Learning From Those Who ‘Leave Liberty’


Libertarianism, like any ideological group, has a problem with people leaving. Those that decide to ‘leave liberty’ will inevitably receive accusations of ‘betraying your principles’ from many libertarians. These accusations will likely be true in some cases, but in others will be not only incorrect, but also counterproductive, assuming your goal is to further the liberty movement.

To learn from those who ‘leave liberty,’ we must first understand what made them leave.

Each of us can recall what personally attracted us to libertarianism and, consequently, what pushed us away from our earlier ideology.

When you became a libertarian, did you ‘betray’ your values, or find better ones? Was libertarianism a better expression of your values? Did you learn more information that refuted your former ideology? Was it the community within libertarianism that appealed to you? Whatever the reason you joined, it may be the same reason another has made the choice to leave. Some rather good advice that everyone, including libertarians, can take is Rule 9 from Jordan B. Peterson’s newest book 12 Rules for Life: “Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.”
This is similar to the Socrates Paradox: “If I know one thing it is that I know nothing.”

As libertarians, this humble perspective is often used to defend liberty from a pragmatic standpoint.

We argue against socialist societies by claiming that no human being (or group of human beings) could possibly have enough knowledge to manage an entire society from the top down and therefore the system cannot work.

I would use this same perspective to argue that while libertarianism holds solid moral and pragmatic cases (both are necessary), it’s entirely possible, however unlikely, that those that leave liberty may know something we don’t.

If we hope to make libertarianism flourish, we must keep this perspective in mind at all times, or else devolve into dogmatists.

So what exactly should we do when someone we know leaves liberty? I recommend that we ask and listen, give them the benefit of the doubt, and take notes. Are they really rejecting libertarian values? Or, are they taking a different approach?

What argument, tactic, or principle was strong enough to convert them away from the ideology of liberty?

The movement of some libertarians to the “alt-right” is an interesting phenomenon because the movements are so radically different. But as irrational as this migration seems, people are doing it for reasons they see as rational.

If we are to stop this from happening, we need to take a genuine interest in their reasoning (regardless of whether or not it seems justified) and apply a solution outside of accusing them of never being ‘real libertarians.’

Libertarians will not be able to please all of these defectors (nor should it attempt to), but we can work to hear them out and appeal to the few that we can without sacrificing our principles.

To provide one example of a solution, the liberty movement would benefit by refusing to appease those on the far left that wildly toss around accusations of racism (recall that the Mises Institute, Ron Paul, Walter Block and others have all been falsely slandered as racist).

At the moment, it appears that the only ideological group that shrugs off accusations of racism is the alt-right, which is appealing to anyone tired of being called a racist for right-of-center views.

An example scenario of libertarians nonsensically throwing out the ‘racism’ accusation can be seen here.

Considering that libertarianism is outside the range of ideas tolerated in public discourse (also known as the Overton Window), generally unpopular views do not bother libertarians, which explains why some may not be bothered by this characteristic of the alt-right.

I’m not denying that there are cases where people may ‘leave liberty’ and embrace genuine authoritarianism and betray their values, but we must not assume this applies to everyone.

If we remain humble, give these people the benefit of the doubt, and inquire into their reasoning for leaving, libertarians as a whole will grow stronger, smarter, and will retain many of those we almost lost.

* Nathan A. Kreider is an aspiring content creator, and former Young Americans for Liberty chapter President at Lock Haven University. His video and written content can be found on nkreider.com.

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Nathan A. Kreider is author of the Misconceptions column for Being Libertarian, and has written for the Austrian Economics Center, the Foundation for Economic Education, and the Liberalists. He also occasionally publishes a blog and video content, including short book reviews, which can be found on his website, nkreider.com. He can be contacted by email via [email protected]