By any sensible, historical definition, I am a libertarian. I also find myself more often than not feeling the need to apologize for other libertarians’ behavior in the social sphere. And some of the most fiery debates I have these days are with fellow self-proclaimed liberty lovers who would rather tell me how wrong I am about monetarist economics, how fascist I am for having gone to a publicly recognizable school, how I’m a leftist because I’m pro-choice, and how, because of all of these disputes and more, I couldn’t possibly be a “real” libertarian. Both of these realities are unfortunate and philosophically needless. Getting libertarians to hold a ubiquitous opinion on much of anything aside from the autonomy of the individual is oxymoronic. Grouping libertarians is a lot like herding cats, and as the great Michael Shermer has already pointed out, our individualistic nature is somewhat incompatible with party politics.
Even so, we try so very hard. We formed a political party with a mission statement and real life candidates, and we hold each other accountable to falling in line with certain norms we have come to expect to be upheld. But this does not change the fact that libertarianism is much more a philosophy on life than it is a rigid political movement. Much like feminism, in fact – another area that I am apparently wrongheaded for venturing into, according to many of my fellow liberty minds. And yet, I cannot help but feel like since both entities were humanistic philosophies well before they became political spearheads, it is still intellectually consistent (and entirely possible) to consider oneself viably among both.
It is even argued by some scholars that the first feminists were libertarians, or at least their modern equivalents. Anne Hutchinson, largely cited as the first feminist, didn’t call her movement ‘feminism’ at the time; instead, it was known as ‘Antinomianism,’ which literally means ‘against the law.’ In order to bring her fellow females into what she referred to as “free grace” (individual autonomy), Hutchinson knew she had to fight the government itself and its unjust treatment of women. Individualism is, in many ways, the backbone of many civil rights-focused agendas in the modern world, and it is also the main intellectual fuel for the more brilliant scholarship in libertarian literature.
For example – when Adam Smith wrote his opus The Wealth of Nations, he denounced slavery and promulgated autonomy. But the way in which he made this argument was so brilliantly realized, it would send shockwaves through the world and influence an entire scholarly field (economics) from then on. How did he make the argument? He merely explained, in economic terms, why it would be wasteful and financially unwise to endorse slavery over free men:
“From the experience of all ages and nations, I believe, that the work done by free men comes cheaper in the end than the work performed by slaves. Whatever work he does, beyond what is sufficient to purchase his own maintenance, can be squeezed out of him by violence only, and not by any interest of his own.”
It’s true – capitalism is truly an anti-slavery system, despite what many of your leftist friends might try to convince you of. And once again, we see an emphasis on one’s own means as the true mechanism by which an ideal existence can be achieved. And as far back as one can go in the literature, this remains first and foremost the key ingredient.
That should make the matter of one’s ‘libertarianism’ an open-and-shut case. After all, as long as one wishes as little hindrance upon a human being’s right to his own livelihood as possible, this self-proclamation should be acceptable. But unfortunately, there are multiple stripes of libertarian today, not all of them as welcoming as the philosophy itself would imply.
Enter the conspiracy theorist, tinfoil hat-wearing, chemtrail-believing, AIDS-denying libertarians who find scientifically literate people like myself to be ‘naive’ and too trusting of my government (you know, because absolutely anything the government endorses must be a conspiracy). I wouldn’t mind this so much if it weren’t for the fact that my integrity as a libertarian of any sort is called into question by these people – simply because I don’t agree with their conspiracy theories.
Or what about those right-wingers who fly confederate flags and claim the Civil War was only about states’ rights? Again, not so much my problem if it weren’t for the fact that all libertarians tend to get lumped together without much nuance or pragmatism on the part of the general public. If I don’t take the time and effort to differentiate myself from the crowd, then my personal brand of liberty is lost and misrepresented. But here, the other edge of the sword – by merely stating my case as an individual, thoughtful libertarian with my own views on common themes, I am accused of being somehow less of one. Not because I’m actually saying some undoubtedly non-libertarian thing, but because I’m the square peg to any one of the aforementioned strands of the liberty movement. I am my own thinking person. I am autonomous. That is by definition the most libertarian thing one could say about himself, and yet more and more I see assimilation being encouraged in a movement that came from a philosophy proud to rattle cages and challenge norms.
Well, here is my riposte to those naysayers. And as has been my mantra throughout, I can only speak for myself, but I am someone who believes in free markets but follows monetarism more than Austrian economics as a hypothetical means of practically implementing policy.
In other words, think more Milton Friedman and less Ludwig von Mises. I’m in favor of some things the paleoconservatives would consider sacrilege like a Negative Income Tax, certain government regulations on things like child vaccination, involuntary circumcision, and anthropogenic greenhouse gas emission, and I totally love Murray Rothbard’s pro-choice brand of bodily autonomy argumentation. I think it’s okay for government to regulate sometimes if what it is protecting amounts to our Constitutional rights.
As a result, I find myself much more socially liberal than the “socially liberal” types like Andrew Napolitano, yet I still respect the hell out of both camps. I’m scientifically and economically literate, which means not only do I reject Keynesian economics as flawed and outdated, – I also accept the science behind evolution and climate change.
I’m not a 9/11 ‘truther,’ nor am I an Obama birther, yet I can still disparage the government for the NSA, ACA, persecution of whistle-blowers, and the drone program. I prioritize what should be cut in the short term (the defense budget, corporate welfare), and can simultaneously be more objective about the positive value of smaller things that of course should ultimately be cut funding-wise in the long-term (NASA, Planned Parenthood). I can promulgate tax cuts and the abolishment of minimum wage yet still be OK with a more baby-steps approach to other aspects of the economy that otherwise we could not sell the general public on.
I believe that demolishing marriage altogether actually grows government more than simply accepting legalized gay marriage does. I am also capable of celebrating both Caitlyn Jenner and U.S. troops as heroes (it’s not a contest, and it sounds ignorant and hateful when one makes this distinction). I don’t worship Ron Paul and admit he has partnered up with the wrong crowd too many times in the past, and prefer the likes of Thomas Sowell, Michael Shermer, and Sam Harris be the faces of the libertarian movement moving forward. But that’s just me.
And that’s the beauty of it – these are just my personal preferences, and they happen to land me in the ‘left-libertarian’ camp – but I’d rather not be admonished by my brothers in arms as a result of me not lining up one hundred percent with their more uniform (and admittedly, common) stances. I would rather just be treated like a libertarian – an individual with a valid place in this movement. My brand of liberty is dictated by nobody else’s, and that’s exactly the way it needs to be for each and every one of us.
This article originally appeared in Being Libertarian and has been republished with permission.