A neighbor of mine recently referred to a well-known, local thief and conman as a "quite a radical." He was implying approval of the man's politics, suggesting that he was unconventional and pro-liberty in some vague sense.
I replied, "Of course he's radical. He's a thief. Thieves by definition are fundamentally radically at odds with the values of the community, especially those values regarding property rights and the enforcement of contract law."
The liberty movement is composed of "radicals." These radicals are at odds with the values of their community. Some of them want liberty; that is, protection of their individual rights. Others want to take liberties with other people's rights and be able to get away with it.
The reasons for people being disgruntled with the values of their community can range from rational to irrational ... to psychologically disturbed.
This is what makes the liberty movement a rag-tag bunch. They are, in individually unique fashion, out-of-step with their fellows. Some of these people are seeking political freedom, as a value for themselves and their community. These people may not have any particular personal ax to grind with their communities. They are seeking to establish political liberty, not just freedom for themselves, and not just to protect themselves, but as a political foundation for the whole social context. They see liberty as a value that serves everyone's interests, mutually.
Others are seeking the freedom to indulge in socially verboten activities. They may have detoured from formal protest against the criminalization of activities that have nothing to do with individual rights, but they often get stuck on a particular issue, such as drugs, prostitution, or homosexual marriage. They may be champions of the repeal of "victimless crime" laws in general, or they may be focused, for personal reasons, on a single issue. Through the popular successes of these single issue campaigns, they may believe that this is the best way to move the general agenda of liberty forward. Or, where it is a personal issue, they may jump onto the liberty movement as a way for moving their agenda forward, without much understanding of political liberty. They don't necessarily want to change the political framework to liberty, they just want to legalize a few things.
Another category of liberty activists jump on the liberty bandwagon in order to advocate less efficiency in criminal law. Their target is government enforcement of law, whether the law is just or unjust.
In an age of government storm-troopers violating the rights of individuals left and right, we all have cause to be repulsed by government enforcement agencies and to be skeptical of their goals. The "efficiency of tyranny" is clearly not in our best interests. Similarly, where the courts are corrupt and miscarry justice on a regular basis, we have cause to vilify the court system. This rationale for opposition applies to every branch of a corrupted government machinery, from education to prisons. It is a common cause against the onslaught of tyranny.
But, whereas it is anti-tyranny, it is not necessarily pro-liberty.
The people fighting against tyranny and corruption in our present political framework are not necessarily champions of political liberty. Their agenda may be compatible with the broader goals of a platform for political liberty in some vague, coincidental fashion. They are often focused on a particular issue, usually a matter of personal grievance. They see the liberty movement as a tool to help them further their agenda, even though the issue may be marginal or irrelevant to furthering actual political liberty.
They do not necessarily "hijack" the liberty movement intentionally. They just "borrow" it for a while.
In subtle fashion, these "radicals," by their minimal comprehension of political liberty, derail the liberty movement into squabbles and fist-fights, protests and court cases, and rants and wails. They redirect and squander enormous amounts of energy in these pursuits, and they pull this energy from people who do understand liberty, want it as a whole, and are trying to find a way to gain that value in the present context.
It is a "misappropriation of funds and energies" that is caused by the "numbers" priority of conventionally organized movements. By refusing to stand firmly on principle, lest they alienate some disgruntled victim of a tyrannical system, the platform of the liberty movement is "all over the board," and essentially meaningless. It tries to be all things to all people. It also promotes itself to the collectivist, authoritarian values of the majority in direct contradiction to the principles of liberty and pretends that there is no conflict, possibly even between tyranny and liberty.
This is not a simple error in judgment.
There is something odd in being pro-liberty and living in America.
While one of the least free countries in the modern world, Americans think they are living in a "land of liberty." Their grade-school comprehension of liberty is mythological. Mention "liberty" or "freedom" and millions of Americans will automatically say they support such things, but they don't comprehend the terms politically or philosophically, only culturally usually with a very contrary meaning.
When I publish books of political liberty in the United States of America, it is an odd sensation to market "liberty" to people for whom the word signifies conventional domination political forms. It is odd because the meaning of the term has been hijacked, and the philosophy behind liberty obliterated, and replaced by its opposite.
It is a sensation that does not encourage one to stand up and exhort the true values of liberty, ethics, individualism or responsibility, but a feeling that one has wandered into the same old progressive-style kindergarten, and one keeps a low profile until one can escape and get back to a clean, clear and sane reality one that contains no Americans. It is not that one enjoys being alone, but one eschews being contaminated by the collectivist values that others impose as the price of association. With this kind of a choice, the lonely road is often the only human choice possible the other road is a kind of slow suicide.
The need for human companionship reoccurs throughout life. As long as one is alive and human, one retains the hope of human contact even if only of a "third kind." One also retains a healthy, benevolent sense of treating others well and wishing good things for them ... and a desire to give people the benefit of the doubt, and to, respectfully, lend a helpful hand here and there.
