The Psychology of Different Ideologies:
This month's Liberty magazine has an intriguing article by Michael Acree about the psychological attributes that may incline a person to be a liberal, conservative or libertarian. The article, entitled, Who's Your Daddy? Authority, Asceticism, and the Spread of Liberty, begins with a mention of a talk given by Robert Nozick to a libertarian supper club in Cambridge in the 1970s on "Why Doesn't Libertarianism Appeal to People?". (This may have been the talk by Nozick that kicked off the dinner series I helped organize while a law student.) Here is how Acree frames the issue:
The various explanations that have been offered mostly boil down to the contention that people are jerks — consumed by envy, by needs to control others, or whatever. There is obviously some truth in these claims. The difficult point about such explanations is the implication that libertarians are not afflicted with similar character flaws — that we are more saintly or mentally healthy than the rest of the population. Anyone who has experience with libertarians in person, however, will have (or should have) trouble swallowing that conclusion. There must be more to the story. [my bold!]
Some of his psychological speculation has occurred to me. For example, I mention in The Structure of Liberty how belief in an interventionist government to ensure that things come out right is a secular and more scientific substitute for belief in an interventionist God, and both may stem from the childhood belief in (or need for) parents who make things come out right. And he is not the first to notice that many people found their beliefs about why government must compel people to be good (conservatives) or generous to others (liberals) on introspection: they know that without some compulsion they themselves would not be as good or generous as they think they ought to be, and do not want to see others get away with behavior that they deny themselves. Still, I thought the way he framed the point was thought-provoking:
Start with the most famously transparent case of psychological motivation for political beliefs: the obsessive campaign of conservatives against pornography, which elicits a knowing smile from everyone else. Susie Bright, noted author of erotica, says that the Report of the Meese Commission on Pornography was the best jill-off book she had ever read, the Commission having gone out of its way to procure the kinkiest stuff. Look today at the amount of coverage given by WorldNetDaily, to pick on just one popular publication, to sex scandals, child prostitution, and other titillating topics. Without their diligent reporting, many pedophiles might never have considered the opportunities in contemporary Afghanistan. Leftist intellectuals smugly infer suppressed desires from this righteous crusade, but their own positions may be vulnerable to a similar analysis.

Consider the odd resistance of left-liberals to lowering even their own taxes. The very idea is as offensive to them as relaxing laws against prostitution is to conservatives. That doesn't mean they are indifferent to money, but it is important to them to appear indifferent to money. Most of my liberal friends are wealthier than my conservative friends, but they would sooner die than be thought of as wealthy. They refer to themselves as "comfortable" — where "comfortable" means having a home in the Berkeley hills, an SUV and a sports car, and enough money for either private school tuition or a condo in Aspen. But the insistent denial of concern for wealth, we may suspect, betrays an underlying obsession.

What liberals and conservatives have in common, I suggest, is having publicly subscribed to an ascetic code in which they are not wholeheartedly committed. They have simply focused on different aspects of Christian asceticism (an asceticism shared by most other religions) — money or sex. . . .

Self-acceptance, or its lack, is key in both cases. Conservatives who live comfortably within the bounds of their narrow code are generally less agitated and zealous in their disapproval of transgressions. Not feeling especially deprived by their moral choices — feeling, perhaps, that their moral choices are their own, rather than imposed from without — they have no reason to envy others their greater freedom of action. Similarly with those left-liberals who are comfortable with a very modest standard of living. I think, in fact, that the range of peaceful behaviors we are comfortable with in others is a pretty good index of our own self-acceptance.

