The high-ground is an important strategic position in warfare, and also in a debate. In debate, there is no physical high-ground, but there is the moral one. It is the position of truth and justice, which may not always be the position which makes the most people happy or creates the most wealth, but it is the right-position. As humans, I believe we all share a common moral intuition that comes down to the use of violence—it is wrong. It is wrong to kill people, but it is also wrong to take their stuff. This is where we, as conservatives, win the debate. We do not win the debate by going to its extreme, practicality has to be taken into account; we do not win the debate by using this as a one size fit all tools of debate, different people require different methods. But we can win more debates by breaking it down in clear terms: left versus right, and wrong versus right.
As I write this I am reflecting on my own political journey. How I started as your standard right-wing conservative, moved to a borderline anarcho-capitalist, and back to where I am now, fusionism. What drove me were the moral arguments. The practical ones arguing that certain beliefs were better helped, but once I saw taking peoples stuff was not better when government did it, I began to shift and change my errors. All too many who came into the liberty movement share the same story. For every person who came in because of Austrian economics, a dozen more came in because they wanted a more voluntary society.
At the same time, while talking in our moral terms, we must remember to not go over the top. Even today, as someone who buys into a view of the world that says everything that can be done voluntarily without a government should be done voluntarily without government, I cringe at libertarian platitudes. Taxation is theft, we are slaves to the government, or not owning our own property—while these all may have some legitimacy they are also naive. Taxes are not voluntary, but to call them theft ignores the nuances of political theory like the social contract and implicit agreement. While only the most extreme anarcho-capitalists openly argue that we are slaves to the government, it does not mean it is an illogical conclusion to their beliefs. But while the logical conclusion, and arguably technically true, it also flies in the face of basic reason. Government is force, but slaves were not free to act as they pleased (within reasonable limits).
Another key to winning debates is breaking the platitudes which dominate them. The worst of these myths is that men are not angels, but government bureaucrats are. Right now we are surrounded by a debate over healthcare. I cannot help but notice these debates almost explicitly or implicitly include the premise that the profit motive is bad. Only on the rarest of occasions do I hear a conservative flat out reject this leftist dogma. Getting a “.gov” email makes you no more moral than the rest of us, the ordinary citizens. This argument comes down to the left’s disparagement of profit, but n truth, the profit motive is what drives efficiency and makes consumers better off. Business only profits in the long run by providing the best service to customers and by showing an industry is profitable, they incentivize new entries into the industry which increases supply and lowers prices for consumers.
But this is not far enough; we need to reject another myth. Yes, government is no more moral than the private sector, but it is less effective. Unlike a government agent, an agent of the private marketplace is guided by the knowledge of prices. These prices convey the knowledge of what people demand and what is being supplied. This allows for goods to be distributed to those who value them the most and to be used on the most efficient way. On the flip side, the government has no access to prices, and even if they were to examine market prices, they have no money of their own at stake, so they are not subject to them. This means, they cannot have the knowledge of what people want and what is being supplied.
These myths which elevate government are the most dangerous myths in our society. They are also myths which hamper our debate. When we pretend government is even as remotely good as the private market place, we practically concede the debate. We must recognize what government is, coercion, and how it acts relative to the market. As Thomas Paine said, “society is produced by our wants, and government by wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.”