Busting A Few Common Myths About Libertarianism

Every position subject to the public sphere has been mishandled and misrepresented both by its own advocates and especially by detractors. The public eagerly awaits the opportunity to craft mindless cartoon versions of robust and complex philosophical models that leave one wondering, “How could anybody believe this?” The answer is of course that nobody does believe it. Libertarianism, as a political philosophy, has been no stranger to misrepresentation. Some people think that its a tweener: a compromise between conservatism and liberalism. Others will say that libertarians do not care about public health or poverty. Many will look at the Libertarian Party in the United States and think they represent what we believe. These and a few other myths about libertarianism are the subject of this article.

Myth: Libertarianism is a centrist position.

Fact: Libertarianism is a political philosophy that should be assessed on its own merit.

Libertarianism should not be conceived of with regard to its relationship to other political philosophies. If you are the sort of person who agrees and disagrees with both of the major parties in the United States about several issues, that does not necessarily make you a libertarian. You might still be one, but you are not necessarily one. A libertarian is somebody who subscribes to a few non-negotiable doctrines. First, the libertarian will believe that taxation is theft. If a group takes money from you without your consent, and threatens you with force or the seizure of your assets if you refuse to surrender it, that is theft.

Second, we believe that citizens should have the freedom to do anything that they would like, so long as they are not hurting anybody else. As Stanley Benn reminded us in his dense work A Theory of Freedom, paternalism occurs when people are deprived of the right to decide what is in their own best interests. A libertarian would oppose paternalism and give people the freedom and resources to make intelligent decisions about their livelihood. This will include things like the use of pharmaceuticals, the purchase of firearms, and the operation of one’s own private property without licensure. Some of these will be discussed below.

If you believe those two principles, then mark it down that you are a libertarian. But if you are just a tweener who thinks that both parties have strengths and weaknesses, you are not a libertarian. You are an independent.

Myth: Libertarians do not want any government, period.

Fact: Some libertarians share notions of a limited government with conservative Republicans.

I should note that there are many libertarians out there who think a government is completely unnecessary. The idea of anarchy would seem to them to be a promising concept. I suppose in an act of poor branding, they refer to themselves anarchists. In this model, the communities and free market would have the capacity to serve all of the functions of the government. On the other hand, many libertarians, including Ayn Rand, would be better classified as minarchists. A minarchist is somebody who believes that a state is inevitable, and there are some things that the free market just cannot do.

An excellent example was lodged in the debate book between Craig Duncan and Tibor Machan. Duncan, a liberal, argued that some regulations are necessary to prevent corporations from taking advantage of their employees. There are different sorts of power one can have over someone. Financial power should not be overlooked. If an employee is in a situation wherein she cannot lose her job, she will be vulnerable to the whims of her employer. If the employer is particularly nefarious, he might use that to his advantage. This could create opportunity for unpaid labor, unwarranted pay cuts or even sexual harassment. Even as a libertarian, I am not convinced that the free market could prevent this. I am sure that there are executives who would be more than willing to overlook a business partner’s indiscretions if it meant they could get a better deal. This sort of problem, and others like it, will likely necessitate a state. So, all anarchists are libertarians, but not all libertarians are anarchists.

Myth: Libertarians do not care about public health and safety

Fact: Danger to public health does not mean the government is the only solution.

I think the free market and public perception have a lot of power. They could (and do) contribute to public health. Pharmaceuticals and drug overdose is a good place to have this discussion. The mainstream opinion of marijuana use has shifted drastically. Men such a Jeff Sessions, who would say “Good people don’t smoke weed,” are in a sinking minority, as many are comparing the effects of weed to that of alcohol. First, prohibition and/or restriction of access are not very effective resources. Perhaps the best example of this is the ban of alcohol products in the early 20th century, opening a gap for the black market. We all know about the war on drugs and the lives that it has claimed – not only among users, but almost among street dealers. This can largely be attributed to the fact that it is sold on the black market. If a product is sold on the open market, competitors are not likely to slay one another. There is reason that licensed pharmacists do not have to carry guns.

