L. Neil Smith's
Would Hayek Have A Shotgun Rack In His Pickup Truck?
by Joel Simon
Exclusive to TLE
My work partner and I have fallen into the habit of coming in an hour or so early, making a pot of coffee, and spending the quiet time catching up on e-mail or web surfing. Sometimes an article will catch our fancy, and we'll read paragraphs to each other. He's well aware that almost everything I read has to do with libertarianism, or gun control, or both.
He thinks this is funny. I didn't know why, so I asked him. He said something like this:
"All the libertarians I've met were trailer trash. Ignorant rednecks, who think the height of self expression is driving pickups and blasting traffic signs with shotguns. There's nothing to respect there."
I was a little offended at first. But his description, I must admit, sort of rang a bell.
Many years ago, I lived in the Texas panhandle. No place ever felt so much like home. My friends and I didn't have much background in common, but we got along. Most had no use for government. Virtually all were gun owners, and many carried. It must be said that a few seemed about as sharp as a sack of wet mice. They worked, they drank, they went to rodeos. That was pretty much all there was to life, and it didn't seem to require a lot of thought. Yeah, some lived in trailers. There wasn't a single decent book store in any town outside Amarillo. It got a little boring sometimes, but all my friends had one great virtue, summed up by that Willie Nelson song: "It's nobody's business where you're going or where you come from, and you're judged by the look in your eye."
These people could look you in the eye, and did. If you behaved like a man, they treated you like one. If you didn't, they didn't care about you one way or the other. I don't believe most of them could have spelled libertarianism, even if they'd been inclined to try. They ARE libertarians, by L. Neil Smith's definition: "A libertarian is a person who believes that no one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being, or to advocate or delegate its initiation. Those who act consistently with this principle are libertarians, whether they realize it or not." But they don't realize it, and they don't give a damn.
They are in fact the only actual group of libertarians I've ever seen in large numbers in one place. And nobody would ever call them intellectuals.
It got me to thinking. I'm vaguely aware that there are intellectual roots of libertarianism, but I don't really know much about them. I've heard about the Austrian school of economics, sort of. But I never enrolled. The only Austrian I know about is Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I'm not a big fan. Hell, I avoid AK rifles because they make me use terms like 7.62 X 39. Math isn't my big subject. So I'm unlikely to read a body of work whose heading involves any "school of economics." I've tried to read some of the Ludwig Von Mises stuff, honest, and I own a book by F. A. Hayek but... well, sorry, but there just isn't enough coffee in the world.
I've read a little Lysander Spooner. Now, that's good stuff. There's a passage in "No Treason" that explains exactly why the Constitution doesn't require me to pay taxes. But do you think that would convince the nice men from the IRS not to cuff me and take me away, if they were so inclined? I've read some Ayn Rand, and so I'm aware that I should have the absolute right to be a giant industrialist, or a non-conformist architect. I'm not either of those, so she'd probably have no use for me.
I may as well admit I have no intellectual grounding for my political beliefs at all. On the other hand, I've never killed a stop sign with a shotgun. It worries me. Depending on your standards I'm either too much of a rube to be a libertarian, or I'm too sophisticated.
Then again... Maybe we'd better look at that definition again. "A libertarian is a person who believes that no one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being, or to advocate or delegate its initiation. Those who act consistently with this principle are libertarians, whether they realize it or not. Those who fail to act consistently with it are not libertarians, regardless of what they may claim."
Well, I believe that. I believed it before I'd ever heard of El Neil, or of libertarianism for that matter. It's why I got along so well with the folks I knew in Pampa, even though I never did care much for rodeos. They believe it, too.
What we want from government is - nothing. We want to not have to think about it very much. And we want to be secure in the knowledge that it's not thinking very much about us.
It's the fact that neither of those states are currently true that drives me to Spooner and Von Mises when my tastes run more to Patrick O'Brian. It's the same fact that will have me loading stripper clips in front of the TV tonight, so I can get an early start at the range in the morning. I need those dead white guys to help convince my partner that it's not all pickup trucks and shotgun racks. And I need my M1A because - well, I just do, that's all.