Bryan Caplan  

Parents, Children, and Liberty

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One crucial assumption behind strategic libertarian fertility is that the viewpoint actually runs in families.  Incoming GMU Ph.D. student Zac Gochenour's skeptical.  On Facebook, he posed the following questions:

[1] If you self-identify as libertarian, please let me know if you parents do as well.

[2] Also if you are a parent and self-identify as libertarian, and your children are old enough to have political views, let me know if they share your views.

Please share.  I'll be answering Zac's questions in the comments.  Tomorrow I'll explain why I expect a difference between answers to [1] versus [2].

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (50 to date)
Bryan Caplan writes:

[1] No. My dad's a very conservative but secular Republican. My mom was pretty liberal when I was growing up but has gradually come around to my dad's conservatism.

[2] My kids aren't yet old enough to have political views.

Craig Fratrik writes:

[1] Yes on both accounts. (One did work for Cato)

Joel writes:

My mom is nowadays a not-particularly-principled "Neal Boortz libertarian," although when I was growing up she was a middle-of-the-road swing voter. My dad is probably still a middle-of-the-road swing voter, although I seem to remember that he liked Perot in 1992.

I grew up in what was at one point Newt Gingrich's district and at another point Cynthia McKinney's, which would probably drive anyone to non-partisanship!

My sisters are both pretty reliably left-liberal. And I don't have any kids, although when I do I plan to be more concerned with their mathematics than their politics.

Joel writes:

Oh, and Ben Jones. Before Newt our congressman was Ben Jones, whom you might remember as "Cooter" from "The Dukes of Hazzard."

Man, that was one messed up district.

Honeyoak writes:

1) My mother is a Socialist-communist-populist (depends on her mood) while my father is a cookie cutter liberal academic that does not bother to intellectually defend his ideology and is very aware of this fact.

2) I dont currently have kids but I suspect that they will be more libertarian than I was at their age.

Gu Si Fang writes:

My parents are not libertarians, and my children still too young.

Troy Camplin writes:

1) My dad is a pro-union religious conservative Reagan Democrat-turned-Republican. He supported Mike Huckabee in the GOP Presidential nomination. My mom was vaguely conservative, but started voting L:ibertarian when I became a libertarian.

2) My 3-year-old daughter is a bit young, but she already demonstrates my and my wife's contrary spirit, so it wouldn't surprise me if she did end up being a libertarian. My 9-month-old son just blows raspberries. :-)

David Friedman writes:

My parents were libertarian--my father more than my mother. All three of my children are libertarian.

Publius writes:

My parents are totalitarians, so I became a libertarian. The mother of my wife is a conservative Republican who believes Bush was a good President. My father in law died 30 years ago before I met his daughter. We have no kids.

Author L. Neil Smith is a libertarian who has a daughter who is a 21 year old libertarian.

malavel writes:

[1] No.

Alex J. writes:

1) My parents are both NPR-listening limousine liberals. We actually have similar values. Their left-liberalism does intersect with my taken-to-logical-extreme classical liberalism.

2) Too young.

Colin Fraizer writes:

1. No. I am libertarian, though registered to vote as a Republican. My parents are (father) a pro-labor-union, Roosevelt Democrat and (mother) socially liberal Johnson Democrat.
2. Null. (Too young.)

When you say you "expect a difference", do you mean:

A. The question answerer will answer "yes" to one question and "no" to the other?
B. For a given set {Grandparent, Parent, Child}, you'd expect G and/or C's answers to be inconsistent with P's?

Van Veraf writes:

[1] Mother extremely conservative and anti-libertarian, Father have libertarian sympathies, but sometimes contradicts when his preferences are strongly conservative.

[2] haven't started breeding libertarians yet

Roger writes:

1) Parents are fiscally conservative Republicans
2) Children are not libertarians and my daughter actually thinks Obama is great

eccdogg writes:

1) Neither of my parents are libertarians, but neither are hard core partisans and both have some libertarian leanings. My dad is a conservative, grew up a democrat and switched over sometime around Reagan. My mother is the classic swing voter. I think she has voted for every presidential winner since she voting for Carter over Reagan. My brother is libertarian conservative and my sister would probably best be described as a libraltarian. My mothers parents are pretty libertarian but they would never call themselves that. They are of the leave us alone we can do for our selves mind our own business camp that has always been prevalent in the Appalachian and Piedmont South.

My wife is also a libertarian. Her mother is a pretty hard core Catholic style liberal and her dad is pretty libertarian in the leave me alone sense (lives in the woods, owns lots of guns, hates regualtions etc) but voted for democrats all his life because he was in the UAW. Her sister voted for Ralph Nader twice, but is more libertarian than you might think. She scored higher than me on the libertarian purity test!

2) My kids are too young.

Rebecca Burlingame writes:

1) I grew up in what is now Ron Paul's district. My dad never even took advantage of Medicare. He's almost 90 and usually avoids doctors but gets charged a lot if he doesn't! Mom and her sisters were about as opposed to war as anyone could get.
2) No children.