Relevant factors include [1] drug abuse and [2] the general ignorance of people regarding pharmaceuticals. Taking on the latter: The average adult will not know anything about drug interactions, doses, or the danger of overdose. Well, it might not be so crazy to think that pharmacists would tell them anyway, even if they were not required by law. In fact, there is no reason that a pharmacy could not require a prescription from a doctor before dispensing a medication, even if it were not required by law. Pharmacies that dispense drugs that could have harmful interactions would fall out of favor with the free market and be negatively branded by their competitors. Your local pharmacy would still have to maintain integrity, even if it were not the law.

This would also contribute to the resolution of the problem of drug abuse. If a local pharmacy only dispenses certain medication when prescribed by a doctor, it would mitigate drug abuse. Of course, you might argue that on my model, there will always be some shady pharmacy in the bad part of town who will sell drugs to anybody. Well, that is certainly true. But people already have access to drugs on the black market. The main difference is that the problem will be easier to address. People will be more accessible and more receptive to information about drug abuse because it does not have to be discussed in whispers. As Rand Paul pointed out in his Taking A Stand, people respond to reason, not coercion.

Myth: Libertarians do not care about roads

Fact: Libertarians believe the free market would fund the roadways.

The oft raised problem of the roads arises in virtually every discussion about libertarianism. It is a legitimate question. Taypayer money sometimes really does go to practical and useful utilities in society. Roads are an excellent example. This harks us back to my primary point, namely that just because there is a problem, that does not mean the government is the only resolution. If something as necessary as the roadway needs to be built, should we not think that people will build them anyway? Think of corporations who want people to come to their retail outlets. They are likely going to partner with comparable nearby retailers and ensure that their facilities are accessible. Interstates would likely be constructed for comparable reasons, possibly operating similar to toll roads. We care about roads. We just do not think the government has to be the one build them.

Myth: Libertarians are pro-choice

Fact: Libertarians affirm personal freedom so long as one is not harming another individual.

I can completely understand why the sanctity of life would be a major consideration when assessing a political philosophy. The Libertarian Party in the United States is certainly pro-choice, stating that “We believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration.” This is why I am not a member of the Libertarian Party in the United States. But there is nothing fundamentally incompatible about libertarian philosophy. Figures such as Ben Shapiro and Austin Peterson are both pro-life.

In fact, I think libertarian philosophy is fundamentally incompatible with abortionist philosophy. The non-aggression principle (NAP) in libertarianism is the idea that citizens should be free to do anything that they would like, so long as they are not harming another human being. Since the unborn is human, abortion violates the NAP. In my estimation, libertarian philosophy excludes abortionist philosophy. (A side note: the concept of womens’ rights is also incompatible with abortion.)

Myth: There is no and has never been any libertarian society.

Fact: There have been minarchist societies.

See what I said above about the distinction between minarchy and anarchy. A state is an inevitable necessity, and this is compatible with libertarian thought. But even if a state was not an inevitable necessity, it would still be inevitable. People tend to believe that they need a leader. They want to look to a stronger person in a position of power to bring about their ideals. When we want to resolve an issue, we look to the government. Americans believe that they need the right person in the White House, the right number of Senators from their party, the right justices in the Supreme Court. People think they need a leader. At the same time, there is always somebody to seize power. So even if I did not think a state were a necessity, it would still be inevitable.

At the same time, there are policies that are libertarian. In fact, the United States government was far more libertarian in its original conception. Spending and regulations were both just a fraction of what they are now. In fact, great historical events such as the Boston Tea Party were motivated by a tax on tea. There have been libertarian societies, and nations with libertarian policies, even if there has not been an anarchist society.

Myth: Libertarians think the border wall is stupid

Okay, that one is true.

Busting A Few Common Myths About About Libertarianism

If you want to learn about a political philosophy, do not listen to what politicians say. Do not seek after your favorite news anchor. These figures might have some value, but they are not there to define complex and nuanced terms. This is an issue for the philosophers. Read Tibor Machan. Invest time in the libertarians of old, such as John Locke, Ayn Rand, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Paine,

Recommended Reading:
Where Libertarianism Overlaps With LGBT Activism
Why I Would Prefer Prayer To Legislation

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