As someone who owes a great intellectual debt to Murray Rothbard, I think it is important to consider a fundamental principle that drove his political action.
The phrase “happy warrior” gets thrown around from time to time in politics. It refers to irrepressible, indefatigable figures who keep fighting even when odds seem rough and the costs are high.
For those of us who seek a libertarian social order, we must learn from this example.
Let us look at how this can be applied to the libertarian movement, especially from the Austro-libertarian perspective.
Foremost, how one presents oneself to the world is important.
Unfortunately, many people in our movement present themselves in ways that reveal weakness and misery.
Not that one must always be happy. Life has no guarantees, and there is no obligation to pretend that things are better than they are. Confessing weakness openly and being honest is not a problem.
When I refer to neurosis, I refer to how one responds to stress. A neurotic is sensitive to negative emotions—not necessarily sensitive overall. They worry, are anxious, and otherwise consider themselves victims (or present themselves as if they do).
The antithesis of neurosis is resilience.
Certain sorts of personality are inherent, so if you’re naturally neurotic (I am, for instance), you can’t just flip that switch and become resilient.
But we learn neurosis, especially the most deleterious behaviors around it.
A common form of neurosis, especially as it presents to the public as opposed to one’s personal life, is the self-soothing status game. This is distinct from machismo-derived status searching, but there’s a fair amount of overlap in the behaviors.
The secret here is how it manifests.
If someone beneath your notice takes a shot at you on social media, what is the correct action?
Block. Pests must, so to speak, be digitally removed. Save your mental time and energy for more useful causes.
Losing emotional control is the hallmark of a neurotic, and it almost guarantees that someone will target you in the future to provoke future outbursts and tarnish your image. It also sends a message that you have this tendency, which marks you as unreliable to those who would align with you.
Likewise, catty behavior is a product of neurosis. The need to roll eyes at opponents publicly is a low-status effort to soothe negative emotions about someone else’s disagreement.
Neurosis’s obvious signs stem from learned behavior. If you fall into these patterns often, it’s worth looking up how to mask and overcome them. You will alter your personality this way. I rid myself of my most egregious neurotic tendencies by the simple process of being selective about what I care about, repeatedly, and observing whether my behaviors aligned with this goal.
Reducing neurosis both fosters a better capacity for initiative and action within you as an individual and prevents the movement from bearing the stigma of whining and complaining instead of getting stuff done.
Black-pilling is the act of presenting information in a lens that encourages defeatism.
This doesn’t have to be intentional, though it largely happens in unintentional ways via the functioning of uncontrolled neurosis.
Deliberate black-pilling is not always an act intended to harm a community—it can represent an attempt to use a major setback as a call to action.
However, this is misguided. Besides encouraging behavior that may delegitimize the movement (and have other moral implications), black-pilling has the effect of lowering overall morale.
It is, of course, necessary to share information even when it is not useful for the movement.
But a clear call to action should always accompany this. We should present bad news through the best—not the worst—lens for the movement. A simple way to prevent demoralization is to make sure that there are always rays of hope on the horizon.
Once again, this is not lying. Diluting or falsifying information leads to improper responses to events.
It is also okay, when necessary, to use a setback as a call for help from the movement if we cannot find a clear path forward. This may have a short-term demoralizing effect, but it also re-allocates resources. This enables more effective uses for them in the future and fixes potential weaknesses.
Denunciation versus Impotence Signaling
Of course, we will always need to denounce opponents, especially as opponents of a blatantly immoral status quo.
However, denunciation must involve careful consideration and crafting of a message.
Too much screeching about an issue can come across as impotence, as the Democrats’ response to the recent “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida has revealed. Besides showing themselves as ignorant among reasonable moderates (who can point out that it merely prevented state educators from discussing certain topics in K-3 classrooms), the apoplectic fits and chants of “Gay! Gay! Gay!” show just how impotent they are.
The importance of denunciation is to show how undesirable it is for others to associate with the denounced party.
