I have posted before about my religious affiliation and how it informs my libertarianism (or vice versa), but I have never really sat down and written as to why, your humble blogger, have chosen the less-traveled path of a libertarian.
However, it is something that I have given a lot of thought to, so I want to share some of that here. When did I become a libertarian? What made me choose that path? Why did I choose it, over others?
Political ideology is, in its essence, a reflection of a person’s ideals, life experiences, and, to a certain degree, rational reflection. Many people do rational reflection on things that they read and claim that they essentially come to their thoughts rationally. This, I don’t believe. Everyone is influenced by the life that they have lead and how they view the world is a necessary product of that. Arguments of equal logical rigor will appeal to different people differently depending on how each argument matches how each thinker sees the world.
My point here is not to make an argument for political relativism, but rather to preface what I am about to say. Many libertarians, when pressed about the origins of their love of liberty, go straight to their author of choice. Rand, Hayek, Rothbard, you name it. They talk about how they belonged to one party or another and then stumbled upon this author, book, essay, pamphlet, etc. and their lives were changed.
That’s not me. That’s not how I came to be a libertarian. And, I would argue, those stories are false also.
I’ve been a libertarian for as long as I can remember. I don’t say that because I have always known what a libertarian is, always have been politically active, or even always politically aware. But the values that I have have been largely consistent throughout my life. Namely, that people should be left to their own devices.
My father will argue that I have always had a problem with authority (which is true), and that this is the central focus of my libertarianism. While there may be truth to this, I prefer to think of it as somewhat more complicated, or at least less trivial.
Many who know my political affiliation before they know anything about me find this fact surprising: I grew up poor (and, if going by my father’s income, still am). I have lived in mobile homes all the way up until I came to college. I got used to having to go without, and I saw first hand what it’s like to struggle and what irresponsibility and mismanagement do to an individual, and a family. The girls across the street from me were prostitutes — and they were minors. Several people I knew dealt drugs. Not all of them survived.
These things inform my libertarianism. I am a libertarian because of these things, not in spite of them. There is a stereotype that libertarians are all rich white men, and I stand as an example against this, and to show why one can believe that less government is in the best interest of the poor. I am libertarian because I want people to be able to rise out of the conditions that I grew up in, without the struggles I had to go through, and the problems that stand in the way are at least in part governmentally created. If they are not created by states, then they stand in the way of real solutions to these problems.
I am a libertarian because I want to see an end to systemic poverty. I am a libertarian because I want people to be free to choose how to live their lives and then only have themselves to blame if and when things go wrong. I am a libertarian because I believe those policies are what will yield the best society for everyone. We do not live in that society, and I want to work to make it.
Being a white person in the United States, I do exhibit and benefit from a certain amount of privilege. But it should never be said that I am ignorant of “real” struggles, or that I don’t know what being X is like. Chances are I do.
Political ideologies are reflective of our lives, how we see the world, and who we are. I am no exception to this. I first became aware of the “word” libertarian when my older brother read Rand and decided to form a libertarian club at our school. When he explained what a libertarian was to me, I simply said “that makes sense” and adopted a title. But I was a libertarian before that moment, else I wouldn’t have accepted it in the first place.
I chose it because it made sense, because of who I was, where I had come from, and where I hoped to go. Just like everyone else.