As I read this long but interesting essay on arguments for and against religious persecution in history, I flashed back to my college and post-college gamer days, specifically a running gag I had with a friend. In the Dungeons and Dragons milieu, clerical characters were not permitted to use edged weapons against their foes, monster and otherwise (presumably because the spilling of blood was a no-no). Thus, they were relegated to clubs, maces, staves, and other blunt weapons.

The joke lay in the clubbing one’s foes into submission while chanting “you WILL believe!” at them.

I was reminded of that joke as I read this quote from St. Augustine (in his early years – he changed his tune later on, to much harm and detriment):

No one can or ought to be constrained to believe. The mind cannot be forced to believe a doctrine; only arguments, evidence, or internal events (such as a flash of inspiration) can cause us to believe something, so coercion is useless in matters of religion.

The parallels with today’s social justice movement are obvious to anyone who isn’t too immersed in it to see the reality.

And, the mutation of the George Floyd protests into support for violence and anarchy tells us that the movement is losing its moral standing.

Libertarians have been thumping, for decades, the issues that have suddenly become de mode: over-policing, qualified immunity, militarization, too many laws, prosecution and persecution for victimless crimes, treating the poor as a revenue source, and the “blue wall” that shields bad cops and fails to hold them accountable for their actions. We get to crow about that reality if we get challenged on BLM and what to do in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. But, where things are now is not how we move forward in a positive way. Violence and coercion aren’t how you win hearts and minds, and they are not how you advance society in a positive direction. If they were, the socialist and communist nations of the 20th Century would have had the best societies in the world.

One of the biggest draws for me to libertarianism is that it is the antithesis of ‘might makes right’ and ‘law of the claw’ worldview and governance. It is explicitly non-coercive, in its Non-Aggression principle and in its philosophy. It’s not pacifistic – if you infringe upon my rights, I won’t turn the other cheek – but it’s not forceful. We libertarians seek to convert via persuasion, by convincing others that our way is better – and that our way is the only truly moral way.

Compare that with the false morality and hypocritical righteousness of the social justice movement, where your rights don’t count unless they are used in approved ways, and where a transgression, however slight, is met with intimidation, cancellation, doxxing, and destruction of reputation or livelihood. Compare it, also, to the violence being perpetrated by those who’ve subsumed the George Floyd protests for their own ends. The Alinskyites, whose true goal is accelerating the collapse of social order, are cackling with glee as they prompt and urge the rioters, looters, anarchists, and Antifa thugs away from peaceful protest and toward violence, destruction, and the threat of more.

The problem with libertarianism is that it resides in the forebrain, not the lizard brain. It is not fed by fear, nor by hate, nor by tribalism. It is a culmination of rational thought, a triumph of reason over baser instincts, which makes it hard to sell when people’s instincts have kicked in. This makes it hard for libertarians to win hearts and minds during chaotic times, where those who have no compunction about pursuing change through coercive means seize their opportunities and prompt lizard-brain reactions in everyone else.

Persuasion and logic is not the only way to prompt change, clearly. We see change through violence all the time, and even within the framework of liberty, violence is not off the table. Tyranny is violence, and resisting it is a reaction, not an aggression. Some will argue that we’re at that stage now, but a look across the political landscape puts the lie to that assertion and exposes its espousers as either blinkered naifs or cynical opportunists. There are peaceful means of achieving change. There is broad public impetus to “do something” in response to the George Floyd murder. I’ve blogged repeatedly in recent weeks about the various somethings I would try to do, were I a leader/lawmaker of some sort. And, we may even get some of those changes.

Unfortunately, if things keep going as they are, they’ll be tainted by the stain of coercion, they’ll be seen by many as a capitulation to threat and violence rather than the right thing to do, and that will not make things better and more harmonious in our society.

Coercion can lead to changes, but those changes won’t advance society. You can’t force someone to alter his views, and when you try, you instill resentment and bitterness. You create unhappy subjugated people, not enlightened allies.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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