Most libertarians are perfectly happy living a normal existence, and wish the government would stop trying to change them.
But a tiny few are cosmopolitan snobs who hate traditional patterns of life. They like to endlessly repeat the refrain that “liberty upsets patterns.” They say this as they gradually evolve into progressive statists and abandon libertarianism, in order to upset as many patterns as possible. (Some of the cosmopolitan snobs also pal around with Marxists, who are really into upsetting patterns. Aaron Ross Powell, the longtime director of Libertarianism.Org, pals around with socialists and Marxists. Powell complains that socialists have been unfairly maligned by libertarians, who have taken too negative a view of socialism).
But liberty does not upset most patterns. Instead, it spawns and institutionalizes patterns. Most people prefer what is normal and familiar to what is abnormal, and have no fetish for “diversity” or “societal transformation.” As a result, free societies produce lots of familiar patterns. McDonald’s is the favorite restaurant of young children, by far. They have no interest in going to an artisanal cafe with home-made craft beers. As a result, McDonald’s is found everywhere. Vanilla ice cream is by far the favorite ice cream in the world, rather than more exotic flavors. As the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation notes, “Vanilla is the world’s favourite ice cream, despite the term ‘vanilla’ also meaning boring, dull or bland.” There is a supposed Chinese curse that goes, “May you live in interesting times.” It reflects the wise understanding that life is better in “uninteresting times” of peace, tranquility, and freedom, than in “interesting” ones, which are usually times of trouble and oppression.
People in a country tend to speak the same language, and dress in the same kind of clothing. Chain restaurants are more common in parts of the country with less economic regulation, than in areas like New York City or San Francisco that are heavily regulated. Languages do not naturally contain the 56 different pronouns that some transgender activists would like to compel people to use.
To be successful usually requires following basic patterns and norms, like getting married or entering into a monogamous relationship before having children. Tolstoy famously observed that “every happy family is alike, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” As the black free-market economist Walter Williams explained, to avoid poverty, all people of any race need to do is “Complete high school; get a job, any kind of job; get married before having children; and be a law-abiding citizen. Among both Black and white Americans so described, the poverty rate is in the single digits.” “Diverse” family forms, such as single-parent households, do not “work,” unless the government subsidizes them. Out-of-wedlock births were once rare, but they skyrocketed after the government gave unwed mothers welfare. So did crime, because crime rates are linked to out-of-wedlock births.
The attachment of ordinary people to cultural patterns frustrates progressives, like former President Obama, who complained that working-class voters “cling to guns or religion,” rather than supporting societal change. To upset patterns often requires enormous governmental coercion. Marxists — who are cosmopolitan internationalists — understand this quite well, and use coercion to rapidly transform society. Two decades after Communists took over China, many of its cultural patterns persisted. To upset these patterns, China’s communist dictator, Mao Zedong, launched a campaign against “The Four Olds”: “Old Ideas, Old Culture, Old Customs, and Old Habits,” as part of his Cultural Revolution, in which millions of people died. As Wikipedia explains,
The Cemetery of Confucius was attacked in November 1966, during the Cultural Revolution, when it was visited and vandalized by a team of Red Guards from Beijing Normal University, led by Tan Houlan. The corpse of the 76th-generation Duke Yansheng was removed from its grave and hung naked from a tree in front of the palace during the desecration of the cemetery in the Cultural Revolution.
Red Guards broke into the homes of the wealthy and destroyed paintings, books, and furniture; all were items that they viewed as part of the Four Olds. Many families’ long-kept genealogy books were burned to ashes.
Progressives support costly regulations and welfare as a way of enforcing and promoting “diversity.” For example, transgender surgeries were much rarer before a federal law ordered insurers to cover them, shifting the cost of getting them to the public as a whole. Before insurers and taxpayer-funded Medicaid programs paid for sex changes, fewer transgender people got them, because the benefits just weren’t worth the cost to many transgender people. Now, thanks to big government, many more people are getting sex changes.
Gender reassignment surgery typically results in recurring lifelong discomfort and a need for lifelong medical care (as well as sterility).
Taxpayer-funded sex changes often do little to make transgender people happy, as they themselves admit. In 2018, the New York Times published an article titled, “My New Vagina Won’t Make Me Happy.” In it, a transgender person wrote about upcoming surgery:
“Next Thursday, I will get a vagina. The procedure will last around six hours, and I will be in recovery for at least three months.” Would this bring happiness? Probably not, because “my body will regard the vagina as a wound; as a result, it will require regular, painful attention to maintain.” Yet the transgender writer still wanted the surgery: “This is what I want, but there is no guarantee it will make me happier. In fact, I don’t expect it to. That shouldn’t disqualify me from getting it.” “No amount of pain …justifies its withholding.” “Surgery’s only prerequisite should be a simple demonstration of want.”
