You might be a libertarian if …

… you’ve been accused of being a liberal, conservative, and anarchist all in the same day. Seriously though, what is a libertarian? The “left” thinks that we’re not as crazy as the Tea Party (or sometimes crazier) and the “right” thinks we’re some “fringe” element of naive youngsters who may have smoked too much pot and live in fantasy land. Then there are those people who think libertarians are nothing but rebel-rousers who advocate anarchy. (Okay, in all honesty there are some libertarians who are anarchists but not the kind that advocate violence, rather more of the bow-tie wearing variety). I’ll discuss the different flavors of libertarianism elsewhere.

A libertarian, in short, is someone who doesn’t want to run your life and, of course, doesn’t want their life run for them either. More specifically, adults have the right and responsibility to make their own decisions about their own lives with the caveat that those decisions don’t infringe on the equal rights of others. There are two driving principles in libertarianism: the non-aggression principle and self-ownership. These are principles that the libertarian uses not just in their personal life (though not as a comprehensive life philosophy – that’s for the individual to work out for himself), but the libertarian believes these principles extend to the government as well.

Non-Aggression Principle

Also referred to as the NAP, this principle (though not necessarily pacifist) says that it is unethical to initiate violence (force, fraud, or abuse) against another person. The NAP is a “use of force” principle – it defines the proper use of force. It is improper to initiate violence but force can be used if another person initiates violence against you. So if person A tries to harm person B then person B has the right to use force to stop person A from successfully harming person B. Let’s say person B successfully thwarts person A, person A then would stand trial for violating this principle. The same principle holds true if person A tries to steal person B’s property, or harm person B’s children. This segues into the principle of self-ownership.

Self-Ownership

The principle of self-ownership is the idea that you own your self, and that no other human being can lay claim to your self. This idea of self-ownership extends to your life, your liberty, and your property which are more than just abstract things. You exist in time – past, present, and future – and thus your life, liberty, and (justly acquired) property are manifestations of your existence in time. Your life represents your future, your liberty represents your present, and your property (or products of your labor) represent your past. To deny that you own your self is to deny your right to life, liberty, and property. To deny this is to suggest that some other person, or group of persons, has a higher claim on your self. This is not a possibility without affirming slavery.

The Philosophy of Liberty (VIDEO)

 

Tying the two together

The NAP says that you cannot initiate violence against someone else’s life, liberty, or property because you have no authority to do so. However, should someone initiate violence against your life, liberty, or property, then you have the authority to defend your life, liberty, and property as extensions of yourself. To initiate violence against one’s life is murder, against one’s liberty is slavery, and against one’s property is theft. Since we as individuals don’t have this authority to murder, steal, and enslave we cannot give it to others (even if we vote for them), and we cannot appoint ourselves over others, and thus government cannot justly murder, enslave, or steal either.

The inevitable conclusion

While these two principles give us the greatest freedom for using liberty in a positive manner, it does open an opportunity to use freedom in such a way that may harm ourselves as well as the opportunity to refuse to extend charity to other people. And while this may be an undesirable end, the thing about liberty is that we are free to work out this for ourselves while any form of government that limits liberty presupposes that there are some people who know better how we should live our lives and deny the power to work that out. Both success and failure provide for us an incentive to succeed. By limiting liberty, our incentives are taken away. So while libertarianism may provide an opportunity to do something to ourselves that is not beneficial (eg. drinking that obnoxiously large soda from the corner store which is likely contributing to your obesity and diabetes) it doesn’t condone the action as being right. In other words, just because you have the right to do something, doesn’t mean you are necessarily right in exercising it.

So do you think you might be a libertarian?

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