Reflections on Apostasy

A puzzle: How can a person, having seen the problems with a particular ideology, later embrace that ideology?

H.L. Mencken: “Every philosopher strives to prove that every other philosopher is an ass, and they all succeed.”

Mencken’s dictum applies to ideologies too. Having seen how asinine other ideologies are, how can one adopt one of them? For example, if you are a libertarian for years, you’ll become familiar with all the reasons that powerful government is a horrible thing. Now libertarianism, like all political philosophies, has problems, and so people sometimes abandon libertarianism for other philosophies.

(This was back before identity politics became the overarching theme of our era, making traditional political philosophy obsolete. Now we’re on a war footing, in case you haven’t noticed, so all of that is going to be put on hold for at least a generation. But I digress…)

But how? It makes sense that a person could give up on traditional political philosophy because all such philosophies have weaknesses, but once you’ve seen the flaws in other perspectives, how could you embrace any of them? This is what I don’t get.

This question re-surfaced for me recently due to the crisis in Venezuela.

I have an acquaintance who used to be a libertarian, particularly with a large element of Austrian economics. (If you’re not aware of it, the Austrian School of economics is a school known for, among other things, its support of laissez-faire economics.)

Six or seven years ago he walked away from libertarianism. Notably, he soon began to say nice things about the Venezuelan system. This was several years ago, before its failures became so massive and undeniable that even the Left had to do their usual shift from “This is socialism and it’s working!” to “This is totally not socialism!”

So this guy, as an ex-libertarian and ex-Austrian, is aware of the impossibility of socialist calculation, as well as the more widely understood incentive problems with socialism. (“We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.”) How could he have forgotten all that and convinced himself that socialism would work in Venezuela?

This is the thing that just baffles me about so many apostates from perspective X that embrace perspective Y. You already have clearly seen the problems with Y. How can you make yourself un-see them?

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