Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Recovering Libertarian

Scott Parker has written an essay about how and why he stopped being a libertarian. Some interesting passages:
I found my way to libertarianism in my teen years when I began reading some of its introductory texts and was attracted to the internal consistency of its policies. If you accepted that the individual was sacrosanct and the government’s only role was to protect the individual, everything else pretty much followed. Unlike mainstream liberalism and conservatism, which were constantly engaged in negotiations between social and economic freedoms, libertarianism was systematically clean and neat. So much so that I quickly stopped concerning myself with how ideas played out in the world. The ideas themselves were enough. . . .

It felt good to be libertarian. I could win political debates (to my satisfaction) by applying the internally consistent reasoning I so admired to any issue. My reluctance to compromise was a virtue that straightened my posture. I took my rigidity as a sign not of narrow-mindedness but of integrity, the consequence of careful advancement from first principles. This particular kind of coherency put me self-satisfactorily and peacefully to sleep on many nights.
I think this is a big part of libertarianism's appeal, as it was of communism's: it has an answer for everything, reasoned out from simple first principles. To a certain kind of mind this is much more appealing than trying to sort through the mess of real problems.
But the truth an ideologue is at pains to accept is that no life can live up to ideology. We are a messy species living messy lives. And we are lucky for this. The intellectual libertarian wants the world to be the kind of ideal world it never can be. He (and it’s often he) is unable to live with ambiguity and compromise. The beautiful (it is a kind of beauty) logical edifice of libertarianism is built on the faulty premise that this is the kind of world that is built on logical edifices.
I like this last line; the human world is indeed an illogical world, and no sort of pure logic will ever untangle it. What we need instead is compassionate empiricism.

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