congratulations! Now what? If they wander off, the power of the dominant non-libertarian environment will soon dissipate any effect your words might have had on them. After persuasion, comes action. Get them to agree to do something—buy a book, read an article, go online at Mises.com, return to continue the conversation with you. Anything, as long as they commit to doing something.
However persuaded you are of the truth of certain positions—pro-choice or pro-life, the validity or stupidity of religious belief, the evils of social welfare—don’t risk losing your audience by getting in their faces by crassly asserting your beliefs. Some topics are the libertarian equivalent of demilitarized zones on either side of which are your fellow libertarians. Instead, find out what your listeners think and work back from there.
In summary, these are just a few of the many things to bear in mind when spreading the good news of liberty:
• Persuade people—don’t win arguments
• Respect your listeners
• Try getting your interlocutor to persuade himself by switching sides
• Be positive FOR liberty
• Get your listeners to agree to DO something.