How I got to libertarianism

December 10, 2016

I’ve wanted to start some kind of politico website for a while now, and what’s stopped me has been all the usual suspects–indecision, procrastination, perfectionism… whatever.  I thought about whether I should first teach myself coding, or at least SQL kind of stuff and start from scratch, to make every step truly my own.  I thought during the election cycle that my voice would just be drown out by all the other options if I began partway through having never built a base.  I thought that maybe the first post should have some relevance on timing–the day of Trump’s inauguration, perhaps, or a historical date like September 11th, the Fifth of November, or the Fourth of July.  But like quitting smoking (which I did January 7th, only happenstancially Rand’s birthday), it should happen on a random Saturday or Tuesday.

So where do I begin?  There’s no shortage of places to start in the year of the dumpster fire, 2016.  But neither Trump, Harambe, Castro, Putin or Phoenix began today, and neither should I.  One thing I should work on, however, before the New Years comes, is simplicity and resisting the urge to overcomplicate things.  This year’s given us a hint at just how far down the rabbit hole our culture, politics, and country has fallen, so let’s go with Lewis Carroll.

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and then go on till you come to the end: then stop”.

I didn’t come to libertarianism in a direct or linear line.  I didn’t merely pick up a copy of The Law or Economics in One Lesson or Liberty Defined or Atlas Shrugged that lead me on the obvious road to the non-aggression principle, Mises, and Rothbard.  I didn’t ask “WWRPD?” in one election cycle, nor was I trying to get in the pants of some hot and wild liberty lady.  It came out slowly, piece by piece, until I just happened to be here.  The first attraction to it as an abstract concept actually came through watching the first Star Wars trilogy and idolizing Han Solo.

I was raised by Republicans in the eighties, who idolized Reagan and were addicted to Limbaugh as soon as he got a platform to reach them.  The basic talking points of small government were something that were in my political DNA from the beginning.  Hell, when I was ten or eleven, during my grade school’s mock election I stood on the sidewalk with a homemade sign that read “Bush ’92, for red, white, and blue” while I could have been playing Street Fighter 2 or the Legend of Zelda.  Eventually I would try to rebel against all I was taught like any teenager, but the logic of that simple premise of limited government was too sound to shed like I did with my parent’s religion.  Even while I idolized Nietzsche screamed in industrial, my mind realized there weren’t holes in the basic concepts against a large state, even if there were in particulars.  Before I even hit puberty, I questioned the Republican positions on social issues like pot and gay marriage, but little else.

The first election I was old enough to vote in, while I was slightly worried about Y2K, I skipped the primaries for the parties (events, not political associations… and hazy events at that), but voted for W due to the R before his name.  The first primaries to hold my attention were in 08, where I supported McCain long before it was apparent he would be the nominee.  Now, McCain and Graham may be the antithesis of libertarianism on the right side of the aisle, representing better than anyone else the neocon worldview of intervention, always.  But what attracted me to him initially was his (comparatively) libertarian positions against torture and the legal precedent being set at Guantanamo Bay.  What I broke with W on during his Presidency was not the debacle of Iraq, but with his assaults on civil liberties and habeas corpus, which made me only begin to question whether the rest of Republican orthodoxy was really compatible with their stated small government stance.

Two events during that political season changed my outlook significantly.  The first happened after a Republican debate, where Ron Paul had sparred with Giuliani over foreign policy.  After the debate, during a press conference, Ron Paul suggested that before Rudy opine any further about foreign policy, he read a serious of books.  Four, to be precise, that he named.  I was still, at this point, a neocon, but I picked them up all the same, both out of curiosity over Paul’s alien worldview and as a means to discredit it.  By the time I had finished all four, the election was over and I viewed the world outside of America in a much different way.  The second event happened when McCain literally suspended his Presidential campaign to go to Washington to gin up support for TARP.  This had nothing to do with civil liberties, foreign policy, or any of the major policies that truly separates Libertarians and Republicans at the grassroots level.  This was, simply, treason directed at what is supposed to be an underlying idea underpinning all of what I was taught “Republican” was, and it was too far.  After having voted for McCain in the primary, I voted third party for the first time in the general.  My support for Bob Barr was based on little more than my disgust at McCain for TARP, and nothing more.

In 2010, I found two things that would sink me further into libertarian-ish ideas.  I found, at a local bookstore, a copy of Reason magazine, and I found Rand Paul.  He was a Republican who actually cared about the fiscal issues Republicans claimed to care about and civil liberties that had become much more important to me during the excesses of the Bush/Obama regimes’ blatant disregard for them… and he didn’t seem as “crazy” as his dad.

By the 2012 cycle, I had become extremely active in political advocacy, and with Ron Paul my wife got the fever as well.  We spent over a year of the primaries waving signs, knocking on doors, manning tables at events, writing for advocacy websites, enjoying rallies, and bombarding unsuspecting bar patrons with lecture advocacy after just a drink or two.  This was a year my political interests became obsessions.  The obvious place to go once Ron Paul had clearly lost was right to Gary Johnson.  Despite his flaws (which would become more obvious in his second run as the Libertarian nominee), there was no doubt that neither President (as opposed to candidate) Obama nor Romney could ever represent people like us on enough issues to deserve our votes.  Obviously we knew GJ couldn’t win, but of course… that wasn’t really the point.  We had already decided, before Ron had even dropped out, that we wanted Rand to run in 2016, and if he did he’d have our full support.

He did, all the way until he went nowhere.  By the time our state came around the calendar, we supported Cruz, but it was more a way to oppose Trump than anything else.  And for the second Presidential cycle, we went from the Republican Paul to the Libertarian Johnson (after Cruz and Petersen fizzled as well).

I’m not a Libertarian due to some kind of dogmatic allegiance to the non-aggression principle, nor am I a Constitutional Conservative due to some kind of absolutist reverence for our founding documents, as much as I respect them and it.  I simply side with libertarians, constitutional conservatives, and most forms of minarchy more than I side with other forms of modern political ideologies on the issues I care about most, and it’s as simple as that.

I don’t find much of a use in endlessly debating how the non-aggression principle should apply to obscure hypotheticals or which form of libertarianism is more holy while driving away everyone who doesn’t agree 100% with my interpretations of ideological purity.  I own well-thumbed copies of the Federalist Papers and Constitution and plenty of historical reprints, but they are not the Bible, either.  I am a pragmatic, rational libertarian that realizes the limitations on advancing our ideology and I try to keep the perfect from being the enemy of the good.  I support advancing what I feel is good for our nation, through any peaceful means possible… within or without the Republican or Libertarian parties, through example, this website, or over a beer.

If this website contributes anything to the conversation, it’s through this vein.  We shouldn’t drive people away through practically religious tests on libertarian purity.  We shouldn’t lack standards and support candidates or parties regardless of what they represent, but we shouldn’t unrealistically demand perfection either.  When working towards an un-achievable libertarian utopia, we should realize it’s all a matter of degree and focus on the next step, knowing one foot goes before the other.  When taking it, we should be able to work with those who only advocate that first step exclusively until it comes time for the next one.

–Gary Doan

If you enjoyed reading about my poli-journey, please send us your own.  We’d like to hear it, publish it, and start a collection of stories.  Maybe we could learn something from one another.