What is Libertarianism?
Libertarians see the individual as the basic, most essential element of society. The word roughly means “believer in liberty.” Libertarians believe that each individual owns his or her own life and property and has the right to make his own choices about how to live his life — as long as he respects the rights of others to do the same.
Liberty is one of the central lessons of world history. Virtually all the progress the human race has enjoyed during the past few centuries is due to the increasing acceptance of free markets, civil liberties and self-ownership.
Libertarianism is thus the combination of liberty (the freedom to live your life in any peaceful way you choose), responsibility (the prohibition against the use of force against others, except in defense) and tolerance (honoring and respecting the peaceful choices of others).
Libertarians are not “left” or “right” or a combination of the two. Libertarians believe that on every issue you have the right to decide for yourself what’s best for you and to act on that belief, so long as you simply respect the right of other people to do the same.
How does this compare with the left and right? Today’s liberals tend to value personal liberty, but want significant government control of the economy. Today’s conservatives tend to favor economic freedom, but want to use the government to uphold “traditional values.” Libertarians, in contrast, support both personal and economic liberty.
Libertarianism is the only political movement that consistently advocates a high degree of both personal and economic liberty.
Where does libertarianism come from?
Modern libertarianism has multiple roots, but perhaps the most important one is the minimal-government republicanism of America’s founding revolutionaries like Thomas Jefferson and the Anti-Federalists. The core ideals of libertarianism — that all men are created equal and are endowed with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — can be seen in the Declaration of Independence and in the limited government established in the Constitution.
Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill are among the most famous of the 18th and 19th centuries “classical liberals” that developed theories on the invisible hand of free markets. More recently, libertarian philosophy has been explored and defined through Ayn Rand’s “ethical egoism” and the Austrian School of free-market economics.
What do libertarians want to do?
Libertarians want to unleash the positive creative powers of the individual and to create a peaceful, prosperous world. Libertarians understand that static, monolithic bureaucracies generally serve to enrich the current elite structures, damages individuals with unintended consequences and fails to live up to their grand promises more often than not.
History has shown that tyrannical governments ultimately result in suffering and poverty. Libertarians want to empower individuals to take control over their own lives not simply because it is the moral thing to do, but additionally because it results in the most dynamic, prosperous, peaceful societies possible.
How do libertarians approach the issues?
Libertarians use a caring, people-centered approach to politics. Politicians too frequently forget that their laws and regulations affect real human beings. Libertarians never lose sight of the fact that each individual is unique and has great potential. Libertarians want a system which encourages us all to discover the best within ourselves, and to make the most of it.
In dealing with political issues, libertarians ask, “Is anyone violating another’s rights?” If the answer is yes — if someone is committing murder, rape, robbery, theft, fraud, arson, trespass, etc. — then it is proper to call on the government. If no one is being harmed, the government should not get involved.
Do libertarians want to get rid of all government?
Libertarians want to replace as much government as they practically can with private, voluntary alternatives. Some libertarians are “minarchists” who favor stripping government of most of its accumulated power to meddle, leaving only structures like the police, courts and military to defend our rights and borders. Others are “anarcho-capitalists” who believe limited government is a contradiction and the free market can provide better law, order and security than any government monopoly.
How would libertarianism affect the poor?
As the level of government spending in this country has risen, so has poverty. Government bureaucracies have no incentive to lift people from dependency and every incentive to increase their budgets and power. Libertarians want to break the chains of poverty and help the disabled. By allowing people to keep what they earn, wealth goes directly into the private sector, businesses create more jobs and charitable giving increases.
The current system allows the rich to collude with the government to take your property through eminent domain and taxation. A strong government always becomes an instrument of privilege. The rich can exploit their resources to influence the government to squash competition and receive special favors. Regulations, permits, licensing, zoning and labor laws make it nearly impossible to pull yourself up by the bootstraps.
Stronger property rights and a weaker government would weaken the elite and benefit minorities, small businesses and the poor.
What about national defense?
National defense is one of the few legitimate roles of the government, but that defense should be limited to protecting Americans in America. A military force focused on defending America, rather than policing the globe, would reduce the manpower and resource needs that currently stretch and endanger our defense. A non-interventionist military would, over time, acquire fewer enemies and further reduce the need for a massive defense industry and budget.
Won’t these ideas only work if everyone is good?
Absolutely not. You don’t have to believe that everyone will be good for freedom to work. America’s Founding Fathers understood that most people were guided by greed, ambition, and the pursuit of their own happiness. That is why they built structures with limited powers, checks and balances, and other limiting factors on the darker sides of human nature. If people are generally not good, the last thing you should want is a powerful government staffed by those evil folks.
Most people, most of the time, deal with each other on the libertarian premise of respect for the rights of others. The absolute majority of people do not steal, or cheat or murder others. A strong respect for property rights and civil liberties gives authority to limited government structures to punish those few who violate the law and provide restitution for those harmed.
How can I get involved?
The best way to act on liberty is to think about freedom and act on your thoughts. Read libertarian books and publications, and share them with your friends.
Start a libertarian student group. Identify and recruit new libertarians with Operation Politically Homeless. Give a speech or write a letter to the editor. Use the words “libertarian” and “libertarianism” in your daily life so more people are exposed to it.
Join a libertarian organization or campaign. Support them with your donations and time. Give to private charities. Run for office. Oppose government expansion at every opportunity. Start your own business, create wealth and support voluntary cooperation.
Where can I learn more?
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