The Selling of Freedom
SEPTEMBER 01, 1986 by DENNIS L. PETERSON
Mr. Peterson is a free-lance writer in East Greenville, Pennsylvania.
Entrepreneur and multimillionaire W. Clement Stone wrote, “Whatever your profession, you are selling something: ideas, concepts, goals, beliefs, values. While many persons think of selling only as offering a product or service for profit, you begin to sell the day you were born and will continue to sell throughout your life.”
That statement is especially true in regard to the freedom philosophy. Although many people assume that this philosophy is passed on merely through tradition or in the formal, organized economics and government courses of certain schools, it is primarily transmitted by individuals through a daily selling process. And this process goes on not simply in classrooms but throughout the nation with the countless interactions of individuals during their everyday lives. We are constantly selling our ideas, goals, beliefs, and values.
Every believer and practitioner of the freedom philosophy is, whether or not he or she recognizes the fact, a salesman for those beliefs. Some individuals are good salesmen, some are mediocre salesmen, and others are downright poor salesmen. Those of us who sincerely want to be “supersalesmen” for freedom would do well to periodically review our sales strategies and practices. The effective selling of freedom requires that we develop and incorporate certain essential sales qualities. The degree of our success is determined by how closely we follow these time-tested qualities.
The most lasting method of selling the ideas of freedom is through positive education. As the editors of The Freeman have stated, “Though a necessary part of the literature of freedom is the exposure of collectivistic clichés and fallacies, our aim is to emphasize and explain the positive case for individual responsibility and choice in a free economy. Especially important, we believe, is the methodology of freedom: self-improvement, offered to others who are interested. We try to avoid name-calling and personality clashes and find satire of little use as an educational tool.”
The freedom philosophy cannot be forced on anyone. Others must recognize for themselves the advantages of freedom and choose it voluntarily. As the late Leonard E. Read wrote in his essay “On Improving the World” (reprinted in The Freeman, November 1983), “. . . the practice of freedom cannot depend on coercion. When it comes to influencing another to think and act creatively, to help advance another’s understanding, one is limited to the power of attraction.”
Many well-intentioned freedom-lovers are too impatient, however, to wait for this “positive attraction” strategy to bring results. Like their socialist opponents, they want immediate results. Consequently, they sometimes turn to political actions that bring either short-term solutions or—far worse—total disillusionment among the waverers. Their “action strategy” tends to lead to confrontation and alienation rather than to conversion, acceptance, and positive long-lasting change. As William Penn wrote in Fruits of Solitude (1693), “Truth often suffers more by the heat of its defenders than from the arguments of its opposers.”
One characteristic which should always distinguish the salesman of freedom from the spokesman for socialism is a tolerance of and respect for contrary views and opinions. It is this quality which enables one to debate an opponent without “losing his cool” and without fear that the truth will lose its credibility.
Thomas Jefferson recognized the power and resilience of truth and the need for tolerance of opposing and even false views. “Error of opinion may be tolerated,” he said, “where reason is left free to combat it.”
The need for such tolerance does not diminish if only a few people—even seemingly insignificant and noninfluential ones—hold a minority viewpoint. “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion and only one person were of the contrary opinion,” John Stuart Mill argued in his essay On Liberty, “mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”
In the world of business, consumers are more easily convinced to buy a product if the seller uses it himself. The satisfaction evident from the use of his own product will often produce the enthusiasm and conviction required for him to close the sale.
In our attempts to sell freedom, we should consistently practice the principles we espouse and defend. If we say we believe in a balanced budget and fiscal responsibility for government, we should insist on such practices in our own finances. If we preach role by law, we should obey the law. Our primary task as salesmen of freedom is to persuade, not by conflict or coercion but by precept and example. As Leonard Read wrote in The Path of Duty, “Let each become an exemplar of freedom.”
