By |Published On: August 22nd, 2020|Categories: Politics|

By “binary,” I am of course referring to the two-party system. Most libertarians, at least in theory, have broken out of this narrow realm considering so few are exposed to a range of thought beyond the pale of Democrats versus Republicans, yet the discovery of new ways to conceptualize the world—especially under these circumstances—is all the more invigorating. So why are some people forever doomed to be stuck in this mindset? And by what means does the Overton Window begin to shift? As a first approximation, I’m reminded of a quote from Noam Chomsky:

The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum—even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.[1]

When a person has been constricted to a narrow range of ideas for long enough, then whether alternative ideas exist or not begs the question, and such is the reality of political life. As a corollary, it’d be like if our choices were strictly limited to Coke or Pepsi, football or baseball, cars or SUVs, and so on, yet we know this isn’t the case because a market exists for all of these things. But what about a market for ideas, or in this case political ideas?

Plato’s classic book The Republic includes a parable which strikes at the heart of this issue: The Allegory of the Cave.[2] To briefly sum up, envision a dark cave in which several prisoners are held in captivity for their entire lives. They are chained and shackled in such a way that they can only see directly ahead at the cave wall, yet behind them is a fire and a mini roadway where shadows are projected onto the wall which the prisoners see. The prisoners can also have discussions with each other, while sounds can be heard that are emitted from people passing by in the background.

Several lessons can be derived from this parable, one of which is that Plato recognized how individuals can think about and perceive objects and concepts without having witnessed such forms—in other words, this is the difference between belief and knowledge. The most important lesson, however, is revealed as the story continues.

Now envision that one of prisoners gets released into the world where they get to experience life beyond the cave. They’d begin to see bright lights which would burn their eyes until they had time to adjust, yet eventually, they’d begin to see the grass, the trees, the sky, living beings, and all that life on the outside has to offer. They come to find that the shadows they had previously been accustomed to were not real, at least in terms of what the shadows led them to perceive was real. But what if they attempted to describe this reality to the other prisoners still bound by shackles? As you can imagine, they would accuse him of being delusional, and in terms of perception, both parties would feel that what they’ve experienced is more real than the others.

Plato was attempting to demonstrate that “The world of our sight is like the habitation in prison,” meaning that philosophers can challenge the conventional wisdom, and they can even encourage others to ask questions, but they can’t make others aware of what only can philosophical reasoning can. This is the plight of the philosopher, and likewise, the plight of the libertarian: we can challenge the status quo, and we can even point out the downfalls of the two-party system while expounding on the upsides of our philosophy, but we can’t make others cognizant of the fact that other options exist in the first place. They have to come to grips with that themselves before they can discover libertarianism, which is an entirely new way of looking at the world.


[1] David Barsamian and Noam Chomsky, The Common Good (Berkley: Odonian Press, 1998), 43.

[2] See Plato, The Republic, Book VII.

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