Last night I had a conversation with a friend about his journey to discovering Libertarianism. My friend, we'll call him Alex, explained how he had started out as a self-described “Leftist”. As he debated politics with friends during his last year of college he started noticing inherent contradictions and blatant fallacies in his arguments. It wasn't that Alex was an unskilled antagonist to Conservative opinion. He was still winning arguments and came close to converting a few buddies (a significant feat at a university where the sons and daughters of upper-middle class Republicans comprise a large majority of the student body).

Though his arguments seemed convincing on the surface, as Alex learned more about politics and history, he became exceedingly skeptical about the merits of the political system he was advocating For example, he found it difficult to explain how liberals could support subsidies for tobacco farmers while simultaneously calling for increased taxes on tobacco products. He found it an even greater challenge to justify programs like those designed to fight the “war on poverty” that did far more to lock the poor into a state of perpetual dependence than achieve any of the stated aims. Alex started to think a political system that grants government privilege to special interests groups at the expense of everyone else is suspect at best.

In a noble quest to refine and support his view of how the world works, Alex took the initiative to study economics and political philosophy. It turns out that the journey led him down the road to Libertarianism. He now explains that while Libertarians and the Left share many of the same goals (e.g fighting against oppression), it has become apparent to Alex that the means the Left uses to promote liberal ends is usually incompatible with actually being able to achieve any of their desired outcomes. In fact, not only is the desired goal almost never met, we get a whole host of unintended consequences as a consolation prize – consequences that always seem to lead to cries for more of the same bad medicine.

It is very rare in the our society today that somebody “becomes” Republican or “becomes” Democrat. These positions seem to be the accepted default for those drifting in the breezes of unquestioned cultural or familial influence. Alex became a Libertarian; but it took the effort of conscious thought. He chose to question. He chose to learn. He chose to validate his beliefs and not blindly accept the messages we are conditioned to mindlessly accept.

My story to discovering Libertarianism is, I am confident, similar to many others. I was raised Republican but had a difficult time articulating my political beliefs. I had gut feelings, but couldn't support my feelings with any substance. I was frustrated with the political and economic turmoil of 2008. So, at the age of 26, I embarked on a journey of self-study to validate and support my Republican position. At this time mind you, I was fairly confident the Democrats were actually evil, and I thought Libertarians were just a bunch of crazy hippies.

For me it was reading Ayn Rand that served as both my inspirational spark to exploring a reason-based philosophy of liberty and my gateway to discovering other great thinkers, such as; Frederic Bastiat, F.A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, and Henry Hazlitt. I found a wealth of free information available online at the Mises Institute, the Cato Institute, the Liberty Fund's Online Library of Liberty, and the Foundation for Economic Education.

To understand politics, you have to first understand economics, history, and philosophy. So, I attended a seminar program through the Institute for Humane Studies. I completed an economics course offered through Mises Academy. I attended lectures put on by the Foundation for Economic Education.

Of course the beliefs of self-prescribed libertarians vary greatly from one person to the next, but the core principles of libertarianism are far more internally consistent that of either the Democrats or Republicans. I learned that looking through the narrow Republican/Democrat spectrum is not sufficient for understanding politics. Needless to say, I have come to realize that Republicans don't actually stand for all of the ideals I thought they did (neither in rhetoric nor practice). I now identify far more with the philosophy of liberty than with the Republican platform.

After two years of self-study, my educational journey is still relatively new, but I have never been more excited to learn. Now that I've discovered the quality of information that is out there (that I was never exposed to in 16 years at government schools), I feel like I have some catching up to do. The concepts of liberty are not difficult to understand, but it requires significant effort to unlearn the years of conditioning that lead us to blindly accept the current state apparatus.

Thinking is a volitional process that requires from an individual both effort and purpose. The discovery of truth and the validation of knowledge is an active process that is only available to those who have the intellectual integrity to seek it. It requires a great deal of mental effort to validate these political concepts for yourself.

Defaulting to blind acceptance as a shortcut to forming one's belief system doesn't require effort. In fact, there is a certain feeling of security in following the herd as it relieves the individual from responsibility if they were simply mirroring the actions and catch phrases of somebody else. Perhaps this is one of the major reasons that most all societies throughout history have existed in one form or another as groups of men ruled by other men. For some, it is just safer and easier not to think.

Although the path to Libertarianism remains the road less traveled for now, I am confident we will see increased numbers embark on educational journeys similar to that of me and Alex. As we continue to endure the economic crisis brought on by our political system, more and more people are going to start looking for answers. People from both the Left and the Right are becoming more aware that the current system doesn't work. There is a viable solution, one that I think most people favor once they are made aware of it: A political philosophy that consistently advocates the abolishing of forceful oppression in all issues – social, civil, economic, and environmental. It has existed for decades. The biggest challenge is simply getting people to realize an alternative is out there.

As the metaphorical highways of our state leviathan continue to crumble, we face two options: One, we can sit back and accept our fate, like most societies throughout history, as another group of rulers step in to fill the void. Or two, we can fight for liberty, the single most important ingredient in a prosperous society.

I cared enough about my life and lives of others to question the status quo and discover the only known road to human flourishing.

Will you take the path to discovering the philosophy of liberty?

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9/8/2010 06:51:53 am

This article needs to be more widely distributed to inspire others to think for themselves. I disagree with one thing you said, however, regarding most college students being of the republican persuasion. I think it is much more trendy in the university scene to be very much to the left, and as you pointed out most of us blindly follow the herd (or don't have the confidence to question or speak out against the popular rhetoric.) Since many (most?) college kids get subsidized by mom and dad and are either working part-time or not at all they don't realize the impact of taxes, etc. until they get into the real workworld and see their hard earned wages taken and given to lots of people who are able to, but choose not to work.

9/10/2010 06:58:02 am

Good points. The reference to the university students was only in reference to one particular university in Georgia. Also, the observed population may have been a little skewed as most of the immediate interactions were with students in the business school.

Thanks for the feedback!


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