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Dreaming of liberty

This is a page from the original version of Pagan Vigil. There are some formatting differences. Originally published at

The things that made me a libertarian

I want to back off current events for today.

For me, it really started with science fiction. Oh not the normal ones trotted out by libertarians. Those came later. No, I am talking space opera. THE space opera. The one that has never been filmed well and the one that George Lucas can only drool over. E.E. "Doc" Smith and his Lensmen stories.

Now I am not quite old enough to have read the originals when they were written, but I do remember buying the 1970s paperback reprints. I won't kid you, these books weren't politically correct and they were sexist. They weren't libertarian by any means, but they had their moments.

The first moment was when the Arisian (a Galactic super race) explained they didn't really know what "the" best form of government was, but it seemed to them that a government that brought the most freedom to the most people was good. Another great moment was when one character called Communism just another form of dictatorship that didn't work out. Still another moment was when drugs were called a "vest pocket commodity." And then there was the point when it was pointed out that once government was reduced to it's proper scope, taxes went down to about 1% and the Galactic Council and their enforcement arm the Galactic Patrol still had more money than it could spend. All these were great moments.

But the bombshell came near the end of the the fifth book. The top evil doers had all been captured with all their inside knowledge of the anti-Civilization Boksonia. They were telepathically given equal knowledge of Civilization. And then they were asked one question. Which way of life would they prefer?

That was the question that made me a libertarian, although I didn't know it for years. I didn't even have a word for it. And this was pre-internet, so if you didn't have some idea of what you were looking for, you didn't have a good chance of finding it.

Of course I did read Robert Heinlein and the others. But Starship Troopers made a bigger impact on me at first than The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. See, I was convinced that the real principles of liberty were there in American history. It didn't help that as I got serious about studying history, the books were more about feelings than events.

As I was growing up, the idea of Pax Americana had sort of retreated inside itself. It wasn't until Ronald Reagan was elected that the U.S. began to draw lines in the dirt again. Of course we drew them for the wrong reasons, but at least we were drawing them. And Ronald Reagan, despite his broken promises, did have some very interesting things to say.

The interesting thing was the reaction to Ronald Reagan, and to a lesser extent Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II. Even if I didn't agree with their beliefs or actions, there was no denying that people feared these three people. Not so much for their actual power, but for their ability to persuade.

It was the speeches of Ronald Reagan that converted me to libertarianism. "Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem." That was a phrase that Reagan had used in his speeches long before his first inauguration. My obsession with history went into overdrive. And somewhere in Mr. Reagan's second term, that old question cropped up again.

Not which government is best. Not which system is superior. But which would I rather have? Which system would bring me the most fun?

I knew it wasn't the system we had in the United States. There were too many people arguing too many ways to control and not enough freedom.

I won't deny that there were some religious issues too. I knew I couldn't exactly call myself a Christian anymore, but I wasn't sure what I was. I did know that conservatives who weren't Christian weren't exactly welcome in many parts of the country.

When I started reading the essays of Isaac Bonewits, particularly his one on dualism (no longer available online), that is when it all fell into place. I started working from there and discovered the Advocates for Self-Government and the World's Smallest Political Quiz.

That is when I knew I was libertarian. Small "l," not part of the party. The third choice.

That is when I realized that liberty is really all about choices and the responsibility that those choices bring. Anything that increases choices usually means more freedom.

I spend a lot of time explaining what liberty really is and why it demands responsibility. That manages to piss off both the die-hard conservatives and the die-hard modern liberals. The Quiz is still one of my favorite tools, I keep three versions on hand for various situations. And of course, I keep this blog.

Is any of it effective? I don't know. I do get to talk with some fascinating people. I'd like to think that maybe something that I said or some book I pointed out will explode in their head a few years down the road. I've found that the Internet is a wonderful way to connect and to paint a neon target on your back. I've found that you can't be popular after you dismiss dogma, but sometimes people remember that you were right even as they hate your guts. I've learned some of the value of honor, even if it costs you.

Even with all that, I still believe that my best hope for freedom is to make sure that people have as many choices as possible, understanding that they will be held responsible for those choices.

Liberty. A pretty good dream. Think I will keep it around for a while longer.

Posted: Tue - September 20, 2005 at 05:28 AM

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