His hoodied silhouette emerges from a cloud of white vapor with a few lackadaisical and interspersed smoke rings. With a copy of Atlas Shrugged in one hand, a vape in the other, and a nearly lethal level of caffeine in his bloodstream from a 72-hour coding binge, the libertarian is ready to take on big government. align=”right” Second in a series. Read part one.Batting away any accusations of racism, sexism, or homophobia, he smugly notes that he is socially liberal and fiscally conservative. He seduces social justice warriors by pointing out racial disparities in incarceration, complaining about the drug war, and holding a firm pro-choice stance—after all, he wants government out of your checkbook and your uterus. He’s not one of those crazy social conservatives—he’s just a guy trying to stop tyranny.
Though his classmates call him heartless for wanting to gut all government welfare programs, he has the perfect answer to every single question: the free market will take care of it.
While stuffy conservatives trip over themselves talking about the good life and trying to balance public and private concerns, the libertarian has figured out that these eight words can help him win almost any argument. The specific details of how the free market will cure any given societal ill vary, but he has a lot of experience showing how private companies and individuals would take care of the problem.
When asked why the free market hasn’t yet solved all of these problems, he notes that the government is still in the way and skews incentives. His classmates may find his answers infuriating, but they have to admit that he is consistent. And at least he’s better than the social conservatives.
For the most part, liberals like libertarians. Though they may talk too much about Hayek and Rand, they’re still fun at parties and typically know some excellent drug dealers.
Libertarians, in turn, are content knowing that they’re viewed as the edgy anti-authoritarians. They enjoy jousting with liberals and other conservatives because the argument will always end in the same way: with the other person shaking his head in frustration. But because libertarians typically live outside of the political fray and only moonlight in philosophy, they don’t have a burning need to get validation for their views. Their ideology stresses responsibility and self-actualization, and so they tend to study fields that they think are useful, like computer science or electrical engineering. Given their socially liberal views, they get along well with their classmates and typically have plenty of social outlets.
Libertarians typically don’t want to be associated with establishment Republicans and avoid mainstream conservative organizations. They may start their own clubs with help from the Ayn Rand Institute, Cato, or some other libertarian organization, but these are typically far leaner than their establishment counterparts. They may host events with some prominent speakers, but these can get repetitive after a while. After all, how many times can you have Yaron Brook tell you that greed is good before you go crazy?
Although there are plenty of internal debates in the libertarian movement, these typically focus on minutiae or are largely irrelevant—we’re not getting rid of driver’s licenses any time soon, no matter how tyrannical libertarians insist they are. Students aren’t particularly interested in wasting their time on these arguments. Instead, politically savvy libertarians spend their time trying to get their liberal friends to move slightly right on economic policy.
Even if college libertarians aren’t always well organized, that doesn’t stop many Right-leaning students from gravitating towards the ideology. Ultimately, the libertarians and Communists rely on the same basic argument: in my perfect system, everything would be perfect, and if everything is not perfect, then we’re not at my perfect system yet.
Libertarianism gives students a way to feel the youthful idealism of Communism without having to explain away somehow the deaths of 100 million people. But it doesn’t have any positive vision of society besides material wealth. It ignores questions over national identity, moral values, and public interest. It claims that those are out of the domain of government but then doesn’t try to solve those somewhere else. There is a sizable class of students who come to college as libertarians but then get converted into a different class after realizing that the ideology doesn’t really say much. This can be a painful process because they no longer can rely on the simple arguments that they had learned to use and because they might find themselves becoming increasingly socially conservative.
Libertarians are widely accepted on campus—their views are hard to argue against and are relatively innocuous to liberals. Relatively few people actually want to get rid of all the government programs that the libertarians want to gut. They are idealistic, impractical, and harmless enough to be generally accepted as an odd feature in the campus culture.
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