roadzThe headline: “Why I fled libertarianism — and became a liberal”.

The subhead: “I was a Ron Paul delegate back in 2008 — now I’m a Democrat. Here’s my personal tale of disgust and self-discovery”.

Edwin Lyngar was a Ron Paul delegate in 2008. Once he got to the GOP convention,  he was baffled by the number of Birthers, Truthers, MoonTruthers and Chemtrailers who apparently made up his fellow Paulbots. (Lyngar also casually equates interest in gold, the Fed, and the JFK assassination with such conspiracy theories. He is not alone in this attitude — the highly-touted conspiracy theory  poll from last spring was similarly sloppy. An enthusiasm for monetary policy is dry, so why not spice it up by implying that to believe in the gold standard is to be sure that the president is from Kenya?)

Lyngar had no libertarian moment of aha!, thanks to a Hayek book, or a Ron Paul speech. He doesn’t really explain why he cared enough to be a delegate for Paul in 2008. He was just vaguely born libertarian, in that he comes from a small town in Nevada where, he writes, “we burned our own garbage and fired guns in the back yard.” He even admits that libertarians are pro-pot, mostly pro-gay, and mostly anti-war, so they have their bright spots still. But also, when he left his small town, his eyes were opened:

I learned that libertarians are made for lots of reasons, like reading the bad fiction of Ayn Rand or perhaps the passable writing of Robert Heinlein. In my experience, most seemed to be poor, white and undereducated. They were contortionists, justifying the excesses of the capitalist elite, despite being victims if libertarian politics succeed.

If you think that selfishness and cruelty are fantastic personal traits, you might be a libertarian. In the movement no one will ever call you an asshole, but rather, say you believe in radical individualism.

Heinlein is only “passable”? Buddy, you read the wrong Heinlein. And if you’re in the libertarian movement, someone will call you an asshole at some point. Or they will call you a statist. Though there are generally agreed upon tenets in libertarianism, there is also tedious in-fighting and minute-to-vital points of disagreement on issues, interpretations, and conclusions. We are not your cheap Dagney Taggart or Randy Weaver jokes, as much as you try to cram us into that convenient mold. We are diverse, and by God, we will shoot ourselves in the foot whenever possible. (Lyngar does acknowledge this incompetence later in the piece, so at least he’s not one of those “dear God, the libertarians have taken over!” folks.)

Lyngar is mostly done with specifics after his live from the GOP Convention ’08 beginning. He changed slowly after his realization that libertarianism indeed attracts weirdos. Soon he was crying for unspecified, but positive reasons when Obama was elected president. And then the financial crisis:

Libertarians were (rightly) furious when our government bailed out the banks, but they fought hardest against help for ordinary Americans. They hated unemployment insurance and reduced school lunches. I used to say similar things, but in such a catastrophic recession isn’t the government supposed to help? Isn’t that the lesson of the Great Depression?

I’m going to give our friend the benefit of the doubt and say, sure, okay, you met three libertarians who were most passionately opposed to school lunches. That was their number one issue, closely followed by the horrors of unemployment insurance. But there are a lot of libertarians who would prefer to tackle the bigger issues first: war, prisons, police, the drug war, financial ruin for the country, occupational licensing, zoning laws, lack of school choice, the death penalty, transportation, whatever you like. And you would know that if you spoke to more than three libertarians — that no, most of them wouldn’t start with cutting the lunches for shoeless Appalachian children program. They’d probably start with trimming the military, the Department of Homeland Security, or that sentimental favorite, the Drug Enforcement Administration.

(And no, that is not the lesson of the Great Depression. That is not even close to being the lesson of the Great Depression. Suggesting that means you paid no attention to economics even while you were a libertarian, dude.)

Lyngar goes on to marry a Canadian liberal, then be disgusted by the racist Birthers in the Tea Party movement. He lurches towards nuance by implying that libertarians who work with the Tea Party are not necessarily the same thing as those religious freaks, etc. But then he notes that at last he has learned to “care about children — even poor ones.” Thereby separating himself from monstrous libertarians, he writes:

I love the National Park system. The best parts of the America I love are our communities. My libertarian friends might call me a fucking commie (they have) or a pussy, but extreme selfishness is just so isolating and cruel. Libertarianism is unnatural, and the size of the federal government is almost irrelevant. The real question is: what does society need and how do we pay for it?

