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I am often asked by others if I believe that my political involvement will actually make a difference. Implicit in such a question is a false binary view on what political involvement really means—a view which needs to be addressed and corrected.
I have been politically awake and active for about seven years. I have held positions in a political party, have served on campaigns, have participated in and led organizations, and have engaged in a variety of activities, initiatives, and other political efforts. The realist and/or fatalist folks in the liberty community have, throughout this entire participatory process, looked in on curiosity to determine if I thought I was going to achieve any degree (however infinitesimal) of success.
The false binary view I mentioned earlier believes that success in political involvement means bringing about the ends desired. If I fight for liberty, and the statists press on with their tyranny regardless, then the binary view would consider me a failure.
While actually seeing my ideals implemented would be a fantastic experience, it is not the main benchmark by which I measure the success of my efforts. For example, in my work with Libertas Institute I have been at the Capitol for the past six weeks while the legislature has been in session. I’ve been helping to see good bills get passed, and fighting to see bad ones killed. But despite my efforts, along with the efforts of others in that fight with me, bad bills pass daily, and good bills get diluted or die a quick death completely. If you’re to believe the binary folk, I should throw in the towel and let the statists carry out their plans unopposed.
But I don’t fight the system to change the system. I fight the system to change those within my sphere of influence.
Only the most self-deluded of idealists would believe that anything like a libertarian utopia is within view. My efforts to oppose the state are more educational than institutional; pointing out that the emperor has no clothes helps everybody to realize the same, rather than expecting the emperor to change his behavior because of the outcry.
It has often been said that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. In other words, if we wish to defend and maintain our freedoms, then we must carefully guard against those who would violate them. This vigilance is predicated on being educated enough to know when liberty is being violated, and how. H. Verlan Andersen had this to say on the issue:
One who knows not what his rights are can never know when they are taken and is unable to defend them. He is like a man who believes he owns a piece of ground which his neighbor also claims, but he doesn’t know its boundaries. The neighbor contin- ues to encroach further and further onto land he suspects is his, but since he is never certain where the boundary is, he cannot check the advance. Until he takes a firm position and says: “this far and no further,” there is no line.
Perhaps some day, our efforts to promote liberty in Utah will result in a substantial decrease in tyranny. For now, we fight against the state so people can more easily see its violations of their liberty, and wake up to the “awful situation” in which we currently find ourselves. Having awoken, they can restructure their lives as necessary to prepare for rough times ahead, and then wake up others in their own sphere of influence.
Do I think my political involvement will make a difference? Absolutely. While I see some success in my efforts to effect legislative change, I have witnessed significant success in helping others understand true liberty and realize how, when, and by whose hands it is violated. Ultimately, that is the more important and long-lasting victory I’m interested in pursuing. After all, as the Greek philosopher Epictetus once observed, “Only the educated are free.”