Bircher Grandma to Voluntaryist Grandson

By Rick Dutkiewicz

As of this writing in 2020, I am 66 years old, living in SW Michigan. I grew up with six siblings in a two bedroom apartment above the proverbial mom & pop small-town grocery store. My upbringing gave me a deep appreciation of entrepreneurs and small-business owners. I often heard my dad grumbling about government regulators telling him how to run his business. I have always enjoyed reading and asking questions. I have memories of my mother encouraging intellectual curiosity in her small children. My mother and father were both conservative “Independents.” Instead of watching TV after we kids went to bed at night, they would read aloud to each other, usually from magazines and newspapers. The only time they watched TV before bed was when they watched Buckley’s “Firing Line.”

My maternal grandmother, who babysat us a lot, was a John Bircher. She worked at the Birch Society’s “American Opinion Library & Book Store” in Grand Rapids, Michigan. My grandma was also a bit of a doomsday prepper, way before it was fashionable to be a doomsday prepper. She kept a shed full of powdered milk, canned goods, water, dried fruit, etc. When I was about 10, she would take me and my younger siblings to her weekly Tuesday night Bircher meeting. We had playing cards and tinker toys to keep us quiet, but I absorbed a lot of the anti-UN talk, anti-communist talk, and the general distrust of politicians left and right.

Spending my teen years playing in bands and listening to rock and folk music in the 60s and 70s, I was influenced by all the talk of “freedom” in popular music of the Woodstock generation. I noticed that “freedom” meant different things to different people. I saw lots of anti-war and anti-political posters in the local head shop which my friends and I frequented. Being a book lover, I visited the local library regularly, searching for various viewpoints on freedom and what it meant on both the personal and the cultural level. As the John Birch literature from my grandma pulled me to the conspiratorial flag-waving right, the anti-war rock music culture pulled me to the hippy-dippy flag-burning left.

Soon after graduating high school in 1971 I found THE MAINSPRING OF HUMAN PROGRESS by Henry Grady Weaver in my mom’s bookcase. Reading that book is what started me on the anarchist path at age 17. I had no idea how society could work without government, and I didn’t know how we would get there. I just knew that all forms of top-down government were at best counter-productive and at worst immoral. Weaver taught me that the human race has made many of its biggest leaps forward in times and places with very weak or non-existent government.

It wasn’t until 1979 that I found out that there was a libertarian movement. I often arrived home very late after my rock band gigs. Imagine my delight when I stumbled on to late-night TV infomercials by this guy named Ed Clark. He went over each issue point-by-point, and I cheered every criticism and condemnation that he laid in the lap of government, with scant mention of “left-wing” or “right-wing.” I found Clark’s book A NEW BEGINNING in my local library, and it had a sticker inside the back cover that gave subscription info for THE DANDELION, an anarchist newsletter by Michael Coughlin that finally gave me a good principled overview of anti-state ideas. The Dandelion introduced me to the works of Murray Rothbard, Lysander Spooner, Albert J Nock, and many other anti-state authors. I still enjoy re-reading Coughlin’s very best article from THE DANDELION. Actually, it was an ongoing series, brought together online: “Objections to Anarchism” at https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/michael-e-coughlin-objections-to-anarchism.html.

I joined the Libertarian Party in the 80s, after seeing a bumper sticker on a car and scribbling down the phone number. The LP made me feel a lot less alone in fighting the good fight against the state. I was active in the LP until just after Harry Browne’s 2000 campaign, when the LP was full of bickering and back-biting. I had only been in the LP because I thought it was a good way to educate people. I never thought we could bring an end to politics by using politics. The surge in self-identified “libertarians” calling for war after the 911 attacks was the exclamation point on the end of my politicking.

I became a small “l” libertarian from 2001 onward. I couldn’t feel right campaigning or voting. I finally admitted that I was wrong about using using a political party to educate the masses. It’s more of a personal inner journey that doesn’t translate well to waving anti-tax signs in front of the post office on tax day. Even though some people come to the libertarian movement through the LP, too many single-issue converts call themselves “libertarian” and simply sound like “centrists” or “populists.” As far as my own label of choice, the only label that doesn’t have tons of baggage is “voluntaryist.” Even that isn’t perfect, but it’s by far the most positive label for my political attitude. Too bad so many labels have been ruined over time: “anarchist,” “liberal,” “capitalist,” and so on.

I resolved to take all the time, money, reading, and energy that I had been dumping into LP work, and instead put it towards self-education. I’ve always been a voracious reader, since about 7th grade. I’ve always thought that “truth is stranger (and more entertaining) than fiction,” so I read precious little fiction, although I’m often tempted to read a good thick novel. I read a lot of books and articles on history, economics, philosophy, and science.

I’m only marginally interested in current affairs and the political theater that dominates the cable news shows. I’m certainly interested, but all these characters and events on the world stage are driven by ideas that have been debated for hundreds of years. THE IDEAS are what I care about. I care about deciding which of them are moral and which are immoral; which are practical or impractical; where did these ideas come from; and what have been the core debating points for those who support or fight them?

I avoid watching news as much as possible. Getting angry and sad over local and national tragedies is stressful and UNHEALTHY. Like I said, I’m more interested in ideas. I think the world will be better once religion and politics lose their grip on people’s minds. Think of the enormous waste of human time, energy, and money spent on religious and political arguing, campaigning, and proselytizing. Think of all the amazing art, music, technology, and everything else that could be created with all that time, energy, and money. That said, I’m not holding my breath waiting for “liberty in our lifetime.”

I have no desire to confront police or bureaucrats head-on. I cheer for those who do, but I’m not surprised when things turn out badly for confrontational libertarians. I don’t wear my politics on my sleeve, unless I feel like I’ve found someone who dislikes the entire idea of the state, not just the party in charge. My Republican friends spouted libertarian ideas when Obama was in power, and now my Democrat friends are spouting anti-government ideas with Trump in power. I often bite my lip because it’s worthless to throw pearls before swine, but I have to speak out when a friend tries to school me with the simple-minded statist claptrap that we were spoon-fed back in grade school. I support what is intelligent and moral, not what is the lesser evil. Therefore, I am a voluntaryist.

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