Arnold Kling  

54 Libertarians Tell Their Stories

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The book is Why Liberty, compiled by Marc Guttman. The 54th chapter comes from Vince Miller, a Canadian, who writes,

My own experience suggests maybe an innate sense of justice is required.

What makes some people take action when they see an act of injustice while others stand idly by and watch--seemingly disconnected?

Sounds like what a progressive might say. In fact, my chapter in the book is entitled "From Far Left to Libertarian." Like a number of others in the book, I started on the left, and my chapter briefly explains my journey.

When you read the book, you will perhaps be surprised by the number of women and the number of non-American libertarians. There are only a couple of stereotypical think-tank types. Instead, most are ordinary civilians.

I think that the most common trait is a willingness to go one's own way politically. In terms of the Five-Factor personality theory, I continue to believe that a necessary condition to be a libertarian is to be low on agreeableness. This trait could be compartmentalized (you might be agreeable in other areas, but not in politics), but it is more likely to be a more pervasive part of your personality.

It took Marc a long time to get this book from concept to final publication. I can feel his pain there. Three out of my five books came out long after I had put them into near-final format. But the result is a book that may help explain some of the current political ferment. Most of these libertarians are people that I had never heard of, but they all are quite articulate. If the book had not supplied biographical information, it would be pretty hard to tell the Ph.D's from the dropouts. Although many of the 54 are self-taught, they are better read than someone who considers himself an intellectual because he has a fancy degree and goes to the New York Times web site every day.

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COMMENTS (8 to date)
MernaMoose writes:

I continue to believe that a necessary condition to be a libertarian is to be low on agreeableness.

You've probably defined "agreeableness" somewhere in the past and I missed it, can you explain?

For me, it runs along lines like this. I don't especially like heated arguments and tend to avoid them when possible. I learned to avoid discussing religion at a very young age because tempers flare so fast and easy (and I was questioning what was taught when I was very young).

On the other hand, more than anything else I intend to understand the truth about things. I also learned at young age that many people aren't especially careful about this. Which is why I decided (probably before I was 12) that I didn't care if anybody else agreed with, or even fully understood, what my positions on things are. If they do it's fine, if they don't that's fine too.

I'm ambivalent on the subject of whether or not anybody agrees with or even fully understands my take. The most interesting conversations I have in life, are with people who can show me that I've missed something and need to correct my assessment(s).

I always thought liberals are people who can't take a stand on anything unless they're getting an intellectual group hug from it. But maybe I'm just prejudiced. :)

Michael writes:

I am not sure about the agreeableness part. For me, it is recognizing that irrationality whereby most people are libertarian with regards to their own lives and people they like, statist with regards to people they don't know, and positively fascist about people they dislike, stereotype, or don't understand. In other words, they see no reason why they should be restricted, but feel it would good for others to be limited to achieve a general benefit, and are furious to hear that other people are not shackled down by rules, heavier taxes, and intense oversight.

I did a media interview recently on a health care topic, and was repulsed by a co-discussant who was spewing invective about people who lived a "different lifestyle" (used pesticides), because of course this made them stupid. Assuming that people are stupid--because they do not know, share, or give credence to your perfect knowledge--is a great starting point for trying to force others to live by your rules. And of course when your rules fail to achieve their result, it is because the stupid people got in your way.

Chuck Barrick writes:

Maybe it's my one-eighth bastard blood, or one-sixteenth Choctaw, but I decidedly refuse active "hands-up" political participation.

Or maybe it's that my surname hails from Haw Creek in the Arkansas Boston Mtns.

Perhaps my FB "Religious View" will help explain: "RU-LAPSED?" (Radical Ultra-Liberal Anarchist Pacifist Socialist Episcopalian Deist?"

What if there were elections and no one voted? (Rousseau was no friend.)

My disentanglement from mundane trivialities frees me to thumb my nose, give kudos when warranted, or ceremoniously spread arse cheeks for joyful projectile diarrhea.

My forebears smile, and cool boiling-blood.

The perceived need for politics is an implicit admission of our failure to learn and apply this most fundamental truth (Thank you, Pointer Sisters. You indeed point.): "We are family."

thenewguy writes:

I just recently took the five factor personality test, and agreeableness was actually my highest score. Here's the test if you want to try to test yourself:

I try to remain fairly agreeable politically even though I'm a libertarian. I usually try to engage people on points that they agree with, and on points where we disagree I try to persuade them by saying "yes, you have the right idea, but you need to take costs into account".

Unless they are socialists, in which case my first instinct is to trash the Labour Theory of Value.

James Peron writes:

The book Why Liberty is published by Cobden Press in California and distributed by Fr33Minds. It can be ordered on line, along with other titles, at

Steve Trinward writes:

As one of those "ordinary citizens" among the contributors to this tome, I've been waiting almost as long as Marc to see it reach print (so long that my bio information is about half-expired). As one who came from a Left (SDS) perspective, after a very right-wing upbringing (hey it was truly the '60s), I've been delighted with how many other writers in this book have found liberty from that pathway. I still maintain (as expressed on my FB page) that: "The revolution for liberty will be won when "progressive liberals" realize that choice and consensus outstrips coercion and compulsion every day, even when such use of force is delegated to others."

Dot writes:

Ah, libertarianism. As unworkable as communism and twice as self righteous and smug.

Douglass Holmes writes:

I think I understand what Arnold means by being low on agreeableness. Most of us take a lot of cues from those around us about what is acceptable or right. If you have a low degree of agreeableness, you want to satisfy yourself before agreeing to things.

While it is true that this trait is required for libertarians, it is probably required for other types of radicals as well. Not that I consider libertarians radicals, but from the point of view of a committed communist, libertarians are radicals.

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