Saturday, August 27, 2005

Maybe we're all ambidextrious

As someone who came to libertarian thought from the right-hand side of the dial, I find the various discussions in the blogosphere about the Libertarian Left fairly interesting. Near as I can tell, I have moved from being a right-wing Republican wack job to being a leftie lunatic, without really budging much from my core beliefs.

When I recently discovered Murray Rothbard's seminal exploration "Confessions of a Right-Wing Liberal," I learned that I am not the first to experience this phenomenon. "Twenty years ago I was an extreme right-wing Republican, a young and lone 'Neanderthal' (as the liberals used to call us) who believed, as one friend pungently put it, that 'Senator Taft had sold out to the socialists,'" Rothbard wrote. "Today, I am most likely to be called an extreme leftist, since I favor immediate withdrawal from Vietnam, denounce U.S. imperialism, advocate Black Power and have just joined the new Peace and Freedom Party. And yet my basic political views have not changed by a single iota in these two decades!"

I am bringing a water pistol to a nuclear conflagaration, because while all of these writers have sped through the works of Rothbard and Mises and a whole slew of other deep-thinking philosophers, I have always preferred to curl up with a good novel, an album or a movie, and fill my head with ideas that way. As you can guess by the top of my page, my influences are not the great essayists but Heinlein, Bradbury and Orwell, most significantly "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress," "Fahrenheit 451" and "1984."

I don't know how important it is to define one's self as left, right, moderate or whatever. The lines between them have blurred to the point where they're all advocates of what John Twelve Hawks calls the Vast Machine anyway. The "left" I have always known created the Great Society, a lumbering bureaucracy that claims to care about the poor and downtrodden. The "right" seduced me with the absolute truth that "government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem," but when it defeated the "left" and took the power, nothing changed except the priorities for which the lumbering bureaucracy is deployed. Our supposedly limited-government administration, confronted with 9-11, expanded the power of the Vast Machine and created two new Cabinet posts. Much like the ancient Mickey Rooney shorts where the solution was "Hey! Let's put on a show!" the answer to the challenges that confront us has become "Hey! Let's create a new government agency!"

I don't believe in left or right anymore. I don't look at the pigment of a man's skin and decide what I think of him, and I don't look at a big business leader or an aging hippie and make assumptions about their thought processes. The key to understanding a person lies in getting to know that person as an individual, not in knowing what category he belongs to. The real divide in America is not between left and right, which have turned out to be different flavors of the Vast Machine, but between those who trust government and those who trust individuals.

Am I left or right? I despise abortion because I see human life being flushed out of existence as if he or she was a cancerous tumor. I despise the death penalty because two wrongs don't make a right and state executions make my skin crawl. I don't think it's the government's business to license marriage, and if some church wants to declare a gay couple married, more power to it. I think the larger any organized human venture becomes -- church, state or business -- the more dangerous it becomes and the less it nurtures the best of humanity.

Again, maybe better thinkers than I have already come to these conclusions in scholarly tomes, but it comes down to this: If you think the state is the best vessel for solving our dilemmas and challenges, you've lost my attention. If you think we as individuals can work together to find solutions -- voluntarily and nonviolently -- I'm listening.

It's a huge task. Ninety-nine percent of those participating in last year's election voted for a candidate who advocated state solutions and expansion of the American empire. Most of the time it seems the best we can do is keep talking about these ideas and stay out of the way of the Vast Machine.

I guess I now belong to the libertarian left, having watched the nation lurch to the right around me as Rothbard and many others did before me. But I'm also still a Reagan Republican in many ways -- with the emphasis on Reagan's words, not his administration's actions (and deleting any references to asserting the American promise at the point of a gun). What is "left" and what is "right" seem to vary with the seasons. Maybe we're all ambidextrious in the end. The real eternal theme seems the individual versus the state. I'll trust the person next to me as opposed to the amorphous bureaucracy every time.

4 Comments:

Blogger Wally Conger said...

Fantastic post! You may not put on the battle armor of Left or Right, but you're most definitely on the side of the Good Guys.

Oh, and you write that your influences are not the "great essayists," then go on to mention Orwell. IMHO, Orwell may have been the greatest essayist of the 20th century. If you haven't read any of that stuff, you ought to.

11:39 AM  
Anonymous John Newman said...

Absolutely one of the best posts I have ever read.

11:56 PM  
Anonymous Alex Constantopoulos II said...

AWESOME post! I feel like I wrote it myself. Before I got married two weeks ago, I made my (now) wife read Fahrenheit 451, 1984 and Brave New World in the week leading up to our wedding. So, now you have two fellow converts, who both hope you keep up the GREAT work! :)

4:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said. As someone who is coming to libertarianism from the left, I appreciate the recognition that there IS a libertarian left. I began this process as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago more than 15 years ago, reading a chapter of Hayek's Road to Serfdom for homework and then finishing the book on my own, and I find myself moving incrementally further into the libertarian camp with every election and every big disaster of the last few years.

11:16 AM  

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