Art Carden  

Why are YOU A Libertarian?

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Further Notes on Schooling... What I've Been Writing Lately:...

The Institute for Humane Studies' LearnLiberty.org project has created a Tumblr asking people why they are libertarians. This one caught my eye. Shayne, age 20, is

a LIBERTARIAN because I cannot remember a time without WAR abroad and WAR at home.

That's a depressing reality, and one I was thinking about not terribly long ago. I'm 34 years old. The WAR ON TERROR has been going on for pretty much my entire post-college life (I was a first-semester grad student on 9/11/01).

My "Why I'm a Libertarian" is a bit mundane as it goes back to why I became a libertarian in the first place (peace and prosperity). Why I stay a libertarian, and why I get more radical with every passing day, has to do in no small part with Shayne's reason:

I remain a radical libertarian in part because I want the wars on drugs and terror--and the attendant encroachments on liberty, dignity, and prosperity--to be history rather than current events when my kids grow up.

As a student of mine once wisely said, "perhaps we should stop fighting wars against abstract nouns."

Disclosure: I've been paid for doing stuff for IHS and LearnLiberty, but not for blogging about them on EconLog.


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COMMENTS (18 to date)
BZ writes:

Great little collection! My fav was the rather geeky one about "I'm libertarian because they stole the term 'liberal'".

MingoV writes:

I'm a libertarian because I use my brain and my skepticism.

BZ writes:

I couldn't decide which of the senses of the word "Why" was intended in the question, so here's all four.

Material:
Because I have a mind.

Formal:
Because my default political opinions are always towards liberty, and against coercion.

Efficient:
Because I was persuaded after reading a book by Murray Rothbard.

Final:
Because I want a world of emergent order and not central design.

ThomasH writes:

If being against wars on terror, drugs and crime is your reason for being in politics, you could just be a liberal.

Chris H writes:

@ThomasH

Liberals have held power a few times now without making much on a positive impact on those issues. Libertarianism has the virtue of having never been powerful enough to disappoint the expectations of it's adherents!

Daniel Kuehn writes:

I've been struck by how many of the reasons on the tumblr are precisely the same reasons why I am not a libertarian.

I chalk it up to a problem I probably whine about too much - that a lot of definitions of "libertarian" out there are absurdly vague.

NZ writes:

Does anyone else agree that why people's beliefs changed is usually more interesting and instructive than why they hold their current beliefs now?

There are plenty of people who are just as thoughtful, informed, intelligent, and old as Shayne, but are not libertarians. They look at the same circumstances but draw different conclusions. Shayne's reasoning therefore doesn't give us much information about either libertarianism or Shayne himself beyond some obvious cliches.

It's likely that in 10 years Shayne's political beliefs will have changed dramatically, perhaps even fundamentally. It will be much more worthwhile for him to tell us why at that time.

dullgeek writes:

I don't think I can sum up my own personal reason for being a libertarian in anything quite so succinct and pithy. But it comes down to finding the following repulsive:

  • democrats desire to command economic freedom AND
  • republicans desire to command social/personal freedom

My desire to command my own life and not command others leaves me in the libertarian camp.

That is until some other better ideology comes along that I haven't yet thought of.

Brian writes:

The frequent mention of war as a reason for being libertarian, while certainly justified, reminds me of how overused the word "war" is. War on Terror. War on Drugs. War on Poverty. War on Women. War on Science. These aren't wars and never can be. They make me almost pine for a real war, just so people remember what it really means.

This is also why I am not a libertarian, nor any other ideological category. I can't stomach shackling my brain to an ideology, even one that espouses liberty as a pre-eminent value. The limiting character of all ideologies is well illustrated by the abuse of the word "war."

BZ writes:

@NZ - Bravo, I couldn't agree more. In fact, I'd say that's the 10 million dollar question; the holy grail of answers.

The only progress I've made on it is that what seems to work for one person probably won't work for another. However, being an shameless reductionist, I can't help but keep navel gazing in the hope of discerning clues.

@Daniel Kuehn - given your frequent visits to this and other libertarian blogs, I find it Impossible to believe that you find the abstract one-liners written on those pieces of paper to be so mysterious as to be vague.

NZ writes:

@BZ:

Obviously the reasons one person changed from ideology X to ideology Y will be different from those of another person who made the same change. But either person's reasons are likely to be much more informative and interesting, both with respect to the individual and the ideology, than reasons given for why they hold their current views.

