On former lefties

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In my entry in Walter Block’s Libertarian Autobiography series on LRC, I noted,

Unlike many libertarians who dally with socialism before seeing the light, I have never been attracted to leftism. Indeed, although I of course welcome former pinkos to our ranks, I’m always a bit suspicious of anyone who could ever be swayed by that bunk.

Michael Barnett sent me an excerpt from a post of his that made a similar point, which admittedly has some appeal:

Converting to Libertarianism
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I can easily determine if a convert to libertarianism was a sh*t-for-brains socialist/communist or a Reagan-was-God conservative in his past life. Very few libertarians were born into the libertarian tradition like I was [NB: Michael is the son of libertarian-Austrian William Barnett, Loyola colleague of Walter Block]. I never knew anything else. But I guess my point is to explain that you converts from the left never seem to be able to shed your brainwashing completely. There’s always that residue of leftist slime left over which taints what would otherwise be adequate analyses of current events. I don’t find the converts from the right to have the same difficulty in shedding their blind patriotism. I’ve pondered this objective truth, and I’ve determined that there’s a simple explanation: People become leftists because they’re ignorant and easily manipulated.


Here are some comments I received from peeved ex-lefties (what, they blame me for my feelings? or for just admitting to them?). In response to these emails, Michael Barnett wrote me, “‘When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.'” —


“People become leftists because they’re ignorant and easily manipulated.”

This is not my experience at all. The lefties I know are usually of
above average intelligence, and more informed than the average person. They are also astoundingly arrogant, although they will never admit it. They think their superior intelligence and compassion gives extra weight their opinions on how things ought to be. In their minds, if only they–or someone more like them–were in charge, the world would be a better place.

If anything, the current administration has demonstrated all to clearly that it is Bush’s constituents who are ignorant and easily manipulated. Regardless, I posit that the “residue of leftist slime” is actually righteous arrogance. Further, I posit that this is why the politicians of the right, if not their supporters, still *smell* like leftists.


Mr. Kinsella,

I am shocked by your (and Mr. Barnett’s) snobbery toward leftists
converted to libertarianism. I was as left as they come, raised by
democrats to hate the rich and love FDR. I didn’t know anything else.
This home attitude was reinforced in the government schools, of course. Once I understood the true struggle of liberty vs tyranny and the lack of difference between “left” and “right” I began to detest statism in whatever form. You are correct that a lot of leftists are ignorant and easily manipulated, I would add that some are downright bad people. But ignorance can be cured, and with it goes easy manipulation. We aren’t all lucky enough to be brought up by libertarians and educated parents. This attitude will not serve you well and is … ignorant.


I thought about something long-winded, but perhaps
you’re not worth the energy. As a former liberal turned libertarian I find myself quite alone in my beliefs. Most folk either don’t care about politics or are such firm believers that the State could work
miracles if only the “right” people grasped the hilt that I find myself speaking to the great Void.

I’m not sure I was ever a great believer in the liberal rhetoric, I just came from parents that did. I’ve always argued that PC thinking was just an assault on the 1st amendment. I’ve always believed it
was better to earn your own way (despite taking a few grants and loans all of which I’ve paid back many times over in taxes). I’m a black-belt with a firm belief in the right to defend oneself or others in need. I dunno Steve, I enjoy reading your columns among the many others but your blog entry today just pissed me off. In the world I live in, the Libertarian voice is a whisper in the wind, easily ignored and in most cases ridiculed. We should welcome any convert, even half-hearted ones (myself NOT included) to spread
the word and make it stronger. Any step toward a limited government is a step toward Liberty.


Pardon me for having been born into a working class, Democratic-voting family. It’s really nice to hear that I can’t be a “real” libertarian because of my background. In keeping with my low-born status, I offer you a great big, “SCREW YOU!”

Coda 2:

One of the above commenters emailed me:

Thanks for posting the critical reactions. Perhaps this is beyond your understanding, but it is very difficult intellectual work to look at your own beliefs critically and decide to throw them out. It takes time, particularly when you live in an environment which does not support a critical examination of its own beliefs. It isn’t necessarily an AHA! experience.

Anyway, now I have an excuse for the typos in my emails and web posts – it’s the “residue leftie slime” that obviously has contaminated my computer’s keyboard.

My reply to him:

Of course I understand it’s difficult to shed false beliefs–and commendable. What is hard to understand is how such vile beliefs are ever acquired in the first place. One reasonable explanation is there is something flawed or “off” in the person’s basic outlook on life, which leads him to adopt such obviusly wrong, evil views in the first place. So that even if he sees the light later on, it is possible he still retains some of the bad fundamental views or outlook on life that led him astray the first time. So you can see it is reasonable to be abit suspicious of anyone who has ever been a leftist, no matter what their excuse.

Look. Suppose you had a neighbor who had been in prison a long time ago for armed robbery. But since then he has repented and led a great life–pillar of his community and all that. Would you think of him as just a “normal” person? You might commend him for straightening up, and even be a friend and trust him with your life, but in the back of your mind you would always place him in the category of “ex-con” and think there must have been–maybe still is, to a degree–something “off” about him that led him to be willing to be a criminal.

Are lefties criminals? Yes, arguably, for playing a supporting and causal role in the criminal state’s existence and legitimation; and at the very least, leftism is utterly evil and you can see why libertarians, who are anti-leftists, view leftism with such scorn, much like a normal person views criminals.

5:15 pm on September 13, 2005