While New Year's is rather pointless from a scientific perspective, it is important to many people as a time to make changes in one's life. As such, the late Harry Browne (1933-2006) composed the following list of New Year's resolutions in 1998 to help libertarians spread the message of a free society. Let us consider the wisdom of his list.
1. I resolve to sell liberty by appealing to the self-interest of each prospect, rather than preaching to people and expecting them to suddenly adopt my ideas of right and wrong.
Much as the most effective pastors relate sermons to the members of their congregations and avoid an accusatory tone, the most effective messengers for liberty will deliver the message in such a way as to be maximally relevant to the unique situation of each person, while avoiding condemnation of those who do not yet understand the need to eliminate the influence of government.
2. I resolve to keep from being drawn into arguments or debates. My purpose is to inspire people to want liberty — not to prove that they’re wrong.
This, of course, is best understood in terms of avoiding petty arguments rather than avoiding substantive discussions and philosophical discourse. And while some people can be convinced of the libertarian cause by offering a logical, ethical, and philosophical disproof of their current ideology, it is not the best method for reaching out to people, as it tends to provoke needless confrontation.
3. I resolve to listen when people tell me of their wants and needs, so I can help them see how a free society will satisfy those needs.
4. I resolve to identify myself, when appropriate, with the social goals someone may seek — a cleaner environment, more help for the poor, a less divisive society — and try to show him that those goals can never be achieved by government, but will be well served in a free society.
5. I resolve to be compassionate and respectful of the beliefs and needs that lead people to seek government help. I don’t have to approve of their subsidies or policies — but if I don’t acknowledge their needs, I have no hope of helping them find a better way to solve their problem.
6. No matter what the issue, I resolve to keep returning to the central point: how much better off the individual will be in a free society.
These resolutions make another important point about promoting the cause of liberty: the need to address specific issues. While it is necessary at some point to explain that the immorality of the state is more important than how we will live without it, and that any prediction of the future will necessarily be wrong to some degree, these philosophical points are not usually very convincing to people who are simply seeking solutions to problems in their lives, as they do not directly address the questions being asked, but rather challenge them. A better approach for potential newcomers to libertarianism is to point out how the state has failed to address issues of concern and how a free society can solve the problem, or at least manage it more effectively.
7. I resolve to acknowledge my good fortune in having been born an American. Any plan for improvement must begin with a recognition of the good things we have. To speak only of America’s defects will make me a tiresome crank.
8. I resolve to focus on the ways America could be so much better with a very small government — not to dwell on all the wrongs that exist today.
It is important to count one's blessings and try to stay positive. It is also important to focus on the goal of eliminating government from our lives without getting drawn into the anarchist-minarchist debate, which, while philosophically interesting, is counterproductive, in that it tends to turn members of the liberty movement against one another, wasting time and effort that could be used to reduce the amount of harm done by government.
9. I resolve to cleanse myself of hate, resentment, and bitterness. Such things steal time and attention from the work that must be done.
10. I resolve to speak, dress, and act in a respectable manner. I may be the first libertarian someone has encountered, and it’s important that he get a good first impression. No one will hear the message if the messenger is unattractive.
While it is possible to undo a negative first impression, this takes time and effort that should be used to further the cause of liberty rather than undo mistakes.
11. I resolve to remind myself that someone’s “stupid” opinion may be an opinion I once held. If I can grow, why can’t I help him grow?
This is a common problem for all people, because there tends to be a sort of fog both before and after a major intellectual or moral growth. Before such progress, we tend to wonder how the world may work with new technology or higher moral standards that render some old practices obsolete. After such progress, it is hard to imagine how we ever lived so primitively or treated our fellow human beings so immorally before the advance. So it is for those in the liberty movement who were once believers in big government.
12. I resolve not to raise my voice in any discussion. In a shouting match, no one wins, no one changes his mind, and no one will be inspired to join our quest for a free society.
13. I resolve not to adopt the tactics of Republicans and Democrats. They use character assassination, evasions, and intimidation because they have no real benefits to offer Americans. We, on the other hand, are offering to set people free — and so we can win simply by focusing on the better life our proposals will bring.
14. I resolve to be civil to my opponents and treat them with respect. However anyone chooses to treat me, it’s important that I be a better person than my enemies.
We have seen much character assassination, evasions, and intimidation in 2012, from the beginning of the election cycle to the end, and through the fiscal cliff negotiations. By rising above such petty tactics as the ad hominem fallacy, the question dodging fallacy, and the ad baculum fallacy, all of which are admissions of defeat and ignorance, we can help to spread the message of liberty much more effectively.