Liberalism as a product: how to convince others that freedom is good

It is not uncommon for liberals to experience frustration over their ideas’ lack of widespread popularity. They may argue that promoting freedom is excessively challenging. Indeed, while statist ideologies offer a utopian allure, liberals find themselves burdened with the difficult role of conveying reality.

Let’s face it, this contrast is a difficult pill to swallow.

Being liberal in the 19th century meant being in the comfortable position of a harbinger of hope and progress.

It was liberalism that spearheaded the leap in prosperity over the last 200 years. It was liberals who advocated for the abolition of slavery, the emancipation of women, and the end of absolutism (If you want to delve deeper into the history of liberalism, you should consider applying to Students For Liberty’s Local Coordinator Program).

On the flip side, socialists are forced to defend coercion, warfare, and millions of deaths. Their history is stained with forced labor camps, firing squads, and human rights violations.

But if liberalism is so great, why does it sell so poorly?

Unfortunately, day after day, liberals champion the market but struggle to wield its power effectively.

Decades ago, F.A. Hayek taught us about the dispersed nature of knowledge in society. A product can be good, beautiful, and cheap — and still flop. Without effective communication, no one will recognize its qualities.

The truth is, in the marketplace of ideas, the liberal is the worst possible salesperson: indifferent to their customer’s problems, devoid of solutions, highlighting the flaws of their product, and even mocking the disillusioned consumer.

Not convinced this is the case? Consider the example below.

How liberals get their pitch wrong — a classic case

You’ve likely encountered this scenario: among friends, someone brings up the topic of student loan debt forgiveness. The typical reaction from many liberals? They’re obviously not ideal.

The liberal’s arguments often revolve around:

Debt forgiveness being unfair towards those without debt or who have already paid off their student loans.


Irresponsible decisions to take on too much debt.

Straying away from the proper role of government.

None of these arguments are baseless. My point isn’t to debate their validity but rather their effectiveness. 

All of this makes about as much sense to supporters of debt forgiveness as ordering sushi at a Japanese restaurant only to be served a tire instead. Sure, some may reluctantly accept it and leave with the object at a lower price, but let’s be honest, it’s not the best sales strategy.

The fundamentals for effectively selling freedom

Scroll up a little and revisit the focus of the arguments.

Done? Notice how none even addresses the primary concern of those struggling with student debt: the exhorbitant cost of college? In fact, the genuine liberal solution isn’t even presented. What’s offered is essentially a staunch defense of maintaining the status quo.

It’s like going to Burger King, saying that you’re hungry, and being told, “well, you should’ve eaten earlier. I’m not serving you.” Liberals often do this and yet still grumble about the popularity of competing ideologies.

Various marginalized groups with genuine grievances will have knocked on the liberal’s door, eager for solutions, only to receive a resounding “No!” in response.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can do better. There’s no magic formula, but an effective sales pitch for liberalism would typically involve:

Relevant context

Identifying the problem

Practical application of liberalism

Abstract application of liberalism

Let’s go back to the issue of student loan debt forgiveness. 

What issue do advocates for debt forgiveness present? Many people are either priced out of accessing higher education or take on extremely strenuous levels of debt in order to obtain their degree which, let’s face it, is also not as valuable an advantage in life as it once was.

So, what’s the solution?

Rather than dwelling on a negative agenda, promote freedom:

Liberalizing the education market could democratize university access, driving down costs.

A positive approach, focused on addressing people’s problems, will always prevail over sowing division or just saying no to others’ proposed solutions without presenting any of our own.

Even within socialist circles, the differences in perception due to messaging hold true. Think of how differently the socialism of Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is perceived compared to that of Stalin or Mao. Depending on their messaging, different iterations of socialism become widely understood as generous, caring, and emancipatory in the case of the former or violent, authoritarian, and despotic in the case of the latter. Both are nonetheless rooted in the same abhorrent, illiberal ideology.

Liberals often speak of emulating successful economic models from other countries; it’s time to emulate what works in promoting our ideas.

Students For Liberty can greatly ease your efforts in this regard. Accessing non-confrontational and persuasive communication may require assistance — and that’s precisely what you’ll find when you join Students For Liberty.

By signing up and becoming a coordinator, you’ll gain:

Access to the resources of the world’s largest student organization promoting freedom.

Training and development opportunities to organize events and other activities.

Educational materials to deepen your understanding of liberty.

Networking opportunities to shape the future of your community and your own.

An exclusive gamification system that rewards your activities and transforms them into opportunities for growth and recognition.

If you seek assistance, training, and resources to promote freedom at your university, Students For Liberty is here to help! Join the Local Coordinator Program and unlock these benefits today!

If you want to receive more of our content every week, directly to your inbox, be sure to sign up for Independent Insights, the Learn Liberty newsletter.

A version of this article was originally published in Portuguese by Students For Liberty Brazil (SFLB).

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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