Libertarians, classical liberals, whatever you choose to call us accept that others differ in their lifestyles and opinions. Whether we approve of their choices or not, we respect their right to make them. Unless that is, and until (and to the precise extent), they impede those of others. So why do so many of us come over as harsh, inflexible and rude? Why do we play into the hands of our political foes who love to depict us - with no shred of justification - as misanthropic?
Socialists and other statists are of course annoying. They accept no limits to their claim to tell others how to live. Living under the tyranny of their thought, as we do, it's not surprising that we bridle at their constant hectoring interference in every aspect of our life. But if we resort to angry condemnation, abuse or even the witty swear blogging that many have come to identify us with, perhaps we are missing a trick?
When your child is a child you embrace, protect and defend him. You shield him from all threats. It's a wonderful, satisfying time but its true goal is to get that child to the point where he no longer needs it. The true test of parental love is not the fierceness of the protection, but the trust to let it go when it's no longer needed. Statists say we do not care for our fellow man because we resist their use of state violence to protect him from himself. In fact we love him enough to let him live - and screw up - in his own way.
Reading statist newspapers and blogs every day what strikes me hardest is how very rude these people are. The sneering, carping, superior tone of The Guardian is particularly offensive and upsetting. Statists' contempt for other views is boundless in its ferocity. They do not descend to name-calling when their patience runs out. Oh no, it is their first and often only resort. Great swathes of the country think "f******g Tory c**t" is an unanswerable political argument. The notion of dancing (or worse) on the grave of a dead opponent when a frail old lady dies is seen as "right on" humour. Firmly in the Nye Bevan tradition of regarding those who argue peaceably for a different political view as "vermin", these are not only misguided but deeply unpleasant people. They are the political descendants of the witch-burning puritans of old.
If we fight fire with fire however we do our cause no favours. Consider affable, dishevelled Boris, for example. Hanging laughably from a stuck zip wire he is able, as the unloved boy David ruefully observed, to do well from it. Is it perhaps because he does not stand on his dignity or bemoan his plight but chats affably with his amused onlookers, even as they film the makings of numerous YouTube pisstakes? The man's invincible because he displays no obvious killer instinct. He appears to pose no threat. And when he criticises an opponent's view he is taken all the more seriously because he does not attack for attack's sake. He is every bit as posh, rich and privileged as Dave or Gideon, but he is loved. They are obviously Macchiavelli's children and are not.
More widely-read libertarian bloggers may say, with some cause, politeness is not working for you, Tom, why should we try it? But they, like me, are mostly preaching to a choir as small as it is tuneful. If we want to reach Boris's audience, maybe we should all take a leaf from his songbook? In the end, our argument is based on loving and trusting our fellow-men. We except only those who use force and fraud to deny others the fruits of their labours or their civil rights. Socialists on the other hand propound a hate and envy based ideology (National Socialists hating whole races and International Socialists hating whole classes). It shows on their clenched and angry features and in the shrill keening of their discourse. Why distract from such helpful self-condemnation? Brits instinctively distrust fanatics. Can we not let that work in our favour?
We "real liberals" judge others solely on the content of their characters as evidenced by their behaviours. We seek individual justice, not social justice. We hold people accountable for their acts and omissions, not for being part of a group they didnt choose to join or for having gone to a school they had no part in selecting. Not for us then mass condemnation by class, race or sex. So can we perhaps accentuate the unpleasant fanaticism of our statist, authoritarian opponents by differentiating ourselves - not just by our arguments - but the way we present them?