I’m a libertarian, as perhaps some of my readers know. My late mentor, Murray Rothbard, practically founded the movement in his living room, and I’ve been an activist since my teenage years—a long time ago.
I wear my libertarianism like a comfortable old shirt. Yet ideology and everyday life don’t always mesh. In my youth, there was no problem: I rushed about at such a speed that I didn’t notice the little glitches, the contradictions, that came up in the course of a day. Oh sure, I was riding a public bus, one that was traveling on a government-built road, and that policeman over there stood guard so that a pickpocket didn’t feel bold enough to lift my wallet out of my pants while I was busy contemplating the abstruse wonders of libertarian theory. So what? In a libertarian world, I knew, it would all be different—but, somehow, very much the same. Order would be maintained; there would be buses and roads; it’s just that the government would have little if anything to do with these familiar trappings of civilization.
I think living in a city shields one from reality, in many ways: not only the reality of the natural world, but of human society. City folk imagine moving to the country will get them away from people and imbue them with a blessed solitude, but the reality—once you really do move there, as I did—is quite different. The cities bestow anonymity; there is no anonymity in the countryside. Everybody knows everybody, and you’d better watch what you’re saying or doing—because by tomorrow the whole town will hear about it.
City slickers imagine that, once they move to a sylvan glade somewhere in the middle of the woods, they’ll swim in a veritable ocean of quiet. That’s what I—a longtime urbanite—foolishly imagined, and boy was I swiftly disabused of that notion. No sooner had I moved into my new digs in a very small town in Northern California’s wine country—a charming country cottage, its arbor covered in grape vines—and settled down to a life of writerly contemplation then I discovered my neighbor was operating a sawmill right down the street.
Every day, like clockwork, the buzz saw would go off at nine in the morning, not ceasing its loud labors until well after five. What living hell was this?
I did a little research: According to the zoning plan for my county, such things as sawmills are completely illegal. My neighborhood, a collection of summer cottages built in the midst of what had been a large orchard, is zoned for residential use only. Aha! I had my weapon—and I intended to use it!
But not before a little agonizing. After all, libertarians don’t believe in zoning laws. According to libertarianism, the market—not government bureaucrats—will decide what business ought to go where, what is residential and what is not. As I sat there, agonizing, the sound of the buzz saw got louder—and, suddenly, my conundrum was solved. Because, of course, in a free society one could move into a community where such things were privately “legislated” by contracts, freely entered into: covenants, which would determine the conditions and tenor of life in the community.
As I was constructing this rationalization in my mind, I was also contemplating the course of action I would take, and with no more delay. The idiotic hippie who thought he could emit vexatious noise at will wasn’t using his own property to do it: He had somehow convinced the little old lady next door to me that it would be cool to use her empty lot for his entrepreneurial efforts. I marched over to her house, knocked on her door, and told her—politely, but firmly—that unless she wanted to attract the attention of the Powers That Be in the county seat, she had best tell her tenant to quit playing Paul Bunyan in her backyard.
The sawmill was shut down without further ado, and I was enveloped in an intoxicating pool of silence.
In order to reconcile this perfect happiness with my identity as an ideologue, however, I had to construct a rather elaborate rationale, one that substitutes reality for some imaginary future society in which the same result is achieved via very different means. In short, I had to talk myself into believing I was doing the “right” thing. Then and only then could I feel free to do what had to be done. What that tells us about ideology, libertarianism, and the author of this piece, I’ll leave to my readers to decide.