The Free Society is Within You – Opting Out


No matter who has won the US election by this point — I have no idea, I’m writing this before all the results have come in — the loser has been liberty. That is, if you believe that the goal of all this is to create the nebulous thing we call “the free society.” Yet it’s not over and I’ll tell you why.

Every time a single individual is shed of the delusion of collective will and the state, is finally enlightened to economic sanity (or the field of economics at all), or has abandoned the pretense of Western world policing, this is a victory for liberty.

The months in which I was first exposed to the ideas of libertarianism were some of the most significant of my life, for which I shall be eternally grateful. It completely changed how I saw the world. Am I any freer in a political sense since that time? Probably not. But it was the knowledge and understanding that was most liberating.

Looking at the people around me, I shudder to think what kind of political quagmire I would be in if Ron Paul hadn’t run for President in 2012, or I hadn’t read Economics in One Lesson at that key formative life moment. If I hadn’t fallen into predictable categories such as the social justice left or bread and butter conservatism, I would have been less enlightened and then therefore less free.

(Also imagine the daily torture of being a social justice activist).

This sort of approach is at odds with this obsession with overly political libertarians who judge how things are going purely on electoral results. Where I see an entire generation of young people being exposed to Ludwig von Mises as a miraculously brilliant victory for liberty, the others get excited when a single state’s LP candidate gets ballot access for a midterm. This is a fundamentally different filter to view the world through.

To make an analogy as an outsider, I see two kinds of Christians: One that is focused on personal salvation and saving souls for the Lord, and the other who believes it is incumbent upon Christians to create the promised land on Earth in this lifetime. People with these respective worldview behave very differently.

I can’t quite say which approach is right, but I know which one makes you happier. You can survive as a kind A, the personal salvation type, without losing the will to live. I’m not sure that’s quite possible with kind B, the world-changer type.

Kind B’s happiness is contingent on things going exactly right in the outside world over which we have no control. The Buddhists, if they were in fact super attached to the world bothered by such things, would balk. The principle of non-attachment is there to keep us content, because our state is then not dictated by a world that is constantly in flux.

I would argue that the problem is bigger than flux as far as politics is concerned. Flux implies a kind of randomness that is not corroborated by the facts. In fact, the world sets itself actively against libertarian values, and it’s therefore not at all surprising that we don’t get anywhere politically.

I genuinely feel sorry for people who are Libertarian Party activists. The entire system is set up to make their lives as difficult as possible. The fact that many of them last for so many years is beyond me.

Perhaps optimism is one hell of a drug, or perhaps they are better people than I. Yet my happiness has not had to buy an engagement ring for a particular political result. I can feel good about being a libertarian right now. For example, I could go to the Mises Institute website and order ten copies of Economics in One Lesson to give to my family and friends. Let’s say none of them read it; I at least feel good about giving them away. And let’s say one of them really reads it, nay understands it, nay is inspired by it. Imagine being responsible for changing someone else’s life for the better, permanently. Now that’s the kind of shit campaign donations don’t buy.

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James Smith

Writer and film-maker from the United Kingdom. Digital nomad. Author of 'The Shy Guy's Guide to Travelling'.