Monday, November 19, 2012
The Five Stages of Radical Libertarianism
After you've been knee-deep in various parts of the libertarian movement for a few years you start to notice that there are some very common experiences within our ranks. Very few people, that I'm aware of, come from a place of libertarianism as a start-point (adopted views from parents, etc.). Most of us were one thing or another at some point and then eventually found our way here. Some of us stop at the front door, while others venture much deeper into the ideas. Among the latter, in particular, I find the deliberative journey to be a long and arduous one. Of course, this varies from person to person, but the process of personal reformation seems to be a drawn-out one for most. And, more interestingly, it even seems to have a common order of stages:
This is the starting point. The most likely candidates seem to be conservatives of one stripe or another - those with a keep interest in Constitutional matters especially. But I've also seen quite a few liberals who have ended up making the turn as well. In either case, candidates seems to show a moderate to considerable amount of concern for political issues. They are often tapped into one or more political media outlets, and you will find them relaying at least relatively cogent arguments for their positions - usually at Thanksgiving dinner.
This is the spark. I think it's this point where there is the widest variance among neo-libertarians (I'm using this term loosely). What almost always happens is that there is one speech, or book, or movie, or whatever that jolts this person in some manner. Sometimes it revolves around explicitly political issues, other times it's social, cultural, or economic. For myself it was economic - reading Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson. Whatever it happens to be, it gives the person a new perspective on some aspect of the human experience that they hadn't given thought to before, or had never quite been able to articulate. Related reading, listening, or viewing ensues.
This is the recalculation. The person in question scours through the related material and begins to form new views. Sometimes it occurs marginally and the reformation works from the fringes inward. Other times there a slate-wiping moment where many of their previously held beliefs are questioned to the point of total re-evaluation. In both cases, an overhaul of personal beliefs is taking place. Shifting of views in this phase is almost constant; on a seemingly day-to-day basis. Eventually a new core of belief emerges, and gives the next stage flight.
This is anger. It should be noted that there is often a pretty large overlap between this stage and the last one. It starts to creep in before the newer views ever feel cemented for the person. I think there can be several reasons for this stage, but the one that makes the most sense to me is that this is a stage of retro-active denial of sorts. The person begins to strongly criticize others for not seeing the inconsistency of their political views. And, in that way, I think a temporal mirror is being held up. I think that some of the anger is, unconsciously, the result of frustration not just felt towards others, but towards one's self; for treading so long without seeing the "obvious." It's a dangerous phase of that journey. It can seem dark and self-destructive. One can easily lose the favor and friends and family, and unintentionally brand themselves as a skald. Some people never leave this phase.
This is acceptance. It's not a reversal of beliefs, but rather an understanding of the political reality one is confronted with. The person begins to break from the habit of hostile verbal engagements. Their argumentation becomes more reserved and Socratic. They become more calm and concise with their points, if not more devastating Oddly enough, many people who reach this stage actually become personal pacifists (although almost all still believe in a right to self-defense). I think that this is the group that tends to excel at philosophical argumentation for libertarianism, even though they arguably represent a significantly small number of self-described libertarians...even of the "radical" variety. They've transitioned from rabid prosthelytization to political trailblazing and torch-bearing.
I'm sure you could make even more explicit stage-divisions here. But I think these would be generally familiar to anyone who's ever wandered their way through that transition. If you find yourself between stages one and four, strap in and hope for the best. Stage five is much smoother sailing.