With all the hub-bub surrounding the International Students for Liberty Conference, Ron Paul, and “second-wave libertarianism,” I am reminded of a passage in Simone de Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity about the “sub-man.” This is quite reflective of any of us who deal with ideologies, but those who specifically follow libertarianism and or anarchism may want to take note.
[The sub-man] is afraid of engaging himself… as he is afraid of being disengaged and thereby of being in a state of danger before the future, in the midst of its possibilities. He is thereby led to take refuge in the ready-made values of the serious world. He will proclaim certain opinions; he will take shelter behind a label; and to hide his indifference he will readily abandon himself to verbal outbursts or even physical violence.
Take a few moments to meditate and take this in. Does it strike a nerve? It probably does, as all of us are guilty or have been guilty of throwing ourselves into the “ready-made values of the serious world” — anarchists and libertarians alike. We are quick to proclaim a certain color, and then when the going gets tough we hide behind the idols of our specific brand of idea so that we feel safe. We don’t defend ourselves; we defend the flag-wavers of our ideologies hoping that we aren’t wrong in doing so.
It doesn’t matter whether one’s figurehead is Ron Paul, Karl Marx, or Peter Kropotkin. By identifying ourselves with our heroes, we are both objectifying them and objectifying ourselves. Instead of seeing these people as humans who like us have subjectivities like our own, we create them as symbols of our “rightness” and in turn shape ourselves in our ideological image. This creates a dialogue which disregards empathy and understanding others, and takes up the mantle of glorification and valorization for those who tow the party-line the strongest. This in turn creates a world where humans are just mere objects, recreating the very power structures that we are vehemently against.
This is what makes the irony so strong in people’s reaction toward those who dared question Ron Paul’s position on the newsletter’s published under his name. Even if some of the points brought up could have been presented or argued better, the “burn-the-heretic” mentality of libertarians against the questioners shows just how much they are ideologically rather than empathetically driven. It replaces the individualism that is espoused by such followers with a group-think mentality that is scared of any opposing view that goes against the “canon view.” If we cannot as libertarians question our own foundations, by what means can we actually get others to question themselves or the oppressive institutions we wish to see dissipate?
If we truly want to see a free society, then we must discontinue erecting untouchable idols and learn to continually question the foundations that we hold dear. We must understand that while certain people have the ability to popularize our favored idea, they are still human and must be questioned, lest we continually throw ourselves into “the ready-made values of the serious world.” If we are truly anarchists, then we must always be ready to burn down our idols.