Peter Cresswell
Peter Cresswell

A Spoonful of Principle Makes the Revolution Fire

(This article is the reply to Matt McInnes' piece Pragmatism vs Isolation.)

"Clearly, if there has been a revolution, it hasn't been inside people's heads."

Lindsay Perigo, commenting in 1997 on the failure of the Douglas/Richardson reforms.

There are two kinds of politician: the opportunist who panders to popular opinion, however low rent, & the principled activist who proselytises to change public opinion. The opportunist versus the man of principle.

The latter is best represented in the current parliament by the Greens, who ran on a campaign of small expense & big (but wrong) ideas, & won. The ultimate opportunist is Winston Peters, who again stumped the country bearing false promises to loud applause from the congenitally senile.

A much more tragic variant of the opportunist is Mr McInnes - tragic, because his rank opportunism sells out the very future he purports to want. He eloquently portrays those who want freedom, don't really understand it, & consequently apologise for wanting it. They don't yet know enough to stand on principle.

The opportunist seeks instead to trick people into agreement - he favours dishonesty. McInnes thinks people should be tricked into freedom. "Having one or more Members of Parliament is an enormous advantage in championing a cause," he says, "& it is certainly possible to change your position once you are there." Wow! And what do you say to those who voted for your former position? "Sorry?" "Changed my mind?"

This mendacity has turned off voters by the truckload from the luminaries McInnes supports – politicians who said one thing, & then did another. It is this very mendacity, more than any other thing, that has turned people off free-market reforms.

But does the opportunist himself ever truly know what his real goals are? He never openly espouses them, so how can we know he holds them? While Douglas and Richardson were reforming, for example, we saw the total tax-take rise to a higher percentage of GDP than ever before, & the nationalisation of private property under the RMA. We saw them advocate – & they still do - compulsory superannuation, compulsory health insurance, & a crack down on the cash economy. And we should make common cause with these people? Galt save us!

I put it to you bluntly, that if you 're too scared to openly argue for the merits of your goals - & would rather fudge them - then you neither believe in your purported goals, & nor do you understand them - and after all, if you're too embarrassed to hold your ideas openly, then why the hell should anyone else give them any credence?

Such questions never bother the opportunist, because their primary goal is political power – "having one or more Members of Parliament." As to what they do once elected, just look at the achievements Act has on the board since being in parliament: precisely zero.

Mr McInnes thinks we share common goals. I disagree. He says: "A 7% taste of freedom is better than a 0.3% dream of it." I suggest he check to see what tangible freedom that 7% has brought. Let me tell you again: Nothing! Not one thing! By contrast, getting rid of the NaZis on Air Tax is just one thing that the 0.3% Libz have already achieved by intelligent activism - that alone is more than the 7% parliamentarians have achieved in four years. And it is just a beginning.

The essence of practical politics must surely be to expand the market share for your ideas. Let me tell you now, that unless you seek to change minds you will never expand your market share beyond those who already agree with you. That is what Act is now finding so difficult.

Because in order to be heard you must have something to say; in order to change minds you need fundamental principles to promote. Act has none.

Their principles are sound, sure enough: "That individuals are the rightful owners of their own lives and therefore have inherent freedoms and responsibilities That the proper purpose of government is to protect such freedoms and not to assume such responsibilities." Sadly, they were not written by Act luminaries, but by Libertarianz founder Ian Fraser shortly before he left Act in disgust. Ian understood what freedom was about, and is living it. Act do not, & have not. It is telling that McInnes argues for concrete goals, & yet he never once gives us a concrete example of freedom. Does he know what freedom looks like, or feels like? Does Act?

Writing in The Free Radical, Nathaniel Branden observed:

"One of the great problems of our world, & the ultimate difficulty in fighting for a libertarian society, is the complete lack of fit between the values that actually support & nurture human life & well-being, & the things that people are taught to think of as noble or moral or admirable. The calamity of our time & all times past is the complete lack of congruence between the values that, in fact, most serve life & the values we are taught to esteem most. So long as that lack of congruence exists, the battle for freedom can never be permanently won.

People have not only material needs, they have psychological needs, they have spiritual needs. & it is the spiritual needs that will have the last word. Until the libertarian vision is understood as a spiritual quest & not merely an economic quest, it will continue to face the kind of misunderstandings & adversaries it faces today."

McInnes argues "that a small increase in freedom is better than a large idea that fails to gain traction." True. But it is only large ideas that give freedom traction – without ideas, no increase in freedom will ever stick. Without the backstop of principle, pragmatist reform programmes will always be hostage to yet another "breather & a cup of tea." He says: "The reality is that without popular public support, ideas will never become mainstream." The reality is that the real task is to gain public support for your ideas." To make freedom stick you must change people's ideas; you must proselytise for the ideas that underpin human liberty – reason, individualism, love of life - & not pander to the anti-human values that most New Zealanders have imbibed with their mother's milk.

For in the end it is precisely the large ideas that do historically get traction, & the small ones that wither away. (Just ask the ghost of Karl Marx.) It doesn't happen overnight, but it does happen - & once an idea does stick, there is no stopping it.

Make no mistake, there is no idea bigger, or more important for the survival of this planet, than the liberty of the human individual; the idea that you own your own life & are accountable to no one but yourself. When you understand that, you will understand, as Kipling said: 'that mine is the Earth & everything that's in it, & – which is more – you'll be a Man my son!"

And never doubt this one thing: it does not matter a damn how many Libertarianz ever get into parliament, just as long as our ideas get there! And they will. Never doubt it!

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