I jumped into libertarian philosophy as soon as I discovered it. Finally, I felt like I found a home for my political, economic, and philosophical beliefs. Too bad I was so late to the game. I wish I’d discovered it a lot sooner. But it didn’t take long though to discover that there are many factions that fall under the libertarian philosophy. And it’s not just about the minarchist and anarcho-capitalist variety either. There’s are whole new factions emerging, and the debate among them is becoming fierce. I’ll describe my perception of these sects later in this article, but regardless of where on the spectrum libertarians exist, there seems to be a common trait I find very disturbing. I call it the Snob Factor.
I use this to describe the substantial number of vocal adherents to libertarianism that believe their purist views of the philosophy are the result of their superior intellect or scholarly knowledge of the movement. With rare exceptions, they aren’t willing to consider any pragmatic application of policy to help the movement go forward. No, either you embrace its purist form, or you’re an idiot. Fortunately, we have a few outspoken and well known proponents that are helping dispense with this Snob Factor — people like Jason Stapleton, Tom Woods, Jordan Peterson, and Stefan Molyneux. No doubt there are others I haven’t discovered yet. And we need more of them.
The problem becomes when new people open to the world of libertarian thought are exposed to the movement through social media, they are immediately faced with the Snob Factor, often dismissed as unworthy souls, and treated as if they’re fools. This does not help our goals of getting more people involved.
I don’t actually know anyone who likes snobbery – even snobs don’t like it when they encounter the ones from an opposing view. I’m not suggesting all are like this, but there are enough of them who are vocal that tend to get the attention. The Libertarian Party itself illustrates this quite frequently, which is why I’ve personally chosen to avoid party participation entirely.
For evidence of the Snob Factor, all anyone need do is visit any of the growing number of online social media groups. Even if you ignore the inevitable troll factor in these groups, you’ll no doubt encounter so called civil debates where the scholarly snobs will go on incessantly about what Rothbard, Mises, or any of the other classical liberals have to say about the topic. Then you’re likely to get dismissed if you can’t carry on the debate with obscure quotes from the same icons of libertarian thought.
And to make matters worse, the surprising growth in interest in the libertarian philosophy has brought with it the inevitable hijackers that bring discredit to the movement. These are the new factions I referred to earlier. We now have neo-conservative libertarians and we have Marxist libertarians. There is little about them that really fits the traditional libertarian mold, yet they have claimed the name nevertheless. And even they have adopted the Snob Factor, perhaps believing that approach attracts “the common folk” that simply are unable to comprehend the nuances.
I suppose the Snob Factor is somewhat inevitable. After all, most of us believe we’ve achieved a level of enlightenment that others have not, right? With that kind of thinking it might be easy to believe we’re “above” the rest. I caution all to avoid this line of thinking. Keep in mind, the concept of liberty is not an obscure abstract thought. We are all born with the inherent desire to be free. It’s not hard to understand the concept that we own ourselves. Just because some refer to this as individual sovereignty, does not make it hard to comprehend. It does not require a high IQ to understand the concept of private property and anyone who has ever visited a DMV office or received their paycheck with with taxes already deducted, understands on a fundamental level that government should at the very least be limited. The basic premises of libertarianism are easy for anyone to understand.
If we’re to move the liberty movement forward, we’ll need to do a better job of introducing people to it without the Snob Factor. It’s hard enough to deal with the old “kook” factor that we’ve encountered since the beginning. Adding snobbery to it does not make it easier.