Monday, July 15, 2013

FEE Prez: It's Time to Adopt the Missionary Position

Lawrence Reed, president of FEE, is out with a letter where he announces:
If we’re to have a shot at securing liberty for the future, we simply must become better marketers. We have to embrace the missionary mentality and practice the best techniques for attracting converts.[...]Maybe we don’t need fewer monks, but we sure need more missionaries.
What a sad turn for an institution founded by Leonard Read.

Read believed that focusing on ideas, and improving ones own understanding, was the way to advance freedom, rather than missionary work.

There is a lot to understand about liberty. Everything from Austrian economics to libertarian ethics, and many things in between, need to be studied. I see too often, though, many, who believe they are ready to promote libertarian ideas, who don't have a clue. Kristin Davis and Gary Johnson are two prominent examples of individuals, who have proclaimed themselves libertarians, yet seem to need to brush up on what libertarianism actually is.

I shudder to think that Reed wants to encourage such "missionaries" and send them out to convert the masses. It reminds me of the programs instituted in public schools, where false positive feedback is given to students who do not understand and need to study more. When such students enter the real world, they quickly smack up against the real world, where false feedback, and cluelessness about, say, basic math doesn't allow them to get anywhere.

Read, not Reed, has the real answer, self-improvement and self-study. It makes your light brighter and brighter, so that those from even far away notice you. Not missionary conversions  by the clueless.

The advancement of liberty is a solitary game. Albert Jay Nock in Isaiah's Job warned us about the dangers of attempting to convert the masses:
 One evening last autumn, I sat long hours with a European acquaintance while he expounded a political-economic doctrine which seemed sound as a nut and in which I could find no defect. At the end, he said with great earnestness: “I have a mission to the masses. I feel that I am called to get the ear of the people. I shall devote the rest of my life to spreading my doctrine far and wide among the population. What do you think?”

An embarrassing question in any case, and doubly so under the circumstances, because my acquaintance is a very learned man, one of the three or four really first-class minds that Europe produced in his generation; and naturally I, as one of the unlearned, was inclined to regard his lightest word with reverence amounting to awe. Still, I reflected, even the greatest mind can not possibly know everything, and I was pretty sure he had not had my opportunities for observing the masses of mankind, and that therefore I probably knew them better than he did. So I mustered courage to say that he had no such mission and would do well to get the idea out of his head at once; he would find that the masses would not care two pins for his doctrine, and still less for himself, since in such circumstances the popular favourite is generally some Barabbas[...]

As the word masses is commonly used, it suggests agglomerations of poor and underprivileged people, labouring people, proletarians, and it means nothing like that; it means simply the majority. The mass-man is one who has neither the force of intellect to apprehend the principles issuing in what we know as the humane life, nor the force of character to adhere to those principles steadily and strictly as laws of conduct; and because such people make up the great and overwhelming majority of mankind, they are called collectively the masses. The line of differentiation between the masses and the Remnant is set invariably by quality, not by circumstance. The Remnant are those who by force of intellect are able to apprehend these principles, and by force of character are able, at least measurably, to cleave to them. The masses are those who are unable to do either.[...] the monstrously inflated importance of the masses has apparently put all thought of a possible mission to the Remnant out of the modern prophet's head.[...]

Everyone with a message nowadays is, like my venerable European friend, eager to take it to the masses. His first, last and only thought is of mass-acceptance and mass-approval. His great care is to put his doctrine in such shape as will capture the masses’ attention and interest. This attitude towards the masses is so exclusive, so devout, that one is reminded of the troglodytic monster described by Plato, and the assiduous crowd at the entrance to its cave, trying obsequiously to placate it and win its favour, trying to interpret its inarticulate noises, trying to find out what it wants, and eagerly offering it all sorts of things that they think might strike its fancy.

The main trouble with all this is its reaction upon the mission itself. It necessitates an opportunist sophistication of one’s doctrine, which profoundly alters its character and reduces it to a mere placebo. If, say, you are a preacher, you wish to attract as large a congregation as you can, which means an appeal to the masses; and this, in turn, means adapting the terms of your message to the order of intellect and character that the masses exhibit. If you are an educator, say with a college on your hands, you wish to get as many students as possible, and you whittle down your requirements accordingly. If a writer, you aim at getting many readers; if a publisher, many purchasers; if a philosopher, many disciples; if a reformer, many converts; if a musician, many auditors; and so on. But as we see on all sides, in the realization of these several desires, the prophetic message is so heavily adulterated with trivialities, in every instance, that its effect on the masses is merely to harden them in their sins. Meanwhile, the Remnant, aware of this adulteration and of the desires that prompt it, turn their backs on the prophet and will have nothing to do with him or his message.

Isaiah, on the other hand, worked under no such disabilities. He preached to the masses only in the sense that he preached publicly. Anyone who liked might listen; anyone who liked might pass by. He knew that the Remnant would listen; and knowing also that nothing was to be expected of the masses under any circumstances, he made no specific appeal to them, did not accommodate his message to their measure in any way, and did not care two straws whether they heeded it or not. As a modern publisher might put it, he was not worrying about circulation or about advertising. Hence, with all such obsessions quite out of the way, he was in a position to do his level best, without fear or favour, and answerable only to his august Boss.


  1. Albert Jay Nock accurately described Ron Paul.

    1. Not necessarily. From what I know, Ron paul's presidential campaigns were to lay the groundwork for his work for liberty. Then, his new projects (his webpage, his homeschool curriculum, his own channel) will be used to educate other libertarians and limited-government persons so that they will work to spread the cause of liberty.

  2. Nock doesn't get enough play. Thanks for spinning this track.