Some libertarians throw all their effort into winning elections. Generally they don’t, except for a few low-level offices. They’re under an illusion which isn’t very libertarian: that the people who hold office affect the course of society. Actually, we have the government which most people want, and if that somehow changed short of a military coup, the majority would find a way to restore the equilibrium. If Ron Paul or Gary Johnson somehow became president and started vetoing spending and budget bills, Congress would find an excuse to impeach them.
The government changes when the culture does. Following September 11, 2001, there was an abrupt change in our culture, as latent fears jumped to the fore and people became more willing than ever to give up essential liberty to purchase the illusion of temporary safety. At first Democrats complained about the violations of due process and new intrusions into our lives, but then Obama was elected and continued pursuing the same course, and most Democrats obediently stopped complaining.
If the 21st century’s authoritarian trend is going to be reversed, it has to be through a change in the culture, not in the politicians. Speakers, writers, philosophers, artists, and anyone else who can exercise influence through ideas can contribute to this. What it will take for them to succeed is hard to say, but if they throw their efforts into election campaigns they’re certainly wasting their efforts.
The deadliest single thing in our culture today is the entitlement mentality. It leads not only to parasitism but to systematic hostility. People want things at other people’s expense, and they’re happy to throw away freedom for freebies. Every handout comes from somebody, and the people who are giving and those being taken from are necessarily opponents. Trade and voluntary help result in good will, but forced transfers make the recipients and the unwilling donors into enemies.
In this milieu, it’s hard to make the case for freedom. By opposing the politics of entitlement, we become part of the recipients’ enemy class. To make things worse, governments play shell games to make people think they’re in the recipient class even when they’re net losers. Everybody clamors to keep the goodies coming, and they’ll all unite in defense of the continued flow out of each other’s pockets. When Biden says that the choice is between Wall Street in shackles and the middle class in shackles, people believe him and there are chains enough for everyone.
Trying to change everyone’s minds is an exercise in futility and frustration. There’s no path to freedom with a high likelihood of success. This doesn’t mean that we should shut up, but it means we often have to be satisfied with getting ideas heard without any success beyond that. The value in doing this is in keeping one’s personal integrity and not giving in to a destructive worldview. Beyond that, it’s important to value whatever small victories are possible and not give up eventual hope for the larger ones.