For left-liberals and conservatives alike, political beliefs derive much of their obduracy from being rooted in morality and self-concept. Conservatives can tell they are good people by the strictness of the standards they espouse, and by the zealousness of their advocacy — which generally means efforts at imposing those standards universally. Challenging conservatives' political beliefs will generally not get very far, because those beliefs are linked to conservatives' sense of what is good, and of themselves as good people. Anyone who has entered into political discussions with left-liberals has tasted the similar righteousness of their position. They believe their commitment to redistributionist policies shows them to be good people; challenges to those policies will likely be experienced as challenges to left-liberals' sense of the good, and of themselves as good people.
Given his objective of being as critical of libertarians as those on the left and right, however, I found his analysis generally weakest when discussing the psychology of libertarians--or perhaps on a different and less fundamental level. Here is just a taste:
A major factor in understanding libertarianism as a movement is the simple fact that, in our cultural context, self-identifying as libertarian entails a willingness to be perceived as deviant. There are undoubtedly many people who would join the Libertarian Party if most of the people they knew belonged. The importance to most people of not being perceived as deviant is apparent in the obsession of very many LP members — especially those coming from the Right — with "mainstream acceptability" (where "mainstream" refers to the conservative heartland), and with downplaying or even eliminating planks on issues like gay marriage or the War on Drugs.
Apart from the end of this passage seeming to be internally in conflict with its beginning, it fails to explain why libertarians are more willing to be perceived as deviant, and why we should think that they are more or less so than political activists of the right or the left. More importantly, this and the other characteristics he associates with libertarians--such as their approach to knowledge--are not grounded in the same basic psychological processes as his analyses of liberals and conservatives. To me, at least, something was missing here, though to be fair to Acree his topic was why libertarianism was not more appealing to liberals or conservatives so assessing their psychology was more germaine.

Still, I would be much more interesting in hearing the candid thoughts of libertarians about their own psychology and that of other libertarians in ways that are not self-congratulatory, than I am in hearing reactions to Acree's claims about the psychology of those on the left or right. For example, if Acree is right that the attractiveness of liberal and conservative ideologies depends their resemblance to differing parental models (mother-state or father-state respectively), then what comparable psychology accounts for libertarians rejection of either parental model? To facilitate measured and civil discourse on this topic, I am enabling comments.

I should make it clear that I am not necessarily agreeing with Acree's analysis of the psychology of liberals or conservatives either, though I find at least some of it intuitively plausible. Nor do I think it fair or accurate to reduce all political belief to psychological terms, though clearly psychology plays a role in everyone's political beliefs and, when described, these psychologies typically sound unflattering. I should also emphasize there is much more to his analysis than the teasers I posted here that makes it more subtle than these quotes suggest--some parts of which I had some trouble following.

So before posting your thoughts about his claims, it would be good to read the whole article, which is available here, not just these brief excerpts.

Update: On the comment board, Ex-Conspirator (is any Conspirator ever truly "ex" or just in deep cover?) links to an old post of his that relates the "secret sin" theory of politics related to him by an anonymous libertarian. This simplistic, yet viscerally appealing, over-generalization has the virtue of including a secret psychological motivation for libertarians (though it does not personally resonate with me, but perhaps I am in denial):

He went on to generalize this to a "secret sin" theory of politics-- that people form their political views on the basis of a generalization of their own deepest darkests. (This, by the way, is something like the method Hobbes defends, though that fact didn't come up in conversation.) So: if you think it's only the law that keeps you from plunging into a life of full-time sexual depravity and debauchery, you become a moralistic conservative. If you think it's only the law that keeps you from becoming Ebeneezer Scrooge and screwing the poor just for the sheer sadistic joy of it, you become a lefty. And if you look inward and detect a craving for power, you generalize that to everyone else and become a libertarian. The moral was that people should listen to libertarians, believe them, follow their policy recommendations-- and not elect them.

pete (mail) (www):
From my conversations with Libertarians I would say an unwillingness to compromise and idealism are big psychological motivators for many Libertarians. That leads to them being deviants the same way it makes Greens deviants, but that does not mean they want to be deviants for the sake of being a deviant.
3.22.2005 3:48pm
Think of the libertarian-authoritarian axis as existing perpendicular to the conservative-liberal axis, as it does on the world's smallest political quiz. If conservatives and liberals are reacting to different models of the family; then perhaps libertarians and total authoritarians are reacting to the individual rather than the family as the social model. One conception of a libertarian may be that the man who seeks to exert his will and his own personal rule yet recognizes the extreme unlikelyhood that he will be able to do so over an entire nation has settled for doing so over his own six acres in exchange for allowing everyone else to do the same.

