Identity Crisis: An anecdote.

Today is liberalism day. A day where “classical liberals” seek to take back the moniker that was lost to them over the 20th century in an attempt to avoid confusion and to help drive home the ideological difference between modern liberals (who support a strong central government for the purposes of wealth redistribution and social control) and classical liberals such as Bastiat, Locke, and Ludwig von Mises (who advocated for little to no government tyranny and emphasized the rights of the individual over that of “society”).

In my personal experience however there is a far more dangerous muddling of ideology at the core of the libertarian movement. That is to say “when should libertarians betray their own values?” Since I was exposed to the ideas of Mises, Rothbard, Hayek and their intellectual proteges Hoppe, Block, Woods, DiLorenzo, Kinsella, Murphy, Ron and Rand Paul, and so many others I have found that there is a disconnect between the values advocated by these authors and the actions taken by them and their followers. This has often resulted in so called libertarians using remarkably non-libertarian tactics to pursue libertarian goals. First let me describe one of these events from my own personal experience and then I will discuss what I think can be done to help the libertarian movement as a whole.

I was introduced to libertarianism by a friend sometime in late 2008 but it wasn’t until the 2010 Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) that I met other libertarians “out in the wild”. I was still ideologically agnostic at the time but leaned towards a more leftist (not liberal) philosophy. I had voted for Obama in 2008 in my naïve belief that “anybody but Bush” was a valid political stance and I had supported the move towards National Healthcare; but over the next few months I was argued into holding a grudging respect for libertarian beliefs and by the time we boarded the train for D.C. I had read most of Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom and listened to a single Thomas DiLorenzo lecture through one half of a pair of headphones but was paying more attention to the other end of those headphones than the lecture droning into my ear.

So as I was walking into the Marriott or Hilton or whatnot I felt less like a fish out of water and more like a lobster in a pot and hearing a page over the loudspeaker for Dick Cheney raised the temperature ever closer to boiling. My compatriot barked a laugh at me when I turned and asked if she realized how dirty I felt being the same building as a war criminal. I was assured that I didn’t need to worry since we wouldn’t be anywhere near the neo-conservatives and would instead be linking up with some friends of hers at the Campaign for Liberty booth. A few awkward greetings later we were directed to a table, given badges with names of people neither of us had ever met, and told to vote in the Straw Poll for Ron Paul and to “do everything we could to not let the badges get punched” which signified that I.D. had been used and was ineligible for further voting. I, always good at following directions, managed with some small sleight of hand to vote and preserve the integrity of the badge, my friend was less subtle and some libertarian woman who was late to the party arrived later that day to find her I.D. already punched and her Straw Poll vote already cast. This small act of fraud was our payment for access to the speeches and Question and Answer later that day.

The speeches were interesting but uneventful. Thomas DiLorenzo on Abraham Lincoln (who else), Thomas Woods plugging one of his books. Rollback, I think, but at this point I own them all and can’t quite distinguish in my memory which one he released that year. The “Southern Avenger” Jack Hunter talked about something that completely escapes my memory though we were seated directly behind him before he went up and my friend’s cellphone going off directly in his ear is one of my fondest memories.

Then we were off to the Q&A featuring Ron Paul, Judge Napolitano with Tom Woods as moderator. At this point I feel the need to point out that throughout the day my friend and I were drinking out of 1 Liter Pepsi bottles that were approximately half Pepsi and half vodka. So at this point her cheeks were more red than Limbaugh’s cheeks and all fear I had of being outed as a “liberal pinko” was removed. In fact I was feeling bold. So as the Q&A reached its midpoint and my friend asked the air “I wonder if Tom Woods is an Anarcho-Capitalist?” I found myself stand up in this room of “right wing nutters” and insert myself into the line of people queued up waiting to ask questions.

Now anyone who enjoys the occasional overindulgence of hops and gets themselves into precarious situations knows the feeling I had at that moment. “Now what am I going to do?” I was in a hall with probably three to four hundred people, a television personality and a United States Congressman on stage in front of me while on camera and I was going to ask the MODERATOR if he had fringe political beliefs that I didn’t really know anything about.

