“I’m going to be 100% honest with you,” her email started. “I want you there but I don’t want [her] there.” That’s the excuse I was given for why I was not invited to a friend’s engagement party. As an ardent anarcho-libertarian, she didn’t want my girlfriend in attendance. My expected guest committed the gravest of sins: she “honestly believed Romney would be a good president.” That belief might as well be the same as robbing starving children of their last scraps of food. My girlfriend also had the audacity of criticizing libertarians for both being too purist and not casting a ballot for Governor Romney when it mattered. In the libertarian world, this accusation is the equivalent of first degree murder. So she must be shunned.
When I first received the email, I stared at it for a minute before clicking off and hitting the “trash” button. At first I smirked about the declined invitation. I used to be a militant defender of libertarian non-politics. I avoided company with government workers, preferring to withhold my presence from those awful “thieves and murderers.” I understood where the disinvitation was coming from. But even still, I was hurt by the sentiment. I was being kept out of gathering of friends because of my girlfriend’s political beliefs. She’s not some bullhorn Republican, aggressively deriding everyone who doesn’t vote straight R. She’s as amicable around liberals as she is around conservatives and libertarians. This was strictly politics.
The liberal press loves to fret about the current polarization in politics facing America. Tea Party Republicans are painted as intolerant of compromise. President Obama’s aloof stance toward the loyal opposition is seen as a necessary undertaking if he is ever to get anything done. Washington, we’re told, is a town divided on ideological lines that is as cynical as it is inept. There’s a lot of truth in these caricatures. But the American polity isn’t all that venomous or divided as it was two centuries ago. In the contentious campaign between then-President John Adams and then-Vice President Thomas Jefferson, sycophants from both sides called the candidates everything from “a hideous hermaphroditical character” to a “gross hypocrite.” If anything, political discourse has cooled down to a level of respectful civility.
Considering the decline of slanderous language, I seriously doubt that political polarization is any more extreme than it was in America’s youngest years. That doesn’t mean loyalty to ideology is not causing social corruption. It certainly does, and it’s a hard thing to reconcile when it happens in a personal manner. Seeing TV talking heads battle it out on screen, clearly displaying contempt for one another, is good sport. But being excluded from social functions with close friends because of differences of opinion is a matter altogether different. In a word, it’s sad.
Libertarians often consider themselves victims of stereotypes. They dislike the notion that libertarianism is only for bookish, anti-social introverts who don’t deserve the serious consideration given to more dominant philosophies. And yet, many libertarians, especially young up-in-coming millennials, do little to cast off this perception. Instead of being open to others and willing to enjoy conversation with a diverse set of people, they are reclusive to their own kind. The self-styled “liberty movement” is such a befuddled group of predestined losers because of the dogmatism of its members. It’s one thing to be strident in principle. It’s another to be so rude and hateful of all differing opinions.
The same dynamic applies to the leftist journalism guild, which survives on playing the obsequious court jester to the powers that be. Jonathan Chait of the New Yorker revealed the hidden intolerance behind progressive intellectuals when he recently wrote that while Republicans aren’t necessarily “bad people,” he would be entirely uncomfortable with his daughter marrying a member of the Grand Old Party. His evasion was clever by half. He may not hate conservatives, but he sure as hell doesn’t want them near his family. I’m no psychologist, but I believe that type of thinking screams of vehement disgust.
Tolerance is often considered the great uniter of the left. In practice, however, progressives are as unbiased as those they denounce. The writings of major liberals contain smug close-mindedness and outright hatred of opposing views. Whatever kindness or openness liberal intellectuals want to promote is drowned out by their animalistic loathing toward homophobes, Christians, conservatives, or anyone who deviates from the ACLU series of handbooks.
For people who believe in truly limited government, what good does it do to banish individuals based on their political beliefs? Is there any sense in mimicking liberal intolerance? Dividing and expelling people over politics doesn’t sap the state of influence and empower civil society – it accomplishes the exact opposite. Politics is an interesting subject to debate, but it should not take over one’s world to the point of denying the complex humanity that exists in everyone.
The counterculture of post-war America already proved that nobody likes a sanctimonious ideologue. In a recent issue of the venerable periodical City Journal, several progressive writers recall their radical activist days in the hallmark year of 1968. Back then, the free love culture was at its zenith. Race riots and sit-ins were common. UK journalist Christopher Hitchens describes the worker strikes in France and Poland as resembling the 1848 revolutions or the 1917 Tzar overthrow. It was a heady time, high on emotion and a demand for revolutionary change. Leftist radicals were convinced they were leading a social revolution that would replace Western capitalism with a socialist utopia. But their assertiveness didn’t exactly win over any followers.
Editor Stefan Kanfer provides the most vivid demonstration of the one-sidedness that characterized so many progressive reformers in the 60s. When one of the many excitable youths who participated in Columbia University’s student protests of 68 demanded to know if Kanfer was “part of the problem or part of the solution,” and accused him of being a “fascist” for admitting he enjoyed the university’s environment for higher learning, Kanfer replied that the demonstrations reminded him of the 1930s. Kanfer further chided the student by telling him the idealism of the New Deal era, despite the rhetoric of its champions, never amounted to insurrection. “The Revolution never arrived,” he declared. “A little later, the marchers abandoned their cause and wound up with real jobs. And they were damned glad to get them.” The student could only reply with a shout of “Never!”
The similarities between the shrill dogmatism of late 60s rebels and today’s libertarians is palpable when you experience it in person. Like the beatnik progressives, libertarians are married to their cause. Many view themselves on the “right” side of history, and all others as hopelessly evil. And they don’t hesitate to remind everyone of their moral superiority.
Libertarian individualism may be the correct approach to public policy, but it neglects an important lesson: the best joys in life are those that are shared with others. Socialization provides the means to share experiences, sympathize with personal struggles, and engage over a common humanity. As Christopher McCandless, quoting the Russian poet Boris Pasternak, scribbled in a copy of Tolstoy’s Family Happiness before passing away in the wild, “An unshared happiness is not happiness.” McCandless infamously sought a lonely life in the wilderness to experience freedom and find meaning away from normal society. He ended up alone, and regretting the decision before falling prey to the elements. He died, with his liberty to starve intact. If libertarians, or any advocate for political philosophy for that matter, want to be taken seriously, they would benefit from not purging the Other. They certainly can’t do any worse.