This, anyways, is how I understand my own libertarian politics now that I am a little older and becoming more of a libertarian-conservative.

If the primary impulse for libertarianism is freedom from the impositions of others--as it was for me--than the logical extension of that impulse is to seek to be a dictator. That is to say, I'm a libertarian when I lack power and an authoritarian when I am the authority. Does this mean I lack integrity? I can't help it, my politics change with my mood.
3.22.2005 5:04pm
Mike Holt (mail):
I think the deviancy argument is strong. When I was a hardcore libertarian, I was also into other deviant behavior such as body piercing.
3.22.2005 5:09pm
Jacob T. Levy (mail):
I played around with this idea way back here.
3.22.2005 5:14pm
Kyle (mail):
I was young and saw too many adults who I didn't then think (and still don't!) were smart enough to be making decisions for other people (namely me) simply based on relative position. This followed by The Economist followed by Rand followed by economists was just a natural flow.

Hate authority when used by others. Hate needing to use authority.
3.22.2005 5:22pm
Alex J (mail):
1. One reason to be a libertarian is to hold extreme views that you can defend against moderate positions. You get to win arguments if you hold extreme positions that are internally consistent. Most people's beliefs aren't well thought out and are largely modifications of the status quo. If you hold any "consequent" set of beliefs, you can easily challenge moderates.

You get to shock people by advocating that this or that beloved government program be abolished. You get to have a feeling of superiority over people with more muddled ideologies. The desire to be a source of scandal seems to me to motivate anarchist libertarians even more than minarchist libertarians.

2. If you don't like your fellow man, you don't want your fellow man running your life. If you don't care about your fellow man, you won't want to run his life for his own good.

3. If you feel incompetent at the game of politics, you don't want to play the game. When I was in high school (This was before I was a libertarian) I disdained student government. I also knew that I wouldn't be successful at it if I tried. Luckily, student government had no power over me. Actual-government does have power over me, and unfortunately, the same skills apply to getting your way with it.
3.22.2005 5:24pm
C Walker (mail):
Randy, the fact that you had to put such very strong disclaimers at the end of your post says a lot about your anticipated response from Libertarians. The activist ones are ridiculously uncompromising and doctrinaire. Like the ANSWER protestors, their politics are more about a gnostic superiority complex than achieving anything constructive.
To stick with the family model of psychology, I would characterize Libertarians as the misunderstood teenager, rebellious beyond all good sense.
That said, libertarianism is not the same topic as Libertarians. I'm sticking to the theme of what attracts adherents to the different political views.
3.22.2005 5:32pm
Bruno (mail):
Just a thought: The contention that people take political positions based on their own desires to be "good people" and that being "good" will be experienced differently depending on one's view of the role of government has a lot of validity (on the face of it) for me. On self-reflection, I find that I'm capable of being a "bad" person in a lot of ways and I can still live with myself--or I may just as well kill myself in despair. Therefore, I can tolerate other so-called bad people quite well, as long as they don't get in my face about it or commit crimes and so on.

Does this make me a libertarian?
3.22.2005 5:35pm
fling93 (www):
That was an excellent piece. I particularly liked the Dinnerstein quotes. Reminds me a lot of Freud's position that religion derives from the desire to fill the father figure void, and it makes sense that it also applies to attitudes towards the government.

I'm probably not the typical libertarian, as I'm very much a sensitive and empathic person and a nice guy who generally dislikes confrontation (except online). I had a family life that was, for the most part, very nurturing. I rejected Rand for the exact reason that she was not nice and extremely disrespectful of opposing viewpoints. I found Milton Friedman much more to my liking. In my mind, I arrived at libertarianism from the view that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and that government actions often have unintended consequences.