The line in front of me grew shorter and shorter and I swear my blood pressure had to have rose a dozen digits and as I reached the front of the line I stuttered through some thanks to both Ron Paul and Napolitano before turning my gaze onto Woods and requesting his permission to ask him a question instead. At this point I knew I had broken about a dozen rules of etiquette as he mentioned that he would be available after the Q&A and noticeably stepped away from Ron Paul before agreeing to my request. I was in too deep at this point. “Mr. Woods.” I paused still figuring out my phrasing. “Do you think that a Minarchist society could lead to an Anarcho-Capitalist one?” His answer was everything I could have hoped for: “Of course, or else I wouldn’t be pursuing it.” Elated, I returned to my seat and gloated to my friend.

When we returned home I immediately looked for the video on the Campaign for Liberty website. Finding the video was easy enough but for whatever reason my question, and my question alone, was edited out. My only assumption was that it didn’t convey the “party line” that Campaign for Liberty wanted to convey. To me it felt as if I, a pseudo-democrat, was too radical for this so called party of change.

Now I didn’t think about this trip for several years but as I refined my beliefs and found the Rothbardian ideology that I now how hold dear I realized what a betrayal of libertarian beliefs my experience represented. The folks running the Campaign for Liberty booth openly and actively committed fraud in exchange for both personal and political favors while the Campaign for Liberty site runners were actively suppressing the logical conclusion of their belief system in an attempt to pander to the average voter. This was the beginning of my distrust of utilitarianism and of the political wing of the libertarian movement and that distrust has not subsided in the intervening years.

But if not politics then what can we do? I favor a two-pronged approach. The first is obvious: Education. We need to talk about libertarianism as much as possible and that is why I love this blog despite not being able to muster the time to post very often. I personally cannot stand to debate on the internet but some of the comments here and many of the posters make amazing headway into what it means to be a libertarian.

The second is more complex and much more personal. I call it practical (or passive) libertarianism. It is essentially finding it in yourself to embody the ideals of libertarian thought each and every day. Terry Amburgey says that I like to “Quote Scripture” and while he means it in a mocking way it is true that I do look to the writings of Mises and Rothbard for moral guidance. I believe that libertarianism has concrete ethics that help describe what is “right” and what is “wrong” in the world of morality and I make every attempt to live strictly by them.

What does this mean? Well for me it means following the Non-Aggression principle on a daily basis. In other words not committing aggression on persons or property. It means taking personal responsibility for my actions and not attributing blame to society or other abstract groups. It means not doing the obvious things such as stealing or littering but it also means making every attempt to keep money out of the government’s hands and in the hands of individuals by abstaining from buying superfluous goods whose proceeds go directly into the state coffers. This entails not playing the lottery (a bad idea anyway), and by trying to avoid purchasing things with heavy excise taxes.

Does this mean I live like a hermit? Of course not. I have to drive so I am forced into paying the heavy New York State gas tax. I purchase consumer goods as I see fit since sales tax is unavoidable. I am gainfully employed so the Income Tax is removed for me. But I do what I can. I try to minimize the government’s impact on my life. To quote pseudo-libertarian science fiction author Robert Heinlein”

I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.”

I suggest you do the same.

8 thoughts on “Identity Crisis: An anecdote.”

  1. I’ve been a sci-fi fan for roughly 55 years now. If you’re a sci-fi fan you’ve read Heinlein many times over. If you can quote scripture from Heinlein so can I ;)

    “Jean Rasczak: All right, let’s sum up. This year in history, we talked about the failure of democracy. How the social scientists of the 21st Century brought our world to the brink of chaos. We talked about the veterans, how they took control and imposed the stability that has lasted for generations since. We talked about the rights and privileges between those who served in the armed forces and those who haven’t, therefore called citizens and civilians.”

    I think its safe to characterize Heinlein as a pseudo-libertarian it comes through very clearly in much of his writing. However, it’s also clear in Starship troopers and some of his other writings that only those willing to sacrifice their rights and even their lives for the larger group [let's call it society] deserve decision rights. Hence:

    “Jean Rasczak: You. Why are only citizens allowed to vote?
    Student: It’s a reward. Something the federation gives you for doing federal service.
    Jean Rasczak: No. Something given has no basis in value. When you vote, you are exercising political authority, you’re using force. And force my friends is violence. The supreme authority from which all other authorities are derived.”

    Here’s a proposal that should get this crowd wild: I think citizenship and the right to vote should go ONLY to those that complete a term [2 years for the sake of something concrete] of social service. It can be military service it can be educational, medical, it can even be picking up litter and sweeping the streets. No service, no suffrage. No service? You get all the rights and responsibilities of a permanent resident but you get no decision rights whatsoever.

