Libertarianism is in a unique position in the US: it is well known enough that it gains occasional nation coverage, but it still considered fringe to most and extreme to some. Because of this, libertarians can have an arrogant air about them and unjustified sense that they are more intelligent. Because of the small pool of believers they assume they have knowledge that the general public doesn’t have or understand and that makes them more a step above the rest.
Of course, not every libertarian does this, but it’s an important aspect of politics to be aware of the impression one gives their public when disseminating ideas. Am I laughing at someone because they believe public roads are necessary? Did I assume that they must not know better because they disagree with me? The political opponent may not have questioned the validity of using taxes to fund roads, but that does not mean that they are less intelligent.
The liberty movement gives a sort of safe haven to contrarians because of its divergence from the mainstream, but it also has the potential to be an echo-chamber where everyone is inflating each other’s ego. A continuous loop of positive feedback such as this can make one more assured in the infallibility of one’s beliefs, and translate to a major turnoff to others.
Why do libertarians fall into the trap of being assuredly correct and, to be frank, a bit snobbish? Part of it can be attributed to the typical psychology of one inclined to individualism. Elizabeth Svoboda explains in Field Guide To The Contrarian how “many [contrarians] are looking to establish their own identities as distinct from a larger group,” and that “also tend to have an unusually strong sense of certainty that emboldens them to air their unpopular opinions,” citing evidence from Australian researchers showing that the stronger moral conviction one had to a topic, the more likely they would have divergent views.
This sounds like a libertarian in a nutshell: a desire to be a unique individual, with a layer of anti-government ethics. Svoboda also explains how those with a higher IQ tend to be less likely to conform. That being the case doesn’t necessarily prove that a libertarian is smarter than the average person.
In exploring the question of why smart people tend to support unusual ideas, science writer Michael Shermer has stated: “Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.” Our childhood, family relationships,
“Rarely do any of us sit down before a table of facts, […] and choose the most logical and rational” according to Shermer who further explains “Instead, the facts of the world come to us through the colored filters of the theories, hypotheses, hunches, biases, and prejudices we have accumulated through our lifetime. We then sort through the body of data and select those most confirming what we already believe, and ignore or rationalize away those that are disconfirming.”
Using this knowledge, libertarians can work on presenting their ideas without coming across as a know-it-all since psychology already suggests a predisposition towards it. It must also be recognized that while the movement and Libertarian Party sells itself as being dedicated to logic and rationality, that may not be the case. Knowing that one’s life experiences largely shaped decisions in adopted ideas can be an excellent tool to better sell ideas and relate it to other’s experiences that lead them away from freedom ideology.