Why I’m a Libertarian

  • September 23, 2023

Every single political movement promises everything except the one thing libertarianism defends for everyone:

Your right – and everyone else’s right – to be left alone.

Put another way, to be left out of other people’s “plans” – i.e., what other people think you ought to be forced to do or be restrained from doing. The things they think are worth paying for – and expect you to pay for them.

The idea here is that if whatever you’re doing isn’t harming anyone else, then you have the right to do it. And no one else has the right to force you to stop doing it.

It’s a simple idea as well as an appealing one. You’d think most people would like the idea of leaving other people be – and of being free to pursue happiness (as Jefferson put it in that declaration no one reads anymore) according to their own wishes. And yet, the majority of people appear to prefer different ideas.

Or rather, the same idea.

It is the idea that forcing other people to do the things you think they ought to do – and restraining them from doing the things you do not think they ought to do – is a good idea. Of course, it seems to be just that – in the moment – because it is their idea of what is good. It might be sending billions of dollars taken from other people to Ukraine. Many people seem to think this is a good idea, especially when other people can be made to pay for it.

But it’s a very bad idea. Not so much the Ukraine part (per se). Rather the idea that it’s good to use force to make other people pay for what you think is a good idea. Because other people will say they have good ideas you ought to be forced to pay for – and you will have no real argument to counter their “plans.” You may try saying the money would be wasted – or better spent on some other good idea (the one you think is a good one). But you have lost any foundational basis for objecting to the idea of it – in principle.

If you can force others to do a thing you think is a good thing then others can force you to do something they think is a good thing. And here we are. The entire political process can be boiled down to people using the political process to obtain the power – either directly or by proxy – to impose their good ideas on other people, who naturally resent it and await their turn to return the favor.

And that is why – to borrow a line – elections matter. They determine whether someone else’s good ideas are going to be imposed on you. Or your good ideas are to be imposed on others. It means security for no one, as even power is fleeting when it can be voted out of office. And when it can’t, there’s no security for anyone, except those who hold power. They, of course, must be surrounded by security – because otherwise they wouldn’t be very secure, either.

Surely, there’s a better idea.

Libertarianism is it.

Mark the earlier italics. I did not say best – because that would imply perfect and there’s no such thing in this life, especially in politics. People will still, inevitably, cause harm to others – sometimes deliberately. There will be inequality. There will be unfairness. There will be risk.

But what there won’t be is universal harm arising from legalized use-of-force against people who’ve not harmed anyone.

You might have to deal with an uninsured, irresponsible person who runs into your car and cannot pay for the damage he caused. But you would not have been forced to buy insurance from a private business that uses the government to force you to pay for it – and for that reason can charge exorbitantly for it. As a result, you’d probably be able to pay for any damages that someone else causes – and if they didn’t cause it, you’d have all your money, still.

You might get mugged walking down the street. But you wouldn’t get mugged every time you got paid. And you would have the right to resist the street mugger – because you’d be free to carry a gun.

People would suffer hardship. But friends and family and people generally could afford to help them when necessary – because they weren’t forced to bankroll them, perpetually.

Business would fail – but only if they failed to provide what people were willing to buy at a price they could afford. They would not be able to remain in business by using the government to force people to buy what they don’t want or aren’t willing/able to pay for on their own.

Some people would refuse to do business with, hire, rent to or even be civil to people  they didn’t like, for whatever reason. But no one would be forced to deal with anyone else (just as no one is forced to be friends with or marry anyone else). Probably, there would be a great lessening of social tension and resentment. Society  – in the old school sense of the interplay of individuals – would organize itself naturally rather than artificially, with fake (because enforced) bonhomie.

There would – and always will be – problems. But they’d be mostly small-scale problems affecting specific individuals in an acute rather than chronic way. Without institutionalized force creating bigger problems, making them everyone’s problems, institutionalizing problems for generations (viz, government schools, reckless government spending) most problems would be resolved because most people have a motive to resolve their problems – and so they’d cease to be a problem.

It seems to me to be a much better idea to run my own life than to try to run other people’s lives. I know what I want out of life – and what I don’t. I would never presume to pretend I know what other people want (or don’t) and the idea of trying to make them do what I think is best for them is sickening to me. In part because I understand that if I say it is a good idea for me to force them to do what I think is best for them – or Ukraine – then I have lost any basis for objecting when they wheel around and try to force me to do what they think is best for me.

And that is why I identify as a libertarian.

. . .

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