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.