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I am N-O-T-H-I-N ...

Will Baude brings to my attention this post by Steve of Begging to Differ, which assails political fence-sitters:

I am frequently confronted with a person who claims to be neither liberal nor conservative. While I understand the reluctance to take on a label that does not fit, I think the American political class divides itself into two large factions loosely representing "left" and "right." Regardless of the labels you prefer, when push comes to shove, most of us take a side. This is as it should be. As Mason said to Dixon, "You gotta draw the line somewhere." You can't just hang there in the middle like a philosophical scrotum.

Baude rightly criticizes this from the perspective of the libertarian dilemma, that is, the position of someone who has definite political commitments (to libertarianism, but other political philosophies have their corresponding dilemmas) that aren't represented by either of the existing political parties. He's willing to take sides only as a short-term tactical move, specific to certain issues or certain times in which one side holds an advantage. It does not necessarily entail a full commitment to just one side.

But I don't think Baude's argument goes far enough. Consider me: I vote Democratic, and consistently express opinions which would be characterized as liberal. But in my own mind, I don't think of myself as a liberal.

What I'm faced with is an existential question: on what terms do I organize my identity and life history? These terms make sense of my past and present, and guide the actions through which I make my future. And I see no reason that one of those terms, those organizational principles of my life, must be a political ideology, much less one of the two dominant political ideologies of the early 21st century. My liberalism is a sort of side-effect of my other, more normative life commitments -- I just happen to be liberal. That's not to say that "he's a liberal" isn't at times a useful model for others, or even myself, to use in order to understand my political stance. But that doesn't make it a principle with causal efficacy in how I conduct or understand myself. It's not part of who I am.

note: I engaged in a bit of pragmatic anachronism for the sake of argument here. My strong stance about not being a liberal was true of me a year or two ago, and a similar stance remains in effect with regard to considering myself a Democrat. However, I have more recently begun to incorporate "liberal" as a real, though still minor, theme in my self-narrative.


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