I don’t care how others do it, I sum up the libertarian philosophy in one simple made-for-the-evening-news sound bite: maximum freedom – minimum government. Film at Eleven.

Yes, there’s more to it than that. With freedom comes responsibility. It has two sides, like a Morgan dollar (or a Susan B. Anthony, if you prefer) and if you try to separate one from the other you end up with a pile of shavings and two useless pieces. Freedom works best the same way Parcheesi works best – with a framework of simple, easy to understand rules that don’t change every time one player falls behind and starts whining for special consideration. That’s the minimum government part. To paraphrase a phrase, it’s the Constitution, stupid.

One way to understand what libertarianism is all about is to understand what it is not all about.

Libertarianism, contrary to the vague musings of people unfamiliar with the concept, is not a different flavor of conservatism, like nutty-butter peach or Dutch chocolate tutti-frutti. Some well meaning devotees, in fact, attempt to define political libertarianism as a crossbred mutt of free market conservatism and civil rights liberalism. Phew. That characterization offends my olfactory nodes on two counts.

Count one: Conservatives long ago abandoned capitalism when they found it more profitable and power-enhancing to pass out corporate welfare subsidies and protectionist legislation to whichever industry slipped the biggest wad of Legal Tender For All Debts Public And Private into their reelection collection plates. Liberals betrayed their civil rights roots for the Godzilla of multiculturalist “group rights” that guarantee them a horde of entitlement/welfare/special interest knee-jerk dependents at the ballot box.

Count two: calling libertarianism an amalgam of certain left handed and right handed principles just perpetuates the myth that all political philosophies exist on a one dimensional scale, like a DOA’s flat line. All you left-liberal-Democrats on that end, all you right-conservative-Republicans on the other end, and we’ll play keep-away with everyone in the middle.

Doesn’t work that way. Take notes now. There are only two ideologically meaningful categories. There is libertarianism and there is authoritarianism. Today’s left and right belong in the authoritarian camp, along with every other ism in history that places the power of the group above the sovereignty of the individual. The only difference between Pol Pot’s killing fields and Bill Clinton’s “I feel your pain” paternalism is a matter of degree. (Think that’s too extreme? Don’t forget that Clinton had his own killing fields in Waco and Sudan and Kosovo.)

So who pitch their tents in the libertarian compound? A long and distinguished line of Free Thinkers and Classical Liberals ranging from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance through Eighteenth Century England into Colonial America culminating in the birth of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. That’s who.

The modern libertarian movement is a continuation of that exemplary bloodline.

Libertarianism isn’t just politics. The social component is this: you own your own life. Not the teacher’s unions, not the feminists, not the anti-gun nuts, not the “diversity” dictators, not the little weasel that sniffs around in your back yard to make sure your weeds are mowed. You own your own life, and as long as you recognize that fact about everyone else, you get to keep the title to it.

The much publicized “Culture War” is not a hissy-fit between values of left and right. All too often, it should be obvious, left and right agree with each other. Politically, the major choice we’re offered is whether we want a bigger, more expensive, more intrusive, more coercive Democratic government or a bigger, more expensive, more intrusive, more coercive Republican government. Socially, both the left and right are more than happy to dictate our core values to us whether we agree with either of their prepackaged deals or not. The key word in that sentence is “dictate.” Social engineers, public educrats, self-appointed media censors, radical enviros, doctrinaire religious fundamentalists – pick your poison – are all too willing to join together to forcibly supercede our choices with their own.

If you don’t believe in compromising your freedom you just might be a libertarian. But don’t expect me to convince you. That’s your job. Take your brain out for a spin. Drive on past the LeftyMart and the RightistMall where all the same old threadbare collectivist merchandise is hawked and the medium of exchange is your rights. Try the little libertarian shop around the corner. You just might find the goods you’ve been looking for.

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