Sometimes I Am Called Libertarian

For a long time I prided myself in being unlabeled. In this, as in so many things, I followed my father.

Various things happened; mostly, I went to GMU’s econ program. Suddenly what had been a general disposition to favor relatively smaller government with relatively less regulation became more and more systematic. I went through a phase—a very, very libertarian phase.

I’ve come out on the other side of that phase, in many ways. I wouldn’t use the word for myself, especially. But the phase left a mark. And a great deal of good has come of it, in terms of things I’ve learned and people I’ve met.

Part of my wariness for the label is that I have changed, and part of my wariness is, of course, that there are others using it I don’t want to be associated with. One of those people sneeringly referred to Matt Zwolinski as an “entryist” (as well as “totalitarian” and “collectivist” and other nonsense that people in our little corner of network space hurl at each other frivolously, as if the terms had no weight or real history) in response to a piece I wrote recently.

But at the same time, some of the best and brightest people I know use the label proudly, or would be unambiguously labeled that way by others. And I would be honored to share any sort of association with such people; I’m honored to be able to talk to them and share ideas regularly.

What I want to say is this: in general, I find political labels to be a nuisance, but I’ve more or less settled for libertarian because of the company I keep and the shared canon of texts that we have either read in common or at least feel we must be able to speak intelligently about. But libertarianism is not a club that can be entered or exited. It’s a conversational community with a constellation of positions and beliefs, the combinations of which are quite large, especially considering those who are on the boundaries of the community and so overlap with other ones, holding non-canon beliefs.

I do not mind being called libertarian, if I am to be called anything, but I am here for the conversation. I am much more interested in conversation with people who are willing  to stomach ideas and ways of framing ideas that make them uncomfortable, when they are presented in good faith by someone willing to really talk about it.

6 thoughts on “Sometimes I Am Called Libertarian

  1. Yours is a constructive approach, to which I’m sympathetic and would like to subscribe. I fear, however, that your definition of “libertarianism,” at least outside the academy, confuses “is” and “ought.”

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