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The Unidirectionality of Conversions

The Unidirectionality of Conversions

Posted by Stephan Kinsella on September 25, 2003 11:30 AM

Several times I have noticed something about “conversions”–political, religious, what have you. It seems to me–and I suspect other libertarians have had similar thoughts from time to time, though I don’t recall seeing this written about before–that it’s an indication of the objective superiority of a view if conversions are almost always to that position, and rarely away from it.

The most obvious case would be libertarianism and socialism. You almost never hear of someone, once they become a libertarian, all of a sudden becoming a socialist. Whereas, many people, if they are sincere, ethical, and searching for politically sound views, will become libertarians to one degree or the other. This seems to be true, to varying degrees, of conversions of muzzy-headed liberals to “conservatives”–as people get older or wiser, many become more conservative. Do you ever hear of conservatives becoming more liberal? Arianna Huffington is the exception that proves the rule.

When the occasional person does go the other direction, it’s usually to a more apathetic or mainstream approach, but not usually to leftism. E.g. an anarchist, a la Roy Child, may revert to minarchism. But to statism? Even Nozick, a semi-minarchist (I think), sort of renounced his earlier “hard core” libertarianism, but never made it clear what he reverted to; it seems unlikely he become a democratic socialist but stayed silent about it.

Moreover, when someone does abandon a superior ideology, they often reveal they never really understood it but just jumped on it for faddish reasons, as evidenced by their mischaracterizing the ideology, much like its ignorant opponents do. Liberals have to mischaracterize what libertarians really believe in order to oppose it. While,

Now I am not adopting a version of the Whig view of history, but there does seem to be a general one-sidedness, or directionality, to a given ideology, when it is objectively, and significantly, superior. In the case of libertarianism itself, it seems to me the fact that libertarians almost never convert to socialism, but leftists, liberals, and mainstreamers often moderate their leftism or even see the light of libertarianism, is a striking indication of how superior our view is.

I’ve noticed this in other fields too, e.g., within Christianity–Catholicism versus Protestantism. In my–admittedly limited–experience, anti-Catholics usually badly mischaracterize its doctrines. But often a sincere, searching non-Catholic Christian, bouncing from one Protestant denomination to the other, finally sees what the Catholic church really teaches, and converts. Whereas, when a Catholic converts to fundamentalism, it’s either for convenience (e.g., marriage) when he is not that “into” either one anyway; or they reveal that they never really understood the Catholic doctrines very well in the first place, and thus succumb to anti-Catholic distortions of RCC doctrines.

I’m not claiming here that this proves RCC is “superior” to fundamentalism, but it’s just an example, from my own personal experience, that illustrates the unidirectional-conversion rule I noted above.

There are undoubtedly other examples, probably Chicago-to-Austrian economics, etc.

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{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Aeon J. Skoble July 8, 2009, 3:00 pm

    John Gray?

  • Pete July 8, 2009, 3:09 pm

    Do more protestants convert to Catholicism than Catholics to protestantism? Most christian converts I am aware of stay within protestantism or move from Catholic to Episcopalian.

  • twv July 8, 2009, 5:06 pm

    I have a friend who was a libertarian, heavily influenced by Rand, who is now a . . . a what? He doesn’t hate the welfare state, and thinks that privatizing schooling would be far from the panacea libertarians think. He’s still a classical liberal of a sort of Menckenian variety.

    I went from Christianity to secular humanism, Creationism to evolutionism, and adopted an indirect form of utilitarianism as my basic ethical POV. Later I took on a form of libertarianism. But I often talk of “converting out of” Christianity. It is a deliberately odd way of saying what happened. Even “converting to” secular humanism is not the usual way of putting it. (Christians would say something like “falling away from the true faith and into the vain deceits of apostasy.”)

    I was never a full convert to a strict form of libertarianism. Nor have I settled on the teachings of any one philosopher. For me, “eclectic” can be defined as a Neo-Epicurean/Post-Spencerian/Quasi-realist of the Pragmaticist School.

    Which reminds me of a similar point to yours made by Epicureans, back in their heyday. It was often said that many convert TO Epicureanism, but few convert AWAY from the doctrine. In response to that, one eminent writer quipped, “A man can become a eunuch, but a eunuch cannot become a man.”

    Well, does that settle that?

  • Pete July 8, 2009, 9:43 pm

    Rand breeds fake libertarians.

  • Bob Murphy November 2, 2009, 9:49 pm

    Not sure if this matters, but a few times when I’ve told fellow Protestants that I was raised Catholic, then became atheist, and now am a born-again Christian, they’ll say, “Oh yeah we have a lot of those” or something. I think they were referring more to the Catholics–>atheists part.

  • Lester Hunt June 21, 2011, 3:08 pm

    Interesting topic! The one case of libertarianism to statism I can think of (Gray and Nozick, as far as I know, don’t count as such) was Kerry Thornley. In religious conversions, surely the most common, by very, very far, is from belief to unbelief, from believing more, to believing less. These we don’t even hear of, nor do we call them “conversions,” usually. We say “I lost my faith,” etc. When someone realizes that there is simply, literally no evidence for proposition P, and stops believing that P, that’s not a “conversion”. But of course it does count as far as this topic is concerned.

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