Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What is a libertarian?

I wrote this for a local newspaper.

By Nick Sorrentino

What is a libertarian? This is a question that is often asked of me. People know that I identify myself as a one and so feel comfortable asking me. There is a simple answer and it goes like this.

Don’t mess with me, and I won’t mess with you. I don’t care if you are gay, of a different religion than me, smoke pot, or are a communist. It doesn’t matter to me the libertarian. I am concerned with actions that have consequences, not private behavior that impacts no one other than the individual or another consenting adult.

Live and let live. This is the essence of libertarianism. It’s an uncomplicated philosophy that is useful in nearly every corner of human life.

Does this mean I have to tolerate you acting like a jerk in my front yard? Absolutely not. If you take your Trans-Am for a joy ride through my fescue, I’m calling the police. You violated my right to be left alone and destroyed my property.

Libertarians are the ultimate conservatives in some ways. We actually believe in small government. Many of today’s so-called conservatives do not though they say that they do.

Some conservative see no reason at all not to use the government to compel others to live as they see fit. Many conservatives were for the draft for instance, and are for drug laws, and the “Patriot Act.” They do not see our civil discourse as a conflict between those who would rule more versus those who would prefer not to be ruled. They instead see politics as a battleground between 2 gangs, the jackasses and the elephants, for the power levers of the state.

Libertarians don’t think the state should be used to make you do anything that you don’t want to do, assuming you mind your own business.

Sometimes people think libertarians have a lot in common with modern liberals or “progressives” as they now call themselves. In some ways we do. We both think the War On Drugs is a mess. We both think gay people should be able to live as they like. We both believe that war is nearly always a bad idea.

But libertarians differ from these folks because we believe that no matter how good an idea is from a social perspective, it should almost never be funded by the state. Universal healthcare? Most certainly not. Raising the debt limit? Don’t think so. More stimulus? You have got to be out of your mind.

It is often said that conservatives are for economic liberty (though even this really isn’t true these days) and more restrictive when it comes to “individual” liberty. Likewise it is said that that liberals/progressives believe in individual liberty but are generally for restricting economic liberty.

Libertarians see no distinction between such liberties. Liberty is liberty. Freedom is freedom. One either owns oneself and the fruits of one’s labor or one does not.

Naturally this disposition puts libertarians at odds with many in what used to be the political mainstream. We are both friends of and in conflict with both conservatives and liberals. Sometimes this makes us an ally, sometimes it makes us a foe, depending on which party wants to do what. But one thing is for sure, libertarians are always looked at with suspicion by both groups. If you think Ron Paul drives you liberals nuts, you should see the convulsions of ire induced in Huckabee and Santorum supporters with the mere mention of the good doctor’s name.

Even so, libertarian ranks are swelling like never before, even if some (mostly older people) still don’t really know what a libertarian is. Libertarian writers and political figures pack the houses on college campuses. The Students for Liberty far outstrip the passion of even the most rabid Obama supporters living on the quad. So if you don’t know what libertarianism is, or if you dismiss it, even after having read this piece, you’ve been warned. Libertarianism is about to make it’s prime time debut.

Live and let live. Get used to it America.

About Me

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Nick Sorrentino is the Editor of The Liberty and Economics Review and CEO of Exelorix.com a social media management company.