SB7 writes:

[1] I do, but neither of my parents do.

[2] No offspring.

Steve Horwitz writes:

[1] My mother is largely apolitical, but to the extent she is, she's a pretty typical upper-middle class Jewish liberal of the generation born during the Depression. My dad is more or less the same, but sort of gets the importance of property rights from time to time. :) I've always said if he'd had the right Econ class in college, he'd have been a libertarian. I have, however, co-authored a Freeman article with him. But that doesn't meet the threshold, so count those as a "no."

[2] My 18 year old son is very sympathetic to libertarianism, although I'm not sure exactly what he'd call himself. My 14 year old daughter is more or less a lost cause already. I have work to do there. So 1 for 2.

wintercow20 writes:

(1) Absolutely not. They are religious and traditionally economic Conservatives - virtually all of our relatives lean Democratic.

(2) Our two children are not yet old enough.

Dave writes:

1. Parents are middle-of-the-road Democrats but largely apolitical
2. too young

Josh D writes:

(1) No. My parents are Democrats.

MWC writes:

[1] My dad is a Dixiecrat turned Republican. My mom is feel good-type (supports bureaucracy to help people... not averse to charity versus government), but common sense-type politically (if we're drowning fiscally and economically, cut spending), registered Independent.
[2] No kids.

Geoffrey writes:

1) yes is am a libertarian (little l)

My parents are traditional conservatives (Rebublicans)- definately not libertarian.

2) No kids

liberty writes:

You already know, and I posted on facebook already but just so you have it all in one place:

1. No - socialist.
2. no kids yet.

beikjavik writes:

1. Deep down, they're classical liberals, but turned left thanks to the New York Times and ten years in Europe.

2. Kid free, Mormon God be praised.

N. writes:

These answers are actually much more interesting than I expected them to be.

[1] My father was a hardcore libertarian and there is no question that I got my politics from him. I think (that is, I would like to believe) it had more to do with his intellectual rigor than any kind of real enculturation. My mother is a left-leaning centrist, but she's always phrased her beliefs pretty honestly: "I believe the government should take care of the needy so the rest of us don't have to worry about them." I don't know how my parents survived 40 years of marriage, but they did, somehow. It did cause more and more tension the older they got.

[2] My wife is apolitical and cares mostly, I think, about not offending our friends. She votes for who they vote for, but only votes in the presidential election. This is the source of some non-negligible tension between us, but she has unquestionably moved more towards my end of the spectrum, even if she wouldn't dream of pressing the point with anyone. To her credit, she was deeply disturbed by the Obama zealotry some of our mutual friends possessed. In that regard I think she is wary of anyone who seeks power which I identify as a fundamental libertarian trait.

We have no children yet, but should we have them I am actually very ambivalent as to how I might attempt to raise them. I think that my libertarian upbringing has made it vastly harder for me to succeed in my chosen profession (film & TV) and has made life more frustrating for me in general. Sometimes I definitely feel that I would choose ignorance. So for my children... red pill or blue pill? It may seem a no-brainer to everyone else here, but in a way it seems to me a choice between whether I want my kids to be smart or happy.

Lee Kelly writes:

Nobody but me as a libertarian in my family.

My Dad has a casual interest in politics, but he is not a particularly deep thinker--he leans moderately to the left. My Mum has conservative instincts, but she grew up in a working class socialist atmosphere, so her opinions are contradictory. Most of my family were born and raised in the north east of England, in or around Newcastle-upon-tyne. They're mostly from a small ex-mining village with a strong socialist tradition: apparently the village flag was on display somewhere in the Kremlin for years, commemerating the local unions' revolutionary efforts.

scott clark writes:

1. No. My mother is a tough case. She believes all the politicians are bums, corrupt and crooked, and that nobody should ever get re-elected, but still believes that government has the ability and ought to have the power to right social wrongs, and rectify injustices, including economic interventions and redistribution. My father is a milder case of my mother.
2. Kids too young now, but I sure as shootin' won't let any non-sense about "Honest" Abe Lincoln get into their heads without some fatherly commentary.

David C writes:

1) My father is pretty far left. My mother is a mainstream liberal.

BZ writes:

I am a rothbardian (deontological) libertarian. My sister is also libertarian, but with more teleological reasonings. Together, we run our local county Libertarian Party. As for our parents...

1. No -- my father's got left leaning statist tendencies, but isn't consistent. Our mother was a relatively a-political, social conservative.

HiggsBoson writes:

1. I identify as libertarian. My mother is not very political, probably more center left, and probably guilty of all Bryan's systematic economic biases.

2. my children are too young.

Is Bryan saying that the libertarian view point is likely to be passed down, or that all political views are likely to be passed from parent to child. Certainly there must be some research in this area already?

M writes:

To my knowledge each generation of the three I know of in my family has diverse political beliefs. Most of them skew left and cherry pick a few right issues but they all fall in different places. My generation is the only one I know of in my family to have anyone libertarian or even sympathetic to libertarianism.

