The Spirit of Independence

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Intellectuals tend to believe that ideas cause attitudes, Lee Harris says, though it is far more often the other way around:

Several years ago, while attending a street festival in the small town of Tucker, Georgia, I came across a booth sponsored by the local libertarian society. At the time, I did not realize that my encounter would generate my next book. I only remember being struck by the question asked of everyone who visited the booth that day: “So who owns you?”
To most of [those who wandered into the booth that day], the question “So who owns you?” seemed to come with the force of a revelation, and they responded with a decided and often emphatic, “Nobody owns me.” Which is to say, someone may own other people, but certainly does not own me.

Lee Harris sees this as evidence that many people are natural libertarians. Arnold Kling does not; he emphasizes the last bit of that excerpt:

I think that most people resent being told what to do, and yet such people are not libertarians when it comes to other people being told what to do.

I have a stronger criterion for natural libertarianism. When you see other people doing something that really offends you, are you willing to see the state allow that behavior to continue? Only if you can answer “yes” are you a natural libertarian. I think that there are very few natural libertarians.

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