once the libertarian has persuaded someone that government interference is wrong, at least in a certain realm, if not across the board, there is a much smaller probability of that convert’s backsliding into his former support for government’s coercive measures against innocent people. Libertarianism grounded on the moral rock will prove much stronger and longer-lasting than libertarianism grounded on the shifting sands of consequentialist arguments, which of necessity are only as compelling as today’s arguments and evidence make them. Hence, if we desire to enlarge the libertarian ranks, we are well advised to make moral arguments at least a part of our efforts. It will not hurt, of course, to show people that freedom really does work better than state control. But to confine our efforts to wonkism dooms them to transitory success, at best.
Pointer from Don Boudreaux. Let me re-state this in terms of the three-axis model. Using consequentialist arguments is an attempt to meet someone on their own axis. The “moral rock” that “will prove much stronger and longer-lasting” is to get someone to shift axes.
Claiming that government anti-poverty programs do not work is a consequentialist argument that is intended to meet the progressive along the oppressor-oppressed axis. Claiming that drug laws tend to increase violence is a consequentialist argument intended to meet the conservative along the civilization-barbarism axis. The advantage of these sorts of arguments is that they are easily comprehended by those you are trying to persuade. The disadvantage, as Higgs points out, is that this form of argument involves painful struggles, issue-by-issue and fact-by-fact. Arriving at the inevitable military analogy, Higgs writes
the anti-freedom forces with which libertarians must contend possess hundreds of times more troops and thousands of times more money for purchasing munitions.
Instead, suppose you try to convince people of the similarity between government and organized crime. You say that both provide “protection” backed by coercion. The advantage of this is that if you can get someone to shift to looking at issues along the freedom-coercion axis, that person will be less receptive across the board to arguments for state intervention based on the oppressor-oppressed axis or the civilization-barbarian axis. The disadvantage with this strategy is that your position is likely to be incomprehensible to most of those you are trying to persuade. To most people, drawing an analogy between government and organized crime seems crazy. It makes you sound like a very bitter, alienated person who resents the obligation to participate in society.
My guess–and perhaps Higgs would agree–is that the best strategy is to meet people along their preferred axis and to use consequentialist arguments until they begin to have doubts about the utility of government in dealing with oppression or barbarism. At that point, they may be ready to consider the freedom-coercion axis. However, if you go straight to the freedom-coercion axis and skip the step of meeting progressives with consequentialist arguments along the oppressor-oppressed axis or meeting conservatives with consequentialist arguments along the civilization-barbarian axis, then you risk getting nowhere.