This week: The Finale
Many prominent figures on the Right- from Ronald Reagan to P.J. O’Rourke- were once leftists who more or less gradually converted to conservatism. They all have interesting stories. But, frankly, my personal story is far more important than all of theirs. After all, I’m the only one who’s ever been a guest on Crowder Chat.
I have often described my conversion to conservatism as a “Saul becomes Paul” moment. While this characterization does depict the dramatic nature of my shift, it makes it appear that my conversion happened as if in a flash of light. In reality, it was a slow, uncertain, and winding process involving many different catalysts, only the most significant of which I can detail here.
In March of 2004, I read Locke’s Second Treatise, because I was a nerd (I’m employing a very loose usage of the word “was” here). To a degree, Locke vindicated my communist suspicions that all governments were formed to protect (private) property. But, his argument that private property was a natural right was a bit troublesome. Looking back, I always had innate libertarian leanings. In fact, one of the main attractions of communism for me was the sustainable anarchy it promised at the end of the revolution. But Locke’s notion of private property fed my “mine” impulse, an impulse which is essentially rejected by communism. Thus, the edifice of my communist logic began to crack.
At about the same time that I started reading Locke, I also began reading Nietzsche. Nietzsche made a lot of mistakes (after all, didn’t he get syphilis from his own mother?). But, Nietzsche’s intense individualism, stemming from Nietzsche’s fierce contempt for anyone who wasn’t Nietzsche, resonated with me. Though I was never completely convinced by his entire worldview, I eventually came to see that I could never accept the uniformity of the socialist intermediary state, regardless of whether or not it would lead to a perfect communist state in the end.
For a few cognitively dissonant weeks, I was simultaneously a communist and a budding Republican. Following a bizarre line of Hegelian logic, I reasoned that the free market would inevitably lead people to communism by simply giving people the correct incentives to share and just forget about private property… yeah, I know…
I quickly realized that my theory was absolutely ridiculous. How could self-interest lead people to become completely, voluntarily selfless? I started to believe in the free market as the be-all end-all itself, the only way to protect individual rights, despite the fact that I didn’t necessarily think that it would lead to the best economic outcome.
I came to support Bush in the presidential election, though I still saw the Republican Party as the mullet of the American democracy (Not that I would have ever supported Kerry; though he was very liberal, he was no communist… that, and he was a huge dork. That guy was such a dork that he had a retainer for his retainer.). This did lead to some awkward conversations with my commie friends who, despite their secular atheism, thought that Bush was the anti-Christ. But, there was a certain romance to being a Republican. There is nothing more contrarian than joining the party roundly reviled by most of one’s friends.
Then I almost accidentally became convinced that not only was capitalism the best protection of natural rights, but that it would lead to the most prosperity. I happened to see an interesting quote from Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek on a poster one day, looked him up online, read his books, and became a full-fledged disciple of the Austrian School of Economics- all in a matter of weeks. The Austrian School’s argument that the capitalist economy is essentially sound, but that government intrusions (particularly fluctuations in the money supply) cause unnatural booms and busts was refreshing, unorthodox, and eminently convincing.
I now saw the free market as both the most robust and the most just economic arrangement, shoring up the last remaining hole in the edifice of my conservative thought. Nevertheless, I retained some leftovers from my days on the Left. I still listened to Jimi Hendrix and read Ken Kesey and Jack Kerouac extensively. I was still a pompous intellectual (I’m employing a loose usage of the word “was” here, too) hippie who wore a striped hat (Cat in the Hat style) and a flannel jacket in summer as a defiant (and uncomfortable) sartorial metaphor. I had been a devoted Luddite (it took me a good week or two to realize that I didn’t need to rewind DVDs and a few more weeks to finally realize why I didn’t need to rewind DVDs), and the effects of my slow start with learning technology have lingered so that I still have some trouble with e-mail (which is why Bryan handles all of the CR listserv stuff).
Though I am glad that I made the long journey from communism to conservatism, I am still a tad disappointed with some parts of my new position. For example, I had always assumed that Republicans had some sort of secret GOP vault filled with gold, rubies, and argyle sweaters. Well, I still haven’t received my key to the treasure chamber. I haven’t even been invited to visit yet…