When people ask me why I'm a libertarian, I don't bother giving them logical arguments about how freedom brings out the best in human beings, nor do I quote statistics demonstrating that a free society is always more wealthy and peaceful than any non free society. I know all the utilitarian arguments which explain why we would all be better off with a government that did nothing but protect us from violent criminals and foreign countries who would like to invade and steal our wealth, but I also know that most people who love government are so frightened of freedom that they won't listen to such logical arguments. My reasons for being a libertarian are based in my own nature and what I want for myself.
The naked fact of human nature is that most of the time, we don't decide what we really want through a logical process using moral or utilitarian arguments. The more we want something, the less logical we are about the reasons why we want it. People do what they want to do for a lot of reasons that are determined by instinct, training, culture, environment, and heredity. The smarter of our species may sometimes use a rational process in deciding how to act in order to get what they want, but they don't start with a moral principle or a question of social utility in determining what it is they really want.
If we engage in a rational process beyond answering the question of "what do I want and how do I get it?", it is almost always a process of self justification. We first define what it is we want, then we look for the philosophical arguments that will justify our wanting what we want. The young person who wants sex, but who has been taught that sex outside of marriage is morally wrong, thinks up a justification that will allow him to drop his previous beliefs and take what a willing partner if offering. Most often, the rationalization comes after the deed is done. Usually, we only bother indulging in such a rational process when we are challenged by others and we don't want to admit the basic selfishness that drives us. Then we think up the moral arguments for why our course of action is the right thing to do. Once we decide what we want, all the moral or utilitarian arguments in the world won't change our mind, except possibly an argument based on a threat of force.
Anyone who doubts the truth of this basic thesis of human behavior is advised to spend as much time as I have with convicted criminals, crooked politicians, hypocritical preachers, high-handed bureaucrats, drunks, tyrants, bums, conniving con artists, venal businessmen, and prostitutes. I have never met a human being who couldn't come up with what sounds like a perfectly logical justification for their behavior, no matter much how much misery that behavior caused either themselves or others.
I'm a libertarian because II don't want anyone else telling me what to do. I don't care whether it's a teacher, a priest, a friend, a cop, a bureaucrat, or even a golf pro offering advice on how I can improve my swing. I especially don't want anyone telling me what to do, and then threatening me with force if I don't do it. I've been like that ever since I was a small child.
I did learn at an early age that I sometimes had to do what other people told me to do or face serious personal consequences, but I still didn't like it. I have always resented deeply and unforgivingly being forced to do something I didn't want to do because I was going to be physically or emotionally punished if I didn't do it.
I am not some kind of anti-social misfit who is incapable of enjoying the society of other people. I've always enjoyed cooperating with others in order to achieve something we all wanted to achieve, and I've always been more than willing to do just about anything that wasn't painful or self destructive, if someone offered me a good enough bargain to do it. I've done thousands of things in my life I didn't want to do because someone paid me a lot of money to do them. But it has to be a voluntary cooperation. I get to make the final decision about whether or not I do what you want me to do. That's what a voluntary trade is all about--trading something I don't value as much as what I will get in trade.
I was into middle age before I ever heard anything about libertarianism as a political philosophy. From that first moment in which I understood what libertarian philosophy proposed, I've considered myself a libertarian. I didn't jumped on the philosophy like a cougar on an elk calf because I bought the moral arguments nor because I concluded that such a philosophy would build a better world. I liked the philosophy for one reason only--it provided me the perfect justification for the way I have secretly felt since I was a small child. I have always wanted to make my own decisions about everything, and I wanted to make those decisions based on what I thought was good for me, not what someone else thought was good for God or for human kind.
I'm what I would call a natural libertarian. The desire to be free of all unwanted interference from all other humans, especially forced interference, is as much a part of my nature as the desire to eat regular meals, quench my thirst, and make love to the woman of my choice every chance I get.
I'm not looking for people whom I can convince that they should share my desires for freedom. I'm looking for people who want freedom just as bad as I want it for their own selfish reasons, and who are willing to work together with me to keep the freedom we have and to take back the freedom we have lost.
[NOTE: We have obtained permission from the author to republish this article on BuildFreedom.]
Copyright 1996--Mack Tanner. This original work may not be copied or distributed in any format without the specific consent of the author.
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