What Libertarianism Is Not

Courtesy of Logan Albright @ Mises.org:

As libertarianism begins to gain in popularity and seep into the youth culture, there is increasing pressure from certain strains of the movement to attempt to modify the theory and transform it into something that it is not.

To begin with, let us examine what is meant by the term “libertarian,” what its limits are, and what it attempts to explain. Libertarianism is exclusively a political philosophy describing the legitimate use of force in society. It claims that humans have the right of self-ownership, and that theft, assault and other forms of aggression violate this right, except in the case of legitimate self-defense against an aggressor. This is where the philosophy begins and ends, and although some libertarians dispute the circumstances under which force is acceptable (the Night Watchman state versus no state at all), it still has the legitimate use of force as its core.

It is not an economic philosophy, although its conclusion tends to support free market capitalism due to the lack of coercion inherent in such a system. Still, there is no dictum against collective ownership so long as it is voluntary. This is what anarcho-communism is all about.

Similarly, libertarianism has little to say about politics except for what follows directly from its central precept. Taxes are immoral because they involve coercion. Democracy is no better than dictatorship if it imposes the will of the many onto the few by force. And so on.

But because libertarianism has become fashionable among a certain segment of the population, and because we wish to expand the movement and convert others to it, there has been a push to expand this simple definition into a more holistic ethical code encompassing every aspect of life, almost akin to a religion. We are told that non-discrimination based on superficial characteristics like race and sex is an inherently libertarian position. It is not. So long as discrimination does not violate anyone’s rights of self-ownership, the theory simply has nothing to say about it (although we can observe that a capitalistic system is unlikely to encourage such behavior due to the way it tends to impact profits.) Continue reading