“Libertarian” Before Anything Else


13493020_1836030686627291_727203776_nEvery libertarian has had those “ugh” moments when they’ve come across less-than-savory legislation – you know – the kind that makes us furrow our eyebrows with our mouth hanging slightly open, turning from side to side to see if anyone nearby is also five percentage points closer to a stress stroke.

In these moments, many people, such as myself, discover an inner voice hiding in the deep reaches of their emotional banks. Echoes of internal chagrin can be heard in the form of dramatic sighs and embarrassing throat noises, much to the confusion of anyone nearby who isn’t privy. Interspersed between the fear of an approaching existential spiral, somewhat coherent thoughts drift forward like, “… if I meet these congress people, I’m going to break into their car and pee all over their driver’s seat.”

In these moments, you should embrace that inner voice. You’re onto something.

Take the worst examples of social legislation from Republicans, for example. This breed of “legislative fanfiction,” much like its leftist counterpart, often comes about through by tempering the values of liberty. As Americans on the right assess their own political identity and go out to vote under that pretense, many of them forget to take into account that any sort of line-drawing or exception-making behavior is based on a personal morality. Religion, subcultural values, and the ways in which individuals decide their priorities are all personal ideals and, for the most part, these feelings lie outside the confines of the Constitution. In a lot of ways, the socially conservative mindset is a form of behavioral regulation. You give up your personal autonomy and conform to the mob rule of a privileged class – um, cough, I mean – you use democracy to vote on things that everyone could’ve handled separately for themselves.

On the other hand, consider some of the worst examples of economic legislation from Democrats. This type, a kind I like to call “you failed economics in high school, didn’t you?” legislation, stands on a strange precipice of interpolitical ideals where honest attempts to fight for society’s underdog are strangled by poisonous neglect of individual freedoms, trading away individual rights for living standards rights in inconsistent and ironic combinations – and, at that, with a hefty fee, extorted at threat of imprisonment. Even the course of socially reactionary ideology, in many senses, appears painfully ironic when looking at its historical development. The movement, at one time distinct from its economics, socially progressed under the banner of classical liberal positions, championing the individual – and this gained the camp ground, cementing civil rights legislation and removing arbitrary entry barriers to political participation. Now, those social politics have been hijacked by the very collectivist narrative which informs anti-competitive, anti-development, anti-incentive economic philosophies, aggressing against the individual.

So, if you call yourself a libertarian, there’s good reason for why you’re not a Republican and why you’re not a Democrat. With that in mind, it’s definitely fair to argue that there’s utility in incorporating nuance by using terms like “left-leaning” or “right-leaning.” These terms highlight the diversity of the libertarian community, outlining a functionally unique quality held by this political philosophy in terms of its capability to advance a free society despite being an umbrella ideology. Even socialism can’t pull that off (which is ironic, considering its collectivist nature).

Economically speaking, we have capitalists, socialists, communists, georgists, dirigists, usufructs, and syndicalists. On a social level, we span all the way from progressive left to pseudo-alternative right. Philosophically, many accent their ideals with transhumanism, objectivism, utilitarianism, paleo-libertarianism, and geoism. Even on a political level, there is considerable room for diversity; we have nationalists and disestablishmentarians, we have minarchists and anarchists, and we have bleeding heart interventionists and isolationists, etc.

What holds us together is a central pivot of individual inviolability. For some, that comes from the non-aggression principle, sometimes conflated with evictionism (for Block fans). For others, that comes from consent-literate interpersonal politics. For a few, it’s a psychological strategy that instills a greater faith than failed diplomatic strategies of the past.

But it doesn’t really matter. Because generally we can agree that trying to control people is how we get into messes. Trying to violate people and take over their lives is a sure-fire way to normalize a social institution until it expands and envelopes the autonomy of ourselves and our posterity.

Being proud of our individual sub-labels and niches within the liberty spectrum is fine. These things define who we are and, maybe when minarcho-libertarianism becomes dominant someday, a stepping stone into our division, they will become relevant to how we decide the future course of the liberty movement.

For now though, taking sides is a terrible idea. Stop saying you’re “right-leaning” or “left-leaning.” That’s not productive. It validates the fallacious nature of a Republican vs. Democratic dichotomy and lends our voice, an increasingly louder, more valuable voice, to the legitimacy of their institutions, drawing attention away from the fight for a freer world.

The next time you talk about your political identity, start a conversation by saying that you’re libertarian before anything else.

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Mike Avi

Mike Avi is a student at Florida State University studying Economics and Portuguese. He is president of the university's College Libertarians RSO and a Campus Coordinator for Students for Liberty.