Readers, I’m getting old. To use a reference that will undoubtedly go over many heads, I’ve already stood at the edge of tomorrow, and now I’m standing at the edge of my 30s. I’ve been involved in this libertarian project in some capacity for nearly a decade now, and it’s produced several different intellectual journeys. I’ve been a knee-jerk contrarian, a small-“L”-libertarian, an Ayn Rand enthusiast, a bleeding heart/liberaltarian, a Ron Paul evangelist, a feminist libertarian, a libertarian feminist, a grey-market-loving agorist, and a burned-out, cantankerous commentator.
And though I realize sanctimony of giving unsolicited life advice to people just a few years younger than me, I’ve also experienced for myself, as well as witnessed in my peers, the re-shuffling of priorities that occurs when binge drinking and academic seminars are traded in for a retirement savings plan and more permanent romantic entanglements. While such transitions often change one’s level of personal commitment to the fight for freedom, they don’t have to result in rejection of the philosophy that brought us all into this movement in the first place. With that in mind, I offer the following tips for our younger readers.
Recognize that you’ll probably moderate your views with age.
It’s great that you’re bold and provocative and not afraid of controversial ideas. But unless you exhibit some seriously psychopathic tendencies, you’ll probably be embarrassed by the time you tried to defend slavery as “states’ rights” on Facebook. You might, five years down the road, regret causing friends to block your account because they grew tired of you calling them “statists” and “commies” over and over again.
If you do manage to stay true to your anarcho-capitalist (or what have you) roots, then remember that
The language you use matters.
If you’re serious about understanding other people’s political views and persuading them to embrace yours, read Arnold Kling’s e-book, “The Three Languages of Politics.” For two bucks, you’ll learn how to identify the models that progressives and conservatives use to view the political landscape, and will be able to adjust your language to fit those models. Whether your views moderate or not, you’ll benefit by being able to understand the way others interpret the world.
Learn to forget about labels.
“We’re the Sith Lords of American Politics. We can show up in any group. We’re both terrifying and devilishly attractive,” said one perpetually-leather-clad Nick Gillespie back in 2007. And let me tell you, there was a time when I owned that descriptor. Young, socially-oriented libertarians tend to be… pretty cool. Their inquisitive and contrarian nature gives them the advantage of appearing unusually smart in a crowd. They get to be the automatic foil to any graduate-school-bound, Marxist-professor-in-training who insists on discussing worldly issues while doing bong rips at 2 A.M. Of course, embracing the label and using it to define oneself—as many of us do in our narcissistic years—invariably feeds the impulse to begin defining who is and isn’t a Real Libertarian by your arbitrary criteria. Which eventually might lead you to…
Double check the assumption that you’ve “outgrown” libertarianism
It frequently happens, as you begin to settle into an adult life and a private sector job outside of politics, that you’ll begin to get a little distance from “the movement.” Even if your profession or academic appointment keeps you on the edge of things, you’ll still be getting older while those opinionated and Internet-savvy interns stay the same age. Eventually, you’ll begin stumbling across commentary from the next generation of libertarian voices, and you’ll realize that they’re rehashing a lot of issues and questions (the minimum wage, free trade, the NAP) that have been long-since settled in your mind. Relax, they’re 22. Everything was new to you once, too.
At this point, you might be tempted to cast off the label. “I guess I’m really more of a liberal, libertarians are too harsh on welfare” or “libertarians are too concerned with marijuana and gay marriage” (or whatever those issues will be when you, too, are old). Remember that Libertarianism is a vast set of interrelated ideas, not dogma. No, we’ll probably never have a Libertarian Party of national significance, but one look at the fractured GOP or bloated, centrist DNC assures me that it’s OK. The realistic goal is not a libertarian presidency, or an anarchic revolution. It’s about the ideas. We should want to see an intellectual environment where leaders on the Left embrace markets over Marxism. We should try to calm the Right’s fear that the de-emphasis of their revered institutions (church, marriage) and the flourishing of alternatives won’t lead to civilization’s decline.
Libertarianism isn’t just “kids stuff,” or open only to right-thinking people or committed activists. There’s plenty of room for everybody. Even grown-ass adults.