Principles

2003-05-14

I used to be a rabidly ideological libertarian (well, Randian, but libertarianism kind of falls out of that). However, over time I find that I become less attached to ideology and more attached to working pragmatically based on what I think of as Jeffersonian principles.

This requires explanation.

Ayn Rand once called libertarians "hippies of the Right". More recently I've heard them described as "Republicans who smoke dope". The essentially ideological bent of much libertarianism was brought home to me several years ago when I happened to see a television commercial for Libertarian Party presidential candidate Harry Browne, in which the candidate petulantly demanded "Freedom Now!" like some peace protester or a union member on a picket line.

While I am all in favor of freedom, insisting on immediate and total liberty is a form of stamping one's foot at reality, because the reality of human society and political culture is that one can't change everything all at once. The best one can do is to cleave to certain principles and act according to those principles. That doesn't mean selling out -- it means recognizing what is possible in the current context. It may even mean aiming for the impossible, along the lines of Vaclav Havel's dictum that "politics is the art of the impossible". But it also means not expecting (let alone demanding) immediate changes. (These comments are connected to a weblog entry from 15 months ago, in which I paradoxically stated that most people are too pluralistic to feel comfortable with utopian libertarianism, despite the fact that a libertarian utopia would be pluralistic. More on that some other time.)

So what are the principles that I advocate? I'd characterize them as follows:

Taken together, these principles lead to some surprising conclusions:

Of course, I'm not directly involved in politics so it's easy for me to spout off about Jeffersonian principles. Maybe someday I'll put these ideas into practice by running for office -- but not while I'm working 14 hours a day on Jabber.


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal