So about 18-19 years ago I decided that my politics were libertarian. This was in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and everyone I knew and saw on TV were all gung-ho to lock this country down into a fortress America and go on all sorts of wars in the Middle East. “We need to turn the entire Middle East into a coffee table–made of glass!” was the kind of sentiment that was often e-mailed to me by friends and co-workers at the time. My own reaction was along the lines of, “look, everyone is understandably upset and concerned, but maybe we should take a deep breath and actually think about what would be the best response?” What “we” wanted made no difference, of course, as the Bush administration had already made up its collective mind. We now know that they were planning to invade Iraq from the time they first came into power.
Anyway, considering myself to be at least a centrist, moderate liberal Democrat at the time, I was skeptical as to what the US government was doing in response to the attacks under the leadership of the Bush administration. Wandering through the information highways and byways of the internets, I eventually came across not just libertarian thought, but “Austro-libertarian” thought–libertarianism grounded in the tradition of the “Austrian” school of economics. I decided that the “Austrians” were the sanest of any ideological group I had ever encountered, and I still consider myself a fairly plumbline Misesian-Rothbardian-Hoppean Austro-libertarian to this day.
If you had asked me ten years ago what my highest social and political value was, I would have said liberty, undoubtedly, with barely a second of thought. But in the light of events that have occurred in recent years, particularly in the last year and a half or so, I would now say that liberty is most certainly not my highest political ideal.
Now, a lot of people who just read the above paragraph may be jumping to the conclusion that I’m about to offer some kind of rationale for masking and vaccination mandates to counteract Covid-19, but no, I won’t. In fact, it’s because I so strongly oppose mask and vaccine mandates–either those issued by governments or private sector actors–that I now say that no, liberty is not my most highly ranking value. Nor should it be for any libertarian who really takes the time to think this stuff through.
If you venture a gander at the social media of people who consider themselves libertarians, including people who are quite well known within the movement (published authors and podcasters and such), you’ll see that a lot of them have been embroiled in some considerable debate about private businesses making vaccinations a condition for employment, restaurants making proof of vaccination or a negative test result a condition for being served by them, etc. Similarly, you’ll see a lot of debate about social media platforms censoring people and kicking them off due to expressing certain political views. Certain libertarians consistently make the argument that private actors in the marketplace can do whatever they want with their own property. If a company wants to make vaccination a condition of employment, they should be able to do that. If a restaurant wants to refuse you service unless you provide proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test result, then they have the right to do it. If Jack Dorsey doesn’t like your political views, then by God he should be allowed to ban you from using Twitter. And so forth.
In other words, what these libertarians essentially argue (though I grant them the benefit of the doubt that they don’t honestly see it this way, which I think is largely due to them simply not thinking things through), is that if enough people want to turn society into a large collective of neurotic, paranoid, fearful, and censorious authoritarian lunatics, led by delusional utopians, then that’s perfectly okay just so long as no actual force or coercion is being exercised, as long as no aggression is being initiated and all of the actions are completely voluntary and well within the bounds of private property rights.
Now, there are a lot of things to say about that argument–a whole lot–and I don’t have the time or the patience right now to elucidate even a fraction of them in a blog post, but it was after taking some time to consider that argument that I realized that I most certainly do not hold liberty as my foremost, highest ranking political ideal anymore–even though I refuse to surrender my libertarian card to anyone.
Now, what is it that I value more highly than liberty, you may ask? Living amongst people who are not neurotic, paranoid, fearful, censorious, delusional authoritarian lunatics, that’s what. So, to any libertarians who are perfectly OK with private actors attempting to micromanage everyone’s personal health and patrol their thoughts as long as they do it in such a way that avoids any obvious violations of the non-aggression principle, I have to say that we are not quite on the same page, my friends. We appear to be roughly in the same book, but we are most definitely not on the same page. Actually, no, now that I think about it, we are in a different book altogether, though perhaps one of us is in a revised edition or a new translation of the other one’s book. Or maybe one of us is in a companion volume that complements the other one’s book, I’m just not sure yet.
In any case, liberty is absolutely essential to my above stated goal, undoubtedly. But I’ve come to the realization that for me, it’s really a means to an end, not an end unto itself. And the end goal for me is a society that is free from the dominance of neurotic, paranoid, fearful, censorious, delusional authoritarian lunatics, as they are the enemies of social order and cohesion–yes, a society that is rational, sane, orderly, bourgeois, and family friendly, the very things that the aforementioned lunatics always seem hellbent on destroying.
But I certainly don’t want to force my ideal of a non-neurotic-paranoid-fearful-censorious-delusional-authoritarian society on anyone else. I only want to be in a society with those who are more or less already in line with the same ideal and are willing to live by the necessary ethics out of their own free choice. As the 19th century individualist anarchist Benjamin Tucker used to say before he turned into a nutso Wilsonian progressive, liberty is the mother, not the daughter, of order.
Which is why, to that end, I am fully on board with the right of secession and radical decentralization, as advocated by the classical liberals of the 19th century as part and parcel of their commitment to the right of self-determination for all peoples.
I don’t begrudge anyone their nonstop neurotic-paranoid-fearful-censorious-delusional-authoritarian struggle sessions and public shamings and “papers-please” checkpoints, whether it’s over Covid, political speech, critical race theory, toxic masculinity, the patriarchy, or anything else–if that’s what they really truly want–but can’t there please be alternatives for the rest of us who don’t want to be forced into those things? Who just want to live our lives like normal people without all the f***ing melodrama and ongoing social conflict? And moreover, who don’t believe that it’s Americans’ responsibility to convert the rest of the world to the same kind of lunacy?
Hm? Is that really so much to ask?