Libertarians on the Rise

Written By Outsider Club

Posted January 22, 2014

If the mainstream news is to be believed, libertarian sentiment is rising in America. The media enjoys attaching itself to fads, but there is some evidence for the claim.

A number of liberty-minded congressmen are proving to be a headache for party leaders. Student organizations are cropping up across the country to promote libertarian ideals on college campuses.

But do these trends really mean the shared philosophy of Ron Paul and Ayn Rand is on an upswing?
Many popular thinkers are equating a fall in traditional norms with a rise in liberty-minded views.

Erudite conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer recently declared on a Fox News program that relaxed social tolerance, what he calls “generally…libertarian,” is a sure sign of this phenomenon.

Pot legalization in Colorado and the striking down of anti-polygamy laws in Utah certainly lend themselves to this notion.

There are other factors at play that point to a more liberally tolerant culture. Thanks to the Internet, pornography is more widely available than ever before. Basic manners – such as not lavishly kissing a significant other in public – have been heavily eroded.

Moreover, the U. S. is undoubtedly becoming a more secular state. Church membership is declining and increasing numbers of folks identify as “non-religious” or “atheist.” The temperance that comes from a belief in higher order has been cast aside for the Mad magazine attitude of “What, me worry?”

Some might see this as a gradual jump into libertarianism. Plenty of putative libertarian publications give disproportionate attention to drug and sex issues. Hardly a day goes by without a diatribe being written on either marijuana legalization or gay marriage in popular liberty outlets such as Reason magazine.

Smoking a joint in peace is not the focal point of libertarianism, however. While libertarians support ending the costly and murderous War on Drugs, it’s slim pickings compared with the ultimate goal: genuine liberty and respect for property rights.

Murray Rothbard, the libertarian economist and polymath, first defined the philosophy of liberty as adherence to the non-aggression principle. The principle is simple: it is impermissible to hurt others or their property. Any harm done should be considered illegal unless it is purely defensive. Basically, it’s the lesson any kindergartner learns on their first day of preschool.

Some libertarians abide by this rule on utilitarian grounds. Others, including me, find the non-aggression principle morally superior because it fits perfectly well within the natural law. It is, to borrow Catholic scholar George Weigel’s phrase, part of “the truth of things built into the world and into us.”

Regardless of basis, proper libertarianism holds that force initiated against the innocent is always wrong. A government gun and badge don’t make a difference.

Opposition to the drug prohibition, government regulation of marriage, and economic intervention all stem from the principle that it’s illegitimate to interfere with peaceful activity. And though it may be wrong to lock up a teenager for smoking a dried plant, there are bigger issues libertarians often lose sight of in the fight for freedom.

This can be partially attributed to the many young proponents of the philosophy – many of whom see libertarianism as one in the same as libertinism. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There are plenty of libertarians who hold traditional values on religion, marriage, and social mores. They simply opt for non-violent persuasion to change hearts and minds rather than government force.

But the biggest problems faced by the country today are not squabbles over matrimony rights. Washington D.C. runs a veritable panopticon of surveillance domestically and abroad. Drone strikes kill innocent people halfway across the globe, including an attack that killed three last Christmas Day. There is little accountability for these extrajudicial strikes, and little evidence required to prove guilt.

Even more egregious is the still-open island prison located in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. More than half the detainees committed no crime. They are cleared for release but legal hurdles prevent their exodus. Last year saw many of these prisoners wage a hunger-strike over their unjustified detention. Feeding tubes were forcefully shoved inside their nostrils – a torturous process barely removed from water-boarding.

It is this kind of gross treatment for human life that libertarians stand against.

Twelve years of the War on Terror have eroded more basic liberties than the first two centuries of the American Republic. Hundreds of thousands have been killed, with little accomplished. The Middle East is more unstable than before Uncle Sam’s ill-fated tour following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. And yet politicians in Washington are clamoring for more bloodshed with Iran.

Here is where libertarians are supposed to be at their most vehement. This year marks the centennial of World War 1, perhaps the most destructive event in Western history. Millions perished while the Europe of old folded up and died. But here we are, lesson hardly learned, as the U.S. stands on the precipice of another full-out war. The only result will be less privacy, less liberty, less guaranteed rights, and less life on Earth.

Krauthammer wrongly believes the libertarian philosophy focuses more on frivolous social issues than on the question of life versus death. He is surely not alone in this opinion.

By and large, libertarians have no one but themselves to blame.

*Post courtesy of James Miller at Miller’s Genuine Draft. Miller is editor of the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada, a libertarian think tank.