Introduction to Libertarianism

Of all the values we hold as important, freedom is the greatest, for without freedom we are nothing but slaves.
The Nature of Government
Winners and Losers
Natural Rights vs. Slave Rights
Property Rights
Earth Mother, Sky Father, and the Two Party System
Controversy and Extremism

The Nature of Government

What is important about government is not that it is democratic, but that it is violent!

The primary functions of government are fighting wars, punishing criminals and collecting taxes. (If you think taxes aren't violent, try not paying them!) Nor is there any atrocity committed by a dictatorship which has not also be committed by a democratic government. The difference is one of degree, not of kind.

Violence is a part of everything governments do.

Every time you say "there ought to be a law..." what you are really saying is that "I am willing to threaten my neighbor with dire consequences, and to send armed agents to harass him, incarcerate him, and possibly kill him if he resists." It is not enough to say "I really don't want to kill anyone, I just want to frighten them a little." Every time you use government, you are threatening the life of your neighbor; so you had better have a pretty good reason!

Every day people are dying, killed by the police in attempting to enforce unenforcible victimless crime laws. And the more they fail the more they are driven to extreme measures, which will not work either.

Winners and Losers

There is nothing that government does for us that we cannot do for ourselves. The difference is that government can make other people pay for it. Our entire political system is geared up to try to make other people pay for the things we want.

We don't go to government to help the poor, we go to make other people help the poor. We don't go to government to provide health insurance, we want to make other people pay for our health insurance.

The sad part is that not only is this an example of greed and envy at its worst, it doesn't work! Essentially, government takes a cut out of everything we earn or own, takes a hefty chunck off the top for itself, juggles the rest around and gives it back to us. (In addition, people will spend more time trying to reduce their tax burden and less on being productive.) The only way to get back more than you put in is if you are a part of a powerful elite. The numbers simply aren't there to "steal from the rich and give to the poor," even if the rich weren't in control.

Government has always been the rich man's friend and the poor man's enemy. Of course there are patronage jobs and welfare type handouts, just as kings have always given their table scraps to the destitute. However, one must remember that kings wouldn't have food and poor folks wouldn't need it if it hadn't been stolen from them in the first place.

One thing goverment is good at is breaking your leg then handing you a crutch, saying "See! Without our help you wouldn't be able to walk!". - Harry Browne

Natural Rights vs. Slave Rights

Natural rights are those which exist in a "state of Nature," that is, without goverment. Government does not create Natural rights; at best it can honor and attempt to protect them.

While the American frontier was a dangerous place to live, it lacked the all encompassing restraints of European nations. The only form of society which can compete with a frontier is one where you have the right to do anything which does not violate the equal right of everyone else (which is precisely how the founding fathers defined Liberty).

Slave rights, on the other hand, are those things which compassion and common sense dictate we give to those who cannot provide for themselves. Soldiers, prisoners and slaves are not allowed to independently provide for their own needs, and have therefore always been provided by their leaders, captors and masters (respectively) with free food, clothes and shelter. These are things they must give up when they are freed and become responsible for themselves.

The important thing to remember is that you cannot have Natural rights and slave rights at the same time. For example, if the State is responsible for providing you with health care, then it is a legitimate interest of the State to make sure that you do not engage in dangerous or damaging activities. That is why we have laws against driving without a seat belt or bungee jumping, and may even get laws against eating red meat in the near future.

Property Rights

Humans survive through the use of natural resources and by the construction of tools. Property rights are simply a social convention regarding access to and control over such resources.

The most effective way to allocate the use of property is to grant exclusive rights to individuals and allow free trade to determine the distribution. Neither democratic institutions nor hierarchical command structures are capable of making the number of decisions needed, investigating alternative solutions or providing incentives for risk takers.

Anthropologists have shown that societies which do not have individual property rights remain primitive forever. Archaeologists have shown that extended trade existed thousands of years before written history, and it is impossible to set up extended trade without private property.

Markets are simply too valuable a social convention to do without. Whatever laws, customs or institutions are needed to provide a market, a society will either develop them or collapse. Markets of some sort will even exist in societies where they are illegal.

Earth Mother, Sky Father, and the Two Party System

It has long been observed that libertarians tend to agree with liberals on matters of personal freedom and with conservatives on matters of economic freedom. There is obviously more going on here since liberals are also opposed to gun ownership (a personal freedom) and conservatives are generally in favor of military spending (which is bad for the economy).

One possible explanation is that conservatives believe in paternalistic government. They want to discipline society, training us not to engage in immoral or dishonorable activities. They want to promote the attitudes and skills of the breadwinner and protector, training us to be loyal husbands and good fathers in turn.

Similarly, liberals seem to believe in maternalistic government. They want a more loving, tolerant and nurturing role, particularly with regard to the less fortunate. They want to make sure we are warm and well fed. At the same time, they are careful not to allow us to do anything which might be dangerous or risky. They also seek to promote "domestic tranquility" by making us "share our toys" and refrain from offensive speech.

In terms of transaction analysis, both are acting in parent-to-child mode. Libertarians, on the other hand, want government to treat us as adults.

Controversy and Extremism

Everything in the Libertarian Party platform is there to reduce the size, power, and cost of government. Some of our positions are considered controversial or too extreme, but this is only in relation to our current ideological status quo.

For example, our public school system is a socialist industry with all the typical failings of socialism, which was intended from the start to be for indoctrination rather than education, does not even begin to promote equality of opportunity, yet has become a "sacred cow." There is not a single good reason to continue this travesty, yet it is considered to be an indispensable part of society, and many want to increase its size and cost again and again.

Social Security is also considered to be political quicksand. But while it pretends to be both a retirement program and a welfare program, it does not do a very good job of either. As a welfare program, most of the money goes to people who don't need it. As a retirement program, those who are currently paying into it will get back only a tiny fraction of what they paid. Eventually it will go bankrupt or destroy the economy, or both.

Time and time again, when people look carefully at any given issue with an open mind, they will eventually come to the libertarian position. This is not an accident; it comes from understanding the relationship between the individual, society, and the state.