A libertarian ethnography
Recently I was prompted by an anthropology student at the University of Washington to answer several questions about libertarianism. The exchange was great, and provided a means to clarify several things that have been otherwise muddled.
1. How do you define a libertarian?
To me a libertarian is someone who believes in a limited government, which provides basic needs that most people believe to be necessary but does not try to stuff ideology down the citizens’ throats, the freedom of the individual to become whatever it is they want to be and a free market that allows great deals of mobility and ingenuity.
2. What influenced you to become and/or remain libertarian?
I love this country (for the ideals it was founded on, not because of nationalism, regionalism or nativism), and when I entered college, it became very clear that other students and professors didn’t. A bit of a blanket statement, I know, but it’s relatively true. I found myself defending slanderous left-wing statements about this country’s history, and in that process I realized I was libertarian. Liberty is the foundation of American society and government, and even if they don’t call themselves such, I think most Americans who love their country and find it exceptional are libertarians to a certain extent.
I also had very horrible public school experiences. I had a teacher during high school who placed a false report about me that got me in a lot of trouble. The teacher was head of a teacher’s union, and I never found out if he was fired, despite trying. When I got bullied, school staff, all paid by the tax dollars of the parents who trust them to watch over their children, did absolutely nothing. The public school system in America is disastrous and contains within it scandals that would eclipse the Catholic Church’s pedophile scandal, and libertarians and conservatives have a lot of great ideas like vouchers and charter schools that would allow parents to control their own children’s education. The left simply embraces the status quo on education.
3. What are your thoughts on Ron Paul?
Ron Paul is a really smart guy. He brought a lot of ideas to the 2008 Republican primaries that needed to be heard, and part of his unexpected success was that he was the only one in that field of candidates with any ideas. I’m glad to see that his son, Rand, is pushing through in the Kentucky Senate Primaries, even winning the endorsement of Sarah Palin. Paul gave the Republican Party a much needed blood transfusion.
4. What do you think are some common misconceptions of libertarians?
Generally, the Left tends to not understand the Right at all, and they often use “libertarian,” “conservative” and “neo-conservative” interchangeably, because they have little to no exposure to actual right-wing thought. There’s a lot of misconceptions of libertarians in particular, from us being racist to pot smokers to gun nuts to people that just hate taxes.
1. What is the purpose of your blog?
Well, I actually have three blogs that I write for currently. I write for United Liberty, a libertarian blog that I have been at since 2008, and I contribute to the Heritage Foundation’s blog. I have my own personal blog, which is mostly about my own life, pop culture and whatever I feel like talking about.
2. In what ways are you an active libertarian?
I work for a center-right political think tank, I blog for a libertarian blog and I will be volunteering for Campaign for Liberty at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) here in Washington D.C. I’m pretty active, but I personally am the type of guy who will write articles and maybe go to a few events and fundraise, but beyond that not much else. As I get older, I’ve become highly selective about who I talk politics with and prefer to read comic books and talk about comics, film and video games with friends. You will probably never see me at any rally or protest.
3. Do you believe there is a “libertarian movement?” If so, how would you describe this movement? Is it purely political?
There is, but it is disorganized and chaotic, as you would expect from a group who prize freedom above all else. Ron Paul’s son Rand is one of the rising stars in the GOP, a lot of people my age are calling themselves libertarians as they see no new jobs popping up despite President Obama’s utopian promises, and Democrats like Harold Ford Jr. are talking sense about Wall Street. I’m pretty optimistic. I think that the new Republican Party is going to be built on the foundation that Ron Paul built, and not the social issues that really only resonate with older and rural voters. Young libertarians don’t see a problem with gay marriage; they just want to be sure that their children won’t be in debt, that there will be jobs for them and that we won’t be borrowing loads of money to keep up with bloated entitlement and war programs.
I don’t know that the libertarian movement is “purely political.” Matt Welch over at Reason Magazine remarked that libertarians are often non-political. While I’m an exception, libertarian ideas are really pushed indirectly by businessmen and entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Paul Allen and others who have made it rich yet obviously have used their wealth and their creations to make the world better. Their simple presence in the world goes a long way to fight the leftist notion that business is evil and that government knows best and has benign intentions.
4. What is the Heritage Foundation?
The Heritage Foundation is a center-right organization that started in the early 1970s. It wrote the Mandate for Leadership, a policy book that President Reagan used as a foundation for his presidency. He actually gave copies of the book to every single member of his cabinet when he took office. They’re very influential and their website is one of the most often-viewed political websites.
5. How often do you disagree with other libertarians?
Quite often. Like American politics in general, there is an urban-rural divide on a lot of issues with libertarians. City folks have trouble understanding people in the country and vice versa. I grew up in a city so I have known people who have died from gun crime. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have some regulations of guns so that they don’t end up in the hands of murderers. Waiting periods and permits all seem like common sense. I’m a bit of a centrist there.
Also, there are some that call themselves libertarians but are quite conservative on social issues like gay marriage. There was a massive debate about gay marriage at United Liberty. Whereas liberals see gay marriage as an equality issue, I see it as a freedom issue. If two consenting adults decide to marry, it’s really should be no one else’s business but theirs.
While I ended up joining the party on health care towards the end, when the Democrats left a bad taste in the country’s mouth by trying to push legislation down our throat, I was very open to reform. Our system is bizarre. People should be able to buy insurance without having to go through their employer, and some sort of voucher or tax credit program would be a good idea to help cover the costs of some of those who can’t afford it. On that issue, we really need to think outside of the box and in a way that will be fiscally responsible and not infringe Americans’ rights to choose for themselves.
6. How has living in Washington D.C. affected the way you view politics?
I’ve only been here a month and will be going back to Washington state in May, but it is a strange experience. The Capitol building, the White House, the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington monument are all within walking distance. I actually walked to see Lincoln last night. Growing up in a place like Seattle, which is so far off from the rest of the country, it’s really easy to see D.C. as almost a mythical place and it’s surreal to see that this stuff really happens and it’s not just on TV. Generally, that’s given me a dose of realism about politics and made me view it as more serious.