Run This Up the Flagpole…
I have always loved the Gadsden Flag – the bold yellow banner featuring a rattlesnake and the defiant words “Don’t Tread on Me.”
One of the first flags of the United States, it was designed by American general and statesman Christopher Gadsden in 1775 and was a renowned war flag during the American Revolution.
Because of its history, it connotes a deep patriotism. And “Don’t Tread on Me” powerfully conveys the fundamental libertarian message of nonaggression.
The Gadsden Flag truly is a classic symbol. But lately, I’ve come to much prefer a new evolution of this famous flag.
While “Don’t Tread on Me” is a great notion, it has a defensiveness and war-like nature (appropriately, since after all, it was originally a war flag). And to many viewers, it only speaks for the person carrying it: “Don’t tread on ME.” Do what you want, but don’t bother ME. This unfortunately can reinforce the false negative stereotype often used against libertarians: that libertarians are selfish, don’t care about others, etc.
Also, in recent years, the Gadsden flag has come to stand for political movements that don’t represent the kind of peaceful non-aggression and tolerance that libertarians stand for.
The main thing that makes libertarianism different from any other political philosophy is the fact that everything we advocate applies to EVERYONE. We want individual liberty – not just for ourselves, but for everyone. The Nonaggression Principle applies to all human beings – not just libertarians, not just Americans. Everyone.
That’s why I’ve fallen in love with the newer expression: “Don’t tread on ANYONE.” It looks great on the Gadsden Flag!
And it is especially powerful when the Gadsden Flag’s snake is replaced by a porcupine, as some clever libertarians have done. The porcupine is certainly very well equipped to defend itself, yet it does not aggress against other animals. (And besides, it’s cute!)
Another bonus: Turning an icon on its head, as this new meme does, creates an element of surprise. It makes people stop and think. It gives them an “ah-ha!” experience. As Chip and Dan Heath point out in their landmark book “Made to Stick,” ideas that are “sticky” (ideas that last, go viral, etc.) have some things in common, and one of those things is that those ideas are “unexpected, counter-intuitive, with surprise implications.”
(And hey, what’s more “sticky” than a porcupine?)
You can find variations of this new icon on T-shirts, bumper stickers, flags, and more online.
I hope more and more libertarians will begin to use this new reworking of a classic American symbol of independence. What a great way to present our glorious philosophy of liberty, peace, harmony, and goodwill toward ALL!