5 Reasons Why Libertarians Are the Hipsters Of U.S. Politics


The slaying of sacred cows is one of the foremost responsibilities of anyone who hopes to shape public opinion in a responsible fashion. That is why most of America's prominent political groups have received their fair share of ridicule, from The Colbert Report's shtick parodying conservatives to South Park's legendary lampoons deflating liberals. Considering the stakes involved and the sacrifices demanded in matters of state and society, this forced humbling of those who would wield political power is not only appropriate, but necessary.

This brings me to "The Top Five Similarities Between Libertarians and Hipsters," including...

1. They demonstrate how "free thinking" they are by making a point of talking, thinking, and acting exactly like other self-proclaimed "free thinking" people.

Ron Paul. Barry Goldwater. Murray Rothbard. Ludwig von Mises. Walter Block. Henry Hazlitt. Frederich Hayek. Milton Friedman. Ayn Rand.

What do these names have in common? When libertarians attempt to win arguments, works by these and other intellectuals who run (or ran) in their circles frequently make an appearance. Sometimes they are directly cited, as the libertarian in question will confidently brandish titles by these authors with the same belief in their unquestionable truth that one normally expects to see from a zealot talking about the Bible — or, dare I say, a Communist when championing Karl Marx. Even if specific names and works aren't directly referenced, however, they will still use the rhetoric, reasoning processes, and informational premises (founded and otherwise) that were first brought into popular currency by this school of authors. Just as hipsters claim to be individualistic while simply following the trends that are chic among other hipsters, so too do libertarians claim to be "free thinkers" not by actually thinking for themselves, but by devouring the literature consumed by others who view "free thinker" as a fashionable label instead of a state of mind.

2. They prefer to move in packs.

Have you ever noticed how rare it is to encounter just a single hipster when at a party, concert, or any other kind of social gathering? Regardless of whether the event involves hundreds of guests or just a handful of people, it seems like hipsters are driven not merely by the desire to make their cultural statement, but to receive the approval of other hipsters while they do so.

Similarly, libertarians seem to prefer traveling in packs. This serves two dual purposes: (1) It allows them to stifle discussion, whether online or in person, by exhausting those dissenters who even think about rebutting their arguments. (2) It allows them to create a community based on reciprocal group affirmation and self-validation.

The irony of this tactic is that it is uniquely designed to provide groups which are in the minority with a sense of being a growing majority. After all, if one's ideas or lifestyle choices are mainstream, there is hardly the need for the reinforcement that comes with regularly traveling in numbers. With libertarians as with hipsters, however, the important thing is not merely being X, but having others who are like-minded see you being X.

3. They have a condescending attitude unique to those who take pride on being in an "out" group.

Just as hipster culture is far removed from the conventional, so too do libertarians currently fall well outside what is generally considered "conventional" political thought. Similarly, just as hipsters are conspicuous for possessing an attitude that I like to call "the arrogance of the rarefied" - i.e., not simply being condescending, but doing so from the implicit premise that one is part of a select group - so too do libertarians tend to display a "rarefied arrogance" toward non-libertarians that (though they are often loath to admit it) depends upon their status as an "out" group.

This isn't to say that liberals and conservatives can't also be quite arrogant. That said, because liberals and conservatives have both held national power in recent American history (whereas the last presidents who could be safely called libertarian were Grover Cleveland and Calvin Coolidge), they lack the distinctly "rarefied arrogance" that comes with being a seemingly untested alternative. Libertarianism, meanwhile, is just large enough to avoid the stigma of freakish exoticism without actually being "establishment." As such, it is a safe alternative for anyone who (1) falls into the trap of equating "smart" with "thinking differently than the majority" or (2) has an ambition and/or ego which cannot, as Abraham Lincoln once put it, find gratification "in supporting and maintaining an edifice that has been erected by others."

4. They overuse certain words so egregiously that those conversing with them are frequently tempted to say, a la Inigo Montoya, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Verbal motifs include the constant conflation of their movement with being pro-"freedom" and "liberty" (which, by implication, those who disagree with them oppose) and anti-"big government" and "excessive spending" (which, by implication, means their opponents are indifferent to or actively crave wasteful statism). The goal here isn't merely to link their cause with noble abstract concepts and implicitly position their opponents as working against those same ideals; it is also to appropriate those terms for themselves, depriving them of their objective meaning and instead reorienting them so that they can solely fit their ideological goals. While this effort is rarely persuasive in its own right outside of circles already disposed to agree with their definitions (namely, conservatives and other libertarians), it does make it pretty quick to spot a libertarian when engaged in political conversation. Most other political groups take it for granted that you realize that they are in favor of liberty and freedom and want a fiscally responsible government with no more power than is absolutely necessary. Libertarians, with an insecurity that would inspire Freud to write volumes, feel the need to constantly remind the world of this fact about themselves. 

5. They are remarkably lacking in self-awareness.

This point can best be illustrated with a story. Some time ago I found myself wandering through the Urban Dictionary when I came across the term "Paulbot." The bottom two entries contained the definitions generally associated with that term, such as "supporters [of Ron Paul] who act in a habitual, drone-like nature via constant domination of internet forums, polls or even real-life events (due to their overwhelming support for the candidate)" and "someone suffering from an obnoxious personality disorder which causes them to endlessly scan online discussions for mentions of Ron Paul and then descend on those discussions with hostile invective and over the top praise for Dr. Paul."

Intriguingly, however, a concerted effort seemed to have occurred to vote the unflattering definitions down so as to subordinate them to defensively self-congratulatory alternatives: viz., "a government policy Dalek programmed to support human liberty" and "freedom and personal liberty loving online supporters of Ron Paul were given this name by close-minded individuals who only follow main-stream media's propaganda and lies." It was almost as if the so-called Paulbots had acted in a habitually drone-like fashion that drove them to dominate an internet forum so that they could obnoxiously praise themselves and shower hostile invective against dissenters...

Oh, nevermind. Let me just close with this particularly apt quote by Dwight Eisenhower:

"Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in the blood of his followers and the sacrifices of his friends."