But I suppose this might be an after-the-fact rationalization. When it comes down to it, I do think deviancy played a big role (although I think that's a bit strong of a word). I've somewhat recently begun to realize that a lot of my life has been defined by me rejecting a group or an identity. For example, I'm a 2nd-generation Taiwanese-American, but I tended to date non-Asians (indeed, marrying a Latina), and I never learned the language. A lot of my more recent behavior has been an attempt to distance myself from nerds and geeks (I'm a software engineer), or to cultivate an image of weirdness and oddity. And I distinctly remember a little bit of pride in labeling myself a libertarian, specifically in that it was a bit off the beaten path.

The strange part is that I shy away from drawing attention, at least in real life anyway. So I dress very conservatively, and I usually try not to rock the boat. I guess I've been walking a fine line between these two tendencies. Maybe that's why I'm moderate libertarian.

Anyway, thanks for linking the piece. It was definitely thought-provoking.
3.22.2005 5:36pm
Sean Sirrine (mail) (www):
You ask this question is your post:

if Acree is right that the attractiveness of liberal and conservative ideologies depends their resemblance to differing parental models (mother-state or father-state respectively), then what comparable psychology accounts for libertarians rejection of either parental model?

I think this is where we see the answer to why libertarians are willing to be seen as deviants. We're willing to look outside of those parameters to find a succinct form of government. This is an anti-social behavior in that it is against the society currently existing. That is the definition of deviant.

I believe that the term libertarian refers to those people that wish to generate the best form of society that can exist. They more readily except that there are flaws in the current system than the left and the right and are willing to look elsewhere for answers. Acree points out that libertarians also get caught up in their asceticism, but I agree that he is less than thorough when describing libertarianism.

Acree also claims that "true" libertarians are people "who want to abolish the state". It is impossible to be both a libertarian and an anarchist. I do agree with him, however, that many libertarians have thrown the baby out with the bathwater as regards rejecting the model of the family. I see no reason to reject any model; every model is acceptable to a libertarian. We would just ask that other models be socially available for those to whom it would be a more appropriate exercise of their individuality.

I would also like to point out that his final conclusion on libertarians is misplaced because of his view that libertarians want an authoritative government. This is wholly misguided and indeed the reason why libertarians are misbranded. There certainly are libertarians that take to this view, but this is not what libertarianism is based on. Libertarians simply want to be free from restraints based on other ideologies than ours. The only rules for government that seem rational to us are those that protect us all from any one set of ideals. Our belief in diversity allows us to support for both those groups that want to do drugs at home and those that want to pray in public schools. At the same time we believe in a strong military to protect us from hostile forces and a system that gives assistance to protect those that no one else will protect.

In the end, I lean toward libertarianism because I believe that everyone's political belief is rational. I hope over time, we learn how to live in a world where we can all have different political beliefs and live them out. This country is supposed to be a great experiment, but we've failed to look at it like one that is still in the process of being perfected. We need to learn how to be moral in our beliefs without being paternal in our enforcement.
3.22.2005 6:16pm
Julian Sanchez (mail) (www):
This is in the same vein as some of the above, but I'm reminded of the notion found in Rand of the "aristocracy of pull" that probably has a certain resonance for people who fit the stereotype of the smart kid who always had a little trouble fitting in. That is, people treated badly by groups because features they may themselves be proud of mark them as different will tend to be suspicious of giving too much authority or scope to a mode of government based on enforcing group consensus. That's partly a psychological explanation, I suppose, though it's not obiously an invalid lesson to draw either. You could express it more formally and less psychoanalitically as a concern about information cascades in democratic decisionmaking.
3.22.2005 7:09pm
The hypothesis that you are, what your parents are, fails on several fronts.
1) People do not hold immutable political beliefs. One example that showed up in the last election was the fact that women with no children tended to be Democrats while those with children tended Republican. Women switched from one phase: liberal to another: conservative with the changes in their life.
2) The political center of the country swings between liberalism and conservatism. 1950's conservative...1960's liberal and so on. People didn't change their parents in between swings. Those liberals in the 1950's had conservative parents in the 1950's.
3) Libertarians, as now constituted are social outliers. But one, that I think, that lays more in the liberal camp than the conservative. But since they have feet planted in both camps their chance of success in the hustings are slight. Their rabalasian social policies will never win over conservatives. And the liberals won't accept limitations on government and are already far into wild social behavior.