But the taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay $100,000 or more for such elective surgery. The public shouldn’t have to pay for a procedure that causes pain, will feel like “a wound,” and probably won’t lead to happiness. Transgender people can pay for such surgery themselves, if they want. But taxpayers shouldn’t have to. Many people later regret getting gender-reassignment surgery. As the Heritage Foundation notes, a study in Sweden found that “ten to 15 years after surgical reassignment, the suicide rate of those who had undergone sex-reassignment surgery rose to 20 times that of comparable peers.”
The belief that “liberty upsets patterns” makes left-libertarians who yearn to upset patterns turn into progressives over time. Such change fetishists come to realize that patterns persist despite liberty, and that liberty fails to give them the cosmopolitan world of rapid change and ferment that they want.
When they realize this, they tend to adopt the strain of progressive wokeness known as the “successor ideology,” which seeks to enforce societal change by coercive means. As Wikipedia explains,
The successor ideology is a term devised by essayist Wesley Yang to describe an emergent ideology within left-wing political movements in the United States centered around intersectionality, social justice, identity politics, and anti-racism, which is supposedly replacing conventional liberal values of pluralism, freedom of speech, color blindness, and free inquiry. Proponents of the concept link it to an alleged growth in the intolerance of differing opinions, to cancel culture, “wokeness,” “social justice warriors“, and to the far left; Yang himself describes it bluntly as “authoritarian Utopianism that masquerades as liberal humanism while usurping it from within.”
A classic example of this transformation is Paul Crider, an ex-libertarian who became a progressive who loves Elizabeth Warren. Despite — or perhaps because of — his abandonment of libertarianism, and his leftward transformation, he was given a soapbox by Aaron Ross Powell, the director of the Cato Institute’s Libertarianism.org web site. Powell, a left-libertarian, seems to have wished that libertarians in general would become more like the left-wing Crider, and less like the free-market economists Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek. Under Powell’s tutelage, Crider did the Cato Institute podcast “Libertarian Social Justice.”
Paul Crider is a big fan of Ibram Kendi, his revered “Dr. Ibram.” Ibram Kendi says that “To love capitalism is to end up loving racism. To love racism is to end up loving capitalism…Capitalism is essentially racist; racism is essentially capitalist,” in his best-selling book, How to Be An Antiracist. That book is a “comprehensive introduction to critical race theory,” gushes the leading progressive media organ Slate.
The “key concept” in Ibram Kendi’s book How to Be an Antiracist is that discrimination against whites is the only way to achieve equality: “The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination,” writes Kendi in that book. Kendi is a leading “critical race theorist.”
Another, deeply-hateful fan of “Dr. Ibram” is the former Cato Institute staffer Will Wilkinson. Wilkinson can be found on Twitter claiming that the civil-libertarian Greg Lukianoff, the head of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), is a right-wing grifter for publicizing First Amendment violations. Wilkinson trolled Lukianoff, falsely claiming he was stoking a “moral panic” about free speech just “to raise money.” (Federal judges have found Lukianoff’s concerns well-placed in a number of cases striking down campus speech codes). This did not seem to reduce Wilkinson’s popularity among his former colleagues at the Cato Institute at all — Cato Institute employees like Julian Sanchez would retweet him, and tout his writings.
Another example of this ideological transformation is the former Cato Institute employee Adam Bates. He claims to be a libertarian, but he spends his days on twitter flinging venom at critics of cancel culture, including libertarians like Reason Magazine’s Robby Soave and Newsday’s Cathy Young, and Bari Weiss. Bates believes that people who are canceled deserve it, and it’s just “accountability” when they are punished for their speech (whether it is state university employees fired for their speech in violation of the First Amendment, or the suspension by Georgetown University of a former Cato Institute employee for criticizing Biden for making Supreme Court appointments based on race or gender).
Adam Bates claims that Reason Magazine’s Robby Soave, who is mellow and happily married, is an “alt-right incel” for being skeptical of the wisdom of broadly restricting users’ speech on Twitter. (Ironically, Soave has written a book supporting social media applications’ right to govern themselves and make moderation decisions free of government dictates, Tech Panic: Why We Shouldn’t Fear Facebook and the Future. Soave questions the wisdom of some decisions by Twitter, not its right to run its own affairs.).
Most rank-and-file libertarians would probably consider Adam Bates an unhinged leftist. But Matthew Feeney, the director of the Cato Institute’s Project on Emerging Technologies, defended Bates after his past unhinged rantings, claiming he is a “perfectly normal libertarian.”
Here is the Adam Bates tweet discussed above: