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Libertarianism Defined

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Libertarianism is a political philosophy that holds that a person should be free to do whatever he wants in life, as long as his conduct is peaceful. Thus, as long a person doesn’t murder, rape, burglarize, defraud, trespass, steal, or inflict any other act of violence against another person’s life, liberty, or property, libertarians hold that the government should leave him alone. In fact, libertarians believe that a primary purpose of government is to prosecute and punish anti-social individuals who initiate force against others.

What are some policy ramifications of what has become known as the libertarian “non-aggression principle”?

People should be free to engage in any economic enterprise without permission or interference from the state. Thus libertarians oppose all occupational licensure laws and all economic regulations of business activity. Libertarians also believe that people have the right to keep whatever they earn and decide for themselves what to do with their own money–spend it, invest it, save it, hoard it, or donate it.

This then means, necessarily, that libertarians are ardent advocates of the free market, which is simply a process by which people are interacting peacefully with each other for mutual gain.

What are some specific applications of libertarian principles to real-world problems?

Education: libertarians call for the complete separation of school and state, which means the repeal of school compulsory-attendance laws and school taxes–that is, the complete end of all governmental involvement in education. This would mean a completely free market in education, in which consumers decide the best educational vehicles for their children and entrepreneurs (both for-profit and charitable) are meeting the demands of the consumers.

Social Security: an immediate repeal of Social Security, which is simply a coercive transfer program in which older people are able to steal from young people. Again, people have a right to their own earnings. If a person fails to provide for his retirement, he must rely on the charity and good will of his family, his friends, his church groups, or people in his community. Libertarians believe that it is morally wrong for a person to use the state to take what doesn’t belong to him.

Welfare: immediate repeal of all welfare primarily on moral grounds but also on the terribly destructive aspects of government welfare programs. People have a right to their own earnings and no one has the right to take someone else’s money against his will. Moreover, no one is made a better person because the state is taking money from one person in order to give it to another person. Finally, government welfare creates a sense of hopeless dependency on the welfare recipient.

Drug laws: the decades-long war on drugs is immoral and has proven to be highly destructive. People have a right to engage in peaceful, self-destructive behavior as long as their conduct is peaceful. Drug addiction should be treated as a social, medical, psychological problem, not a criminal one. Legalizing drugs would immediately put an end to drug lords and drug gangs and the violence associated with the drug war–that is, the burglaries, robberies, thefts, etc. associated with the exorbitant black-market prices that drug users must pay to finance their habits.

The IRS and income tax: repeal them and leave people free to keep the fruits of their earnings and decide for themselves how to dispose of their wealth.

Gun Control: People have a right to resist the tyranny of their own government and to protect themselves from the violent acts of private criminals.

Environment: Governments are the great destroyers of the environment. In fact, most environmental problems can be traced to public, not private, ownership of resources. The solution is to privatize public property to the maximum extent possible.

Health Care: the crisis in health care, especially with respect to ever-rising prices, is due to heavy government involvement in health care–Medicare, Medicaid, and licensure laws. These laws and programs should be repealed in favor of a totally free market in health care.

Immigration: Libertarians oppose any controls on the free movements of goods and people, both domestically and internationally. People have the right to move and to improve their lives.

Foreign Policy: Libertarians oppose involvement in foreign wars as well as all foreign aid. The U.S. government should be limited to protecting the nation from invasion but should stay out of the affairs of other nations.

Civil Liberties: Libertarians are firm advocates of the First Amendment and the procedural aspects of due process of law, such as the rights to be protected from unreasonable searches and seizures, and in criminal cases the right to an attorney, notice and hearing, and trial by jury.

With the tragic exception of slavery and several minor exceptions, the philosophy on which the United States was founded was, by and large, founded on libertarianism, especially with the ideas in the Declaration of Independence and the limitation on powers in the Constitution.

In 1890 America, for example, the following government programs were virtually nonexistent: income taxation, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, economic regulation, occupational licensure, a Federal Reserve System, conscription, immigration controls, and gun control.

In the 20th century, the American people abandoned libertarianism in favor of the socialistic welfare state and the controlled or regulated society.

Thus, the intellectual and moral battle for the third century of our nation’s existence is between those who favor liberty — libertarians — versus those who favor state control of peaceful activity — “statists.”

This post was written by:

The Future of Freedom Foundation was founded in 1989 by FFF president Jacob Hornberger with the aim of establishing an educational foundation that would advance an uncompromising case for libertarianism in the context of both foreign and domestic policy. The mission of The Future of Freedom Foundation is to advance freedom by providing an uncompromising moral and economic case for individual liberty, free markets, private property, and limited government.