November 3, 2011 columns

Who I Am, Why I’m Here

Jason Kuznicki discusses his perspective and philosphical interests.

I’m Jason Kuznicki. I’m the editor of Cato Unbound, the Cato Institute’s monthly magazine of ideas. It’s a forum for libertarians and nonlibertarians to discuss political theory, social trends, and public policy. Prior to Cato Unbound, I was an assistant editor for the Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, a reference work about the people, events, and ideas that contributed to the modern libertarian movement.

Here are some short takes on things I like and things I don’t:

Ayn Rand: As they say, it usually starts with Ayn Rand. It certainly did with me. I read Rand in high school, which is I think when everyone should read her. I hated The Fountainhead for maybe the first two thirds of it, and then something just clicked, and it became one of my favorite books of all time. It still is. Atlas Shrugged explains Rand’s philosophy better, but it isn’t as good a novel.

That said, I don’t agree with everything Rand ever wrote, and we’ll probably talk about her strengths and weaknesses at some point on the blog.

F. A. Hayek: “Pure poison,” said Rand of Hayek. This is one of those places where I disagree with her. A Cato intern once asked me which libertarian thinker had influenced me the most. I paused, and my husband instantly spoke up: “Hayek,” he said. I had to agree.

My Husband: Yeah. Glad we got that cleared up.

Less Wrong: Eliezer Yudkowsky’s blog community dedicated to the art of human rationality and how to apply it in life. Yudkowsky’s take on Rand is excellent, incidentally.

And yes, as he says, politics really is the mind killer. Politics is also my job. This makes me uncomfortable. I wish it had the same effect on everyone.

Beer: I brew my own. Like good beer? Thank deregulation, which finally let the craft brewing culture re-develop in our country following decades of boring, post-Prohibition beer.

The L Word: If I could, I might very well erase the word “libertarian” from the collective memory of the world. It carries a huge amount of baggage, by no means all of it good. Saying I’m a libertarian leads to inferences of the form “Oh, you must believe X.” Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I do, but not every libertarian does. And sometimes no one in the known universe believes X, but I am assured, in confident tones, that all real libertarians do.

It’s awkward. It’s also a distraction from the real work of liberating humanity. I’m far less interested in getting the labels right than I am in two basic intuitions:

1. Individuals are generally far more competent at running their own lives than they are at running the lives of others. This insight is not sufficiently reflected in our existing political institutions.

2. When coercion is used, it should be considered either a failure or a last resort. Likewise, this insight is not sufficiently reflected in our existing political institutions.

These, to me, are what “libertarianism” is all about. You can come to these conclusions from a variety of reasons. You can take them in different directions and apply them in different areas of life. Implementing them is a lot of work, I don’t think it’s ever been done fully, and the path forward isn’t always clear. That’s okay. None of us has been to utopia. None of us really know what it’s like. And yet – thankfully – we don’t have to have visited utopia to know that some directions are less promising than others.

I look forward to this blog being a place where we can talk about issues in this area, and I welcome readers’ questions.