When I was about sixteen I was reading everything I could find that was considered “classic literature” because I was dissatisfied with the curriculum in my honors American Lit and British Lit classes. We were only reading excerpts from “great books.” In the Nicomachean Ethics I read of a concept called Eudaimonism , sometimes translated as well-being or happiness. This has been the center of my ideological life ever since and it is what has motivated my search for a political home that puts human happiness at the center of its ideology.
At about that time I found a copy of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead at my local used bookstore. The young man stocking the shelves told me how great Rand was and how deep and philosophical Atlas Shrugged was but suggested I start with something less challenging. He ensured me that fifty years after its publication that Atlas Shrugged was still one of the great books of the twentieth century.
So like many young libertarians, Rand was my introduction to the ideas of individualism, free markets, liberty and the potential they held to bring about happiness. I was never a full blown Objectivist, even after reading and agreeing with many of her “philosophical” (I hate calling her a philosopher in retrospect) works.
At college I became even more interested in libertarianism. It was a rebellion from my leftist professors. It was edgy and cool. I was reading Reason and telling anyone who would listen how big government was suppressing them and taking away their rights and they didn’t even know it! How smart was I! Smarter than those sheeple, or so I thought.
And my classes seemed to justify my individualist take on society. I believed that everyone in my physics and math classes should be judged on their own merit. A view I still hold today, to be sure. But when the black students in my classes flunked tests and the Asian students received A’s I was left to wonder why the black students didn’t study harder or try as hard as the Asians. I worked hard, and earned B+ and A- in my classes and figured that if I could do it anyone could.
So I continued on in my undergraduate libertarianism reading about Capitalism (Freidman, Meises, and Hayek were part of my self-created curriculum) and telling young ladies at the coffee shop how great NAFTA and GATT were going to be for Americans, as we would be so happy once we were able to buy cheaper goods made in Mexico. Just think of how happy we all were in the ‘90s. There was no terrorism, the Soviets had been defeated, and there was no more crappy hair metal.
My own grades in physics and astronomy were good but not great, so I eventually switched to the more qualitative geology, gaining a specialization in geophysics. I was able to handle Snell’s Law much better than quantum mechanics and partial differential equations. I was afforded the opportunity to do undergraduate research as a McNair Scholar. I presented a co-authored poster at the Seismological Society of America, and took a number of trips to conferences with grad students and professors. But when I applied to graduate geophysics programs, I didn’t get in to the top programs.
After some soul searching and honest discussions with faculty from my undergrad, and a rediscovered love of reading, I decided to pursue graduate studies in history instead of geophysics. And you know what? I graduated with a 4.0 from my MA program and was accepted into a great PhD program. (Which I later dropped out of, then went back to, then got an MBA, then went back to the PhD program, that is its own story one largely driven by fear of the academic job market and the very real bias against right-wing academics. Check out 100 reasons not to go blog and the Frankfurt School for more on that). But most of all I became happy. I was a lot happier than I was in the sciences. Maybe my IQ wasn’t high enough to work for JPL, but my exceptional memory and understanding of human psychology and philosophy derived from my two to three book a week reading habit led me to a fulfilling study of history.
Over the years I’ve travelled all over Europe and Asia, learned to speak three languages, read books that shaped the modern world, and interrogated ideas that many of my leftist professors told me were off limits. Seeing these different cultures and people I began to understand that American/libertarian individualism is not the only solution to life’s problems. Freedom doesn’t necessarily equate to happiness. Indeed some of the happiest people I’ve ever met lived in countries like Vietnam, Hungary, and China. The libertarian solution of “more liberty” is unsatisfactory for some. And I started to ask myself if liberty was the root of happiness.
Meeting those people were the first serious challenges to my libertarian world view.
In the fall of 2005 Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. I began to wonder why people turned to the government for help when private aid was available. As a libertarian I believed that it was not the federal government’s right or responsibility to help. Maybe it was the state, or maybe the city itself should help, but not FEMA.
