Some libertarians have a tendency to latch on to any story that questions the mainstream narrative. This is a risky gambit; for every heterodox view that is correct, there are a thousand that are false. Whether it’s the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Covid, or even Jan 6, we should not promote false narratives even if we like the implications of those narratives.
The message of liberty is too important to be diluted with lies. When we propagate false narratives that appear to help us achieve our goals, we are little better than those who peddle outright lies to sell their own agenda.
It is understandable to want to break people of their habit of believing everything they are told. But it does not grow the liberty movement to discard our credibility by pushing any crackpot theory we encounter that makes the government look bad.
False narratives damage our pro-liberty arguments
Lies are the tool of authoritarians, and cannot be turned to the purposes of liberty. Liberty requires that individuals be free to make decisions based on the information they have, and if we try to get people to make decisions with false information, we will only ever serve the purposes of authoritarians. Liberty cannot be sold with lies, it can only be sold with the truth.
Our arguments should be trying to get people to look at the world through an authoritarian vs liberty lens. A libertarian society would require a great deal of trust in each other, and all authoritarian societies always end up with, if not also begin with, a great deal of mistrust. Without trust, people are far more likely to believe that others should be controlled. So when we use a false narrative, we ultimately play into the hands of the authoritarians.
For example, we do not strengthen arguments for liberty if we say that Russia isn’t to blame for its invasion of Ukraine, we weaken them. There are legitimate ways we can criticize the U.S. support for Ukraine, i.e. corruption, use of taxpayer funds, risk of escalation, etc. But Russia is clearly the invader, and when we make excuses for them, we also excuse an invasion and ultimately the destruction of Ukrainian lives and property rights.
We must stick to liberty and reject reactionaryism
Covid conspiracies also distract from the pro-liberty arguments we have to make. The vaccine is a truly incredible marvel of medicine, and many people were better off with it than without it. But by caving to conspiratorial theories that have nothing to do with authoritarian vs libertarianism, we weaken our legitimate criticisms of Covid authoritarianism. The good arguments that the government should not be forcing anyone to take the vaccine or require the vaccine for travel are weakened when we waste time on easily disproved conspiracy theories.
Jan. 6 provides an example of two false mainstream narratives: it was neither a full-scale insurrection nor a harmless event. It was not a realistic attempt to overturn an election, but it was still an attempt nonetheless. We should neither overstate its danger to our republic, nor understate it.
The danger of Jan. 6 was not that the 2020 election was in any danger of being overturned, but that it may encourage a future mob to decide it can, or even should, try to seriously overturn an election. We cannot afford to normalize violence as a response to not getting what you want from the democratic process.
Reactionaryism doesn’t move us towards a pro-liberty mindset, it merely moves us against the current thing. And simply being “anti-current-thing” is little different in its results than being “pro-current-thing”. What libertarians should be for or against has little to do with what is popular or unpopular, but whether it is for liberty or against liberty. That is the lens that we should always seek to present the world through. That lens leads to liberty.
It is an understandable impulse to want to “red pill” people, but using lies to do so will only serve to eventually “red pill” them against us. We do nothing but harm our own positions when we promote false narratives to support them. Let our positions stand the test of any narrative, at any time, at any place.
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This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.