Richard writes:

[1] No - traditional conservative father, liberal mother
[2] Yes

William Barghest writes:

My mother is an old school yankee republican as was her father. My father is anti-authoritarian, but not opposed to the welfare state, although my paternal grandfather was a staunch libertarian, as are his other two sons. Both my sisters have some libertarian leanings, one of which is married to a doctrinaire libertarian.

I do not have children as yet.

Zac Gochenour writes:

[1] No, they are moderate conservatives, and they are both children of moderate conservatives

[2] No kids yet. PhD first.

Matthew Allen writes:

[1] My mom, and pretty much all of the extended family, is very conservative, of the tea-party sort. I inherited these views, but eventually shed them.

Ryan writes:

[1] Father is a "leave-me-the-hell-alone" conservative; almost libertarian, if I didn't catch him trying to impose his views on how people should live. Mother has wisely kept her political leanings silent over the 30 some years of their marriage. I tend to think she's a Christian conservative Democrat, though.

[2] No kids. I enjoy my freedom too much. =)

dave smith writes:

I call myself a classical liberal.

My dad is a solid traditional conservative.

My mom would consider herself a member of the religious right.

Ryan Vann writes:

1) My father is a crazy old person, and would probably best be identified as a fiscal conservative and social liberal. I'm not sure that makes him libertarian necessarily, but it would probably be a decent cursory definition. My mother just doesn't like politics at all.

Elvin writes:

Mom: Social justice/progressive liberal.

Dad:???? A Rooseveltian democrat who listend to Rush Limbaugh. Anti-elitist definately.

Me: Libertarian with some conservative leanings.

Teen-Age Daughter: I can tell she struggles with the steady liberalism from her teachers and the liberal catholic church we attend. She sounds pretty libertarian at times.

13-year old son: Thought Obama was super cool and had very anti-Bush friends (one said that he wanted to kill Bush), but he wants to be a Marine and wonders why anyone wants to pay taxes.

Didn't Churchill have something to say about this?

Jonathan Walz writes:

My views are consistently aligned with a libertarian viewpoint and have been most of my life, even before I knew what "libertarian" meant.

My father has always had a strong libertarian/individualist worldview, but he is also politically and fiscally conservative.

My mother was a very partisan liberal PC-worldview Democrat. She held a unshakable view of state paternalism, that government was absolutely good and that more government was just more goodness, even if it she was pressed to admit that government was not very efficient.

1) Parents are conservative Mormons, with mostly mainstream Republican views.

2) No kids yet.

Steve S. writes:

[1] No; father is a pro-union Republican, although his politics lean greatly towards skepticism of government & antagonism of government officials of all parties. So, maybe not libertarian, but getting there. Mother is a conservative (although fairly apolitical) Democrat.

[2] No kids.

caveat bettor writes:

It's hard enough for me to explain my libertarianism (government is good--including the Fed vs. the old gold standard--but we need a lot less of it) to others in New York City. My infant is a little too codependent on mommy to show any libertarian leanings; but I have a lot of hope for my elementary school student and preschooler: both of them favor my Red Sox over the Yankees!

John Fast writes:

[1] Yes: my mother, father, and only sibling are all libertarian. However, my brother and I were libertarian before our parents, and we did not convert them. (Ironically, my libertarianism developed partly as a reaction to my parents' authoritarian child-rearing style.)

Matt C writes:

1) My dad had eclectic politics but was approximately libertarian, my mom leaned left but was inconsistent in her politics and sometimes expressed libertarian views.

2) My kids are still young yet, but at a guess my son will identify as libertarian, and my daughter will be apolitical.

Oliver Beatson writes:

[1] Return true, and my parents are fairly apolitical, vaguely left-center.

[2] My children don't exist enough to have political views.

kevin writes:

I am a libertarian, and have been since I grew out of my naive (famiy-inherited) liberalism in high-school.

My father is a moderate liberal who votes Republican in local races due to the corruption and lack of principle of our local Democrats.

My mother is a knee-jerk, populist-leaning, partisan democrat.

Ed writes:

1. I'd say that my parents (and the majority of my extended family) are moderate-conservative Republicans. I usually call myself a libertarian, but I'm kind of moderate-conservative on foreign policy and am pro-life. I use to call myself a moderate democrat, then moderate Republican, then conservative, then very conservative, then conservative libertarian, and now, libertarian conservative. I do usually vote Republican. The only libertarian I've heard of in my family is my dad's cousin (whom I don't know).

2. I don't have any kids. I suspect they will think like me. If not, I have a library full of liberty books I can annoy them with!

Libertarian Parent writes:

[1] I self-identify as libertarian. My parents do not. They have described themselves to me as conservative.

[2] My older son is 16 and is definitely libertarian to the extent that we have discussed political issues, which we have in depth but not in breadth.

Additionally, my wife self-identifies as libertarian.

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