An open letter to Stefan Molyneux

Three book reviews

2014-01-12 Stefan

Dear Stefan,

I started listening to your podcasts when you were at about two hundred something.
I downloaded about a hundred, listened to about 40-50.

My first reaction was enthusiastic. A kindred soul! Not just politically and philosophically, but personally. I also grew up abused, I stopped trusting my mother when I was  eight and I left home when I was sixteen, I probably went through even more crap than you (just read my jail story).
I also work in IT as you did at the time and I am also very passionate about liberty. I liked what you do and I could have easily pictured some sort of cooperation. I felt that we could connect on many levels. I was always yearning for a partner I could discuss the difficult issues of Liberty with. Not the basics, not the dogma, not the catechism, but the issues on the margin; to work with someone to evolve the libertarian idea. I considered the fact that we disagree on many things a good thing, a potential for great debates that we could both benefit from.

I kept listening to your podcasts as I was driving to work but then the uneasy feelings started creeping in. I realized that you behave like a cult leader. I also had an issue with your psychologizing. Not the quality, but the very fact of it. It just didn’t fit. Add to this the fact that you take far too long to make your points and the fact that you did not have much to say that I did not already know and it should be understandable why I stopped listening to your podcasts before I even got to the end of the ones I downloaded. I had better things to do with my time, more concise sources to get information from, better arguments to learn from. Since then, I follow your activities only loosely.

I felt a little sad, because I like what you do on many levels, I just did not see the possibility of cooperation. You are a solo act, not a team player. A charismatic cult leader type with the associated narcissism and megalomania. I was loosely following your evolution into just that, the master of the Stefbots.

I hope you understand or at least believe me when I say that I do not wish to insult you or hurt your feelings in any way when I say this. I am just honest. This is what I thought at the time when I stopped listening. We met a few times since at Libertarian events but I did not have the time to ‘consume’ (as you put it) the stuff you produced. It is not easy. You produce with three times the speed a regular person can consume.  Still, I do not give up easily, the idea that I will catch up on your work was always in the back of mind. I did not have the chance so far. I did not read your books either, but I do have your “Universally Preferred Behaviour.” Unfortunately, the content pages alone scared me away. It reminded me of some debates I had with an Ayn Rand style objectivist friend (part of which you can read in this post and this one) saying pretty much what a reviewer of your book (ScienceOfLife) was saying in his analysis. I happen to agree with him on just about every point. As for the general idea, which (I think) is just a rehash of the Golden rule, I hope I was able to demonstrate its silliness in my post “Islam and the Golden Rule.”

For the past few years I had this uneasily ambivalent relationship with your work. I very much like some aspects of it but I am, to an equal extent, troubled by some others.

I like what you do now, the kind of fact filled analysis such as the ones about the Detroit bankruptcy, about Mandela and Gandhi or Scandinavian socialism. I find some of your comments silly, objectionable or debatable, but overall, what you do is both good and important.

When I realized that your approach is slowly shifting toward evangelism, I did not even mind it that much. It was around that time that I had a discussion with my aunt, who was the first Hungarian woman to graduate with a degree in applied mathematics. Yet when she was about 50, she ‘found Jesus.’ I wanted to understand why and when that happened. She told me that the number one duty of a Christian is to evangelize. I agree with her. The only sign of true belief, the only sign of a true conviction is the willingness to evangelize. I kept wandering how we could possibly inject the evangelizing passion into the libertarian movement.
You definitely have the passion, but I am not sure that I like the Gospel. With time, I also concluded that I have issues with the flock as well, and that in your case, as in most others, it is tied to the message and the preacher. This could be a great subject to debate, but your general attitude didn’t give me the impression that you would be ready and willing to do it.

I am also very much concerned about strategy and I do not agree with yours. Should libertarians engage in the political process or should they follow your advice and withdraw from it. Yet another great subject and yet again, I didn’t think you would be ready to debate it.

I could go on with several other questions about the nature of individualism, the role of civil society, the function of politics, the power and weakness of culture and so on, but in each case I concluded that I have to struggle alone trying to find the answers.

Why am I telling all this to you? Because one of the questions I had to struggle with is the one asking whether you are an asset or a liability to the cause of freedom in the real world, in the life of real people, in the world of real politics.
It is a legitimate question. The libertarian movement is seriously fragmented. If we look up the different schools of libertarian thinking we have to realize that there is no generally accepted definition of what it means to be a libertarian. Something must be very wrong with the definition of an ideology if the names of Friedrich Hayek and Noam Chomsky can be mentioned on the same page.

You are undoubtedly very successful popularizing the idea. You have an amazing reach, yet I have questions about the nature of that reach. Although the image is slowly changing for the better, libertarians are still seen by the majority of people as untrustworthy extremist.
When I look at your work, I have to ask, whether this change for the better is happening because or despite your efforts. Are you pushing our ‘image’ further to the edge or making it more acceptable by opening the eyes of a new generation of libertarians?
I do not think that we can have an objective answer to this question, but after much debate with myself I decided that despite my disagreements and reservations, you ARE an asset to the movement. I tried to show my appreciation with the small donation that this post was meant to accompany.
Whether we can talk about anything, ever, is still an open question.

Happy New Year and keep up the good work.

One reply

  1. zorkthehun says:
    Just an after-thought to this post:
    Stefan proved himself yet again to be the narcissist I suspected him to be. He did not even acknowledge this post or the personal mail I sent to him about it.

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