What a great time I had talking about libertarianism this morning with attendees at the 2014 Liberty and Entrepreneurship Camp in Ghana, an annual event that is organized by a devoted libertarian from Ghana named Afrikanus Kofi Akosah. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it to the conference itself and so I did the talk by Skype. The title of my talk was “Libertarianism 101: Political and Social.”
I began my talk by explaining the fundamental difference between libertarians and non-libertarians. Libertarians believe that people should be free to live their lives any way they choose — making whatever choices they want — so long as their conduct is peaceful.
Everyone agrees that violent behavior is a violation of rights and should be punished. Things like murder, robbery, theft, and burglary involve the initiation of force against other people and, therefore, should be criminalized and punished.
That raises what is known as the libertarian non-aggression principle, which holds that it’s morally wrong to initiate force against others. Thus, actions like murder, rape, theft, etc. are condemned under libertarianism.
At this point, many people are tempted to say, “Wow! I must be a libertarian” because they think they endorse the libertarian idea that people should be free to live their lives any way they choose, so long as their conduct is peaceful.
The separation of libertarians and non-libertarians, I told the audience, occurs in the real-world, practical application of that principle.
I provided several examples.
1. The drug war. Libertarians hold that a person should be free to ingest anything he wants without being punished for it. Why? Because people should be free to live their lives any way they choose, so long as their conduct is peaceful. The test of a free society is not whether people are free to make the right choice — or what others consider to be the right choice — it’s whether people are free to make the wrong choice, so long as their conduct is peaceful.
Thus, drug use might well be harmful. Alcohol and tobacco can be extremely harmful. Same with illicit drugs. But that’s up to each person to decide. That’s the essence of freedom — the right to engage in dangerous, immoral, irresponsible, and self-destructive conduct, so long as it’s peaceful.
I also told the audience that it’s not surprising that the drug war produces so many bad consequences — violence, gang wars, drug cartels, robberies, deaths, and so forth. Crisis and chaos is the inevitable consequence of having government criminalize peaceful behavior.
2. Charity. In every country in the world, the government forces people to be caring and compassionate to others. This is what Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are all about. These are welfare-state programs here in the United States by which the government forcibly takes money from people in order to help the poor, elderly, or needy.
Libertarians say that that isn’t charity at all. It’s just political stealing. The programs cannot and do not reflect the goodness or compassion of people because force is involved. Here in the United States, a federal agency called the Internal Revenue Service forcibly collects the taxes. It is a fearsome and tyrannical agency, one that can seize people’s money directly, without having to go to court to do so.
Libertarians say that people should be free to do whatever they want with their own money. That’s what genuine freedom is all about — including the right to say “no” when someone seeks assistance. If people are not free to say “no,” then they cannot truly be considered free.
3. Education. It would be difficult to find a better example of a socialist program than public (i.e., government) schooling. Mandatory attendance laws require parents to send their child into the governmental system, which is funded by taxes, which, again, are based on force.
Every nation in the world has a governmental educational system. The reason? To inculcate a mindset among the children of conformity, regimentation, and deference to authority that hopefully, from the state’s standpoint, will last throughout adulthood. The state wants to make sure that people do not question or challenge the state’s predominate role in their lives.
We see the success of the indoctrination here in the United States, especially with respect to foreign policy. The U.S. national-security state invades countries, wages wars of aggression, occupies countries, and tortures, incarcerates, and assassinates people. Many Americans eagerly nod their heads with approval, praising and glorifying the troops. They don’t even think to question whether the government belongs in those countries or whether the troops should be killing people there. They simply defer to authority. That’s how successful the public schooling system has been here in the United States.
Libertarians believe that the state has no legitimate role in education. Education should be left to the free market. Families should be free to decide the best educational vehicle for their children. Entrepreneurs should be free to offer educational services to families. That’s an essential aspect of freedom, and is virtually certain to produce independent-thinking individuals who are unafraid to tell the government when it is in the wrong and to try to place it on the right track.
4. The economy. The state has no role in controlling or regulating economic activity. Free enterprise means enterprise that is free of government intervention or regulation. I’ll be talking more about that in my talk on Wednesday.
5. Trade and immigration. Libertarians say: open the borders to the free movements of goods and services. Unlike the left, which professes to love the “poor, needy, and disadvantaged,” and the right, which professes to favor “free enterprise,” we libertarians don’t want to punish immigrants who come here to sustain and improve their lives through labor. We welcome them. Again, that’s what freedom is all about — the right to engage in peaceful behavior.
6. Gun rights. People have the right to own whatever they want, including guns. When guns are made illegal, only the peaceful, law-abiding people surrender their guns. The murderers and robbers keep their guns, which means that the victims no longer have the means to defend themselves. Equally important, widespread gun ownership among the citizenry tends to deter tyrants from coming to power because would-be tyrants know that the citizenry have the ability to resort to force to defend themselves against the tyranny.
Where does democracy fit here? Democracy is not freedom. In fact, it’s a threat to freedom. All that democracy does is give people the ability to change public officials.
If majority vote is extended to the exercise of fundamental rights, democracy has then been used to destroy freedom.
As Thomas Jefferson pointed out in the American Declaration of Independence, everyone has been endowed with fundamental, God-given rights. These rights don’t come from government. They precede government.
Would we want the majority to decide whether everyone goes to church on Sunday? Of course not. The reason: freedom of religion is a fundamental right that cannot be controlled, regulated, or infringed upon by the majority. The same though holds true for all peaceful choices, including drugs, charity education, economy, trade and immigration, and gun rights.
Thus, constitutions and bills of rights are not designed to give people rights. People’s rights preexist these documents. The documents instead are intended to tell government what it can do and cannot do and to make it clear that the government is prohibited from infringing on the fundamental rights of the people.
So, on conclusion, libertarians believe that people should be free to live their lives any way they choose, so long as their conduct is peaceful. Democracy enables people to peacefully change public officials or political philosophy, but it does not constitute freedom. Freedom necessarily entails placing restrictions on the power of governments. That’s what constitutions and bills of rights are all about.