Or Should I Call Myself a Libertarian?
One of my college-age daughters asked me recently what a “neo-con” is. Though she can hold an intelligent conversation about important issues, political labels are often confusing. I told her there are reasons these political labels are both confusing and quite possibly beside-the-point.
1. Names of political organizations are chosen for social appeal. Political organizations get to name themselves. If you look at examples worldwide, it is darkly humorous. Socialists say they want everyone to get along and share? Republicans are looking out for our best interests and safety without bias? If you just look at the names and propaganda, you might believe these presentations. The truth is, almost every political entity wants to have the ability to violently force others to live by priorities decided on for them by a ruling political class.
2. The political emphasis of an organization tends to change over time. Even if someone who started a political party or organization 50-300 years ago did believe in certain principles, these are rarely static. The names, however, live on. Names that meant something specifically at the beginning of an organization can become associated with goals that have little in common with the dictionary definition of the words in the name. A “Liberal” of days gone by is probably closer in philosophy to what a “Libertarian” in today’s world thinks about personal freedom.
3. A politician by any other name is usually just a politician. Most of them are seeking power over others and the exact areas of control don’t vary much, as neither do their methods of force. They take care of the citizens like a fox takes care of a chicken coop in its territory. While the first definition of the word “politic” technically is “shrewd or prudent in practical matters; tactful; diplomatic,” (dictionary.reference.com), it has been overshadowed by a long world history of government personalities pretending to be politic for their own advancement.
4. People use the political labels instead of discussing real principles or trying to understand each other’s point of view. It is used as an excuse to stereotype and name call. After all, if you can demonize those other people, your arguments win by default, right? Misunderstandings are quickly attributed to that other political view and both relationship and helpful discussion abandoned.
5. The characteristics associated with political labels depends on the country and culture. I remember learning once that in the USSR, “conservatives” were the hard-line communists, wanting to avoid changes in political structure.
6. Political labels tend to blind people to their own biases and lack of understanding. It is like belonging to a gang. It is too easy to adopt an us against them mentality, while ignoring the details of principle that should be examined.
7. The rhetoric of political labels makes simple choices appear complicated, making it more seemly for political power seekers to claim they are needed to help the rest of us. Actually, it is not that complicated to say people should be allowed to make their own choices and be in charge of their own property. It gets complicated fast when some people feel the need to keep track of everyone else.
8. With the new and upcoming political labels, there is a false hope offered to each successive generation that they will finally make right all the political wrongs of the past. The labels given to this political hope are hard to let go of. Who doesn’t want to hope for a better world? But the labels and slick slogans avoid many important presumptions of application, the reality of which are not nearly as nice as the presentation.
For now, I will generally refer to myself as a libertarian, because it is a reasonable opening into the topics of economics, freedom, and peace. I do not use it to claim membership to an organized political party. I know some people will make assumptions about my beliefs and intellect based on that. I will try to avoid doing the same to them, because communicating by use of political labels and cliches is like trying to get a refreshing drink of water from a muddy pond.