My Own Pie

Libertarian Thoughts from Renaissance Guy

My Path to Libertarianism

with 11 comments

     Why did I become a libertarian?  For that matter, why does anyone adopt any viewpoint?  I’m of the school that says that it results from a combination of factors.

     I remember reading about a study which showed that our brains might be wired for either a conservative or liberal bent.  Some combination of the structures and the chemistry of the brain might account for why people take one approach or the other.  I have always been individualistic by nature; I think my liberatarianism started there.

     My parents raised me and my siblings to be self-reliant.  They are multiple-generation Vermonters, and people from Vermont are legendary for valuing self-reliance.  They had to do so to survive.  They also value tolerance, in the true sense of the word.  People in Vermont tend not to ask what your political or church affiliation is.  It’s none of their business.  Vermont still has town meetings, where everyone can have a say.  True to the generalization, my parents are pretty open-minded.  Although they are very traditional and “straight,” they accept other people who are not.    I think my parents passed on to me these New England concepts, both directly and indirectly, intentionally and unintentionally.

     When I was a teenager I read a book that changed my thinking irrevocably.  It was entitled Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal by Ayn Rand and others.  It was a book of essays that explained what capitalism really was and how it had never been fully practiced.  It exposed the lies that monopolies are created by free enterprise and that the free market caused the Great Depression.  From then on I was a libertarian at heart, though I identified as a conservative and a Republican.

     During that time I read Animal Farm  and 1984.  I also read Witness by Whitaker Chambers and quite a few essays by William F. Buckley.  I read the novels of Ayn Rand and listened to the speeches of Ronald Reagan.  I evolved into a fully convinced capitalist and anti-statist.

     I thought that Ronald Reagan would take our country in the right direction.  Although he did not get us all the way to freedom, he was able to shift things for a short while.  I was happy, because the economic prosperity of the 1980s helped propel my family a few steps up the socio-economic ladder.  I was in college and was starting my career in those days.   Although things were not perfect, they were better.  I remembered the 1970s all too well.

     I was very much caught up in the Conservative Christian movement.  Like millions of other people, I thought that participation in the Republican Party was the ticket to transform America.  Then along came George Herbert Walker Bush, then Bill Clinton, and then George Walker Bush.  Although he is a crummy person, in some ways Clinton was a better president than the Bushes.  At least you got what you expected, what he promised.  The Contract With America was put forward during Clinton’s adminstration.  What a flop that turned out to be!

     During this election I stuck with the Republican Party one more time.  We nominated John McCain.  Need I say how disappointed I was? 

     No more.  I’m a libertarian.  I am now also a Libertarian.  I am not a radical libertarian, nor a perfect one, but it’s definitely what I am.

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Written by ambrosianideas

October 8, 2009 at 2:07 pm

11 Responses

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  1. There are so many of us making the switch. Who can any of us trust anymore. We are in very sad days. There isn’t an America we can run to-so we have to try to make this the America of our Founding Fathers and it isn’t easy with the entrenched politicians who think they know what is “good” for us.

    12stepgolf

    October 8, 2009 at 5:48 pm

  2. I had many of the same influences as RG. My parents (who lived in Connecticut, a couple states south of Vermont) did their best to raise my sister and me to be self-reliant and to think for ourselves. And they also highly valued tolerance – though they tended to be intolerant of intolerant people. They were registered Republicans but voted for Democrats or Independents when they thought those were the better candidates. They believed that what adults did was their own business as long as it did not hurt others.

    And then I became a fundamentalist Christian, and began being taught how the ideals of the Republican party were Biblical, in contrast to the ideals of the Democratic party. I turned 18 just in time to vote for Reagan, along with virtually everyone else at the Baptist college I attended.

    In college I was first exposed to the ideas of Ayn Rand. A few years later I read her novels. When I read Atlas Shrugged, I thought it was the most compelling novel I had ever read. In grad school I studied economics, and became even more convinced of the wisdom of letter the free market determine winners and losers and products and prices, though I can see the value of regulation where serious safety issues are concerned.

