Libertarianism lacks romanticism

This has been bizarrely relevant in the past couple weeks, as a point of discussion between myself and dialectical peers. Though libertarians are far and few between in my county, there are a couple advocates at my school (that I really can’t stand, aside from our political similarities), and I end up associating heavy with Marxists and liberals, despite our differences. It’s led to a few thoughts on youth interaction with political ideology:

Separate the principled stance from the implementation. Marxists and members of the communist party in the states have always had the romantic advantage. Persecution under McCarthyism and being tabbed by the FBI are not goods in themselves, nor are they goods for what they bring; still they are voguish and romantic in outsider retrospect. Today, a good many Marxists work as artists or adjunct professors, and these are modernly picturesque as well. Being altogether apolitical is also romantic, combined with a vagranthood: the draw of Bukowski working odd jobs on the streets of Los Angeles simply to supplement a poetic lifestyle.

There are a good amount of libertarians working as contributors and writers, each profession romantic in its own sense, but it doesn’t nearly balance the phantasmagorical image of polar ideologies. Our Editor-in-Chief is traveling, working odd jobs and blogging with minimal resources, which is definitively romantic, but Brandon isn’t generalizable in his lifestyle, and seems to be a rarity. And often enough, libertarians in the spotlight are crass or poor communicators: take Stefan Molyneux, who is a bad content-creator and worse philosopher. Liberty’s public figures aren’t much in the way of youth appeal.

The romanticism of the Black Panthers, working communally to protect neighborhoods from police harassment, is aspiring for many Black Lives Matter protesters right now. The inspiration of grass roots is just absent from many larger libertarian circles: as I apply to summer seminars, looking at the IHS, Independent and Cato, there’s observable ambition and prestige, but lack of romanticism. Romanticism might not seem important in principle but it drives so much history and myth – in the connection between reality and ideas-sense, not the ancient legends-sense – that it shouldn’t be discarded.

Even though Marxism and libertarianism are wholly different, they are both growing outliers in a stagnant political landscape and (arguably) reject authoritarianism. Anarchists populate both circles, with their own interpretations of how society ought to function and the legitimacy of government. I think that’s where the romantic edge used to be – the anarchists – but with the institution of an iconic libertarian, grown in a rhetoric-lite but sentiment-heavy miasma, liberty is ripe for a solid 21st century figure, which is supremely important for future alignment.

5 thoughts on “Libertarianism lacks romanticism

  1. this is at once subtler, and simpler, than you might think.
    you could start here:
    “You ought to do something great…I mean, the two of us together.” “What?” she asked. He said, “I don’t know. That’s what we ought to find out. Not just what you said. Not just business and earning a living. Things like winning battles, or saving people out of fires, or climbing mountains…. The minister said last Sunday that we must always reach for the best within us. What do you suppose is the best within us?”… She did not answer; she was looking away, up the railroad track.”

  2. Do you suppose it might be the demographics? Libertarians have their fair share of wild events (e.g. porc fest), and even more prestigious things like the IHS seminars have their fun stuff. In the last IHS seminar I attended they had a toga party and filled the campus dorms with weed smoke. Likewise after an Independent Institute seminar several students went out to a strip club.

    I’m a wet blanket who prefers reading alone so I wasn’t involved in any of that, but I’m usually the exception.

  3. I was at first tempted to disagree with this article, but on second thought I’m more inclined to agree, while offering a slight amendment. The amendment is that if you look hard enough, I think you’ll find libertarians doing the same kind of “romantic” stuff that leftists are doing. You just have to know where to look. One clear-cut example is Tom Palmer and his associates at Cato and the Atlas Network. It’s hard to argue that Tom’s work is lacking in romanticism. He basically flies to far flung parts of the world promoting liberty in some of the most liberty-hostile places imaginable. A similar example: Hernando de Soto in Peru. Less familiar example: Khalil Ahmad of the Alternate Solutions Institute in Lahore, Pakistan. There’s also a question of what kind of ideological test you want to apply. Libertarian ideologues may not be doing the kind of romantic stuff you have in mind, but people influenced by libertarianism may well be.

    But ultimately, I agree with your basic point. My explanation for it is that libertarian romantics tend to be influenced by Ayn Rand, and that brand of romanticism is attuned not to politics but to business or occasionally to the performing arts, but to conservative/traditional varieties of those arts. So there is romance there, but it’s not political romance of the leftist variety. It’s romance of a variety less recognized as “romantic” in our culture. Americans admire enterpreneurs, but tend not to romanticize them. Rand’s ethos and aesthetic was an attempt to romanticize business, but has only had limited success in doing so. There are Objectivist artists out there (painters, musicians, sculptors) living the romantic life of the artist, but their work seems retro by current standards; it’s the avant-garde that’s romantic, not the rear guard. So there’s no discernible romance there, either.

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