To paraphrase the best French guy ever, Frederic Bastiat, man, liberals really seem to think that if you’re not for government funded, or government-run institutions, you must be against them entirely. Parks are awesome. Some parks also have a long history of hilariously-arrogant mismanagement by government. And it’s cool that you love communities. That means literally nothing in general, and nothing specific to libertarianism. Most of us do not wish to live alone, Unibomber-style. But we’re very keen on anyone’s right to do the best they can at achieving that sort of lifestyle.

The best part of the piece — the part that elevates it to an artful act of trolling — might be the very end. Old Ed says of libertarians: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.” That quote, and its accompanying viewpoint, is common in libertarianism. It sounds arrogant, but it’s the evangelizing of a fringe belief that is forever trying to gain converts. How else do you change minds except by convincing someone they are mistaken? And it is no different than liberals who shake their heads at all those folks who “vote against their own interests” — meaning, not for Democrats. To them, libertarians, if they’re not cold, rich, Randian cutouts, they are stupidly opposed to the communitarian pleasures of the left that could benefit them so much.

We’re all snobs when we’re in our own Google Groups, bars, or political rallies. There’s nothing wrong with reveling in “yes, totally! That!” for an evening. But the folks at Salon have the ideological privilege of not ever needing to convert libertarians to their viewpoints. Liberals often treat every conservative victory (one which with libertarians may or may not agree) as an assurance that the barbarians are at the gates. Mentions cuts, and there is nothing between that and Somalia. Liberals refuse to believe that their view of the proper role of government has been a dominant one for decades. They suffer from being The Man denial.

So then, what is the the point of this piece? Optimistically, we could say it could help prove to Salon readers that all libertarians aren’t monsters. Why, there’s always the hope that they will change their evil ways! But it’s more banal than that. This intensely shallow piece is solely an exercise in back-patting. It’s one man’s courageous story of being saved from the darkness of everything Not Liberal, without even the drama of a road to Damascus moment. It’s just that the election of Obama, and the worst of the Tea Party eventually took him on a self-satisfied journey away from conspiratorial meanies to the safe ” bosom of conventional liberalism.” He finally “developed [his] own values.” But a vague sense that libertarianism by nature is cold, cruel, and crazy is not an analysis of an ideology.

Some libertarians choose to interpret the recent cascade of anti-libertarian pieces on Alternet, Salon, and NSFWCorp the last few months as proof that the philosophy is getting somewhere — it can no longer be ignored by the mainstream. But Lyndar’s piece confirms lazy liberal dominance, because why try? Why fight libertarian beliefs, when you can simply revel in having beaten their imaged end-game, as Alternet did recently, — Libertopia apparently outlaws feeding or clothing the homeless! — or simply rejoice in having banished its evil from your own mind, as Lyndar does here.

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  • Rob McMillin

    Eight years of Bush/43 made the neocons hopelessly uninterested in introspection, and I see Salon’s readership is in the same place five years into Obama.

    • Jason Price

      Unfortunately that’s what happens. People tend to ignore the voices of those with which they disagree. Libertarians, Democrats and Republicans are all alike in that sense.

  • Jason Chrisite

    Salon is about as worthless as the Republicans and Democrats. And so many pseudo-intellectuals get their direction from that site.

    But, to talk about not caring for the poor, the two major parties have done so much to harm poor people and create new ones. Merely offering welfare is not a solution, it’s just treating the symptoms of a bigger problem.

    And, yes, most long-term, thoughtful Libertarians (everyone I have ever known, in fact) have no desire to remove the safety nets and leave the rest in place. There are much bigger fish to fry, and we have no desire to harm people, rich or poor. It’s more a matter of creating an economy where people don’t need welfare and food stamps to get by.

    I’m disgusted that liberals and conservatives are such mendacious liars, but I guess I’m not surprised. Thanks for the article.

