Ok so this is yet another of those self-reflective posts, where I try and rationalize why I’m the way I am. And in the process concoct a fancy theory.
I’m part of this secret society most of whose members are libertarian. I must in fact credit this society from changing my ideology from one that was broadly conservative to broadly libertarian (notice that my economic ideology hasn’t changed, only the social bit has). One thing common among most members of this society is that they are the kind of people who don’t bow to authority. They can be described as confrontationalist, or maverick, or non-conformist. And most of them are libertarian.
I must mention that for purposes of this post, I define libertarianism as a “belief in free markets and free minds”.
In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins writes that one of the things that makes people religious is the tendency to listen to “superiors”, “elders”, etc. He argues that this is consistent with natural selection – that back in those days where we were a “hunting ape”, if we were the type that didn’t listen to our parents, there was a greater danger that we’d fall off trees or got eaten up by lions. So us human beings are “naturally conditioned” to listen to “elders”, “superiors”, etc. Effectively, we are conditioned to take orders. Dawkins talks about how this makes us religious, but that is not relevant here.
So we grow up having this “elderly authority” at home. The “elderly authority” commands us and guides us and gives instructions, and in return provides us protection from the outside world. Soon we grow up, and don’t need that protection any more, so we don’t need to take instructions any more (if you look at taking instructions from parents as the “cost” of the protection they offer you). But then we are conditioned to taking instructions, and being controlled, and it is tough for most of us to outgrow this conditioning.
And so some people look to “society” to provide the instructions, and control you, and tell you what to do and what not to do. They end up as conservatives. Some other people, look to the government (remember that today’s “government” is a replacement for yesterday’s “king”, who was supposed to be “divine”) for instructions and control. They end up being “liberals” (quotes because traditionally liberals supported free markets; it’s only recently they’ve taken a socialist turn). It is quite interesting that a lot of “liberal” people, who profess their rejection of authority, think it is ok for the government to tell them who to do business with, and at what price.
And then there are these really masochistic people who look to both “society” and “government” to put controls on you. Think Swadeshi Jagran Manch and similar institutions.
And so what about people who actually reject the need to have a “protector” once they grow up? They don’t want to take instructions from anyone, and in return they are willing to forego protection – apart from asking from the government protection in terms of defence, foreign policy and upholding of law. Given that very few people reject authority (Dawkins’ concept), it’s very few people that end up as libertarians.
PS: Is it a coincidence that so many very good libertarian bloggers (Caplan, Tabarrok, Hanson, Cowen) are at the little-known George Mason University, and not at one of the “top-ranked” universities?
PS2: I think large corporations are not free-market in any sense. Leave aside crony capitalism. Corporations, by definition, are internally deeply socialist. I guess I’ll save that for another post.
One thought on “Libertarianism and rejection of authority”
With 3 Econ Nobel Laureates on its faculty at various points in the past / present, GMU should hardly be considered ‘little-known’ for its Economics department. And no, it is not a co-incidence, like tends to attract like. What is unusual is how libertarian bloggers are more active and well-known in the generic Econ blogosphere than, say, left-leaning economists.