Garth Zietsman – How I would promote individual liberty in South Africa

This is the essay contributed by Garth Zietsman as his entry in the recent Freedomfest competition sponsored by Bob Glenister.

At the root of all barriers to freedom in SA are cultures that are fundamentally collectivist and/or authoritarian and hostile toward individualism.  If we are to attain freedom for all in SA we need to undermine those cultures and replace them with individualism.  Another option is not to strive for everyone’s freedom but to establish an independent space for those who want freedom to live it.

Undermining culture is naturally a very long term project like the IEA’s 20 year effort prior to Margret Thatcher.  Some ways will be more effective than others.  For example it seems a scientific education is ineffective at converting people from religious belief.  Those who choose science seem to be non believers at the start. So we shouldn’t expect that simply explaining classical liberalism will be effective.  On the other hand literature is quite effective at changing religious beliefs.  No doubt it can impact culture too.

Something like women’s romances, of all things, might be important because they promote a powerful idea of individual choice against collectivist and authoritarian forces in a particularly evocative way.  Who wouldn’t cheer for the individual love against the collective?  What would be easier to get young women to read and internalize – von Mises or Mills and Boons.  It’s not Ayn Rand but it doesn’t need to be full of libertarian philosophy to promote the desire for individual liberty in millions of impressionable youngsters.  We need to slip the virtues of individual freedom of choice and enterprise into the mass market mental chewing gum.  Children’s books and TV are another opportunity.  So are adventure stories for boys.  Games and entertainment of every kind can be used too.

It is also important to target future opinion makers with a consistent diet of classical liberal ideas and values.  I think this should be in the form of analysis of current issues and should avoid preaching.  I think particular emphasis should be put on the importance of the liberal impulse to democracy and also market solutions to local municipality problems.  It will be very important to make this effort evidence based and to use actual examples from successful efforts in communities like theirs as far as possible.  There is a book out now called Poor Economics which details the anti-poverty experiments around the world.  We need a similar compilation of Freedom Experiments and we should mine that book for free market successes.  This will take much experimentation, research and a long time.

The above might just seem too daunting.  The other alternative is to establish an independent space for those who want freedom, to live it.  That means a ‘homeland’ of some kind.  It is no good just have some enthusiastic libertarians plan something like that.  One needs to identify and bring together a group of experts – historians of independence movements, military and legal experts, etc who could advise on what scale of endeavor is feasible, can identify the best location and how to achieve the independence of that area.

Neither of these options will be easy roads to more liberty in SA but in my view anything else is swimming upstream.

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