Diddling While Rome Burns


Your humble social media correspondent is troubled. For some time now, discord among warring libertarians has raged on Facebook, my own battlefield of choice. In just the past few days it has gotten uglier than ever among my own libertarian Facebook friends.

One friend — whom I also know personally — has gone on an unholy tear about the injustices of life as a tenant. “Rent is theft!” his posts repeatedly scream. I’ve always considered him a levelheaded person. I have no idea what’s happened to him. A lot of people are quitting him because he’s gone to a place so dark they don’t want to follow.

In just the past few days it has gotten uglier than ever among my own libertarian Facebook friends.

I know he leans far left. Like a lot of former statist progressives, he’s outraged about something practically all the time. He sees it as his personal mission to convert as many as possible of his comrades to left-libertarianism. I suppose you could say that he’s the Apostle Paul of that faction. But if all he has to give these hungry souls is more outrage and aggrievement, I think he’s offering pretty thin gruel.

In my previous essay in Liberty I alluded to the compulsion I see in so many people to dress up in fancy and heroic costumes. As this turbulence on Facebook was something I was already facing daily, I had it at least partially in mind. Almost everybody involved is between 19 and 25, looking for a girlfriend (or in some cases, a boyfriend) and hoping to appear edgy and revolutionary. I know I must be getting old, because the whole production is making me tired and cranky.

These people need to take a good, hard look around them. I can’t imagine where they’re getting the notion that our increasingly police-state and nuclear-faceoff world really cares whether they’re AnCap, AnSoc or AnCom. Their mothers might have cared, in a worried, “Do you have a tummyache, dear?” sort of way, and their buds at the dorm probably found it mildly engrossing over pizza and beer. But they’re supposed to be adults now, and they’re merely diddling while Rome burns.

We’ve all got a lot of heavy lifting to do if we are even going to budge this society in a libertarian direction. The blessed time when we might profitably haggle about what type of libertarian society we’re going to have — just exactly, and to a precise ideological point — is one that neither I, nor anyone reading this essay, will ever live to see. It may be as distant in the future as the American Revolution is in the past. In the meantime, we have the satisfaction of knowing that we are standing for what is right and that each of us is doing our personal utmost to work toward that worthy goal. Ordering fries with that is simply not an option.

Where are they getting the notion that our increasingly police-state and nuclear-faceoff world really cares whether they’re AnCap, AnSoc or AnCom?

I’m glad to see so many new converts to the liberty movement, especially among the young, but I fear that few of them will persevere long enough to see their commitment through. I think it’s very likely that they’ll get discouraged by the tough slog, and end up returning to statism — a hefty part of the appeal of which is the promise of an order of fries with that. To switch metaphors yet again, we now find ourselves stuck in Siberia, but hope to row, in our huge fleet of leaky rowboats, clear to Honolulu. As we navigate the stormy waters between us and our destination, will they turn aside and end up shipwrecked on Alcatraz?

We’ll all just have to stay tuned. I know that I’ll continue to follow the soap opera. And I fully intend to persevere on our journey. I don’t needa side of fries — though there are some days when I yearn for an aspirin, the size of a hockey puck.

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Chris Nelson

I don't know how old you are, Lori - and I'm not asking! - but I've been a libertarian for ... a while now.

I recently read a book that dealt with human memory and loss of same, and one of the points made in it is that particular episodic memories such as "Do you recall when you first met so-and-so?" are often lost unless there's a particular emotional anchor to them, and usually some kind of trauma. I recall pretty clearly the day that I was introduced to libertarianism, even without any particular emotion attached.

I had just finished reading Atlas Shrugged, and I wanted to discuss the ideas in it with someone, so I picked a likely candidate at college to start the conversation. He also had good thoughts about the book, and when I started to talk about Ojectivism he asked me "Have you heard of Libertarianism?" And that was my introduction. I had never even heard the word until then. Like I said, it was a while ago, so I don't recall the precise day (or even year), whether it was 1972 or '73. However, I recall the conversation in the evening (a Sunday, I think, as I had just returned to the school from home, probably in the Fall), and in the dorm hallway as I passed by his room. But like I said, a while ago, and still a vivid memory with no traumatic emotion at all: just finding home.

Today's government - and with it, much of the culture - is not, to use a popular word of the day "sustainable". Most Russians of the 1980s probably had no idea that Soviet communism was also unsustainable until the day that it proved so, completely, without even enough energy to fight for itself. We should be mindful of their example, I think, and realize that our own system's demise could be as rapid. One hopes that it might also be as bloodless. (Not painless. I also recall from afar how painful that collapse was to the Soviets who depended on the stability that government provided, even if it was only the stability of being stuck in heavy mud.)

But I don't think it's going to take us another 200 years or more to have the chance to develop a more libertarian society. In many ways we're already there, if only the government would get out of the way. I have a feeling sometimes that we're just days away from the government doing that, however involuntarily. No guarantees, but I'm still hopeful.

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