What To Do When You Find Out Who The Libertarian At A Party Is

I am not much of a partygoer. I used to feel bad about this, but in recent years, I’ve justified my extreme form of introversion with the wise words of Hannibal Lecter: “We don’t invent our natures, they’re issued to us with our lungs and pancreas and everything else. Why fight it?”

That said, as someone who’s observed parties from some of America’s most fashionable corners, I want to speak of a scourge that’s bound to catch up with you at these affairs if you hang around long enough. I’m talking, of course, about the libertarian at the party.

(I’ve just made a bunch of people jump in their seats and shout “Where”? Don’t worry. He’s* not here now. Probably. But if you say “Milton Friedman” nine times in front of a mirror, a libertarian minarchist will appear. Be warned.)

Unlike the libertarian’s more obvious cousin, the recently born-again Christian, the libertarian will not usually advertise himself right away with the Von Mises equivalent of “Do you accept Jesus as your personal savior?” They hide out, indistinguishable from other guests, until, after a few  rounds of drinks, someone unwisely broaches a subject dear to the libertarian’s heart like taxes or affirmative action or the minimum wage, (hint: he hates them all) at which point the libertarian will launch into a sermon about how (insert subject here) would be fine if only the local/state/federal government would get out of the way and let the market fix it. Arguments lengthy and circular ensue–imagine a less pleasant Battle of the Somme–during which the libertarian will inform his conversation partners, in as condescending a way as humanly possible, that they’d agree with him if only they’d taken econ 101/read Ayn Rand/studied Robert Nozick/laid oblations at the altar of Murray Rothbard. (They’ll almost never bother to ask if the person they’re arguing with has actually read or studied any of those subjects or authors.)

If you don’t think your evening would be ruined by spending a night fencing with such a person, by all means go ahead. (I do recommend stopping by the Critiques of Libertarianism FAQ and this Slate article on Robert Nozick, just to stockpile ammunition and prepare yourself for what’s you’ll be facing. The arguments of libertarians often sound impressive on the surface, but they often crumble under scrutiny.) But if you, like me, are the sort of person who has energy for only one real conversation at a party and don’t want it to be about the fucking gold standard or the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a perversion of liberty, here are some survival tips.

1. If you hear a libertarian starting an argument, walk away. If you’re already in the cluster of people with whom the libertarian is arguing, drink your drink and slink off. Find a way to look busy. If the party has games laid out, play them. If there’s a book on a coffee table, start reading it intently (unless it’s Atlas Shrugged, in which case the libertarian might assume you’re an ally, at which point God help you.)

2. Speaking of God, if there is a born-again Christian handy, introduce this person to the libertarian. If you’re lucky, they’ll be talking past each other the rest of the night. A variation of this can be deployed if you know if any insurance salesmen, or salesmen of any sort, at the party.

3. If you’re unlucky and the libertarian has already started working on you, look around the room for someone whose friendship you wouldn’t prize, point to the person and say that he or she “thinks Ayn Rand is worse than Hitler.”** If you can throw your voice, try to make the words “Fuck the Koch brothers!” come out of your intended victim. This succeeds in warding off the libertarian 74% of the time.

4. If you’re stuck, don’t argue or even listen carefully. Just let the guy talk while you make a mental list of famous stranglers. Odds are the libertarian won’t even notice you’re not talking. Like Bond villains, libertarians do love the sound of their own voices. If you’re an author, as I am, you might study this person’s behavior, voice, and physical appearance for a future character who’s devoured by bears.

That’s my advice. Don’t hit libertarians at parties or scream insults, however tempted you may be.*** Don’t throw drinks at them. Violence and overt hatred is gauche. The bounds of etiquette mean that, when we attend parties, we have to maintain a friendly manner no matter how miserable the person we’re stuck with makes us. Yes, this causes ulcers, but the irony that this allows us to generate from a simple “So nice to have met you” is what makes professions like mine possible.

Think about that.

*I use the male pronoun for party libertarians because they are, almost inevitably, men.

**For the record, I don’t think Ayn Rand was worse than Hitler. She might have been; but, lucky for the world, no nation was ever dumb enough to give her power.

***Of course, if the libertarian in question starts in on how #Gamergate really is about ethics in journalism, feel free to let fly. No one will blame you.

For more libertarian bashing goodness, I suggest the marvelous and glorious Steve Shives.


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