This goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. These are my views. They do not represent libertarians as a whole.
In this second installment of the Libertarian Myths arc, I’d like to address some of the “problems” people see with libertarian philosophy. There are as many different intepretations of libertarianism as there are libertarians, but when we boil libertarians down to their base elements we should be able to agree on at least a few points. Namely:
1) Libertarians believe that government should stay out of the private lives of its citizens. Government ought to be small and ought to fill certain specific roles, as defined by that individual’s philosophy. I believe that the federal government should be performing the functions outlined in the Constitution, with other duties the responsibility of the states (and further defined by each state’s Constitution). While there are libertarians who are both “purer” (they do want to limit power beyond the limitations in the Constitution) and those who operate in greater shades of grey (they want to add some implied powers in with the explicit powers), the constant is that all libertarians believe in individual freedom over governmental control.
Does this make libertarians anarchists? Of course not. As I’ve noted, libertarians believe in the need for government. We don’t believe that government is trustworthy, necessarily (and for good reason), but we do understand that any functioning society requires a government. We don’t want to abolish the government… we do, however, want to reduce the size and scope of government. I suppose to someone who is used to government acting as a surrogate parent, the distinction may be minor.
2) Libertarians believe in the power of free enterprise & social censure. On too many occasions to count, I’ve heard someone assert that “if we were to allow business owners to discriminate, we’d see a resurgence of racism and sexism. Libertarians want to abolish those things! They support racism!” You know what? Yes, most of us do want to abolish those things. We fully support the right of a business owner to choose not to hire someone based on color, sex, religion, or creed. You know what else we support, though? We support the right of the people to make the viewpoints and actions of that business owner public. We don’t want a racist or a sexist cowering behind equal opportunity laws. We want that business owner out in the open so we can direct our money elsewhere.
Does it make us racist to give someone enough rope to hang themselves? I’m not seeing it.
3) Libertarians believe in people. Some claim that libertarians do not care about people at all, as we’re willing to let someone fail if that’s the end result of their actions. That’s not true, though; we do care about people. Out of all the political philosophies, though, we seem to be the only one that really understands that to give people the opportunity to better themselves, we must let them fail and succeed on their own merit. We know (many of us from personal experience) that the best lesson is failure, and the most satisfying success is the success won on one’s own merits.
Those other political philosophies miss this point. They want to lend a helping hand when (or before, in many cases) someone is failing. And hey… it looks nice at the time, right? The problem is that is sends the message to that person that they’re not good enough to succeed on their own. Do that often enough, and people start believing that they need that help to succeed.
So there you have it. I hope I’m offering you (if you’re not already a libertarian) some insight into the why of libertarians. Too often, we get painted as selfish, when the reality is far different. We are optimists of the best sort!