Do you believe that individuals should have the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? If so, then chances are you’re a libertarian.
Whether you consider yourself conservative or liberal, in all likelihood you believe in the concept of freedom. The desire to be free from oppression is a fundamental human characteristic. Consequently, both modern conservatives and modern liberals champion freedom; the divide between these groups is simply what kind of freedom they support. Traditionally, conservatives are aligned with economic freedom and liberals are aligned with political/civil liberties.
Libertarians do not make a distinction between economic freedom and political freedom. We believe that, from a philosophical standpoint, there is no difference between the two. There is only one, all-encompassing term of freedom.
To libertarians, the right to keep one’s property, including the fruits of one’s labor, is put on the same pedestal as the right to live free from coercion. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are just as important as the freedom to choose how to spend one’s earnings. Those with a background in economics understand the concept of businesses as “profit-maximizers.” I like to think of libertarians as “freedom-maximizers.”
Libertarianism, in addition to having this moral dimension of supporting the most freedom, is also a utilitarian school of thought. What this means is that libertarianism promises the most prosperity, measured via the economic term of utility. In short, the libertarian system leaves the most people the best off.
Included in my definition of libertarianism was the phrase “individual responsibility.” What does it mean to believe in this? Individuals should be responsible for making their own decisions, whether or not these decisions are “good for them.” We reject the notion of paternalism—the idea that a society or government should limit the behavior of individuals, even if their behavior does not negatively impact others. Examples of paternalism include New York’s recent banning of large sodas, cigarette taxes, minimum drinking ages, criminalization of drug use, and even mandatory seat belt laws. Libertarians do not deny the effectiveness of the seat belt in making cars safer; we simply do not see any justification for mandatory seat belt laws.
If you truly believe in freedom, and freedom in its fullest sense, then you cannot logically claim that a government should be in the business of deciding what its citizens do in their individual capacities. Thus, personal freedom and individual responsibility go hand-in-hand.
Unlike nearly every other political ideology, libertarianism is free from contradictions. While conservatism and liberalism profess to care about individual freedom, in reality they simply pick and choose freedoms as if they are drawing from a hat.
Conservatives talk about economic freedom, but support growing entitlement states and large amounts of government spending to pay for unnecessary wars. Liberals fight for social justice, while idealizing a president who battled for (and won) the ability to indefinitely detain American citizens through the NDAA. Conservatives typically love their religious freedom, but are trying to push their religious beliefs on society by banning gay marriage. Liberals claim to endorse fairness, but are completely fine with (metaphorically) sticking their hands in others’ pockets to redistribute wealth. The list goes on and on…
My point here is not that conservatives and liberals are terrible people, but that they hold contradictory views on liberty and freedom. Libertarianism solves this problem through its tenant that economic freedom and civil liberties can, and should, coexist.
If you want a philosophy free of contradictions, and which leads to the greatest amount of prosperity for the most people, libertarianism may be for you! The liberty movement is growing exponentially and you could be the next addition.
If you are interested in joining Students for Liberty at Northwestern University please contact SFL@u.northwestern.edu (Justin Moore is the group’s President.)