Libertarians need to lie more

J.P. Medved
Feb 24, 2012 at 5:45 PM

It sounds so harsh when you phrase it like that, doesn't it?

But it's true.  The expansion of the libertarian movement, and the future survival of liberty, require that you lie a lot more than you currently do.

And I'm not talking little white lies either.  I'm talking huge, honking, "you're-grounded-for-a-month-mister!" lies.  Lies with elaborate complexity, memorable characters, and inventive subplots.  Lies that even politicians would hesitate to promulgate.

The type of "lies" I'm referring to are, of course, more commonly called stories.  Fiction.  Literature.  Screenplays.  And they are no less truthful for being made up.


Ernest Hemingway put it this way:

All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you.

Storytelling is an extremely powerful way of conveying ideas and philosophies in a convincing manner.

And it is absolutely vital that libertarians do more of it.

What do you mean?  My 50 page economic treatises aren't winning hearts and minds?

Erm, well, in a word, no.

Stories are much more powerful vehicles for persuading others.  

In their seminal business book, Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath explored the elements that allowed ideas to be successful and to have staying power in the minds of others.  

One of these elements, they found, was the importance of story.

Referencing a study from The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the Heath brothers concluded that "attitudes formed by direct experiences are more powerful, and stories give us the feeling of real experience."  In fact, they devote a full chapter (a sixth of the total book) to demonstrating the power of stories to convey ideas in an effective manner.

There's a reason that politicians start speeches with anecdotes, Jesus taught using parables, and Ayn Rand conveyed her ideas most powerfully through fiction.  People are much more likely to comprehend, remember and internalize lessons presented in story form.

For example, are you more likely to remember Hank Rearden's heroic (though fictional) courtroom defense of his right to make a profit in Atlas Shrugged, or a Cato Institute editorial on corporate tax rates?  

Which is more likely to make you sympathize with people in Rearden's position?

Culture, not politics

It is tempting for libertarians to look at the recent success Ron Paul has enjoyed in his presidential primary bid and conclude that the political realm is where they should be focusing all their efforts.  This is a mistake.  Libertarian politicians like Ron Paul are necessary, but not sufficient, for the long term survival of liberty.

Politics are important, and should always be a part of any libertarian movement, but they are not enough on their own.  A person's political beliefs are often the result of their deeper, underlying cultural beliefs.  An 18-year old who's grown up being told by movies, pop stars, and the books they're forced to read in school that businesspeople are bad and greedy, and that the free market is essentially immoral, will be unlikely to vote for someone who promises to cut taxes and regulations for entrepreneurs.

To really reach someone like this (or prevent them from turning statist in the first place) they must be presented with alternative movies, music and books that dramatize the superiority of free people working together voluntarily.  We can only win in the free market of ideas if we step up to compete in the first place.

Ok, So what can I do?

To start, don't write a blog post about Obama's latest outrage, write a parable illustrating the danger of such outrages.

Don't write an editorial about Obamacare's destruction of individual rights, create a novel that shows what happens when people are forced to labor under the type of conditions that Obamacare will create.

Don't rage to your friends about the failure of the war on drugs, make a song that powerfully illustrates your point. (Caution, violent imagery of police brutality below.)

If you have no creative drive or ability, finance someone who does, or seek them out and encourage them by, for instance, holding a creative writing contest at a local middle school.  You could offer that the short story which best dramatizes why free markets are better than state control wins its author $500, for instance.

If you're the entrepreneurial type, start a foundation or publishing company to give scholarships and funding to promising young artists and writers, or start a film festival to show off burgeoning talent in the movement.  If you've got some extra cash you could even buy 500 copies of Matthew Alexander's excellent anarchocapitalist novel, Withur We, and hand them out to your employees or clients (or any number of other books already written by libertarians).  The options are endless.

The battle for our future is not only being fought in the courts, the Senate floor or the voting booths -- it is also fought in the bookstores, the movie theaters and the record labels.  

Perhaps it's time you joined it.

Good article! If anyone out there does indeed wish to purchase 500 copies of Withur We, or even ten, contact me through my website and I can ship them to you at cost.

's picture

in a few less words- that we need libertarian Micheal Moores. You are absolutely right, not only do we need to tell stories, we have to tell them in ways that provoke emotions of empathy and outrage.

Eric Sharp. ETF's picture

Hi,  J.P., I came across your post a bit late via Matthew Alexander's Withur We fan page on Facebook. I agree with you wholeheartedly.

You and your readers may be interested in a website I founded and edit and to which Matthew also contributes.

I created Prometheus Unbound: A Libertarian Review of Fictin and Literature to promote libertarian themes in fiction and to encourage more libertarians to create more and better stories.

We publish news and reviews/criticism as well as other special features. And we have community forums, including some devoted to writers.

You're welcome to pay us a visit. We're always looking for more readers and contributors.

's picture


Thanks!  I'm actually aware of Promethus Unbound (I think you linked to a post of mine a while back about free libertarian novels).  Would definitely love to do more with you all, especially in the vein of creating some libertarian writing groups to help foster better writing as authors develop their stories.  I'll reach out over email!

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