Dear Libertarian Critics, I’m Totally Changing My Name to Republican Girl
Just kidding. I’m not actually changing my name to “Republican Girl.” Lately I’ve been taking a lot of heat from libertarians who think I should change my name to “Republican Girl” or “Rand Paul Girl.” I’ve also been told to change my name to “Anarchist Girl” and “Socialist Girl.” It’s pretty typical for a libertarian to get called an anarchist and a teabagger all in the same day. So I calculated how much I care about what people call me and quickly realized I don’t care at all.
So why am I writing this if I don’t care? Well, it’s simple. Libertarianism is a rich political philosophy that covers a wide range of differing opinions and principles, all centered on the primacy of human liberty in political life. Although I don’t care what people call me personally, I do care about people consistently perpetuating false ideas about who or what is or isn’t libertarian.
Libertarianism isn’t a cult but you might think so if you hear the way some people talk about it. Libertarians don’t have one set way of thinking or trying to achieve a freer society. But it also doesn’t mean “I can do whatever I want,” “only anarchists are truly libertarian,” “libertarians aren’t anarchists,” or “all you need to know is the Non-Aggression Principle.”
When you see someone saying those things it means he or she has managed to take an inspiring and complex philosophy and butcher it into a simplistic and mindless slogan to fit their personal preferences or lack of understanding. To argue that every libertarian belongs to the Libertarian Party or that every libertarian is an anarchist would be entirely ahistorical and hence false. There is literally no truth to those statements at all and they need to die in a fire.
The cheapest trick of amateur thinkers is to purport to excommunicate others based on one’s own definition of a term. It’s easy, requires no serious thought, grants the feeling of power and authority, and makes for easy argument. It’s also shoddy and pointless. If libertarianism were nothing but an app that you could download into your brain, we could all give up the struggle of thinking. But serious people recognize that ideas work in a different way.
Libertarianism is a philosophy. It’s not a political party. Political parties form their platforms based on the ideology of the members inside of them. If a mob of socialists gained control the Libertarian Party the platform would change. And if a group of libertarians gained control of the Republican or Democratic Parties their platforms would change as well. The difference between political party and philosophy is a very important distinction that everyone, especially people who call themselves libertarians, should understand. It’s also important that people understand you can be an anarchist and a libertarian.
Some of the most important libertarian figures from history like Frédéric Bastiat, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman believed that government is necessary in a limited form. Others like Murray Rothbard believed in the complete privatization of all government functions. There are other forms of libertarian anarchism apart from Rothbard’s own, such as that which believes law itself should be subject to market competition. Many libertarians have made arguments for freedom that don’t depend on the NAP as the sole postulate of life. Indeed, there are hundreds of books on libertarianism which explore the ideas of liberty and challenge people to think about social institutions, the role of the state, or whether there should be a state at all.
Although the many thinkers of libertarianism don’t all agree on everything, it doesn’t mean that any one of them is more libertarian than the other. To say all libertarians are anarchists ignores the history of libertarianism. To say no libertarians are anarchists ignores its evolution. To say all libertarians are Libertarian Party members ignores the complexity of libertarianism. It’s just not that damn simple.
Libertarianism has evolved over time and there are many different schools of thought. No philosophy or economic system is perfect but libertarianism is one that allows individuals to experiment in the market and create an array of societies free from state oppression. As libertarianism becomes more and more popular there are going to be people who butcher the philosophy and act like cult members. There will also be people to guide them on the path to a better understanding. Libertarians need to decide whether they want to perpetuate a cult like purist mentality or be guides and advocates who help build a freer society.
There are set libertarian principles such as peace, voluntary cooperation, and justice that must be adhered to in order to be a libertarian. However, it’s still up for debate how we achieve a society that upholds those principles. I’m afraid that society won’t become reality unless libertarians understand there’s no one set way, political party, or tactic. The fight for liberty is a tough and eternal battle so we need everyone’s voice.
I believe in the ability of humankind to preserve and elevate the free minds and free markets that free people.