This means highlighting things that actually embarrass them.
Do not denounce someone on a level where they actually have superiority, where their associates do not care about the accusation, or where it opens you up to an accurate counterattack.
For instance, the Republican argument that the Democrats “are the real racists” is useless. Left-wing racial movements, like the Black Power movement, do not hide what they are, and the Republicans are (truthfully or not) associated with racism by the Democrats’ affiliates so that the complaint always comes across to others as impotence signaling.
Likewise, it is useless to point out that politicians are corrupt. This is a tautological statement.
Rothbard’s extreme approach in Anatomy of the State is a good comparison here. Pointing out that the politicians in DC take Americans’ money to blow up children in places the average voter can’t find on a map is an effective denunciation because the voter cares about this on multiple levels.
Taxation is coercive, especially in extremes. Blowing up children is politically unpalatable. Since Austro-libertarians would argue against this, they actually have grounds to level this complaint (unlike the Democrats, whose Obama administration was perfectly happy to carry on and expand Bush-era wars).
Denunciation can be only part of the message. Opposing partisans have limited interest in switching sides simply because their own has problems—they will blind themselves before seeing their own failures. But it may sway moderates to our side, or at least prevent them from taking a side at all (since voting is non-compulsory) even if they do not join us.
When one wins, it is important to leverage this for morale and also use it as a rallying point.
Of course, most victories will be part of an incremental path toward the ideal state. We should balance using incremental changes to bolster morale and have a focusing point for future action and remaining vigorously committed to our ultimate goals.
Fortunately, there are plenty of examples of this from the current political system, even if the existing parties are not ideologically driven.
“We have achieved X for the people of Y, and we shall continue to fight!”
This or variations on it are important and provide an opportunity for rallying the base without losing momentum.
It is a mistake to get complacent, even with a political victory. It is also important to avoid any compromise in pursuing victory. If the government reduced taxation but also increased government spending, we should not consider this a win (at least outside a potential accelerationist lens).
However, something like secession, even of a state with a rival viewpoint (for instance, if California leaves the union to become a socialist peoples’ republic), would be a victory for a potential libertarian cause and we should celebrate it.
What makes any event a victory is contextual.
It is important not to celebrate anything that violates our convictions, but we can forgive this if it is a clear step in the right direction. For instance, removing the monopoly on public schools by making tax money follow students—which makes it one step easier to abolish public education and education funding. Messaging should be clear—we have achieved only a partial victory.
One reason for celebrating an incomplete victory would be to demoralize political opponents.
The goal here is to make political rivals engage in the exact neurotic behavior we ought to avoid. If they stoop to name-calling, impotence signaling, and internal dissention, our goal is done.
Here, we would want to make sure that it makes as much of a wake in those circles as possible by using provocative branding and marketing strategies.
The important thing here is to give as many black-pills as possible to the other side hoping they take them.
The Firearms Policy Coalition and ghost gun movement more broadly are geniuses at doing this to gun control advocates. They even have registered the momsdemand.org domain to point to the files needed to print a Moms Demand Action branded AR-15 lower.
Any unforced error the adversaries commit is a mess they need to clean up, and any demoralization that causes them to believe their task is fruitless is a future victory earned in the present.
Alliances and Coalitions
An important note here with victory should be the distinction between an alliance and a coalition.
Alliances involve politically like-minded people across a broad spectrum of issues. For libertarians, there are few ready-made alliances in the current political ruling class, though it may be possible to score a few defectors.
Any win within an alliance is a cause for celebration. Growing influence, gathering power, and improving the situation for our factions is good, even if some allies have minor disagreements (e.g. the minarchist and the anarchist).
This is one reason I support anyone with solid libertarian positions, regardless of their approach or party affiliation. If they want to support caucuses in the Libertarian Party or Republican Party, pursue an agorist approach, or simply push single issues, this is a perfectly valid way to approach their goals.
Of course, we can still hash out the most effective strategy, but any ally should be celebrated and criticism of methods is less important than alignment in goals and theory.
