One problem with communicating the message of freedom is that Americans don’t even know what freedom is. Ask an American and you will hear any number of rambling answers that approach the general area but are so different from each other that conversation on any level approaching civility seems to require a definition of terms. And then almost always an argument about whose definition is correct.
This was recently made more clear to me as I discussed speech rights with a young man from Austria a few nights ago. We were discussing how Europeans see Americans and how that vision differs from how we see ourselves. In the conversation he said that Europeans are “as free as Americans”.
“No, says I” I interjected. I asked him if people could be arrested for a Nazi salute in Austria (I have no idea personally except that the young man I’m talking about told me that it is true). He said yes and I said that in America the vast majority would find it in poor taste but that it is not illegal. He seemed incredulous. We discussed gun laws and some other things that constituted activities or possessions that are illegal in Europe but legal here. We discussed social programs that provide “free” services in Europe but that are contentious political issues here. The ACA for example. I pointed out that most people in America are not against the services being provided in some way, just not by forcing people to pay for them though taxation. America was founded by a tax revolt, after all.
I could see the gears spinning in his head. He got it, superficially at the very least. But he still contended that Europeans were just as free as Americans.
Fighting back the urge to launch into a dissertation, I allowed the conversation to move on to other things, but it has been on my mind since then. Nagging me. How can he think Europeans are as free as Americans if they can’t do the same things, have the same things or keep as much of their income as we can? Clearly they aren’t as free as we are.
Here’s the thing: his definition of freedom is different than mine. And his definition for freedom is very similar to what just about all American non-libertarians apply to freedom.
I’ll get into those definitions in another post. But for now I submit that a big part of the lack of civility in political discourse is caused by people who can’t resolve how stupid, or how evil someone on “the other side” must be if they can’t clearly see that our argument is the only moral one. There is no reason to be rational with a sociopath, after all. Those people just need to be beat down. It’s the only language they understand.
So I’m going to devote some time and mental energy toward ways we liberty advocates can communicate ideas about liberty to people who bring different definitions to the words we are using. Words like violence, coercion, the State, and liberty. Most people in the liberty movement share common definitions for these words. People outside the movement don’t, and we need to do something about it if we are going to spread the message. The world needs it.
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