It's not about finding a single pattern (though patterns certainly exist and are also important) but about finding a statement that resonates with you or makes you think harder about your own views.

But since it got brought up, the pattern is worth talking about. How many people, for example, go from liberal in their teens and early 20s to libertarian throughout their 20s and then become conservative or at least more centrist in their late 20s/early 30s?

I ask because those ideologies flow naturally from where many intelligent individuals are at in various stages in their lives: young students haven't yet experienced much of the real world and are influenced by, or at least steeped in, a lot of left-wing professors and peers and hip newsmedia. Then they get out into the real world and discover having to pay taxes and they read all the regulations in their bills costing them extra money, while they gain more freedom to think about the world around them and question what everyone's been telling them. Then they get married and start thinking about families and neighborhoods and property values and realize not everyone seems to handle freedom as well as they do.

Daniel Keuhn writes:

BZ -
I know why they are thinking that's a reason to be libertarian. My point is just that it's just as good a reason not to be libertarian for many people.

And what I am saying is "vague" is the definitions you see - not necessarily these tumblr one liners. Learn Liberty had a feature a while back with some definitions. Take a look at them. For the most part non-libertarians would agree with them as well.

NZ writes:

I propose another forum. I propose it here because I no longer participate in social media or have a blog of my own. Others are free to carry it on elsewhere, inserting whatever ideology is appropriate.

"I was a [ideology] because:"

***

I was a libertarian because:

  • I wanted to believe that if I was capable of decency, thoughtfulness, and critical thinking, then anybody else was too.
  • I was an iconoclastic single guy who held the individual above all other social units, including family.
  • I obsessed over the logical consistency of my beliefs rather than confronting how my beliefs would realistically play out when put into practice.

RickC writes:

Every human being is an end unto themselves. Any attempt to use them as a means to some other end, without their uncoerced consent, no matter how well intentioned or noble that other end might be, is the end of justice.

But maybe I'm just too simple a guy.

Mark Bahner writes:

One can easily see that libertarianism is the most effective and beneficial form of government. Simply rank all the countries in the world from most libertarian to least libertarian. The countries with the most libertarian governments are the best places to live, and the countries with the least libertarian governments are the worst places to live.

Conversion is interesting. Eldridge Cleaver went from militant Black Panther to Republican. Solzhenitsyn went from believing socialist to Christian conservative. Whitaker Chambers went from communist to conservative. Vasily Grossman (__Life and Fate__) converted from believing socialist to ... classical liberal (? It's unclear), after witnessing atrocities on both the Nazi and Soviet sides in WWII and (apparently, as I see it) attributing the defect to the hero worship implicit in the centralized State. The KGB defector Victor Sheymov (__Tower of Secrets__) and his wife talked themselves around to a liberal (i.e., pluralistic) political position on purely theoretical grounds. I wonder if grad students in Information Science ever talk themselves around to support for markets on purely theoretical (Hayekian) grounds.

Perhaps someone else could list prominent converts TO socialism. I can't think of any off-hand. In high school I knew a few Rand devotees who became devout socialists in college, but the theoretical structure on which they hung their libertarianism was shaky to start.

Reasoning from abstract libertarian principles so frequently will generate the most benign policy prescriptions that (imho) libertarians over-generalize. Markets don't work well when title is necessarily insecure (e.g., migratory species). I part company with libertarians on environmental protection issues, including immigration and natural increase (immigration from the future).

NZ writes:

@Malcolm Kirkpatrick:

There are probably a lot of people who start off as moderate liberals and wind up as socialists, perhaps as a byproduct of liberal arts studies, etc. Not a dramatic conversion, but technically a conversion nonetheless.

What about intergenerational ideological drift?

Daniel Kuehn writes:

Following NZ above,

I was a libertarian because:

1. I had been raised reasonably conservative but in experiencing more of life as I grew older, started to chafe at the moral prohibitionism.

2. I had only started my economics education and therefore had only been exposed to a simplified version of the science that seemed to confirm libertarianism.

3. I had not had a lot of personal experience yet with people less privileged than me or even with different backgrounds from me.

4. In having libertarianism explained to me I was given the misleading impression that the alternatives were not pro-liberty and that it was not tenable to be an advocate of constitutional restraint and decentralization without being a libertarian.

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