Coalitions are short-term alliances to tackle single issues. A fellow member of a coalition is not an ally, but they should still receive some support and recognition for their efforts.
For instance, anyone who opposes war has a coalition with the libertarians on that single issue. We should not sacrifice our principles to work with them if they make demands incompatible with our goals, and we should be cautious about how we praise people.
We should not encourage people to defect to socialists who are right in understanding the effects of war on the impoverished masses. But we should seek to leverage our shared interests for victory on the war question.
We can also recognize honestly whether those we work with are well-intentioned or malicious. Figuring this out goes a long way to deciding about whether to work with them.
When a coalition scores a victory, we should always bring up our contributions to the cause without excluding other members entirely. We want to create a pathway for their members to embrace the libertarian political cause, and we want to make this one-way as much as possible.
It is important to remember that our goals are radical. Libertarians, especially Austrian-school libertarians with their deontological bent, need to avoid all compromise. Even the relatively soft social democrat Hayek rightly observed that anyone who does not fight to the fullest for their principles, instead choosing petty incrementalism or factionalism, will not get what they want in the end.
Celebrating a victory reflects progress, but we must never aim for “progress” instead of a full victory over the forces of the current ruling elite. Incrementalism is the mechanism, not the aim. If we could remove all state apparatuses—the machinery of theft and barbarism—from our society, we should do so immediately and damn the consequences!
We have so far discussed the joyous part of the happy warrior, but we must now turn to the struggle.
Warriors face setbacks. Libertarians are keenly aware of this given the history of the Libertarian Party—which has become little more than a tool of regime supporters who want to avoid some element of whichever party they used to belong to.
We must always, as happy warriors, seek battle. We should not flinch, and we must be red-hot radicals. Literal violence, of course, is not our course.
But all political actions available to use should be on the table at all times. It is better to err on the side of the quixotic than to seek safety—at least our efforts may pave the foundation for the future, as Ron Paul’s efforts had.
There are those who lament past efforts because they failed, but do not consider the alternative. Sure, the Libertarian Party has been a failure in most ways, but without it there would likely have been little resistance to many of the worst crimes of the state.
Having a message out there is a beacon to like-minded individuals, we must be role-models and beacons for those who will follow in our footsteps. We will not do that by being timid, and we will not do that by languishing in obscurity.
Individuals have made all noble efforts. Usually, these individuals suffered ridicule, mockery, and persecution as they went about their goals. In the end, these indignities fade with time, but the victories remain.
Fighting in all circumstances is the lot of the happy warrior. There is no self-defeating victory in politics. There are only missteps, which the happy warrior is uniquely situated to avoid, and the slow evolution of culture based on individual action within the broader society.
Understanding that all things are granular—that what we view as failure is often a success punctuated by a failure—means that the obvious and logical path forward is to aim at all successes. Being indomitable is a strength in its own right.
The Power of Purpose
An advantage that libertarians—or any deontological foundation derived social movement has—is the power of purpose. It is this which carried the Christian faith to dominate the West.
Purpose is easy to define, but it is better illustrated.
When you achieve your goal, the world will be a better place. Further, acting toward your goal is a good in and of itself.
The libertarian cause is beautiful because it leads to this.
We will put an end to a massive racket of banditry.
We will remove from power those who erode our families and societies.
We will end needless wars.
We will usher in a new era of prosperity, and a libertarian social order.
What is not worth sacrificing for greener pastures and a golden age?
We fight not for ourselves, but for millions who will grow up in a society rid of corruption. At the end of the tunnel, there is a great hope: peace, order, and prosperity.
Liberty for all.
The happy warrior is the ideal political figure, and one which we may embody by stepping into the shoes of the likes of Murray Rothbard and Ron Paul.
Seeking the libertarian social order, we ought to be strategic in our approach but indomitable. Where resources are limited, we should invest them wisely, but we should also strive tirelessly to fight for justice, freedom, and the rights of humanity.