Every effective salesman knows his product like the back of his hand. He knows its weaknesses as well as its strengths, its limitations as well as its capabilities. He will anticipate both the reactions and the objections of his prospects. And, most important of all, he will never stop learning about his product, his customers, and his strategies.
Similarly, we proponents of freedom must be perpetual students of our philosophy. Rather than claiming to be the sole possessors of truth, we should readily admit our relative ignorance and eagerly seek to learn more. Anything we might know about the theory and practice of freedom is infinitesimal in comparison to the vast amount out there yet to be known.
As a teacher I learned that one cannot expect all students to grasp a fact or concept when it is initially presented. Information must be repeated until the student understands. But the student’s ability to regurgitate a fact or concept does not mean that he or she has “learned.” The information must be acted upon and become a part of each individual’s life.
The salesmen of freedom cannot afford to be satisfied with giving their “sales pitch” just once. In order for it to be accepted and applied, it must be repeated to each new generation. And even those who have already heard it need to be reminded every so often. Statist propaganda so dominates the media today that we sometimes begin either to believe it ourselves or to think that we are the sole surviving freedom-lovers.
Lord Beaverbrook wrote in The Three Keys to Success, “. . . salesmanship requires, above all, the spirit of optimism.”
Perhaps one of the greatest weaknesses of those who oppose statism in favor of individualism is the tendency to be pessimistic concerning the prospects for a return to freedom. I must admit that I, too, at times succumb to this temptation. What we must remember, however, is that few people are willing to embrace as their own any philosophy whose advocates are pessimistic or unenthusiastic. They choose rather to follow a path of optimism, a way that is promising and hope-inspiring.
In their attempts to alert others to the dangers of statism, many freedom-lovers unwittingly exude an air of doom, despair, and depression. Of all people, it is we—those who have experienced, both personally and vicariously, the promise and prosperity of freedom and individualism-who should be spreading such hope and positive expectation that others are magnetically attracted to freedom’s way.
Jesse Stuart, famous writer and teacher from the hills and one-room schoolhouses of Kentucky, recognized the infectious nature of enthusiasm in his teaching. He wrote in The Thread That Runs So True, “. . . when I am enthusiastic about my teaching, (the students) are enthusiastic. When I am depressed, they seem to be that way, too. Their feelings seem to rise as high as my feelings are high or as low as mine are low. Therefore I have tried to be as enthusiastic as I can about any subject I teach.”
No theory or doctrine long survives unless it has as its foundation sound moral principles and absolute truth. Possession of correct economic or governmental principles, in particular, is practically impossible without first having a firm foundation of morality.
During the past two decades, a philosophy of amorality has gained wide acceptance. This erroneous philosophy holds that there are no absolute moral values or principles. The only morality is that held by each individual, and since each individual views things differently, no single moral value can be the same for everyone. This amorality promotes a hedonistic, end-justifies-the-means way of life. It leads eventually to both economic and political as well as moral decay.
In a nation with a diversity of moral and religious views, where guarantees against the establishment of a single state religion are built into the political structure, it is impossible to dictate matters of conscience. But there are nonetheless certain principles of morality that are generally held by all reasonable citizens. Most religions of the world, for example, teach the sanctity of human life, therefore we have laws against murder. Private property is another widely accepted principle, therefore we have laws against burglary, theft, and embezzlement.
Perhaps the two greatest statements of moral principle are the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule. While these are generally associated with the Judeo-Christian heritage, they are applicable to and effective in all societies willing to test them. It is significant that throughout human history there has always been a close as sociation in economically and politically free nations between their commitment to these moral principles and their economic, cultural, and political success and prosperity.
Among the salesmen of freedom, this promotion of morality is best accomplished by the exemplary life of each individual. Actions truly speak louder than words. As someone once wrote, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day.”
Students of liberty have an excellent “product”: personal, economic, and political freedom. Our methods are time-tested and effective: positive education and worthy examples. The only thing we need is more good salesmen.
Are you such a person? Will you do your part to fill this need?