    I don’t remember what I thought of Bush Sr., but when conservatives started predicting how a Clinton presidency would spell absolute disaster for America, I started to get the feeling that it was more scare tactics than sound prediction. I’m not saying I thought Clinton was great, but Republican rhetoric seemed to be just that – rhetoric, without a lot of substance behind it. Under Bush, they got their chance to really make a difference. And they didn’t act all that much different from Democrats. That’s when I started looking for another party to vote for.

    Pauline

    October 9, 2009 at 1:56 am

  3. The problem with Rand is that while the fiction is inspirational, her philosophy is so, well, meaningless. She assumes her conclusions, builds ideas on tautologies, and ultimately it’s more like a statement of faith than a real philosophical system. It reminds me a bit of Marx in that she really sets up a secular religion you either believe or do not. But her core ideas, as expressed in fiction, are inspirational, and thereby touch on some deep truths, which I can respect.

    I was a very religious Christian until about age 22 as I studied other world religions and realized that I could not justify putting one ahead of others. Thus the spiritual views I hold are quite close to those of Christian values, though focused on spiritual truths and loves rather than petty moral rules like worrying about homosexuality or things like that. If I had to call myself something it would be a quantum pan-theist 🙂 Maybe a quantum deist.

    I do agree with libertarians about foreign policy and non-intervention. The most abused power of government is the power to kill.

    Scott Erb

    October 9, 2009 at 2:50 am

    • Scott – I am with you on Rand! It is almost heresy to say such in libertarian circles, but she was a bit of a wacko. I enjoyed Atlas Shrugged, but it would have been amazing at 1/2 its bulk.

      Greg

      October 9, 2009 at 12:53 pm

  4. Scott, I am sorry that you consider Rand’s philosophy meaningless. I find it brilliant in its simplicity and its obviousness. So much of her philosophy is based on natural law.

    Objectivism resonates with me. It matches what I observe about the reality around me.

    As you might recall, I don’t believe in accepting any philosophy without evidence of its truth. Therefore, when you call her philosophy a “statement of faith” and a “secular religion,” I think, yes but with logical and facts on its side. I believe in Christianity, because I see that it is warranted. The same is true of Objectivism.

    I am not sure that you can separate the “core ideas” in her fiction from her philosophy. They are pretty much the same.

    renaissanceguy

    October 10, 2009 at 1:03 pm

  5. As a philosopher, she just doesn’t cut it. She emotionally appeals to you, which is fine, but her philosophy itself is meaningless in the sense that its arguments don’t prove it. It is a set of beliefs which one can choose or not choose. It resonates with you on an emotional level, which is fine — but, of course, others have different philosophies that resonate with them. I guarantee you I can fit facts to fit just about any philosophy — when I teach about political ideologies I do so in class. I show the class how any ideology can be supported by people who want to believe it, how all facts can be interpreted into that ideology, and can be interpreted to show others wrong.

    That means that for better or worse, we place our bets. We go with what resonates with each one of us. For me, that also requires tolerance of different opinions and a recognition that I — and everyone else — has to recognize the possibility of being wrong. Or, perhaps there is no “right” ideology. I agree with Socrates that a key to wisdom is to recognize our own ignorance.

    So yeah, you can find logic and facts on the side of Christianity and objectivism. Or on the side of Buddhism and democratic socialism. Or on the side of atheism, or fascism…just about anything can be defended with logic and facts. Nothing, however, can be proven superior — at least, I’ve never seen anyone do it.

    Scott Erb

    October 10, 2009 at 1:34 pm

  6. Scott, it is not true that Rand’s appeal for me is emotional. Neither is the appeal of Christianity.

    You don’t like the idea of people using objective evidence and reason to decide among ideologies. Your project your rejection of ideologies on emotional grounds unto others.

    I can understand why it is emotionally appealing to you to reject ideologies. However, your anti-ideological stance is an ideology in and of itself. Besides that, you make many ideologically-based statements, but you don’t care to admit it.

