I’ve changed my ideas and practices a lot over the twenty-five years or so of my adult life. But one thing has remained constant since I was a kid devouring content at the Lew Rockwell website: I am a libertarian on social issues. In fact, my commitment to anti-authoritarian principles has only deepened. (To clarify, I am libertarian in this way only. I have long since abandoned libertarianism as a political philosophy.)
This seems to be an unpopular position across the spectrum these days. Large chunks of the right seem single-mindedly focused on imposing their religious views on everyone. Large chunks of the left seem single-mindedly focused on enforcing their own orthodoxy through cultural power.
How about letting people do what they want, so long as their actions do not block others from their own liberty? I’m quite aware that this is not a simple matter, that there are important discussions to be had about where my freedom and your freedom impinge on each other. It’s a conversation worth having but no one seems interested in that now. Today it’s all about the exercise of power to force others into submission.
Maybe it’s my background in an authoritarian, fundamentalist quasi-cult. I am viscerally repelled by people seeking to impose their beliefs on others. Hell, I don’t even like it when people try to loan me books because it feels like I’ve been handed an obligation. Why—why—do so many people seem utterly unable to tolerate the existence of people who do not believe or behave as they do? If I had to guess: since we all live in such uncertain times, maybe some people are desperate for conformity and certainty?
The thing that strikes me about the authoritarian tendency is its arrogance. I am baffled by people who stride about the world, certain that they know how others should be living and thinking. Are there no clouds of doubt in their mental atmosphere? Or are there nothing but clouds and they are seeking to banish them?
A libertarian stance on social and cultural issues—for me—acknowledges the fragmentary nature of our understanding. A truly humble attitude would see the life-altering nature of the decisions we are forced to make in our lives with something like a reverential awe. It would see the complexity of the forces that converge on a single being and shape their trajectory. It would hold those who must make those choices in care and compassion. Even when you would have chosen otherwise! Even when you believe they made a grave error!
For now, it appears that the short-term belongs to the power-hungry zealots. But zealots tend to burn themselves out or kill themselves off. Here’s hoping for a more humble future.