Thursday, December 11, 2014

How a Member of the Amish Community Became a Libertarian

As a follow up to my exchange exchange with  Paul Fisher and  Walter Block (SEE: Walter Block Fans in the Amish Community), I asked Fisher how he became a libertarian. This is his response:

It was a long process. Growing up Amish, my formal education consisted of eight grades in a one room school. However, I was always a voracious reader and, luckily for me, my parents tolerated my curiosity and did not discourage me from reading anything I could get my hands on.

I’ve always been fascinated by numbers and finances, even in my childhood. When I reached my teenage years I began investing my meager earnings - first in mutual funds and then in individual stocks. This was, shall we say, somewhat difficult for an off-the-grid Amish teenager. By then I was reading lots of books about investing and economics.

At this point I became somewhat conflicted intellectually because I felt that what I was being taught religiously seemed to conflict with what I was seeing and learning about the real world and economic reality. For example, to be a successful and prosperous businessman seemed virtuous from an economic perspective, but the church warned about focusing on money and being individualistic. This contradiction bothered me greatly. I wondered how both of these views could be true at the same time.  It would be hard for me to overemphasize how much my religious upbringing influenced my entire way of thinking at that time.

This is in no way an attack on the Amish religion. I know from first-hand experience that they are, to a large extent, a very moral group of people. If there is one group of people that is more skeptical of government than libertarians, it is probably the Amish. The Anabaptists suffered mightily at the hands of governments all across Europe and were willing to suffer tremendously for the principles they believed in. Even in the United States the Amish have frequently challenged the government on important issues like education, conscription, and entitlement programs like Social Security. Like many religions however, when it comes to economics I believe they are well-intentioned but somewhat misinformed. And when it comes to social issues they tend to not make a distinction between vices and crimes, which can lead to other problems - but that’s another topic for another day.

As I read more and more about economics, never really knowing what was sound and what was unsound, I stumbled onto Milton Friedman’s “Free to Choose”. This was probably my first real encounter with some form of libertarianism and I remember being really excited by his explanation of how markets worked. It all just seemed so logical, (I know, I know, he was a monetarist, but it sounded good at the time) and even obvious when he explained it. This was in the late nineties and by then I was going to my local library where I had internet access. From there it was just a matter of time until I found the Austrian school. I first read Hazlitt’s “Economics in One Lesson” followed quickly by Hayek, and Leonard Read. Reading Leonard Read’s “I, Pencil” led me to FEE and all of his books.

I loved Leonard Read’s books because he took the Austrian ideas and not only made them understandable to the lay person, he also spoke so much about the “freedom philosophy” and assured me that free markets and libertarianism were not only materially rewarding, but also ethically, morally, and even spiritually superior to any other economic system. This was incredibly liberating for me intellectually because it solved the inner conflict that I had previously felt.  This opened a whole new world for me and for that I will be forever grateful.

Soon afterwards I discovered the Mises Institute which led me to Mises, Rothbard, Block and so many others. By then of course, Ron Paul was also becoming well known and he certainly added fuel to the fire. It hardly seems fair to give so little credit to Ron Paul, but by the time he really became a well-known public figure I had already “converted”.

Anyway, I apologize for the long-winded response, but that’s how I became a libertarian! Today, the topic is something that I am extremely passionate about. I credit the freedom philosophy for changing my entire world view and it is something that I cherish and am grateful for every day.

Thanks again Robert, and Professor Block, for your efforts to educate us all. As you can tell from my story, your work is touching lives and will continue to do so in ways that you may never know. If your message reached someone from my background, I’m sure you would both be amazed at how many other people’s lives you’ve benefited. You should both be proud of the legacy that you are building for future generations.

With warm regards,

Paul Fisher


  1. WOW. I wish I had your intellectual courage. I was raised by libertarians so it was easier for me. Thanks for sharing your story.

    1. "Raised by libertarians" ... how amazing is that! So, Marc, did you ever go thru a "rejection" phase?

  2. Welcome to the movement!

  3. Interesting story, always great to hear how people got involved in the liberty movement.

    I wish I had been exposed to all these great ideas earlier, but growing up in eastern Massachusetts in a liberal family, attending public school, and attending a liberal college doesn't offer many opportunities to be exposed to libertarian thought.

    My whole extended family including in-laws think I'm crazy for my completely rational ideas.

  4. Maybe my perspective is wrong but although they are not libertarians, the Amish is one of the few "libertarian" societies in the US. I define libertarian in terms of statelessness. They do have self government but they don't have a state (an institution that has a monopoly on the use of force). The Amish

    1. Don't pay taxes to or receive benefits from the U.S. welfare state including SS, Medicare, etc.

    2. Don't send their kids to government schools or receive government education subsidies.

    3. Don't lobby for or receive any special privaleges for their businesses (e.g. Regulations, trade restrictions, tariffs, licensing laws, etc)

    4. They don't serve in the US military.

    5. They don't receive government contracts.

    That looks pretty stateless to me.

    1. Jeff, you’re correct on all five points except possibly the first one. They pay income taxes at the local, state, and federal levels as well as property taxes, etc. When Medicare was enacted, the Amish and some other religious sects who were conscientiously opposed to insurance were exempted from Medicare and Social Security. See:

      While it sure would be nice to “opt-out” as Ron Paul is so fond of saying, the downsides of doing this by being Amish can be fairly severe as well. I think most libertarians would struggle with needing to surrender their cars, electricity, etc. Also, being told what kind of clothing is acceptable to wear, having limited career opportunities, and in many cases having very limited access to education and to the outside world would be a deal-breaker for most.

      Again, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing – in a free society people should be able to choose to lead this type of lifestyle if they prefer. But it seems like there should be a third alternative that keeps the best of both worlds. If Professor Block, Robert Wenzel, Lew Rockwell and the rest of us libertarians do our jobs, maybe one day that will become a reality. Hey, I can dream can’t I? :)

  5. I could never match his eloquence, but I completely understand his joy and enthusiasm for liberty.