3.22.2005 7:57pm
Dr. T:
I agree that public support of libertarianism in our society results in being labeled as a deviant. (Are there significant numbers of "closet" libertarians who hold the beliefs but avoid the deviant label?) I know too few fellow libertarians to make reliable generalizations. However, I doubt that a desire for a deviant label is a compelling reason for most of us to espouse libertarianism. My limited exposure indicates that libertarians abhor the ideas of enforced morality and enforced responsibility. Libertarians believe they are mature, rational, and moral enough to treat others properly without being forced and to take care of themselves and their families without being directed. Is this unwarranted egoism or appropriate self-confidence? I doubt we will ever know, since the formation of a libertarian society that could answer that question is unlikely in our lifetimes.
3.22.2005 9:01pm
Anthony Sanders (mail):
I think there might be distinction missed by the Acree piece (or at least in the portion Professor Barnett posted). It's between espousing deviant ideas and why one has those ideas. From my own experience, I have been a libertarian for well over 10 years now, and have loved watching the looks on people's faces as I rattled off my take on "the way things oughta' be." However, I'm fairly certain that I did not become a libertarian because it is deviant. Partly I became one because the ideas made sense (the philosophical explanation), but I think also because I'm quite independent (the psychological explanation). I think for some reason the idea of liberty was deeply ingrained in me, as I have very independent (and loving) parents and an independent personality. But, I wouldn't describe my independence as deviant independence.
3.22.2005 10:03pm
Don Gwinn (mail) (www):
I have what I think is a simple insight (my favorite kind) but I haven't seen it in this discussion.

I consider myself a libertarian Republican, heavy on the libertarian. However, I have always recognized that I am a romantic at heart and maybe a little too ready to embrace myths and legends. Since I'm an American, the default legend is some amalgamation of the wandering cowboy hero and the rugged, self-reliant mountain man.

If one accepts the thesis that social conservatives are motivated to stamp out pornography and prostitution by their desire to stamp out their own sexual excesses, and that fiscal liberals are terrified of tax cuts because they need to suppress their own fixation on money, then what is the secret fear/obsession that drives libertarians? It can't be a desire to be seen as deviant or superior (though those are present as well) because that doesn't fit the thesis--it isn't something the libertarian denies. To be a libertarian, you've got to embrace the idea of being different or deviant, not suppress it.

No, what a libertarian would be suppressing, it seems to me, would be his conviction that he, and maybe everyone, really is dependent on outside forces, particularly altruism from government or family. The libertarian would prefer to believe in the totally self-made man, but the reason the totally self-made man is celebrated is because he is the exception. The libertarian believes this, but he doesn't want to believe it, so he suppresses it by throwing himself into an ideology based on the idea that self-reliance and the rejection of collective altruism is the answer to all our ills.

Now, that's not exactly a comprehensive explanation of why I became a libertarian. If it were, I'd reject libertarianism and go on to the next psychological crutch. But it fits his thesis better than his argument, in my opinion, and there's a grain of truth in there. ;)
3.22.2005 10:37pm
Mr. X (www):
I found the article to be very insightful, especially the telling commentary about how libertarians tend to relate to others.

Personally, I'm a libertarian because I have respect for my fellow man and his ability to grow into a moral actor. As children grow into adults, so members of society can be given greater and greater freedoms and responsibilities until they grow up.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...up too late...
3.23.2005 12:38am
Jadagul (mail):
I can give lots of philosophical reasons why I'm a libertarian, and most of them are fairly valid. But the one that reaches me most in my gut is a simple sort of territorialism--"It's mine, damnit, and you can't take it from me." Not even always because I really want "it"; I find the idea that other people can trifle with what's mine incredibly troubling. Relating this back to parents: I know my parents are very loving, attentive, and providing, and always took good care of me. But a large part of me feels like I want more privacy and private space than they're necessarily willing to give me--maybe that's the reaction that makes me a libertarian?
3.23.2005 5:23am
polite poster (mail):
Thanks for a great post and link, Randy. Very interesting stuff. And thanks for opening it up for comments.

