I generally don’t get along with people who self-identify as libertarians.

This is partly due to my home town. Orange County is full of wealthy blowhards, and many of these red-faced yahoos like to believe they’re Promethean self-made heroes rather than grifters and heirs. They aren’t really interested in liberty as an ideal; they just want more money for themselves.

This is also partly due to the Internet, where “libertarian” usually means a socially isolated, idealistic, and poorly educated geek who prefers an unassailably perfect dogma to any compromise with the real world.

And of course I’m not one and can’t be. I’m a left liberal in U.S. terms, or what other countries call a Social Democrat. I like things like socialized medicine. I don’t mind taxes. It’s just a whole nother world.

But in the last few years I’ve had more in common with libertarians than ever. Our common dream — the ideas expressed in the U.S. Bill of Rights — is under the worst attacks yet. Things like the Patriot Act get me cheering for right-libertarian opposition figures like Chuck Hagel, and some very strange alliances have been made.

It’s heartening, because both left-liberal and right-libertarian people tend to be intolerant. Both groups care a lot about ideology and get pretty upset with each others’ ideas about how humans should relate.

More than five years ago, before 9/11, I was driving down to San Diego. Near San Clemente, the northbound side of Interstate 5 has a Border Patrol checkpoint intended to deter illegal immigration, smuggling, and people bringing in fruit with evil flies in it. It’s been a part of the landscape as long as I can remember, and I take it for granted.

Today was different. As I headed south, an unusual site greeted me. Coming up from the south was a convoy of maybe 20 cars and trucks. They were decorated with huge American flags, and some of the pickups had a few flag-waving people in the beds.

Two huge banners were flying over two of the bigger trucks: NO CHECKPOINTS ON AMERICAN SOIL / LIBERTARIAN PARTY

Wow! I’d never thought of that. They were right, too. Goddamnit, I realized. I don’t want checkpoints anywhere but the border itself! They shouldn’t be able to stop me just any time…

And they didn’t stop these people. They blew the checkpoint at a respectful and safe 25 mph or so. The Border Patrol guys stepped back and just kind of dealt with it, and I didn’t see anyone pursue them. Maybe they got pulled over by the CHP or something further north. I assume they were ready to get a ticket or go to the station if they had to do so.

I am proud of those people for reminding me that I’d let a chunk of my freedom go and not noticed. I’m also proud of them for getting off their asses and risking something to make that point publicly, instead of just flaming people on internet forums or engaging in competitive harrumphing.

So, I found out, I have more in common with libertarians than I thought. I don’t care about tax hikes or seatbelt laws, and I like social welfare spending. But I prefer someone who hates checkpoints, the Patriot Act, wiretapping, and censorship to someone who bends over for that shit.

22 thoughts on “liberty

  1. its funny that you should mention this. i was going over my lj this morning and found a post earlier that got me thinking. it was from when those college students stood up with the sign about ben franklins quote, “They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security. ” its been on my mind all day.


  2. May I recommend Ken MacLeod‘s “Fall Revolution” books to you. They’re pretty solidly in the science-fiction genre, but they’re a comment on the libertarian critique of socialism, which he says he found interesting in the 1990’s when, as a socialist in Britain, he spent a lot of time arguing on Usenet with libertarians. The forward to The Star Fraction explains his thinking on the matter, but to paraphrase it, he says, “What if what we thought was the Revolution just turned out to be a continuation of the Fall? What if capitalism is unstable and socialism is impossible? What do we do then?”
    I found my attitude toward libertarians moderated after reading Ken MacLeod. Now, I just get annoyed with goddamn scum-sucking bonehead American libertarians. Like the ones you’re practically soaking in down there in the O.C., for example.


  3. That is a cool story, and I find myself in the same boat. I would not describe myself as a left liberal, but neither would I describe myself as a libertarian. I would join you in defense of the Bill of Rights. It’s been very interesting these past few years to watch the realignment of strange bedfellows.
    And, ultimately, any time the Libertarians wind up sleeping with someone it’s bound to be strange.


