A Libertarian Journey and Political Autobiography
By Dale Melchin
My journey into libertarian thinking has been a path fraught with peril, full of twists and turns, hills, mountains, valleys and the like. While it was never anything physically threatening, my journey has been an important part of the larger adventure that is my life.
We’ll go back, way back…
The first time I was in anyway politically cognizant of anything was in the 3rd or 4th Grade. I remember being in a debate with one of my classmates on the merits of George H. W. Bush vs Bill Clinton. We were tasked with coming up with political posters – I don’t rem-ember what my would-be opponent had on his poster, but I remember writing the following on mine: Vote Clinton: A bigger, brighter, more jobs future!
Looking back on it, the poster had a Trumpian style to it; blame it on my original parents (I’ll explain that term later on). My dad was a union shop rat and my mom was a nurse’s aide. I didn’t get along well with them, especially my dad. (I’ll refer to them by their first names henceforth as Tom and Shannon). I don’t remember the institutions that Shannon worked for, but Tom worked for Case IH and the time leading up to President Clinton’s first term paralleled with the reactivation of the local Case Plant in East Moline, IL. I believe when this happened that Tom was either getting ready to go back to that job, dodging responsibility and on unemployment, or working for a small business where he was about to get fired because he didn’t get along with the owner or a supervisor of his. I can’t remember which it was.
Needless to say, he was a Democrat who felt entitled. At this time, I was probably a bit touched with that poison. I didn’t understand the why behind that philosophy. I went to a public school where when I wasn’t learning math or being asked to take drugs for “hyperactivity” I was learning about nonsensical left-wing philosophy being put into our brains by means of the Weekly Reader in our Social Studies class. Nevertheless, I went on.
I was taught that business and business owners were bad and that somehow we were being exploited, and that we weren’t responsible for the st-ate we were in. “They” were responsible, and if we could just get the government to do more and make them give us more we would be better off. That’s at least how I was understanding things.
Now, let’s zoom around
the STAR Labs particle accelerator and open a time portal and travel forward four years to 7th Grade (that’s a reference to The Flash TV show, by the way). I was still listening to the same nonsense put into my head by my school teachers as well as my parents. However, a new way of thinking was starting to emerge.
I had gotten into a political debate with my best friend Jonathan and lost. I couldn’t answer his questions about my views. He and his family who I had become friends with were dreaded Republicans; the enemy, or so I thought. Even though his folks were more successful (his father was an accountant at John Deere and his mother was the leader of a very successful nonprofit to do with horse therapy), they were good, decent people.
On top of that, they were Christians. This family was also responsible for my encounter with Jesus Christ at a camp that was affiliated with their church. While I wish I could go more into that story, I bring it up now because it is relevant. After I embraced the Christian faith (as I knew it at the time), I also embraced what I thought was the right way of political thinking: Republican Conservatism. It’s kind of a joke to me now because many conservative Christians feel that Jesus would be a Republican, even though that’s now the furthest thing from the truth – but I digress.
With my newly reaffirmed faith, I encountered the arguments in favor of hard work and, God blessing that, the Constitution, markets, and, most importantly, the sanctity of human life. Or so I thought.
I mention this because the family I eventually fell in with, the one that I now identify with as mine, helped to solidify my thinking on these topics. Ray (the man that I call dad), while quirky, helped me learn to ask questions and think critically and help me install a Christian, but still critical, filter around my to help me sort the truth from nonsense. I learned arguments, a functional (not theoretical) way of how logic works, and most importantly how to have a critical mind. However, this put me on that path to being a strong and firey fundamentalist Christian and a Neo-Conservative.
Fast-forward again to
Liberty University. I eventually became a Calvinist and fell in with the Christian Reconstruction/Theonomy/Dominionist crowd. This was mainly through books. I also began to look at the U.S. Constitution more heavily and began to believe and think that we were a country of Christian origin; that the only mistake The Founding Fathers made was that they did not explicitly incorporate the Constitution in the name of Jesus Christ. But, as you can probably guess, I wanted the Constitution and the Ten Commandments to be the law of the land, along with aspects of civil laws of the Judicial Republic and Kingdom of Israel. You can guess what that meant for aspects of my views of others and their lifestyles.