I don't agree that the "secret sin" motivation for libertarians is a "secret lust for power". First of all, if a libertarian became a tyrant they would cease to be libertarian. A libertarian tyrant would be an oxymoron. I can see the decrees now: "Citizens will engage in free market transactions to any extent and frequency that they desire. Or not. Citizens will engage in the expression of their civil and private property rights to any extent and frequency that they desire. Or not. No one will violate anyone else's human, civil, or private property rights. That is all. Have a nice day."

I don't see libertarians as "wanting to be dictators of their own six acres, so they recognize that they should allow everyone else to be as well" as someone said above. The same with the theory that libertarians are guilty "bad" people that seek out other guilty "bad" people so that they can receive affirmation and "live with themselves". I also don't believe that libertarians dislike all or most people, therefore they don't think anyone should tell them what to do.

I think Acree himself said it pretty well in these places, especially in the second paragraph below:

"The various explanations that have been offered mostly boil down to the contention that people are jerks — consumed by envy, by needs to control others, or whatever. There is obviously some truth in these claims. The difficult point about such explanations is the implication that libertarians are not afflicted with similar character flaws — that we are more saintly or mentally healthy than the rest of the population. Anyone who has experience with libertarians in person, however, will have (or should have) trouble swallowing that conclusion. There must be more to the story."

"For Lakoff, the choice is a slam-dunk: empirical research in developmental psychology shows that the nurturant approach works better, hence the liberal society is the better one. To libertarians, however, the question is beside the point: we reject any model of the state that sees citizens as children, and bureaucrats and politicians as the only adults. It is remarkable that Lakoff misses entirely the possibility of noninfantilizing social arrangements."
3.23.2005 6:19am
phil (mail):
It seems to me that liberals and conservatives both experience the government as having some kind of magical talismanic power that grants a special legitimacy to ones beliefs, ideas, and actions.

For example, religious freedom is not enough for conservatives. It is not enough to have the freedom to live your life according to the Ten Commandments, display them on your lawn or outside your church, print them on a t-shirt, business card or billboard, etc. But it is absolutely essential to have the Ten Commandments displayed on government property. Why? Because gov't imbues their beliefs with a special legitimacy that for them does not exist in the private realm of freedom.

I used to argue with my liberal friends that if all the liberals who were driven by the idea of insuring the uninsured would just start up their own non/for-profit organizations they could provide health insurance to millions right now without wasting years and years engaged in political competition to get the gov't to do it. But that didn't even register with them. Why? Because gov't imbues their actions and plans with a special legitimacy that they don't experience in the vast and rich private realm of freedom.

I didn't discover "libertarianism" and "classical liberalism" until I was 30. It wasn't a conversion, but rather a discovery that the attitudes, ideas, inclinations and beliefs that I had held for as long as I remember actually had a name, a rich and coherent philosophy and that their were many others who shared my views. I have tried to figure out the origin of these beliefs but haven't been able to pin anything down. But in keeping with the family structure theory, it might be because I was an only child growing up within a laissez-faire parenting style. I had a tremendous amount of freedom as a kid to think what I wanted, arrive at my own conclusions, pursue my own interests. Who knows?
3.23.2005 8:36am
Aeon J. Skoble (mail):
In a pre-reflective way, there's a sense in which I've been a libertarian, or had libertarian tendencies, since I can remember -- the notion that it's no one's business what yoy do as long as you're not harming others seemed right to me as far back as 6th or 7th grade. But of course, this wasn't a consistent and well-thought-out view; in junior-high and high school I was in favor of things like wealth redistribution and technocratic rule. Of course, that's just to say that I was a high school student with liberal parents; no reason to expect theoretical consistency. In college I drifted towards a more consistent libertarianism -- I still considered myself a liberal, but found myself at odds with other liberals (read: lefties). For instance, the pro-censorship wing of feminism seemed wrong to me, and a little reading in economics got me convinced about things like free trade versus protectionism. I can't really see this drift as being connected to any deep psychological issues concerning the family - it seems like it was more a matter of wanting consistency and truth. I was always the sort to argue tenaciously, but not dogmatically - so I had no trouble giving up positions which I could no longer defend. Any really thorough, consistent libertarianism developed in grad school, strictly as the result of philosophical inquiry. It's true that as a kid, my parents and teachers encouraged me to think independently and question authority, but most of my school chums didn't become either libertarians or philosophy professors. Maybe the desire for truth and consistency has some deeper psychological explanation, which I'm not self-aware to know about, but the philosophical commitment to libertarianism comes right out of that. Your conclusion that political views aren't always or necessarily rooted in family/psych issues is surely true.
3.23.2005 9:35am
Henry Woodbury (mail):
The deviancy argument falls flat in one respect -- if you are a socially-liberal small-government conservative, AND you live among social liberals (in the Northeast U.S., for example), libertarianism is at least more acceptable than Republicanism. I happily expouse my support for gay marriage and my opposition to the war on drugs. Arguing for school choice and social security reform is less acceptable, but utilizing a libertarian point of view still keeps such issues a little abstract for people who viscerally reject anything supported by Republicans.

