Libertarian Success versus the Academic Mindset
In lengthy conversations I’ve been having recently with fellow libertarian Brad Linaweaver — whose novel Moon of Ice you see my character reading in the Alongside Night movie coming to a theater near you in a few months — we’ve been discussing the single-most important reason libertarians do worse than statists in gaining popular support for libertarianism as an overall approach to human relations.
Not to put too fine a point on it, way too many libertarians have their heads stuck up their asses.
Moon of Ice in Alongside Night
It’s not that libertarians are unintelligent or anti-intellectual. Quite the contrary. Libertarians are readers. A lot of the time they’ve even read what C.S. Lewis would call “the right books” — books by great libertarian economists like Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek, or Murray Rothbard; revisionist historians like James J. Martin; journalists like H.L. Mencken; and proto-libertarians like Frédéric Bastiat, Lysander Spooner, or Benjamin Tucker. Merely by giving this short list of examples a lot of libertarians would chide me for all the names that they think should be on this list, in addition or instead.
But – with one obvious exception that I’ll get to in a moment — the culture of libertarians reminds me of the 2009 Ricky Gervais comedy The Invention of Lying, where the idea of a popular movie is some guy in a chair narrating an historical event to the movie camera. Historically, libertarians are academic in their intellectual pursuits to the exclusion of most anything else.
The one prominent exception over the last half century has been the fiction of Ayn Rand, and that only because she gives her characters lengthy speeches that could pass as non-fiction in between the bodice-ripping sex scenes.
Yes, yes, yes. There are exceptions. There are libertarians who love science fiction — particularly by authors like Robert A. Heinlein, A.E. Van Vogt, Ray Bradbury, and more recently L. Neil Smith, Neal Stephenson, Brad Linaweaver and myself.
But being on the mainstream English lit department classic reading lists — authors including George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, or Kurt Vonnegut — would tend to attract many libertarians far more than any libertarian who made his reputation in pulp magazines, paperback anthologies, or — Galt forbid — writing primarily for commercial movies or network television.
Libertarians are too often academic snobs, and that’s true even of many of the auto-didacts.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t academics who are popular writers themselves.. Brad, for example, has a Masters degree from an ivy-league college and has taught high-school English; but Brad is as comfortable watching a monster movie or reading a comic book — and publishing the magazine Mondo Cult, devoted to pop culture — as he is on a panel at a scholar’s conference.
But academic snobbery is the death of libertarianism. I can’t tell you how many libertarian conferences I’ve been at where an economist has a room busting at the doors but a room featuring an award-winning novelist or filmmaker is lucky to fill the front row.
Back when the Laissez Faire Books catalog hadn’t been overwhelmed by Amazon.com and was still a primary source of libertarian books, non-fiction was regularly on the catalog’s cover. Unless you were Ayn Rand, a libertarian novel wasn’t — and the catalog didn’t even favor science fiction by libertarians over popular non-libertarian works by authors like Marion Zimmer Bradley.
This is a mistake the left never made, including the Communist Party, itself. They thought the Writers Guild — the men and women who wrote movies for the major Hollywood studios — was a union worth taking over because they knew — as Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels knew — movies were just as important as books or rallies when it came to reaching the “masses.”
Libertarians, like conservatives, spend their time bitching and moaning about the statist content in movies and TV shows — but when a libertarian who has studied the great libertarian thinkers and learned the issues presents these ideas in art rather than treatise or speech — the academic snob pretending to place libertarian values at a pinnacle is more likely either to ignore the libertarian artist entirely or attack the artwork as not sufficiently exalted. It’s a form of aristocratic establishmentarianism that shows up many so-called libertarians as movement scabs.
Most people reading this need to know that Brad Linaweaver and I are libertarian authors and filmmakers who have decades of success pushing libertarian ideas into the mainstream — most recently, me with my new movie Alongside Night, and most recently Brad with his web series, Silicon Assassin. We’ve made our entertainment products using professional crews and name actors. Between us we have over a century of experience studying our crafts, first as consumers, later as producers. We have received fulsome praise for our work from world class superstars. So neither us is going to suffer fools gladly who take a dump on our entertainment products because they’re too cloistered — and with the hubris of the solipsist — to know what’s good.
I have high hopes of using existing libertarian organizations and institutions as an opening market for my movie, but if the libertarian movement acts as it has done so for most of my career — and sticks its nose in their air — you can expect that the long list of Special Thanks to movement libertarians and organizations that I’ve put into the end credits of Alongside Night will be the last you hear from me. I just watched a documentary on J.D. Salinger. I know as well as he did how to disappear.
Now is the time for all good libertarians to come to the aid of their Movies.
In a few months — in Spring, 2014 — you’ll be invited to use your talents as entrepreneurs and organizers to set up movie-theater screenings for Alongside Night also showing episodes of Silicon Assassin and either make a profit for yourself by selling movie tickets, or using the ticket sales as fund raisers for your groups, campaigns, and causes.
This is your best hope in the near future to learn what your enemies have known forever: well-told stories presented in popular media are what change people’s lives and pivot the world.