Should Politics Get in the Way of Friendship?

The holiday season (Thanksgiving and Christmas) can be particularly testing for many people, as they find themselves interacting with friends and family whom they don’t normally associate.  You may have Christmas dinner with an uncle who you see only once a year.

In some households, the discussion may turn to politics.  Even non-political discussions can turn into political discussions for the simple fact that politics has become involved in so many facets of our lives.  We can’t even talk about football any longer without politics entering the scene.

For libertarians, that Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner with the uncle may end up turning into a heated discussion.  This can go for anyone, but libertarians are particularly vulnerable because libertarianism is not widely accepted.  It is also not widely understood.

I know that libertarians tend to be very passionate about their positions.  There is a reason that Ron Paul signs were everywhere in 2007/ 2008 and 2011/ 2012.  His supporters were hardcore.  Yet, he didn’t come close to winning the Republican nomination.

Unfortunately, this passion can also turn people off.  If you get into a heated debate with your uncle (or whoever), then you probably aren’t going to convince that person of anything.  If anything, it may turn them off to your message even more.

This is especially problematic with family members because they know your flaws.  They may know that you are stupid when it comes to fixing cars or working on a computer or discussing classical literature.  They assume that just because they know there are a lot of things you don’t know, that you probably are far from being a political expert.

(Incidentally, it is only libertarians who acknowledge their own lack of knowledge.  They understand the importance of decentralization and the division of labor.  They understand that the marketplace is more knowledgeable than a bunch of central planners.  They understand that they are not smart enough to dictate society, but they also understand that nobody else is smart enough either.)

It isn’t easy being a libertarian in a non-libertarian world, but it is important to realize that you are not going to convince others, particularly friends and family, by being argumentative.  You can’t let every discussion lead to a point you have to make about liberty and against government.

On this same note, some libertarians need to learn to relax a little more.  If you are going to a movie, don’t let yourself become consumed with determining whether each scene has a hidden libertarian message or an anti-libertarian theme.  If the movie is not blatantly political, just try to let it go for a while and enjoy yourself.

The inevitable question is whether you should be friends with or associate with others who have vastly different political beliefs.  This is a question not just for libertarians, but for everyone.

For a libertarian, I think it is obvious that you cannot exclude all non-libertarians from your life because you are already in such a small minority already.  While the libertarian community has grown to a large degree in the last decade, the number of actual hardcore libertarians is still a couple of percent at best.

You obviously have to associate with others with different political beliefs.  You aren’t going to ask the cashier at Walmart what his political beliefs are.  You aren’t going to only buy a car from another libertarian.

Even on the family and friendship front, I don’t think it is a good idea to exclude someone from your life solely because of their political beliefs, but with a few exceptions.  I will get to those exceptions shortly.

Michael Malice was asked on the Tom Woods podcast (this was the 1,000th episode celebration) by an audience member about how he talks to his leftist friends about liberty.

Malice essentially said that he doesn’t get into arguments on a personal level.  He said that if he were in a tough situation, he wants somebody he can call and talk to about his bad situation rather than just have somebody say “I agree with you about the Constitution.”  In other words, you want your friend to be there as a friend.

The majority of my friends are not libertarians.  Most, if not all, of my family members are not libertarians.  But in a time of need, I know they will be there for me.

As I stated above, there are some exceptions.  There are some people who you should cut out of your life and not seek a friendship.

Libertarians generally believe that you should not initiate force for political or social change.  The difference between libertarians and most other people is that they apply this principle to the state as well as their own lives.  Most people, particularly in the U.S., live their daily lives as libertarians.  They don’t hurt people unless it is in self-defense.  They don’t steal from others.  They do things that they have agreed to do (contract law).  The only difference is that they don’t apply the same standards to the state.  They don’t see it as immoral for the state to steal or hurt others.

For me, the cutoff is for someone who uses aggression in their own life without going through the state.  If I know someone who intentionally hurts others (not in self-defense) or steals from others, then I do not want to be friends with that person.  I don’t want to associate with that person.

If someone calls himself a Bernie Sanders socialist, I can probably still get along with the person.  However, if that person really doesn’t believe in private property at all, then I will have trouble with any kind of friendship, or even association.  If he thinks it is ok to just rip the clothes off of my back, then I don’t want to be around such a person.

It is also important to acknowledge that part of friendship is having some things in common.  Therefore, if a rural guy in Mississippi who goes to church and the shooting range on weekends doesn’t want to be friends with a guy from New York City who spends his time at the opera, it is understandable.  It isn’t just that one might be a Republican and one might be a Democrat.  They just have different cultures and different values, and their politics may reflect this.

In 2016, there were a lot of relationships that were tested because of Donald Trump.  There were marriages that broke up, and there were friendships that were lost because of a difference in politics.  But you can’t blame Donald Trump.  Sometimes two sides are just at opposite ends and there is no reconciliation.  If both sides are really passionate about their positions, then they will likely either have to agree not to discuss it, or they will have to go their separate ways.

With Trump, some may see him as a bully and a creep, while others may see him as someone who is willing to take a stand against the creeps in Washington DC.  If there is disagreement over his character, then it should be realized that this is somewhat subjective, and it is just a different judge of character.  But if you start to disagree over key issues that could impact your life, then there may be no way to reconcile.

A husband and wife can disagree over whether the rich should pay more taxes or whether minimum wage laws significantly increase unemployment.  The problem comes when they disagree over whether a gun should be in their home or whether their children should be homeschooled.

In conclusion, I don’t think libertarians (or anyone else) should shut people out of their lives who have differing political opinions unless those political opinions extend beyond what the state should or shouldn’t do, or if the political opinions impact the friendship in a personal way.  If a cancer patient uses medical marijuana, it would be understandable for that person not to be friends with a hardcore drug warrior.

When finding a spouse, there are certain key issues where you should probably be in agreement.  The most important is having a similar view on how to raise your children.

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