February 18, 2007 1 Comment
New York City was different in the 1950s, the 1960s, and the 1970s (and 1980s, etc., I’m sure), but what held constant was what I will call a “default leftism” among educated people.
When Bob Nozick entered grad school at Princeton from Columbia in 1959, he was, politically speaking, a run-of-the-mill social democrat. In the same year, another New Yorker, Bruce Goldberg, entered the same Princeton program in philosophy, from the City College of New York. Bob and Bruce had much in common, except that, at that point, Goldberg was an enthusiastic, proselytizing libertarian.
When we first met, Bruce had no firm political views, inclining to a vague Trotskyism. For some reason, he’d attended a Trotskyist summer camp one year, and his family, not notably political, were average left-leaning Jews.
It didn’t take long to convert Bruce to the free market, through our talks and most of all his readings of Mises and others I brought to his attention. Bruce met Murray, who fascinated him (big surprise), and the rest of the gang, and became a junior member, so to speak, of the Circle Bastiat. [...]
At Princeton, Goldberg and Nozick gravitated to each other at once, both recognizing the other’s obvious high intelligence and deep love of philosophy. But Bruce was always a fervent missionary[...]. He pressed his libertarianism on Bob, who, ever intellectually omnivorous, quickly absorbed Mises, Hazlitt, Hayek, and other thinkers.
Soon Nozick was radically questioning his social-democratic orientation, picked up pretty much by accident from his New York Jewish environment. As Bruce told me the story, one time Bob went back to his pals at Dissent magazine and confronted them. If the minimum wage is so good, why not set it at, say, $10 an hour? They had no answer to the question. That is, these lifelong professional socialists, well-known and widely published writers respected to this day, could not even proceed past the first stage of the argument. Nozick began to rethink things furiously.
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Despite what I’ve written about the ardent Marxism among my grade school classmates, most of my age peers, through most of my life have been leftists by default, not leftists by conviction. We drank it in with mother’s milk. It was the water we swam in. It was some other pervasive liquid metaphor I’m not coming up with at the moment.
Of the handful of people I’ve converted to libertarianism, all but one of them have been default leftists — the exception being one of my little red schoolmates. And absolutely all of them have been age peers. I’ve scored a 0% conversion rate with anyone over 40. The only peer I’ve devoted considerable energy to bringing around who I never succeeded in convincing was also a leftist by default and not ideology or conviction, but not everyone is willing to “rethink things furiously” as young Nozick did. Some people aren’t really willing to rethink things at all.
As I wrote in my previous post,
The fact that I was so slow to embrace economic capitalism, long after I’d embraced libertarianism and free-market ethics, is because my thinking was still so strongly influenced by my Marxoid upbringing and education. It can take a long time and concerted effort to overcome decades-old connotations.
The advice of several of the senior fellows at the Mises Institute is not to bother addressing professors and parents. They’ll probably stick with the world views they have. This advice is very difficult emotionally, but almost certainly correct, nevertheless. What makes it even harder is that I and my peers are now aging into the parents-and-professors category.
The Misesians I know are mostly focused on conservatives — on trying to talk them out of their love for war and the police state. The very idea of intellectual discourse with such people is utterly alien to me. Maybe I only know how to talk to left wingers.
But while we’re choosing our battles, and ruling out certain “targets” for our proselytizing efforts, let me suggest the default Left as more open-minded than either the ardent Left or the default Right.