Ilya Somin recently reflected on the influence of Ayn Rand. I was particularly struck by this passage:
In becoming a libertarian without any influence from Rand, I was actually unusual. Over the last 15 years, I have met a large number of libertarian intellectuals and activists of the last two generations, including some of the most famous. More often than not, reading Rand influenced their conversion to libertarianism, even though very few fully endorse her theories or consider themselves Objectivists.
I have noticed that many self-identifying libertarians relate their ideological development in religious language that would be familiar to evangelical Christians. Once were blind, they now could see the falsehood of statist assumptions and the truth of individual liberty and responsibility.
Perhaps I spend too much time with libertarians, but I don't often see conservatives describe a similar political awakening as strongly, and I can't recall hearing liberals express a political conversion experience in this manner.
It makes me uneasy. I know from personal experience how damaging it is to adopt an ideology as a personal identity. Ideologies as identities have a way of stifling objective thought along the lines of "This is who I am now, this is my ideology, and I will now apply it to all situations or questions that I have about the world."
Ideologies blindly applied to the world, without regard to conflicts between what can and is objectively known about a topic and what the ideology's stance on that topic is, constitute sloppy thinking.
If you shook me awake at 2 AM and asked me if I thought that we should legalize all drugs for consenting adults, I'd probably say yes. But that's because my ideology would provide me with a shortcut around thinking critically about all aspects of an issue.
If I was awake and had time to think about the question a little more, I'd probably say that marijuana should definitely be legalized, but maybe crack cocaine shouldn't. Maybe the effects of that drug are so debilitating that we shouldn't go that far.
But that takes work, and I could avoid all of that simply by thinking "I'm a libertarian, so how should I respond to this question in a manner that is consistent with my ideology?"
Or to use a different example, "I'm a believer in religion X, so how should I respond to this question in a manner that is consistent with my religion?"
One need only glance at the pages of history to know how flawed ideologies can be. Which is why I get uncomfortable with libertarians expressing their political opinions using the certainty of religious language.
I generally identify myself as a libertarian. But not with a lot of enthusiasm. Well, at least not as much as I used to. I don't want to be a libertarian; I want to be a correct thinker. And that means keeping my options open. It means seeking truth instead of an ideological identity or tribe.
Instead of saying "I'm a libertarian," it would be better for one to say "I am a thinker and I have reached many libertarian conclusions." The goal should always be truth, not fidelity to an ideological identity.