By now you’ve probably heard something about the Libertarian Party. Libertarians have been active for over 30 years. We have candidates running for local and state level positions all across the country. In fact, there are more than 600 Libertarians in public office. That’s more than all of the other minor political parties combined.
In spite of this familiarity with the party, the one question that many people still seem to have is, “What exactly is a Libertarian?”
The ideas behind Libertarianism can be traced back over 400 years, to a period in history when the concepts of individual liberty & consensual government were first finding a foothold through the writings of people like John Locke and Algernon Sidney. The right to free one’s self from tyrannical government was an infuriatingly-radical notion at a time when kings were thought to be divinely-ordained rulers. It was the bravery and clear-thinking of these early libertarian writers that served as the inspiration for the American Revolution, and the founding of our country as a free and independent nation. Nowhere is this clearer than in the Declaration of Independence, which makes the libertarian case perfectly, that government should exist to secure the life, liberty, and property of every one of its citizens.
Despite the historical connection behind the ideas of Libertarianism and the roots of our own nation, today’s political pundits seem to have a difficult time figuring out how to label us. These misconceptions say more about the prejudices of the people who hold them, than they do about the Libertarian perspective.
Despite this confusion, the Libertarian philosophy is really very easy to understand. Libertarians are, quite simply, people who believe in “Self-Ownership”: You are responsible for yourself, and no one else on Earth has a higher claim to you or your labor than you do. So long as people act in a way that doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s freedom, Libertarians believe that people should be free to live their lives.
The idea of “Self-Ownership” is what distinguishes us from both liberals and conservatives. Every political position that Libertarians take can be traced back to this simple idea.
We believe that personal responsibily and individual liberty are two sides of the same coin. For example, Libertarians are opposed to “liberal” attempts to use the government to regulate people’s buying practices, by imposing tariffs on certain goods & industries. We oppose this kind of regulation not because we think that all goods & industries are equally wonderful, but because we believe that people are responsible for themselves, and should be allowed to buy what they like, based on their own beliefs and values.
Likewise, Libertarians are opposed to “conservative” attempts to use the government to regulate people’s morality, by imposing laws that restrict their behavior on the Sabbath, or at the pharmacy, or in the bedroom. We’re opposed to these kinds of legal restrictions not because we think that all lifestyle choices are equally worth pursuing, but because we believe that people are responsible for their actions, and should be allowed to decide how to live their lives as they see fit, so long as they aren’t hurting anyone else in the process.
Wait a second…If you’re not conservative & you’re not liberal, then where do you fit on the political spectrum?
Political scholars have recognized the traditional left-right spectrum has been incomplete for some time. In fact, it’s really only useful for tracking the answer to one question: “What part of your life do you think government should control?” On the left-hand side of the spectrum we find people who believe that it’s the government’s job to regulate our economic lives. Democrats and Greens tend to be on this end of the spectrum. On the right-hand side, we find people who believe that it’s the government’s job to regulate our social lives. Republicans and Constitution party members tend to be on this end of the spectrum. This one-dimensional view of politics as something for controlling one area of life or another explains why Libertarians cringe when we hear politicians talk about passing “bi-partisan” legislation!
When you think about it, it’s easy to see that the simple left/right political spectrum fails to accurately describe the various mix of political opinions held today. Several ideas have been conceived about how to address this problem—the most prominent of which has resulted in something called the “Nolan Chart”, which has been used as the basis for the “World’s Smallest Political Quiz” mentioned in the sidebar on this page.
More important to notice, however, is the fact that the current “two-party” political system—with its major players fitting neatly along the left/right line—fails to accurately represent the range of political opinions held by voters today. Even when you include the other minor parties, without the Libertarian Party, the system fails to provide a political home for people who value both economic and social freedom. Though they all still use the rhetoric, there is no other party that is willing to trust you to make all of your own decisions, or to respect all of your rights to life, liberty, and property.
People still agree with Libertarian ideas in great numbers. Unfortunately, too often, people are led to believe that they don’t have a choice—that they must give up something in order to have a just society—or worse, elect “the lesser of two evils”.
There is another choice: If you think as we do, and if you want to send a clear message to Ohio politicians November 2006—a message that, if nothing else will force politicians in both major parties to think twice about passing laws that restrict your self-ownership, then vote for the candidate that you agree with most, instead of the candidate that you fear the least. Vote Libertarian!
To learn more about how the Libertarian philosophy and it’s concept of Self-Ownership is being applied to specific political issues, click here.