But that isn’t the world the victims of Katrina were faced with. It’s a denial of human nature to see our fellow man suffer and not want to “do something.” In fact, it’s probably psychopathic. And while private help is important, talking to family that lived in the New Orleans area and eventually to others who suffered displacement, I began to understand that “more liberty” or blaming five decades of Democrats wasn’t the solution to their immediate problems. Their happiness at the time, and indeed years later, hinged upon things like rebuilt schools (which they’ve done a good job of), a returning tourist industry, and investors willing to take a chance on devastated communities.
Talking to victims of Katrina created the second cracks in my devotion to libertarianism.
And then there was 2012. Ron Paul was running. I was excited. I’d read his books and watched him on YouTube. He was saying things that I, and a lot of other young people, agreed with. But because the establishment preferred the patrician Mittens to the anti-establishment Paul, they worked against us at every step of the way. This culminated in Paul delegates being banned from the RNC.
I began to see that the GOP was beholden to the Neoconservatives, and as long as they held power, there would be no meaningful change in the American right. I became angry. This was my next step away from libertarianism. The libertarians in the GOP failed to take on the establishment. They were too busy arguing about esoteric policies, slippery slopes, and engaging in reductio ad absurdum arguments to challenge the status quo.
Watching the garbage fire that is Obama’s tenure as a president, seeing people around the world happy without individualism, seeing people suffer from Katrina, and after seeing the mistreatment of Ron Paul by the GOP, I realized that libertarianism was impotent. At best it was the loyal opposition, at worst it was actively enabling many of the policies I opposed. Then I began to think about why I had never been fully committed to and intellectually satisfied by, libertarian solutions to suffering and happiness. And I realized that libertarianism requires two unrealistic requirements. Libertarianism and the “more liberty” solution requires that everyone in a free group possess perfect information and perfect responsibility.
First let us talk about perfect information.
Even if we believe that people can make the best choices for themselves, and I generally agree that we can. Making those choices requires information. Making good choices, choices that lead to happiness, requires a lot of information. It requires good, honest, and reliable information. Let us take up a non-controversial subject: mandatory vaccines for children.
There are some who believe these vaccines cause Autism. I don’t believe it. But there are some that do. Do they have better information than I do? Possibly. Maybe they are right. Maybe big pharma is suppressing information. The criminalization of kratom certainly seem suspicious at the least. But in deciding whether to have your child vaccinated or not the parent must have perfect information about the vaccine. This is impossible. In the real world there isn’t enough time to acquire all available information, and if there was, few people outside physicians and pharmacologists have the expertise to analyze it in a meaningful way. And even if one possessed all these things science is subject to change. That is what makes science different from dogma: it can change.
So when faced with the decision to vaccinate what should the parents and society do? Well, the libertarian answer is that it should be the parents’ choice to vaccinate. I disagree. I believe that we should defer to the experts in the group and assume they are honest until proven otherwise. From their testimony it seems that the benefits to society outweigh the dangers to the child. And if you are a parent and choose not to vaccinate you are putting others’ children at risk. So society, the collective, the tribe, has a duty to mandate that your child be vaccinated – for the greater good.
That’s something that would have been anathema to my libertarian brain. “The Greater Good” has been used to justify all sorts of horrible violations of individual rights. And that’s true, it has been used to violate individual rights. But I no longer believe that the individual has a right to jeopardize the survival of the group. Thus the individual without perfect information cannot be allowed to use their individual right to violate the individual right of another, or the group. Liberty for parents isn’t a viable solution when you take into account the rights of others. And maybe the parents of the forcibly vaccinated child are unhappy, but those whose children do not acquire measles will certainly be happy.
When I realized that libertarianism requires perfect information I took another step towards rejection of the ideology.
Additionally, libertarianism requires responsibility. I will not deny that the rights embodied in personal freedom are rooted in the responsibility of the free. I don’t think any serious libertarian, or conservative, would. But libertarianism requires more than personal responsibility, it requires what I’ve started to call perfect responsibility.
