What Do You Call Yourself?

Twice last week I was asked whether I’d call myself a conservative, a libertarian, a paleoconservative, or what. Both times I said the same thing: “anarchist.” The first time I was drunk enough that nobody was likely to put too much weight on my words. The latter time, regrettably, I was stone-cold sober and on hearing the answer my interlocutor asked, “No, seriously…?” Did I just dislike labels or something?

Labels have their uses. But in Washington, D.C., especially, I won’t very well call myself a conservative; here the term denotes either a supporter of Bush or, at a minimum, an appendage to the conservative movement — or someone broadly sympathetic to that movement perhaps, even if not directly implicated in it. I don’t fit those criteria and wouldn’t want to be mis-identified as doing so. I think Bush should be in jail and that the conservative movement is about as inimical to the conservatism of the thinkers I admire as it’s possible to get, as I’ve suggested before. In writing, or when my listeners have a good deal to time to devote to a discussion of semantics, I might still be inclined to try to relate what I think conservatism properly is and how it differs from what it’s commonly perceived as being. And for that matter, in other parts of the country, where people are less inclined than in Washington, D.C., to believe that politicians and the movements that carry water for them are what truly matter in life, there may still be some value in the term “conservative.” Here, however, there isn’t.

I’m not a native libertarian, so I usually think it presumptuous to append that label to myself. I don’t mind if others do so. My politics are libertarian, but I don’t necessarily go in for all of the other social views commonly — rightly or wrongly — associated with libertarianism. Libertarians tend to be optimists, for example, which I am certainly not. The only truly pessimistic libertarian I can think of is Robert Higgs who, perhaps not coincidentally, would also, I gather, about as readily identify himself as an anarchist as a libertarian. I’m not a believer in “dynamism” or any inexorable march of liberty.

“Anarchist” has the advantage of being disreputable enough that no respectable person would call himself one. No Trotsky fan mugged by reality is going to label himself an anarchist, and no bomb-dropping patriot would even think of it. In some respects the term isn’t quite an accurate description of what I think, since I do acknolwedge the need for institutions of public order. But the modern state is, if anything, an institution of public disorder and a thing whose essence is coercion and the abrogation of property rights, and which is almost totally lawless to boot. The present administration gives about as much evidence of that last point as anyone might ask for. “Anarchist” has its own negative connotations and dubious history, of course, but it’s far and away better than to be a Beltway “conservative” and not nearly as presumptious as calling myself a libertarian. So I think I’ll stick with it.

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10 thoughts on “What Do You Call Yourself?

  1. John Lowell September 21, 2006 / 2:00 pm

    I call myself a Catholic.

    John Lowell

  2. Tim September 22, 2006 / 4:35 am

    I’m surprised…

    I had you pigeon holed as an “anarcho-burkean christo-decentralist economic freedom green high individualist jungian kramerite libertarian mythopoeic nisbetian occidentalist papist quakeristic rothbardian survivalist tory with used very wet xenoconnish young Zeddist.”

  3. Tim September 22, 2006 / 4:37 am

    …tendencies.

  4. R J Stove September 22, 2006 / 12:13 pm

    The answer which I always give, when asked about my affiliation, is “Carlist”. Though not 100% accurate, it has several advantages over any other response I could offer:

    (a) Most people have never heard of Carlism, but it sounds vaguely impressive, and tends to inspire in the hearer thoughts on the lines of “Hmmm, must look that up in Wikipedia when I get home”.

    (b) Partly because of (a), “Carlist” has none of the obvious lost-cause emotional baggage which such terms as “Confederate” and “Jacobite” conjure up, although it is, in fact, just as lost a cause as they, if not more so.

    (c) It is perfectly compatible with opposition to virtually every form of evil rampant in the modern world.

    (d) It will never attract Christopher Hitchens to its adherents’ ranks.

    (e) Those few who have actually heard of Carlism would never confuse a Carlist with an apologist for Beltway policy wonks.

    (f) Far from aligning itself with the Beautiful People, Carlism deliberately cultivated leadership by ugly people, as this pic of its slack-jawed founder Don Carlos de Borbon (1788-1855) demonstrates:

    What more recommendations does anyone need?

  5. Tim September 22, 2006 / 12:56 pm

    Rob,

    Now that you mention it Don Carlos does have an uncanny resemblance to Cletus Spuckler from ‘The Simpsons’, although Cletus is somewhat less dapper.

  6. Scott Lahti September 22, 2006 / 3:24 pm

    The mouth and lower jaw on Senor Don reminds me a bit of Mr. Bentley, George ‘n’ Weezy’s Brit neighbor…

  7. Tim September 24, 2006 / 3:50 pm

    How about “pre-modernist”? It sounds a lot better than reactionary, usually thought of as an abuse word, and has all the intellectual hauteur of “post-modernist”.

  8. Jesse Walker September 26, 2006 / 12:47 am

    What’s striking here is that I know I’m one of the two people who asked you about your politics, but I can’t figure out if you were drunk at the time or not.

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