I used to be a libertarian. I published for the Spokane Libertarian Examiner, and wrote articles warning against totalitarianism (see here), decrying foreign interventionism (see here and here and here), defending gun rights (see here), promoting various conspiracy theories (see here and here and here), advocating for state cessation (see here and here and here), and arguing for a libertarian definition of freedom as espoused by my former political hero, Ron Paul.
I still hold to many of my original concerns articulated at the above links, especially about the dangers of statism, whether expressed in foreign adventurism or domestic totalitarianism. However, over time my perspectives have shifted. This shift has included a gradual abandonment of a libertarian perspective. Where I still favor many libertarian policies, I do so from a completely different and non-libertarian philosophical foundation.
Below are the main areas where my political views have shifted over time. Some, though not all, relate to the problems of libertarianism. Each of these represent long intellectual journeys that were precipitated by non-intellectual circumstances, including various life experiences, occurrences at work, stresses in the community, further education, challenges in various relationships, feeling disenfranchised by Trump-era conservatism, and aesthetic development—influenced by novel reading, art, and spiritual disciplines—that shifted my perception of what constitutes the Good Life and human flourishing. But for the sake of brevity I will focus here on the purely intellectual factors, and the literary sources of my changing political views.
- I No Longer Believe Politics is So Important. I have grown less interested in the political sphere, having come to believe that politics, while important, is not the primary driver of cultural change. What Jacques Ellul called “the political illusion” is the idea that most problems are basically reducible to politics. I have written about this in point #6 of my article “Right-Wing Violence and the Trump Personality Cult.” Some authors who have been influential in my thinking here are James Davidson Hunter, Rod Dreher, and Jacques Ellul.
- I Have Become Cautious About Conspiracy Theories. I have become more cautious in promoting what we might call “conspiracy theories.” This happened as a result of becoming more discriminating in my use of information, having come to believe (for both theological and practical reasons) that high standards of due diligence should be performed before believing and circulating ideas we read online. I have discussed this in Tool #9 and #10 in my article “How to Evaluate Information Online” and “After Research: The Challenge of Information Literacy in a Post-Truth Culture.” Another concern I began to have with conspiracy theories is they are usually framed in ways that elude falsifiability. For consider how most conspiracy theorists, after seeing a theory discredited, will typically respond, “It was likely a psych op,” in order to keep their basic conspiratorial worldview intact. At its most extreme, this worldview absolves us from having to carefully assess the ways our culture has gone wrong since the Enlightenment (or even earlier, since the schism or the advent of philosophical Nominalism/Voluntarism) since this worldview presents our culture as basically benign but merely hostage to a few bad players (Bill Gates, George Soros, Jewish bankers, deep state, etc.). On this reading of our situation, all that is needed is a strong leader to banish the bad players and put things right, which of course feeds what Ellul called “the political illusion” (see above). Equally concerning is that while the conspiracy theorist mindset aims to avoid being taken in or duped by conventional wisdom or mainstream information sources, this rarely prevents the person becoming gullible to the basic tropes and structural motifs that form part of the unquestioned background for how we, as modern people, understand and navigate the world. This was apparent during the conspiracy theories about COVID, which usually co-existed with (and even fueled) Enlightenment ideas about liberty and natural rights, or the QANON theories which co-existed (and even fueled) the political idolatries embodied by Trump (five of which I discussed here). If we really want to exercise critical thinking and not be taken in, I suggest we begin by questioning the tropes that organize our thinking and reinforce habits of mind that disguise themselves precisely because they are so habitual. (I have discussed in more detail my concern about conspiracy theories in my “Letter to a Conspiracy Theorist.”) Some thinkers who have been influential in my evolving thinking here include Dr. William Kabasenche, Mary Midgley, Dr. Carl Trueman, and Dr. Alastair Roberts (particularly Dr. Roberts’ work on the theology of Proverbs and its application to practical epistemology).
- I No Longer Think Natural Rights Exist. I have come to disbelieve the anthropology (prevalent in the Enlightenment in general and America’s founding in particular) which sees humans as rights-bearing individuals. Once I began to entertain skepticism about natural rights, it was hard to sustain a libertarian view of freedom, since the latter depends on the former. I tell the story of my intellectual metamorphosis regarding rights in my article, “How I Came to Understand that Natural Rights Are Fake.” Some authors who have been influential in my thinking here are Edmund Burke, Dr. Nigel Biggar, and Dr. Brad Littlejohn.
- I’m Convinced that Classical Liberalism Doesn’t Work. At one time I advocated “classical liberalism,” and even selected that as my political view for my Facebook profile. Classical liberalism is a comfortable bedfellow with Libertarianism, since both promote a value-neutral state based on limited government interference (on the similarities and differences between classical liberalism and libertarianism, see this article from my Salvo column). But after observing the transgressive drift of American society, I have come to believe that more is needed than simply a hands-off approach from the state. While I am not on board with the “new American right,” I think Sohrab Ahmari did a good job of articulating why the canons of both classical liberalism and libertarian freedom are inadequate to the current challenges facing our society. While I still think classical liberalism was a great idea, its fundamental incoherence and inconsistency ensure that it will eventually self-destruct. I have explained about this in my article, “Thomas Jefferson’s Cancellation Portends End of Classical Liberalism.” Some figures who have been influential in my evolving skepticism about classical liberalism this include Ken Myers, Michael Hanby, Sohrab Ahmari, D. C. Schindler, Russell Kirk, Patrick Deneen, and Oliver O’Donovan.
- I No Longer Believe Liberty Means Not Being Interfered With. During COVID controversies about masks and social distancing, the libertarian definition of freedom took over conservative discourse with a vengeance. At its crudest, freedom was perceived to be equivalent to not being told what to do. As Ron Paul explained, “Liberty means to exercise human rights in any manner a person chooses so long as it does not interfere with the exercise of the rights of others. This means, above all else, keeping government out of our lives.” Or as the Lew Rockwell put it, “Freedom means that which the government does not control… Government is the negation of liberty.” During my libertarian days, I would have concurred with these definitions. But in thinking about various mask-wearing controversies, I came to believe that liberty should be understood in terms of human flourishing, and not simply the absence of restraint. I talked about this in my article, “Why It’s Important to Get Liberty Right,” and my three-part series on the dark side of libertarian freedom. Some authors who have been influential in my thinking here are Edmund Burke, D. C. Schindler, Ken Myers, Patrick Deneen, Sohrab Ahmari, Michael Hanby, and Aristotle.