When one hears news of a special conference for people promoting liberty, or individualism, or ethics, or some particular sort of thing that one would assume could only be conceived and advocated by sane human beings something that is truly, radically, on-target for the species one is intrigued and enticed. Driven by a need for human contact, but with jaded expectations, one goes and again opens one's mind to the possibility that this event will really be about liberty (or whatever), and that one will surely meet at least some sane human beings. But if they are there, they are as mystified by the gathering as oneself and, often, as tongue-tied.
Falling back on one's social skills, one talks to the participants in a friendly, sociable way, and learns about flying saucers, alien reptiles, clairvoyant cats, conspiracies galore, magic health pills, and an assortment of offbeat but similarly unsane and desperate personal values, agendas and ambitions.
In frustration, one is tempted, as many do, to turn to fiction, for fantastical accounts of individualism, liberty, honor, ethics, and human dignity, but one knows this is an anodyne, a drug, an escape, and an addiction that erodes one's sense of reality, and one's sense of personal dignity ... and that people live through such dazed visions instead of living it themselves. The fantasy process induces irresponsibility, stupor, and corrupts their values into fluid, feel-good, range-of-the-moment perversions. So, one keeps clear of that drugged road, and clear of contact with the cultural zombies, and believes nothing when one hears of a philosophy of individualism, or liberty, or ethics, or honor ... because one knows, in this context, it is almost certain to be bogus.
Those who are advocating such a thing are too often trying to make a buck off the rare individualist, while simultaneous endeavoring to collectivize such people, and to eclipse the possibility of individualism. The lesson comes, with increasing frequency, that any advocacy of such values as individualism, liberty, responsibility, rationality, education, nutrition, health, or virtually any healthy alternative ends up being a scam, a lie, and a deceit. Many people know this, expect it, and accept it, mostly because they have no experience with healthy human interaction. Instead, they dabble in this and that, becoming the perfect realization of Socrates' "Democratic Man":
".... he lives from day to day indulging the appetite of the hour; and sometimes he is lapped in drink and strains of the flute; then he becomes a water-drinker, and tries to get thin; then he takes a turn at gymnastics; sometimes idling and neglecting everything, then once more living the life of a philosopher; often he is busy with politics, and starts to his feet and says and does whatever comes into his head; and, if he is emulous of any one who is a warrior, off he is in that direction, or of men of business, once more in that. His life has neither law nor order; and this distracted existence he terms joy and bliss and freedom; and so he goes on."
This is the "stuff" out of which Socrates predicted "tyranny springs," and our political condition is proving him correct. (No surprise there: philosophers understand how things work.) The rabble, thusly described, are not worth considering further. Instead, I would like to address the principled individualists who are made that way and "can't help it."
You go to a convention of "individualists" and discover that they are all collectivists-at-heart. True individualists are not only discouraged, they are mystified here are all these people using individualist buzz-words, but not grasping the concept.
Some individualists walk out. Others too many others believe that these people, who are saying the right things, must know more about individualism than he does, so he stays and tries to wrap his mind around the actuality of collectivized individualism. At some point, he wanders off, disillusioned, and no longer able to believe that individualism is a viable goal or reality. He may remain a defacto individualist, and thus remain outside the collective, for all of his life, but he learns, repeatedly, that other people are somehow not capable of individualism.
One comes away from such experiences feeling that one has no peers, perhaps even that one has nothing in common with this species. Every value that you could name, from freedom, to ethics, to health, means something different nearly the opposite when reframed by authority-worshipping collectivists. It is a different value-language. Human communication is not possible with drugged zombies. Attempting it is not recommended, except as a means of self-flagellation.
And so, do you become bitter, angry, withdrawn, and/or raw? Well, not necessarily. I guess if you thought that was all there was, you might ... and, if so, the next stage would be to become spiteful, hurtful, deceitful and just like everyone else (and become absorbed into the collective). But if you had lived for a time with human beings, elsewhere perhaps, you would probably remain open, cheerful, ready to smile, and to be friendly. To protect yourself from corruption, you may become wary, cynical, and observant. But this "protection" does not protect you from giving people the benefit of the doubt, and getting stung. It only protects you from being internally corrupted by the experience.
Giving these people the benefit of the doubt will get old, after a period, but it is the only way that you can retain your humanity ... and that's the reason you do it. Yes, you will be cheated and ripped-off, repeatedly, because you won't "get with the program," but you can experience this, take it in stride, and remain essentially clear of it. "Bloodied, but unbowed."
You would like human contact, but the failure to get it does not sucker-you-in to lowering your standards and becoming less human yourself in order to get contact that has a semblance of humanity, but isn't.
Faking reality won't get you what you want. Remain sane, ethical and decent and minimize enforced human association. The alternative becoming a collectivist, like others will not result in human contact; it will result in contact with other subhumans.