Perfect responsibility is the assumption of responsibility not just for the actions of the individual, but for the imperfections, and the resulting failures, of the individual. Now most people on the right generally agree that humans are imperfect and a lot of them agree that in this world we are incapable of perfection. I’m not going to get into a religious discussion here, but I do not believe that we are ultimately responsible for our imperfections which lead to our individual failures.
So where will we turn for an example? How about the libertarian favorite: drugs dude!
To take this off the table, marijuana is generally harmless to adults, and I agree that it should be legal for medial and recreational use. I don’t condone it, but neither do I condemn it or the people who use it. In practice marijuana is not that different from alcohol. If used in moderation it poses little danger to society or the individual using. But I’m not talking about weed.
So what if someone decided, as my younger brother did, to use meth? Who then should be responsible for the results of the ongoing use of a genuinely destructive narcotic? Perhaps it should be the dealer who first got my brother, at seventeen, to use? Maybe we should charge him with my brother’s legal and medical bills. Maybe my brother’s death was due to the person who got him using? Should he be charged with assisted manslaughter? Or maybe it was due to the people he used with. Maybe it was due to my mother who repeatedly gave him money for drugs after he claimed his dealers were going to kill him.
The libertarian in me believed that none other than my brother himself was responsible for his meth use. And indeed personal responsibility is a strong argument.
No one made him use initially, and he did have the opportunity to quit. My grandparents offered to pay for rehab. But he didn’t go. He kept using. And eventually, to finance his addiction, he sold some meth to an undercover police officer. At eighteen he was arrested. To me being a young libertarian I looked at this as an injustice of the state. The war on drugs had come home. I believed that if he was happy being on meth that he should be allowed to use it. I was wrong.
He did eventually kick meth, but he substituted it with alcohol. This ultimately killed him at age thirty. He drank himself to death. At the end of his life he was drinking a bottle of vodka or whiskey a day.
Was the state responsible? The war on drugs did him in, or that’s what I thought for years. But then after contemplation and some distance, I realized that I believed in, what I would ultimately call, perfect responsibility.
I had believed that if he found happiness in drugs and alcohol and that as long as he didn’t hurt anyone we shouldn’t interfere with him. He was responsible for his own actions.
But I didn’t know that he was a deeply disturbed individual. I didn’t know, until after his death, when my mother told me he talked to trees and called the cops on his Christmas ornaments, that he was schizophrenic. After years of listening to Dr. Drew and Adam I knew he was likely using drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. He wasn’t happy at all. And then I began to understand the nature of responsibility and the imperfect nature of man. So who was responsible? Should society hold a schizophrenic man responsible for his imperfections? I don’t think so, anymore.
Because libertarianism turns a blind eye to the effects of individual behaviors on society, and yes it does, I find it wanting. I cannot in good conscience say that we should allow people to destroy their lives, as long as they are responsible for their own actions or not hurting others. My brother did hurt others. He hurt the people he sold to. He hurt my parents, my grandparents, and me. He hurt society with his medical bills.
And the notion that abolishing public financing of medicine will solve this is unrealistic and to me at least demonstrates how out of touch with America some libertarians are. “If only we could convince them” doesn’t cut it with me anymore. We’re not going to convince anyone to abolish Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid or any of the numerous state and local support systems that exist for publicly subsidized healthcare. We may “repeal and replace” Obamacare, but that’s not a major topic in 2016.
After taking to heart my evolving understanding of human happiness, namely that Epicureanism was not Eudaimonia , and I saw the unwillingness of libertarians to surrender the “more liberty” fetish and accept that many people are happy with limits to personal freedom and indeed sometimes those limits are necessary, I realized that I could no longer be a libertarian.
(Now to be honest, GamerGate did influence my thinking in ways I’m still not totally sure of. But GamerGate was no right-wing movement. In fact most of the people in it were liberals who simply didn’t want politics in their games. It was a consumer revolt and a rejection of the corrupt games media. I’m not exactly sure it moved me away from libertarianism, but I think it helped.)
