With the fall academic term in full swing, now is the time for libertarian student groups to be heavily recruiting new converts to the cause. While the art of persuasion can often be tricky to pull off properly, especially while talking to strangers from behind a virtual table, these thirteen rhetorical tips should put your club on track to finding new members and, most importantly, help you avoid being “that guy.”
- Focus on the positive
Why complain about conservatives or left-liberals? If a student wants to talk to you, they want to learn about why your group deserves their valuable time, not how ignorant the other groups are on and off campus. Be pro-liberty, not anti-everyone else. Curmudgeons don’t attract as many people as optimists.
- Be mindful of what you say
Most people don’t care about the Federal Reserve or how the political system shafts the rich. However, they will leave with a terrible image of liberty-minded students if you say are dismissive about the plight of minority groups, or call anyone who advocates more government a “statist.” Start a conversation, not a lecture.
- It’s a discussion, not a competition
Approach outreach as if you lack enemies. Remember that everyone is a potential convert or ally. With this mentality in mind, you can learn about others’ perspectives instead of lecturing them. Never be dismissive or arrogant to a student who cares enough to talk with you.
- Never argue while recruiting
Arguing almost never convinces the student and wastes time. If a student persists in haranguing you, don’t be afraid to end the conversation and politely ask him or her to email you if they wish to continue at a more convenient time.
- Your reputation is fragile, so don’t ruin it
Regardless of your favorite interest or issue, sometimes you don’t want to emphasize it. Don’t give others the opportunity to malign or label you.
- Don’t defend the rich and powerful
After all, the rich and powerful already have a strong defender – the government! No one wants to hear about how tax rates should be cut for billionaires. Libertarianism roots itself in power decentralization and individual opportunity. The free market enriches the poor and topples large conglomerates. Indeed, if it doesn’t, its desirability rightfully becomes questionable. Above all, the disadvantaged have the most to gain from a more libertarian world, and it’s time we start emphasizing this more confidently.
- Libertarianism isn’t left or right
We aren’t conservative or left-liberal, but we are inclusive of various political opinions. Crafting an image as a group committed to honest dialogue and discussion should be a high priority. As Leonard Read once wrote, ”‘Left’ and ’right’ are each descriptive of authoritarian positions. Liberty has no horizontal relationship to authoritarianism.” Develop your group’s niche as a legitimate alternative to the status quo.
- Collaborate like crazy
If your group can work with the College Democrats, College Republicans, Democratic Socialists, LGBTQ groups, or any other group, do it. If you agree on an issue, your club can spread goodwill and run an awesome event.
- Humility always trumps arrogance
Students already hear enough arrogance and pretension from their professors and obnoxious roommates. Pursue truth with honest inquiry, not with ideological fervor. The best way to do this is to introduce them to a variety of resources, so that they feel empowered to make their own judgement call.
- Doubt is powerful
Offer a unique outlook on events that destroys the left-right paradigm. As Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “there are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” Use the petty squabbles and inane bickering that comprise the American political system to clarify fundamental principles. When students realize the Republicans and Democrats worship at the same altar of the false god of power, the task of persuading them becomes nearly finished.
- Emotion rarely loses to logic
As much as libertarians hate to admit the fact, emotional responses persuade people more than logical arguments. Stale pro-government maxims usurp moral superiority from liberty, and we need to reclaim what has been taken. Arbitrary power and legalized theft of others is not charity or compassion. Rather, a compassionate society necessitates a free society. Use real world examples rather than abstract theories. Make students feel the importance of the liberty they hold, and lament for the ones that governments and society pilfered.
- You’re a role model
You may be the only libertarian others will meet for years. Remember that, regardless of the fairness or accuracy, you are a libertarian incarnate for many of your fellow students and friends. Develop the reputation of a Milton Friedman, who is intellectually honest, tolerant, and kind, rather than an Ayn Rand, who some critics can perceive to be dogmatic and scornful of disagreement.
- Evaluate your premises
Libertarians have more than a marketing problem. We lack omniscience, and it’s quite likely that we’re wrong on a few ideas. Be honest and challenge yourself. We should demand rigor, not an echo chamber.
If you would like to spread liberty on and off your college campus, consider applying for our Local Coordinator Program. For more information, click on the link below.
This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.
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