  • Matt Mortellaro

    I don’t believe this guy was ever a libertarian. He presents some of the most common objections to libertarians, that any libertarian will hear dozens of times in just a few years of being actively engaged, as if there are no responses that libertarians give except “fuck the poor” (which no libertarians actually say). I’d very much doubt that he could pass an ideological turing test (which should be trivial if he was really a libertarian for as long as he suggests).

  • Lord Mannyrossa

    I love the false conceit of ‘if you don’t want government to pay for it, you don’t want it paid for at all’ This guy is a fraud and was never a Libertarian. Though I hate to say that is the case with a lot of the Ron Paul crowd.

  • jddeatherage

    propaganda from the left. Libertarian’s must be making gains for an article like this to be published.

  • Amy Alkon

    What all these pieces (this guy’s, the ridiculous piece on Alternet) have in common is distortion of libertarianism.

  • Jake Shannon

    TRANSLATION: he left because he realized libertarians are truly tolerant of all types; paranoids, pot heads, Randroids, Nobel laureates, economists, anarchists, both Occupy and Tea Party-types, comedians, feminists, the religious & atheists, etc. Wow…

  • HE Mosteller

    Pfffst… Chemtrails are what? Crazy? And the fact that the president was born in some distant solar system light years away and is actually one of the Draco’s is what? Let me guess: crazy? And the fact that there is a NWO crew of Draco leaders that is headquartered in Isreal? That’s crazy too? Sorry guy, some of us aren’t going to bury our heads in the sand. We have this thing called the internet, and the media masters that pay your way on the arrogant elitist cocktail party circuit don’t have the monopoly over our minds that they used to enjoy. Just another pseudo-intellectual shill. INFOWARS for president 2016! All kidding aside, f^ck this guy. Good riddance a**hole.

  • j4y8

    Sad. This person was obviously never a libertarian. These counter arguments are trite and simple. Any libertarian has responded to and worked this sort of immature thinking out, long before they claim to be a libertarian (classic liberal). 😉

  • Merry Bodner

    Learn how to spell subhead.Then I’ll read the rest.

    • Lucy Steigerwald

      Your move!

  • Pingback: Another Edition of Salon Contributor in Praise Me, I Am No Longer a Libertarian | Lucy Steigerwald | The Stag Blog()

  • tim_lebsack

    If I could punch a magic button for results, I would first repeal the 16th Amendment. Their is no magic button so I continue to vote for LP candidates while working to make government smaller, less intrusive and non-coercive.

  • Ed Morgano

    WOW! You said: “But there are a lot of libertarians who would prefer to tackle the bigger issues first: war, prisons, police, the drug war, financial ruin for the country, occupational licensing, zoning laws, lack of school choice, the death penalty, transportation, whatever you like.” So here’s my question: Why have we seen 50+ votes to repeal Obamacare and 0 votes to reduce the size of the military out of the republican controlled house? I bring up the Military budget because it’s where over 50% of our income taxes go. When are the libertarians going to start addressing this instead of reducing SNAP benefits? In short, you can’t say you are for something (reducing war) and then work in the opposite direction and have anyone take you seriously.

    • Lucy

      Because Republicans are not libertarians? And that’s really all I need to say in response, however, a sympathy for the uninsuranced does not translate to thinking Obamacare is good national policy. Even Obamacare helping in the short-term does not translate into thinking it is good national policy. Republicans, being their own special brand of “small government” hypocrite would never go after military dollars.

      Do you have any critiques for actual libertarians I can address?

      • Ed Morgano

        Yes, Why have the libertarians NOT pushed for reduced military spending? The house members who identify as libertarian have NEVER mentioned this as an issue. Why?

        • Lucy

          There is a single person in the House who identifies as a libertarian right now, Justin Amash. He has been busy trying to shut down the NSA, among other things. I’m honestly not sure if he has ever deliberately gone after JUST spending, no. That has nothing to do with libertarianism as a whole’s stance on the military. Literally, one person in national office who says they are a libertarian. There is no plural. I am not sure why you’re indignant, when it’s my people who have no power.

  • sleepswithcats

    Mr. Lyngar is not a great writer. Once you get past that, he has one important thing to say: selfishness is not good. That is the real critique of “libertarianism”.