    Scott, you cannot use facts to prove that two contradictory, categorical statements are both true. If I say that Jesus is God, and somebody else says that He is not, you cannot find facts that prove both assumptions. You can possibly prove one of them or neither of them, but not both of them.

    I don’t gamble much, but when it comes to both religion and politics, I want to place my bet on the ideas that have evidence to back them. Otherwise, I’d rather just become a bitter nihilist.

    Socrates was the wisest Greek for realizing that he did not know anything. It did not stop him from believing and teaching what he thought to be true, based on the evidence and his reason.

    I have seen people prove one system of thought superior to another, and I’ve tried several systems out, some of them mentally only. It’s much easier to take your view than to do the hard work of choosing one (or more) based on its/their merits.

    renaissanceguy

    October 11, 2009 at 1:32 pm

  7. The problem is that ideologies are vast simplifications of reality. They take the myriad of relationships — cultural, social, economic, political, etc. — and whittle it down to a relatively simple theory. That is inherently problematic, and why there is always a way to support ANY ideology with logic and evidence and NEVER a way to prove one correct. One can’t be correct because they are such over-simplifications of a complex reality. That isn’t nihilism, it’s recognition of the limits of ideological thought. There is no provable “right” system. Yet we have to act in the world. We have to do so with uncertainty, making our best gambles. Unless you can prove otherwise — and I’ve spent a lifetime studying and teaching these issues — that’s my stand, based on evidence, logic, and experience.

    Scott Erb

    October 11, 2009 at 2:18 pm

  8. Want to read an interesting challenge to libertarianism? A book I’m using in a course I teach is “The Myth of the Free Market” by Mark A. Martinez. He argues persuasively that markets work in large part because of the state, and the state makes possible the vast accumulation of wealth that many individuals acquire. Without the states, markets would not function well at all. In his first chapter he directly takes on Rand, Friedman and Hayek’s main points. It’s pretty persuasive — he especially points out the false dichotomy promoted by some that it’s liberty vs. collectivism. Instead, you can’t have liberty for most without the state, and pure free markets would lead to less freedom.

    Scott Erb

    October 13, 2009 at 12:30 am

  9. Scott, I would read that book if it is not too technical. At the moment it will be hard for me to acquire it, but I will put it on my list.

    By the way, I’m not an anarchist, at least not yet. I believe in minarchy, because the non-aggression principle has to be backed by law and be enforced somehow.

    If Marinez is saying that people need government-provided protection in order to carry on business without others harming them, I agree.

    It’s illogical to say that pure free markets would lead to less freedom. I would have to see how he defends such a statement that seems self-contradictory on its face. I know you don’t like tautologies, but freedom means being free.

    renaissanceguy

    October 13, 2009 at 9:45 am

  10. Martinez denies the false dichotomy between freedom/liberty on the one hand, and collectivism on the other. He also denies the idea that politics and economics are separate — they are inherently intertwined. You seem to make an assumption that only government can deny liberty or freedom, and many libertarians define aggression very narrowly, as only the use of direct physical power (rather than structural economic aggression). Once these things are called into question (with evidence backing them up), everything gets messy. Of course, I would also argue that liberalism’s fundamental assumption (liberalism in the sense that almost all Americans are some form of liberal — from libertarian to interventionist) that humans are naturally individualistic, focused on material consumption, and that the European enlightenment is a discovery of the “right” way of thinking, rather than simply another cultural artifact that has positive and negative points. I assume you agree with that at least in part, since enlightenment thinking really undercut religion and tradition.

    I also find the definition of freedom to be difficult. We’re all free to do whatever we want in our circumstances, limited by the consequences of our actions and the impact of other actors. Trying to mitigate the consequences, or limit the impact of other actors, seems to be inherently difficult to chart out. Focusing on limiting direct physical aggression from others is one way, but I’m not sure it’s self-evidently the best way, or that it really generates more freedom.

    I don’t know — I can’t pretend to have the answer, nor can I say you’re wrong.

    Scott Erb

    October 13, 2009 at 2:16 pm


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