Now, I ask that you do not stop at this point. These beliefs began to be a problem for me because my views at this time were beginning to isolate me from others. There weren’t many Christians in my area that adhered to this point of view – even the Calvinists that were around me thought I was nuts. Democrats hated me and Republicans thought I was hilarious since I wasn’t afraid to hurt feelings, but they often didn’t really agree with me either. I was more or less a small boat in an ocean.
And yet for all of the conflicts I was getting into because I believed my view was internally-consistent and all these “morons” couldn’t see the truth, I was getting more and more isolated, and eventually it hit me hard. Nothing was working for me in the other aspects of my life, and it was my fault. I believed all the right things, but I wasn’t succeeding. I was too much in my own head and I needed action, and most importantly, I needed Faith. Not in myself, nor in politics, but in the Ancient Faith of Orthodox Christianity.
Now, this isn’t going to be a journey into that segment of my life specifically. There is a lot of “intersectionality” in my story, and I’m telling you, reader, all of this so you get the rich tapestry of a life lived.
I had put down the politics
and spent several years studying martial arts, reading my Bible and other books, and going through a failed engagement. This all had pushed me to the point where I laid politics down and embraced the fullness of the Faith. I decided to give mys-elf the grace to try – even if it was done poorly – to try to embrace people. To look at them as beings of intrinsic worth that Christ wanted to save, and not as “morons”. To look at life from the perspective that we are all on a journey.
Eventually I met my wife and for the most part we were apolitical-conservatives. We would talk about the ideas, but we found a diversity of thought in Christian Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is trans-ethnic and cuts across several countries. The main thing that unites Orthodox Christians is the Sacraments. Despite political differences, we all had the one thing that united us and we were all the better for it.
My journey into Orthodoxy lead me to try to relax, to think, to contemplate, to meditate, and to try to free myself from the attachments, as much as I could that trouble us so much. I relished, embraced, and studied Orthodoxy. It was a much needed break and detergent from the madness of the world. It helped me get my head on straight. It helped free me fr-om the constant changing, shifting, and arguments of We-stern Christianity that happened daily and could last for years. Orthodoxy did this for me because it is rooted in the history of the ancient apostolic teaching. So many of the issues that were trends in other strains of Christianity were resolved within Orthodoxy. And my mind was much less stressed from it. That rest caused me to free my mind to pursue things like my painting business and other jobs and finally learn more about myself.
Eventually, I rejoined
the political journey again in 2012-13. (There would be several changes in my life that I would get into, but they are not relevant here, save for what will be mentioned shortly.)
While certain aspects of my life were in a controlled disarray, I knew the only way I could get them under control was to get the rest of my worldview in order. So I did a survey of most (if not all) of the political ideologies that I could find on Wikipedia. This included the really evil ideologies, as well as republicanism and liberal democracy.
Needless to say, they were all found wanting. None of them resonated with me, except for the one; I kept coming back to libertarianism (lowercase l). But I just couldn’t trust it. However, providentially, little things nudged me toward it – the character of Ron Swanson for one. I know he was int-ended to be a parody, but I found his demeanor, stoicism and desire for independence and excellence inspiring. And so I embraced it.
I cultivated aspects of stoicism and began delve more deeply into aspects of libertarian philosophy, which I believed the Constitution was a part of at the time as well as aspects of market capitalism. Then one thing sealed the deal for me.
I was working in the E-Bay department of a resale shop with an individual who believed that all business was evil. When I revealed my leanings to them, almost every day at work involved an argument. When I realized the ineffectual nature of their worldview and how they centered everything around the evils of business, I knew I had come home to libertarianism (lowercase l). When my coworker railed against speech, I embraced freedom of speech. When they railed against guns, I wanted to own one.
My philosophy was one
of independence, rebellion, grit, and most importantly, responsibility. I haven’t read all of the great books yet, but I have read the Constitution multiple times (I don’t have it memorized yet). It doesn’t authorize anyone to do the nonsense that our country is currently involved in and it doesn’t compel us to interfere with others unless property is damaged or lives are at risk from aggression – we have the right to defend ourselves and be safe and speak our minds.
This is how I knew I was home. Liberty feels right. It even feels good. It requires work and action of us to bring our lives into line with rationality and peace. While I would change aspects of how I handled relationships with others, giving them the space to be themselves and not impugn bad motives despite the fact that what they think might lead to evil. I would still give them the freedom to be wrong-headed, but still engage assertively, logically, and peacefully.
By the Grace of God, Liberty is my home.
Dale is the founder and host of the Simplistic Advice podcast.