    • Lucy

      And that is a strawman critique if ever there is one. And it still doesn’t explain how vegetarianism and libertarianism somehow conflict.

      • sleepswithcats

        I’m not sure what you’re telling me, Lucy. What is the “strawman” I am supposedly raising up in order to knock down? That libertarians are selfish? I was an Ayn Rand acolyte at the age of twelve, and I can assure you that her brand of libertarianism extolls selfishness.

        I read Mr. Lyngar’s bit in Salon. It’s not a great, or even good, piece of writing. His critique of self-styled libertarians is manifold, but he sums it up pretty well in one paragraph:

        “I began to think about real people, like my neighbors and people less lucky than me. Did I want those people to starve to death? I care about children, even poor ones. I love the National Park system. The best parts of the America I love are our communities. My libertarian friends might call me a fucking commie (they have) or a pussy, but extreme selfishness is just so isolating and cruel. Libertarianism is unnatural, and the size of the federal government is almost irrelevant. The real question is: what does society need and how do we pay for it?”

        Now, you may disagree with Mr. Lyngar’s characterization of libertarianism. I think he’s pretty fair in his portrayal. I could refer you to the wikipedia article: Of course, libertarians will disagree on the definition of libertarianism, as they disagree on most everything. After all, they trumpet “freedom” as the ultimate good, and they revel in their freedom to disagree with each other.

        You may disagree with associating Ayn Rand with libertarianism. That’s your right, though plenty of self-styled libertarians embrace her “philosophy”.

        And what’s with the vegetarianism?

        • Lucy

          You know, I might be confusing this piece with another asinine Salon one. I can’t remember at this point, since this was a while ago, you might notice. Another piece about a convert from libertarianism noted that he felt strange about being a libertarian and a vegetarian, as if there’s ANY conflict there at all.

          What’s the straw man? Read my piece. I already addressed this. You repeating Ayn Rand isn’t going to convince me suddenly that letting people choose for themselves is another world for selfish.

          You’re commenting as if I don’t know what libertarianism is. I am one. This is a libertarian blog. I already addressed this above. And no Rand is not the same thing as libertarian, even if yes, libertarians are often influenced by her.

          Read above. Saying you enjoy National Parks (hey, me too!) isn’t the same thing as “the way they are run and funded is ideal to me.” Saying you worry about poor people, thereby implying that libertarians do not, is not the same as proving that Salon-style liberalism is the best thing for the poor.

          It’s a straw an. An unoriginal one. The entire piece.

          • sleepswithcats

            Mr. Lyngar wasn’t trying to “prove” anything; the concept that any of these ethical questions have answers that can be “proven” is naive in the extreme. He was merely expressing his own personal reasons for abandoning the “libertarianism” that he had adopted as a young man. To call his piece a “strawman” is to demonstrate a lack of understanding of that term.

            As to whether you “know what libertarianism is”; it is many things to many people. To claim it is one particular thing is, again, naive in the extreme, rather like saying Christianity is limited to the tenets of the Children of God (which, of course, is what they would maintain.)

            As for selfishness, J.K. Galbraith said rather pithily: “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” Ayn Rand carried that exercise to a ridiculous extreme. Libertarians are in the same mold: it is a “philosophy” for children, who are often by nature selfish and egotistical.

  • Gene R Long

    Lucy, your timeline is wrong. You mention Obama was elected, then the financial crisis hit. It was the other way around. The crisis began earlier in 2008 (believe me, I’ve got the bank statements to prove it), not after Obama’s election. Restoring Glass-Steagall is what we need, not further deregulation.

  • Mandy Sue

    He’s right, and libertarians are disingenuous gasbags without a clue how govt does and should work, but most of us know this already. It just takes others longer to open their eyes.

    • Lucy Steigerwald

      This is a really good comment. Wow.

  • Mike Moore

    Modern Libertarianism was born of corporatism. That’s all I need to know. It’s the reason it’s adherents fit so well with the Republican party.

    • Lucy Steigerwald

      Not even close! And no they don’t! Thanks, though.