Earlier editions of the ZGBlog (eg here) have deplored the pessimism found in some alleged anarchists, who moan that it's too hard to persuade people to reject government, and then give up. Now that Robert Higgs of the Independent Institute has published his short piece in Everything Voluntary entitled "Does Everyone Want to Live in a Free Society?" it is, alas, time to revisit the subject.
The answer he offers is No, amplified in its lead sentence: "Of all the mistaken ideas libertarians hold about their fellow man, the most fundamental is the idea that nearly everyone wants to live in a free society." The article succinctly proves his point; and he's quite right; most people don't. He says that migrants generally come here to seek fortunes, not to seek liberty.
Higgs leaves it there, for others to chew on, and I don't know whether he does that in order to shake libertarians up to take action to change things, or to draw a line under the movement before sadly resigning from a hopeless cause. I suspect it may be the former, but here will assume the latter- that he has become a card-carrying pessimist - and try to refute his position.
I'm in a fairly good position to do so, because I'm an immigrant and remember my motives quite well. Back in the 1970s I was living and working in the UK, and had never heard the word "libertarian." I had heard of anarchists, but supposed they all looked ugly and carried spherical bombs. However I had two motives for wishing to cross the Atlantic: I wanted more economic opportunity, and I wanted more freedom. Both.
In my perception then, I foresaw that my reasonably successful career might prosper further over time, but that if so most of its fruits would be stolen. It made no sense to me to suffer the ravages of the UK government, when tax rates over here were notably lower and opportunities greater; in the US I knew there was a more relaxed and positive attitude to work and a tradition that limited what government could do. Therefore, I did hope to move to a society that was more free as well as more prosperous. Perhaps I was unusual in that way, but I doubt it. Nothing in my very conventional education had pointed me towards anarchism even vaguely.
But, allow even so that Higgs is not far wrong: presently, in general, people do not want to be free; they are afraid of the associated responsibility. They covet security, even at the price of liberty.
We can sit and despise that, or we can get up and do something to change it.
To begin to change it we need to know why such a precious state as freedom is not in demand, and there are several reasons evident: people are generally not imposed upon too heavily (when they are, as slaves were prior to 1865, there was no doubt at all that they wanted FREEDOM more than anything!) and have been taught (brainwashed, I'd say) into thinking government looks after them and furnishes security at a very small cost, and cannot imagine that if it were terminated, they would be better off in any way. Such is the result of government control of schooling, "higher education" and media.
So the first thing needed is to stir up that imagination so that freedom becomes properly visible; and a hat-tip here is due to Stormy Mon, whose Imagine Freedom site offers a major stir, and was the first influence that got me thinking about writing A Vision of Liberty. Then that book of mine has the express purpose of describing what a free society will probably be like, and hence to get the juices flowing.
How can any one possibly know whether he "wants to live in a free society" until he has some fair understanding of what a free society will be like? Robert Higgs's assertion may be quite true, but nobody can "want" something until he knows that it exists, or could exist, and roughly what it's like. How many "wanted" a television in 1925? How many "wanted" a PC before 1980? How many "wanted" a smart phone before 2000? Who "wanted" Facebook before 2004?
So the very first step is to create the demand, describe the opportunity. Prior to that, to assert that nobody wants to live in a free society is a virtual truism; it cannot be other than true, because nobody (or very few) has any idea that a free society could work, and work very much to his benefit. I wrote the Liberty Trilogy in that order: first Vision, then Transition (how the change will likely happen) and thirdly Denial; yet logically and academically, Denial should have come first (the problem) then Transition (the re-forming) and lastly Vision (the outcome.) But I wasn't writing for academics, I was writing as a salesman. First you need to understand the Unique Sales Advantages, the USA, then you need to see how they can be obtained, and lastly reflect on how urgently they are needed. Perhaps my sales training in IBM was not entirely wasted.
Forty years ago one of the things I admired about American work habits was the "get up and go" attitude that was common on this side of the ocean; problems were seen as opportunities, or hindrances to be removed or gotten around, rather than as excuses to lie down and bleat. Today, sadly, a problem is often called an "issue" and more commonly stroked than dynamited.
As well as my own Vision book there are, happily, many other ways our dumbed-down neighbors can learn what freedom is about. Some of the books are in the Book Store here; for example The Market for Liberty, and David Friedman's The Machinery of Freedom. A favorite of mine is Larken Rose's The Most Dangerous Superstition. For a single-page introduction there is also the Benefits Page of TOLFA; potential students are encouraged to review the benefits and costs of engaging in that interactive study program, to help evaluation. But all of these resources need to be brought to the prospect's attention; there is zero hope that any of them will be placed on a government school reading list. That's where you come in.
They all show, in different ways, that the dichotomy between freedom and security is a false one. Today, the usual belief is that we're safe in the hands of a benevolent Uncle; hog wash. That "security" is shallow, not secure at all. For example, which is more secure: a pension paid at the discretion of Congress, or one paid under the terms of a freely negotiated contract? Which is more secure: money that retains or even increases its value over a long period of saving (as it did when gold was the standard) or money whose value falls at a rate chosen by political whim? Which is more secure: protection from airborne terrorists by fallible scrutiny of everyone's luggage and body, or the protection that comes from the absence of terrorists with a grudge against US government foreign policy? Which is more secure: having so large a military force that "we" shall probably win the next war, or not having a war at all?
You can probably add many other similar examples. Please do, and convey them to friends who suppose that government reduces, rather than increases, the hazards of life.