Many people trace their shift toward classical liberalism to a particular author. Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe, for instance, cites the great Austrian economist Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk for first planting in his mind seeds of doubt about social democracy and the Marxist system.
But I credit my interest in liberalism not to a famous intellectual but to my father. Like many Indian civil servants, my father entered the public service with the expectation that he would be contributing to the betterment of society. This belief turned out to be naïve. As he soon discovered, corruption and political games are more important for public sector actors than improving the lot of the least fortunate.
Searching for answers to the inefficiency plaguing government “solutions” to public policy problems, he turned to the science of economics. It was while studying economics that he discovered Nobel laureates Milton Friedman and F.A. Hayek. Thus my father was able to fast-track my learning by conveying all he had learned. I have now outgrown my father's influence and admire writers that he has never heard of: Albert Jay Nock, Lysander Spooner, John T. Flynn – these are just a few of the individuals I discovered by delving deeper into the libertarian literature.
Yet the man who figures most prominently in my thinking is “Mr. Libertarian” Murray Rothbard. Reading his Ethics of Liberty was an eye-opening experience. Rothbard moved beyond utilitarian justifications for liberty and justified freedom in the realm of natural law. He deduced the entire corpus of libertarian philosophy from a few basic axioms of human existence – such as the idea that we own ourselves (self-ownership).
Reading Rothbard radicalised my thinking. I realized that I was duty-bound to resist statism in any way I could. Life was not, as some utilitarians seemed to think, simply about increasing economic efficiency. To the contrary, libertarians are fighting for truth, justice and beauty. As Ludwig von Mises wrote:
“Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders; no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."
Readers should feel free to share their own journey in comments.