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Perspectives: Is Irreverence Part of Being a Libertarian?

Being Libertarian Perspectives will serve as a weekly, multi-perspective opinion and analysis piece by members of Being Libertarian’s writing team. Every week the panel, comprised of randomly selected writers, will answer a question based on current events or libertarian philosophy. Assistant Editor Dillon Eliassen will moderate and facilitate the discussion.

Perspectives 1

Dillon Eliassen: I consider the Founding Fathers to be proto-typical libertarians (yes, I know, slavery is their black mark, no pun intended), and one of the motivating factors for seeking independence from Great Britain King George III was irreverence to his authority. The irreverence the Founders and Colony Patriots held for George wasn’t just limited to no longer recognizing his authority, but of disrespect and insult to the man himself. Remember, this was a king who blanketed himself in the concept of Divine Right, so that irreverence was also directed somewhat at God. Atheism is commonplace among libertarians. Some of it is based on “reason” but some of it is based in seeking to shed oneself of authority of any kind. We believe we should not revere anyone or anything that seeks to assert its authority over us.

I guess what I’m trying to find an answer to, if one exists, is do you have to have some inherent irreverent quality to be a libertarian? Are iconoclasm, skepticism and cynicism a prerequisite to be a libertarian? Jeffrey Tucker, an insufferable bow-tie wearing hack, wrote an article called “Against Libertarian Brutalism.” He posits libertarianism can be divided into a means vs. ends philosophy. Tucker writes there are libertarian humanitarians & libertarian brutalists, effectively libertarians of means, and libertarians of ends. The former advocate libertarianism as a method for achieving an economically prosperous and equitable society, whereas the brutalists are champions of the “leave me alone” and iconoclastic variety of libertarianism.

Peter Thiel and Murray Rothbard might be considered libertarian humanists, while Milo Yiannapopulistapotomus falls into the libertarian brutalist camp.

Martin van Staden: I think the brutalist vs. humanitarian thing is a false dichotomy. You are either a libertarian in its political philosophy sense, or you are not. Milo Yiannopoulos is treading dangerously close to simply not being one. He identifies as a conservative after all, and has supported perhaps the most authoritarian GOP candidate from the beginning. Christopher Cantwell classifies himself in the libertarian brutalist camp but he ceased being a libertarian long, long ago.

As to irreverence, I don’t think there’s something inherently irreverent about the philosophy. Libertarianism only appears to be rebellious because the classical liberals of the 20th century allowed the authoritarians to take over. Hayek who said that classical liberalism failed because we became complacent. We stopped mounting defenses of the ideas underlying our philosophy and thus the authoritarians simply waltzed right in. What appears to be irreverence is simply our natural human inclination toward freedom. Everyone experiences this, but as libertarians, we are the only ones who are actively calling for it to be embraced, while socialists and other authoritarians believe it needs to be suppressed.

Dillon: This reminds me of the idea that our natural state is poverty, not abundance; if you look at the history of man, subjection and servitude are the norms, not individual freedom and self-reliance. And yes, complacency leads to erosion. So, it’s an uphill climb for us, since most people have a herd mentality and are dictated by their emotions. While irreverence is an emotion, in part, it is often not the go to emotion somebody has when a crisis befalls.

Nathaniel Owen: Libertarians are naturally skeptical. When anybody, whether it be a leader or a random person, develops some level of respect from “the masses,” libertarianism will always have a camp of people criticizing them for something ethical or personal. I think much of the behavior that is perceived as inherent irreverence is only seen as such by people and groups of people demanding reverence or respect themselves. But to build on what Martin said, there’s a natural inclination towards freedom that gets in the way of libertarians playing nice.

Dillon: Are libertarians natural trolls? Provocative satirists skeptical of what they are told is true? Is there a correlation between distrust and mockery of government and government “data,” and needing humor to deal with serious situations? Aren’t they both coping mechanisms that have their foundation in irreverence?

Nathaniel: I think the only reason other people aren’t natural satirists and provocateurs themselves is because they are afraid of being perceived as irreverent. Whereas only some libertarians worry about this perception, other political groups of philosophical adherents feel that they must be as professional as possible.

Martin: I don’t think libertarians are naturally anything, though we have an inherent inclination towards freedom. As I mentioned earlier, I believe we’re simply a group of people who realize that trying to fight the laws of nature, such as economics, always proves disastrous.

Nathaniel: Which is why we don’t pull punches when offering a critique of those who are attempting to fight the laws of nature.

Dillon: I’m sticking with my assumption that irreverence plays a significant part of libertarian’s revulsion for government since we are seeing it with Gary Johnson’s campaign. A lot of libertarians are not happy he’s the nominee. Obviously he’s not perfect, but he seems to have as many detractors as he has supporters. So our irreverence leads us to even go after our own.

Irreverence is a virtue for us, it gives us a bullshit detector and makes us wary and skeptical and cause us to seek to independently confirm data and/or critique methodology rather than just parrot it… but that same irreverence leads to us lambasting our own candidate. I’m not much of a GJ basher, but I am not floating on cloud nine that he’s the LP candidate. He is simply the best of three possible choices.

Nathaniel: That is certainly a negative effect of focused skepticism. Libertarians are no strangers to making perfect the enemy of good. Many people do.

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