  4. Defining political positions in terms of opposition seems bound for failure. I find it amazing that people still talk in terms of “left” and “right” as though there is a single dimension of political thought, especially considering the origins of the usage.
    I think there may, however, be a set of freedoms that would define adherents as “sane” with the obvious oppostition label. This doesn’t attempt to label whole poltical philosophies, but rather at least allow us to come to agreement that, as in your example, internal checkpoints are a hallmark of insanity. Paranoia, megalomania, whatever. The specific insanities aren’t really the point.


  5. As someone with relatively libertarian/individualist tendencies, I find that it is far easier NOT to tell people that I have such tendencies because of the negative connotations associated you mention above. Then again, law school took me through a very interesting political evolution. I find it extremely hard to define my political ideology with labels.
    On the subject of those guys, that’s actually pretty cool that they did that. Unfortunately, the checkpoints are here to stay. I don’t remember the decision off the top of my head; but the Supreme Court ruled that they were a okay on 4th amendment grounds.


  6. I recently stuck my prying eyes into the Oregonian voter database (that thing that tells you that Art Alexakis, the entire Portland Trail Blazers team, and various other local celebrities didn’t vote) and was puzzled to see it has me listed as a registered Democrat, even though I voted Libertarian in 2004 and haven’t voted Democrat since 1992. Weird, man.


  7. I hit a similar checkpoint coming in to CA from NM once. I was pretty freaked out, because we had one of those dumb one hitter/dugout combinations in the car. But all they wanted was a look in the cooler to see if we had any fruit and to make sure there were no brown people curled up in the trunk.
    Most thorough search I ever had was going into Canada south of Montreal. You could tell Canadian Customs were bored. So they tore the car apart and even had a dog sniff it. No drugs that day, luckily. Not even a banana or a day laborer.


  8. too lazy to register as a user
    serrach here. and def. agree with ya there on libertarians. they’ve become a bit of a necessary evil in my life even though most of ’em around here are LINO repubs. anyhoo, i recently found this chomsky quote, he touches on libertarianism and nails it.
    “In a dictatorship, taxation is theft. In a true democratic community, people make decisions, including decisions about how to deal with problems of concern to the community, like schools, health services, transportation, etc. Insofar as this leads to expenditures, they make decisions about taxes or some counterpart. There is no theft. Societies like ours are somewhere in between. To take your case, suppose your neighbor never uses a road or a bus at the other end of town. Why should he fund it? Maybe we should each just pay for the roads we use — and that means, of course, that we have to prevent others from using them, so we hire private armies, and if someone comes along with a bigger army we get nuclear weapons to keep them from using our road, and… Actually, proposals like this are made, in all seriousness, in literature that is taken seriously. And it extends to everything else, leading to a world in which no sane person would want to live, even if it would be possible to survive in it.”
    * Source: ZNet forum reply, June 28, 2004


    1. You just used Department of Homeland Security resources (hello, to call a citizen a moron for opposing oppressive, un-American government intrusion.
      I hope your supervisor is going to be a lot nicer about that than I would.
      Go do some fucking work instead of making a fool out of yourself on the Internet on my dime, Mr. Rent-a-Toadie.


  9. imagine one in finland
    Libertarians always seem to be middle-class white guys with dubious educations who’ve never had to work a real job in their lives or visit the reality that most people live in from day to day. Just imagine one of these guys living in Finland and the schadenfreude moments that ensue from watching him complain and the Finns who foam at the mouth trying to respond.
    Granted, they’re more likeable than neocons but….I just think they’re republicans in training until they hit 40.


    1. Re: imagine one in finland
      There are the people who take it seriously and the people who, as you say, are larval right-wingers. It’s similar to the 20-year-old Orange County punk “anarchist” that way. Real anarchism turns out to be difficult and full of social rejection, and they end up as something more conventional.


      1. Re: imagine one in finland
        I don’t understand how they can possibly use this “Poverty of Sweden/Promise of Somalia” argument with a straight face – and so often. Have none of them been outside of their own country, or their own neighborhood?


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