After my departure from libertarianism I began to look for something else. And then one day circa 2014, after reading some SJW nonsense and googling for a response, I found the website VDARE.com. I stayed up all night reading articles. This led me to other sites, and authors. I didn’t know the name yet, but I had stumbled upon the alt-right.
These were people who talked about the correlation between race and success, which I had witnessed first-hand, but was afraid to speak about for fear of being labeled racist. And they were labeled racist, but they didn’t care. They fought for their beliefs in the face of overwhelming leftwing opposition. They talked not just about the threat of “radical Islam” but the threat of Islam and immigration in general. They talked about things like the Islamic invasion of Europe. And being a European/military historian, and a fan of Europe and Western Civilization in general, this greatly disturbed me. I made the connection that if the European people disappear so too will their civilization. And if the root is destroyed how can the flower (America) continue to bloom?
When I read click-bait articles about how whites are becoming a minority in America and Europe I was upset to say the least. The alt-right gave it a name, #WhiteGenocide and talked openly about how the left had planned, through immigration, to make whites minorities in their own countries. In 2015 Ann Coulter, probably not alt-right herself but certainly an ally, wrote in her book Adios America of Teddy Kennedy’s 1965 immigration act, and the left’s plan to establish a permanent majority through making whites a minority.
The alt-right was not apologizing for the fact that Western Civilization is the best civilization. I’ve made this point several times in grad seminar classes. One professor told me “I’m deeply offended by that statement.” He may have been offended, as the left often is, but he didn’t challenge it. After all, he was an immigrant from a third world country. If his civilization was so great, why not stay there? The alt-right were nationalists (often ethno-nationalists) not globalists and unapologetically proud of America and when European, their European nations.
The alt-right was actively opposed to the left. They were not just the “loyal opposition” they were the enemies of the SJWs, the cultural Marxists, the sensitivity police and the leftists who come for your job if you cross them or speak out against their crybully tactics. But they were also openly critical of the right, the neocons, and the Bush legacy. They, just like Ron Paul, were critical of war that had destabilized the Middle East in the name of a lie.
And all this resonated with me. When I read solutions some on the alt-right propose to social or individual problems, I see solutions focused on finding happiness. The alt-right incorporates individualism yes, but it also thinks of the tribe. We don’t need social engineering, or equality or liberty fetishes. We don’t need to pretend that groups, culture, heritage, and race don’t matter. And it’s blindness to pretend science and history are irrelevant in achieving a happy life. In attempting to prove that perfect liberty is the only solution to suffering and when implemented will bring about happiness, libertarians miss the point.
It’s the journey not the destination that provides fulfillment and happiness. That’s what I saw in Asia and Europe. The “pursuit of happiness” is a fundamental thread of American life. To the libertarian that means “free minds and free markets” as Reason magazine says. But free minds and free markets are predicated upon perfect information and perfect responsibility, both of which are impossible for man to achieve.
What I’ve learned is that happiness comes from the search for happiness. It’s weird, but it’s true. If you focus on making the woman you love happy, you will be happy by making her happy. If you dedicate yourself to your children’s happiness you will be happy as well. There is no destination on the happiness train, but if you get off you will surrender to misery and suffering. And the pursuit of happiness doesn’t require unlimited personal freedom or unrestricted free markets. Indeed, policies implemented in the name of those two libertarian ideals have led to unhappiness for many in recent years including young women and blue collar workers.
So that’s my move from libertarian to alt-right. I wanted to share it because I think there are a lot of libertarians who are dissatisfied with the movement right now and are unsure of where to turn. The libertarian moment has passed. The leadership squandered the opportunity to become a major force in American politics. Currently Gary Johnson is polling at around 5-8%. He may win more than any Libertarian Party presidential candidate since the party’s founding, but as many, including Paul Joseph Watson pointed out: he’s not a libertarian. And now, neither am I.