The deviancy argument makes sense to me psychologically when expressed as agnosticism. Don't like joining things? Maybe you're a libertarian. Of course, this idea would make the libertarian party a somewhat perverse institution, a club who's first motion might be the question of whether to disband itself.

Anyway, in my case, skepticism about religion and skepticism about government is the same skepticism -- which is why I prefer the idea of agnosticism over deviancy. Maybe a predilection for disbelief is what makes libertarians. Believers, as Phil pointed out, may be secular. If they don't pick religion as their religion, they will pick government. Or both.

I suppose some small set of believers will pick business or law as their religion. Perhaps these are the libertarians who form the Libertarian party.
3.23.2005 9:56am
Anny Ominous:
I suspect there's a very high concentration of Meyers-Briggs personality types and libertarian leanings.

Libertarian thought flows from the personality elements that define "geeks". We favor rigor - of political beliefs, religous institutions, fields of endevour and otherwise. We are immune to, or openly reject, popularity as a proxy for quality. We find truth through proof rather than belief.
3.23.2005 10:19am
Mike C (mail):
Here's my take on it, as a libertarian at heart. First, with respect to the parental example, I would say that the true libertarian would look at it from the viewpoint of the child being the government and "we the people" as being the parents. This is not to say that libertarians are expecting to control the "child" all alone (dictatorship of sorts), but instead refer back to the old saying "it takes a town to raise a child". The child has a purpose, but the child does not control the town.

In a way, I think you could equate libertarians to being Mr. Spock on the Enterprise. (No, I'm not a Star Trek geek, but I think it's a good example) He was the voice of pure logic, but he was alone in his viewpoint. Everyone else on board had their broad range of emotional imputs, as well as some logic. Emotion cannot win over logic, logic cannot win over emotion, they have to find a way of co-existing. Libertarians could be seen as deviants because they don't include the emotion in their arguments. As Acree said, you can't legislate morality, and morality could be equated to the legislative expression of emotion. On the other hand, rights are the legislative expression of logic. The libertarian viewpoint is not more widely accepted because inevitably you're dealing with humans that have no choice but include emotion in the argument, at least to some extent.
3.23.2005 4:13pm
veryretired (mail):
There are some very broad generalizations being used in this article, not the least of which is the characterization of liberals as being all "economic controls/social freedom" and conservatives as "economic freedom/social controls". There are plenty of puritanical liberals, as well as conservatives who are happy to endorse economic regulations and subsidies.

In fact, the dichotomy most pertinent is either statist or non-statist. The current political parties and their adherents range across a wide spectrum when considered under the old categories of left vs. right. They are quickly recognizable as two sides of the same coin when this outmoded scale is discarded, and their various positions on major issues are examined in relation to exercise of state power. Both are quick to invoke the weight of legal sanctions when they find something with which they disagree.

