Saturday Night Live featured a sketch in 2011 portraying a caricature of Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul and his libertarian philosophy. In typical SNL style, Paul was depicted as a “purist,” insisting he could not intervene to save helpless puppies—even puppies with bows on them—from a burning house.
Libertarians are familiar with these sorts of deliberately dishonest traps. But we sometimes bring negative public perception on ourselves when we fail to articulate the importance of the personal connections we have to the people in our communities.
As a group, we know that communicating the benefits of liberty can be challenging. For most of us, there is little oppression that we experience in our day-to-day lives. It can be difficult to dedicate time to consider highly abstract topics. No wonder so many are indifferent to the routine violations of their rights. But maybe we make it harder than we need to.
The truth is that rights – in a tangible sense – do not exist. They are legal abstractions, and as we have seen, they are far too often violated or deemed to be conditional. If our mission is to advance liberty, we cannot rely on this concept alone, legally or rhetorically. This is especially true when younger generations cannot distinguish between negative and positive rights.
We enjoy our freedoms thanks to the respect and restraint shown by those around us. It is more important for the people around us to understand that everyone will be worse off if coercion and theft become the go-to ways to get things done. People are less happy when they are coerced. They are less happy when people take their stuff. People understand that better than abstract legal concepts.