    1. Here’s a proposal that should get this crowd wild: I think citizenship and the right to vote should go ONLY to those that complete a term [2 years for the sake of something concrete] of social service. It can be military service it can be educational, medical, it can even be picking up litter and sweeping the streets. No service, no suffrage. No service? You get all the rights and responsibilities of a permanent resident but you get no decision rights whatsoever.

      This is an interesting proposal, and one that libertarians have dealt with many times before. Most of us would be happy to go along with something like, provided that none of us have to fund – via taxes – and of the crappy “social service” programs that would arise out of such an arrangement.

      You have to admit: This would be the only way to go about such a program. The real slogan of such an idea – which liberals could definitely get behind – would have to be ‘No Service, No Suffrage, and No Taxation’. Is your noble idea, Dr Amburgey, okay with such an arrangement?

  2. @Adam
    They’re not really quotes from scripture, I was in a rush and used movie quotes. But you’ll have to admit, the book says the same stuff about citizenship.

  3. Adam: I like a great deal the para that starts with “What does this mean?” Perhaps, acting right makes one more honest and even clarifies one’s thinking. I often wonder if a good example is not as contagious as bad examples.

    Brandon; Compulsory state service is slavery. Citizenship should not be contingent on virtuous behavior. That’s an open door for several brands of fascism. When liberals begin making concrete proposals….Keep in ind that the Peace Corps, for example, is a volunteer organization.

  4. “Compulsory state service is slavery.”
    True. Luckily my proposal has no compulsory state service. Do the memory problems you’re suffering affect reading comprehension?

    “Citizenship should not be contingent on virtuous behavior.”

    You’re entitled to your opinions despite how stupid I think they are. In my opinion there is no better criteria for citizenship.

  5. “The real slogan of such an idea – which liberals could definitely get behind – would have to be ‘No Service, No Suffrage, and No Taxation’. Is your noble idea, Dr Amburgey, okay with such an arrangement?”

    Sure. If citizens want to vote that only permanent residents pay taxes so be it. If permanent residents object to ‘taxation without representation’ they are perfectly free to vote with their feet and go to a different society.

    1. Why Dr Amburgey, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were trying to pull one over on me.

      Luckily I know that you know that libertarians are more intelligent than liberals and are thus less likely to be fooled by sophistry. The more important question is, I think, whether or not you have yourself fooled Professor. Let’s find out.

      I pointed out that your idea of giving suffrage only to those who volunteer for “social service” (in the name of the nation? the state?) is not a bad one, provided that those who do not participate do not have to pay for the “services” via taxes.

      However, Professor Amburgey simply avoids my question (I hate it when Dr J is proved right!). Terry avoids my question by stating that “If citizens want to vote that only permanent residents pay taxes so be it. If permanent residents object to ‘taxation without representation’ they are perfectly free to vote with their feet and go to a different society.”

      This is not what I asked, so I’ll ask again. Please remember that libertarians have, in general, higher intelligence levels than Leftists. Would you, Dr A, be okay with a program for “social service” that is entirely funded only by people who are willing to participate in such services? This seems logical enough to me.

      What does not seem logical (or fair) is having people who do not want to participate in such “social service” programs having to pay for them (and the benefits that may accrue). Such a system leads to the compulsory state service programs that Jacques so rightly worries about.

  6. “Would you, Dr A, be okay with a program for “social service” that is entirely funded only by people who are willing to participate in such services? This seems logical enough to me.”

    No. Citizens vote for representatives. They, in turn, set taxes – including who pays what. Everyone pays the taxes levied upon them. Since only citizens can vote I suspect that permanent residents will always get to pay. Who knows whether or not citizens exempt themselves from some or all taxes.

    “What does not seem logical (or fair) is having people who do not want to participate in such “social service” programs having to pay for them (and the benefits that may accrue).”

    People that don’t want to volunteer for social service don’t have to [that's what volunteer means except in Delacroix land]. However if you don’t, you don’t get to vote. If a person doesn’t find the rules to their liking they can move to another society that they prefer.

    “Such a system leads to the compulsory state service programs that Jacques so rightly worries about.”

    State service would not be compulsory. Paying your taxes would be compulsory.

Please keep it civil (unless it relates to Jacques)

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