Libertarian political and social theories are deviant only in relation to the "received wisdom" of the last century, in which the statist theories developed during the latter part of the 19th century in Europe were adopted by "progressives" in the US, who began an unrelenting campaign, led early on by Republicans, by the way, to expand the power and scope of state activity.

Libertarian ideas are those of the classical liberals, or Jeffersonian democrats, who developed the structure of a limited state which had clearly defined powers, and whose citizens retained a wide ranging portfolio of rights and freedoms which were beyond state control.

Let's remember that the great part of the burden of state control that now afflicts the average citizen, whether as an individual or member of a business, has only recently been "discovered" as legitimate to the state, as was recently discussed in a speech by Justice Scalia about the fallacy of the "living Constitution", amenable to any interpretation that a judge believes is acceptable politically at the time of the case.

In response then, my contention would be that it is the statist variations on political and social organization which are deviant, and the libertarian approach which is most in accordance with the philosophical underpinnings of our governmental and cultural structures.
3.23.2005 7:23pm
norm (mail):
I think libertarian tendencies directly reflect a very basic aspect of personality.

Having spent over a decade on our local school board which is very charter school friendly, I have frequently encountered opponents to this form of school choice and reduced government control of education. Not all the opponents of choice are fools or dupes of the teachers' union. Some really believe all children should go to the same school which should be made as good as possible for the typical child. I am convinced that there is a fundamental personality trait that values faith in the government/village/fuhrer/commisar/expert/parent telling us the best way to live versus faith in personal independence. This seems highly plausible. We are social animals and it is becoming clear that we have special mental structures for dealing with socially important things like faces. We seem to have inborn attributes such as seeking or avoiding stimulation. A variation in human character favoring either independence or following would have adaptive value in that at different times either can be very important to survival and reproduction.

A test of this trait for me is the understanding of "it takes a village to a raise a child." Many, like myself, take this phrase to mean that raising kids is hard and it helps sometimes to have the support of neighbors. Others, apparently descended from ancient Spartans, believe that the primary responsibility is with the village to get the kinds of citizens it collectively wants. They believe that when there is a conflict between the wishes of the village (democratically determined) and those of the parents about what is best for the child, the village should prevail.

My wife and I see the independence loving trait in our children who are in their late teens. The other day a family friend commented on how very independent our children are. I think the comment was two thirds compliment and one third concern that we didn't control our kids enough. But the fact is each has been as independent as possible from their parents and teachers since toddler-hood. We just did the best we could trying to guide them. They are not deviants; in fact they are very social and popular (and have loving, if sometimes spurned, parents.)

As may be apparent from my point of view (elected) I am not a hard core Libertarian. Nor do I identify with the deviant idea. But I am very committed to less government control and more personal choice in our society. I think the "deviant" aspect is an artifact of being a hard core member of a small minority ("in our cultural context" as Acree says), not fundamental to preferring liberty to following authority.
3.24.2005 12:12am
JSB (mail):
Apparently the author has a major lack of introspection. For instance, why is it that liberals favor redistribution because it makes them feel good, conservatives favor moral rules because it makes them feel good, but libertarians favor anarchy because ... well maybe, because it makes them feel good!

Finally, his statement that gays and lesbians are not libertarian because they are somehow weaker (not as comfortable being considered a deviant) was absolutely crazy. If he honestly thinks that a white, heterosexual man who calls himself a "libertarian" is treated worse by society than a lesbian, he is delusional. Did it not occur to him that the reason gays and lesbians vote for traditional political parties could be the fact that they have a lot more to lose? It's a lot easier to play with alternative political parties when you're not afraid of being thrown in jail if the wrong guy wins. Let's take the example of Nader in '00. His followers consisted of unusually high numbers of well-off white men. Maybe this means that well-off white men are more willing to take political risks because either way, they're going to be OK. It wouldn't surprise me if we saw a similar demographic breakdown amongst self-labeled libertarians. Its much easier to sit back and swing away on the hammock of idealism when you're not in the middle of a fight for your own day-to-day life.
3.24.2005 2:44pm