For the past couple of years, I’ve been toying with the idea that being a libertarian requires higher self-esteem than any other political thought-system (for my purposes I will definelibertarian as a believer in laissez-faire capitalism). It was merely an idea buried in my subconscious, until I saw this video by Nathaniel Branden, an author, therapist, and long-time Objectivist.
Branden’s thesis is that being a believer in laissez-faire capitalism requires high self-esteem because one of its most crucial tenets is self-responsibility. He contends that valuing and executing a self-responsible life requires high self-esteem.
Liberty comes with no guarantees, and life itself is a risky adventure. If we are to live freely, without the government there to bail us out, we must live responsible lives. By “living responsibly” I mean taking responsibility for your own existence, respecting other people’s sovereignty, and being in charge of your own happiness and efficacy.
Sometimes, the world seems like a lot to take on. People may be frightened of life and all of its spontaneity. Here’s where self-esteem comes in- here’s the definition laid out by Nathaniel Branden in one of his essays,
“Self-esteem is the disposition to experience oneself as being competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and of being worthy of happiness. It is confidence in the efficacy of our mind, in our ability to think. By extension, it is confidence in our ability to learn, make appropriate choices and decisions, and respond effectively to change. It is also the experience that success, achievement, fulfillment – happiness – are right and natural for us. The survival-value of such confidence is obvious; so is the danger when it is missing.”
In the face of life’s challenges, those with self-esteem still radiate the confidence that they can cope and live happy lives. Self-esteem is not just “feeling good about yourself”. Self-esteem means confidence, efficacy, and competence.
Don’t get me wrong; people with self-esteem aren’t life-mastering robots. They are frightened sometimes; they get discouraged and have to work hard. The difference is that they don’t give up and allow others to think for them, they are able to learn and conquer.
If you believe that you’re able to take care of yourself and harness your own happiness, chances are you’re going to believe that most healthy human beings can do the same- and should do the same. This translates to the belief that government should not punish the productive to prop up the unproductive. It translates to an active life, rather than passivity and victimhood.
People with self-esteem don’t blame their personal problems on society, the government, or anyone else. They don’t seek out solutions to their problems that require the forced “help” from someone else. They don’t believe that society or the government owes them anything.
The product? Libertarianism.
Capitalism, Branden says, “…requires a higher level, by far, of psychological maturity than a welfare state requires, let alone a socialist society requires.”
In a capitalist society, things are changing rapidly; technology, politics, and social attitudes change constantly. I believe that rapid change causes many people to experience anxiety because they can’t explain why things are changing (or perhaps they don’t allow themselves to think about why).
Branden explains that rapid change creates a greater challenge to one’s own resourcefulness and one’s own mind; people with self-esteem can cope, people without it, can’t.
If you believe in a society with limited government, or perhaps even no government, you must believe in self-responsibility. If you believe in self-responsibility you must posses high self-esteem. One cannot exist without the other.
To add to Branden’s thesis, I think that being a libertarian, or a capitalist, or anarchist -or whatever you wish to call yourself- means you must possess self-esteem for another reason as well. To hold a view that is so much opposed by the majority of the world, and to be able to voice that view, requires confidence in your own mind.
Libertarians face overwhelming opposition in the United States, and it’s even worse throughout the rest of the world. It takes an immense amount of self-esteem to continue believing, propagating, and strengthening your belief system in the midst of opposition and social ridicule.
So, I contend that libertarianism requires high self-esteem for two reasons- because we believe in self-responsibility, and because we persevere regardless of the social challenges that we face.
Libertarians, capitalists, objectivists, and anarchists: what are your thoughts on this
[Originally published on the Students for Liberty blog]