Wednesday, July 7, 2004
Hi. My name is Lawrence, and I'm a recovering Republican. Addicted to the pachyderm's promise of smaller government, for years I voted a straight ticket. But, one day I realized that if Democrats wanted in my pocketbook, Republicans wanted in my bedroom. Enough was enough—I took freedom's pledge and became a Libertarian.
Committed to civil liberties and economic freedom, Libertarians reject what David Boaz refers to as the "welfare-warfare" state. We are the largest third party in the country with more than 600 Libertarians holding public office—more than all other third parties combined.
Nonetheless, many people either don't know or don't understand who we are. Our philosophy is simple. We believe in individual liberty, personal responsibility, a free-market economy, a foreign policy of non-intervention and free trade. For Libertarians the individual is the basic unit of social analysis. Each of us is responsible for our actions. This responsibility gives us our rights and obligates us to respect the rights of others. All other obligations are assumed voluntarily by contract. We cannot escape our responsibility by blaming society. Moreover, others cannot inflict obligations on us by claiming the rights of society or the community.
Libertarians' combination of responsibility with the focus on the individual result in the following positions on key issues:
1. No censorship of speech, press, media or Internet.
2. A volunteer military—no draft.
3. No national ID card.
4. End "corporate welfare"—no government handouts to business.
5. End government barriers to international trade.
6. Allow people to control their own retirement.
7. A foreign policy based on non-intervention and peace.
Our position on these issues is based on the belief that freedom and independence provide the best quality of life. Libertarian philosophy is a people-centered approach to politics—we respect the individual and encourage everyone to reach his or her full potential. Further, we base our philosophy on the moral principle of self-ownership. As David Boaz states in his book, "Libertarianism: A Primer," "Each individual has the right to control his or her own body, action, speech and property."
Two of the more common misunderstandings of Libertarian philosophy are that it is libertine and/or anarchist. It is neither. Our focus on individual responsibility defies the charge of libertine. Hedonism or an "anything goes" way of life directly contradicts individual obligation and self-control.
Libertarians also reject anarchy. Government does have a role—the one outlined in the Constitution—no more and no less. In our view, the Constitution defines government's role as one of defending individuals from force and fraud. Yet, today, government requires us to wear seatbelts in our own cars and exercises the power to confiscate our property in order to give it to private developers or presidential libraries.
Arguably, we ceded these powers to the government through the democratic process. Before we voluntarily surrender more of our rights, we must each ask ourselves, "Who is going to make the decision about this particular aspect of my life?" For example, "Am I going to spend the money I earn, or is Congress?" "Do I choose the school my children attend or does the school board?" "Do my health care provider and I decide what drugs I will take when I'm sick, or does the FDA?"
As Edward Crane of the CATO Institute states, "there are only two ways to organize society—coercively through government dictates, or voluntarily though myriad interactions of individuals and private association." When government assumes the power to tell us how to live our lives or to transfer money from those who earn it to others, we have chosen coercion. Coercion, as history shows time and again, leads to corruption. P.J. O'Rourke states it this way, "Giving money and power to the government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys."
Come with us on the road to recovery. Admit your two-party problem. Apologize to your children for saddling them with un-funded entitlements they cannot afford. Eliminate from your speech the phrase, "There ought to be a law." It's your money and your life—take ownership of both.
Lawrence Silver is a writer and a professor.
This was a fun read. I'd love to hear more from the Libertarian viewpoint. In theory, I like the idea, but in practice, the party seems to attract some serious loons. I do think we should all be assuming more individual responsibility, but I also think that is not the answer to everything. I just read an article that talked about how the theory of free markets/the invisible hand depend upon *everyone* having *perfect* information - which we clearly don't. For me, Libertarianism would work, if *everyone* had equal access to opportunity, healthcare, education, etc.
This, over at the CL, makes me want to be libertarian.
Kate - you maye want to take a look at this - World's Smallest Political Quiz: http://www.theadvocates.org/quiz.html It isn't comprehensive and the questions are slanted, but - it is a political quiz, after all...
That was fun, and even better is the chart that comes up at the end. It's got that north-south axis, in addition to the left/right, that we all love to discuss (and it cracks me up that the libertarians put themselves on the top of the heap). The stats they've collected are interesting what with the even split between left and right, and the big chunk in the middle.
If you think that Libertarianism is interesting, check out this list of other minor political parties: http://www.dcpoliticalreport.com/PartyLink.htm In addition to the expected weirdos, there are some interesting parties as well. Check out the Natural Law Party.