Overall, I think political labels are confusing and manipulative. As such, I don’t call myself a libertarian so much as use the currently common vocabulary in ways that I think will pique people’s interest. Hopefully, as any discussion proceeds, it will be more about principles and their practical applications. These principles are more enduring than particular labels. They also are something more substantial than the hype and propaganda too often associated with political labels.
For most of my life, the only political label I claimed was whatever I chose at the ballot box, as I was forced to do in order to vote. I tried to make informed decisions about voting, but my public school education had the better of me and I was ill-prepared to sift through all the propaganda from vying powers. I always finished the process feeling vaguely unsettled and manipulated. Now I know I was manipulated. It was still my responsibility to become aware of that.
It was through the process of teaching my own children about economics by reading Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell that I began to see how the political world misleads us. I am embarrassed to say that for too many years, I thought the average politician had the best interest of others at heart. When I saw that even I could learn enough about economics to understand how badly the economy was affected by government interference, I could not help but wonder how these people who proclaimed to be wise enough to take care of the rest of us could be so far off the mark. Ignorance could not be an acceptable excuse for those elbow deep in the money. Double meaning intended.
Thus, I discovered the principles of freedom were not what had been taught to me in grade school. Freedom was not about a government that made and kept me free, as their government school text books portrayed. Now I saw that their brand of freedom was like when one gang takes over the block and tells everyone they are “free” from the other gang. Real freedom, in political terms, is about being free from the imposed government of others. Some of it is about being able to make individual choices without fines or imprisonment. Some of it is about being able to interact with others without the government telling us how it should be done. We govern ourselves according to our own priorities and consequences, as the adults we are.
There are those who will try to tell me that I can’t have the freedoms I do without the government keeping me safe from others. This harkens back to the comparison about gangs and their warfare. Thanks, anyway. If I want to learn more about self-preservation or hire someone else for security purposes, that is different. But how is it freedom to be forced to fund a gang, always being at risk of draft into their war machine?
As I explored these issues with intellectual satisfaction for the first time, I was introduced to the term libertarian. I had heard enough to know that libertarians are scorned by those who clamor for more government control, so I wanted to understand what the political implications of the word are. It was not that I felt any need to belong to a particular group. Rather, what I wanted was to gain understanding of everyone else’s perceived groupings.
What I found was that the word libertarian is fairly new. The concepts associated with it are not new, but as political language changed, there seemed the need to come up with another word to differentiate between governmental models. Words like liberal, which used to distinctly have to do with personal freedom, were now strongly attached to a political party that advocated certain social controls. Thus, people who favored much less government interference in people’s lives met under the banner of libertarian. If you hear the term classical liberal, chances are it is a reference to people of previous generations who espoused what are now called libertarian views.
This doesn’t mean that all of these libertarian people agree on how much or what kind of government should be allowed. Those who advocate libertarian premises may vary from no enforced government of any kind to a government that approaches the supposed purity of that established in the United States Constitution. No enforced government doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t be influenced by others to do what is considered good and right. It just means that no select class or system is given coercive rights of force over the rest of the population.
There is a joke among some libertarian circles asking “what is the difference between a libertarian and an anarchist?” The answer is 6 months. Once a person begins to question the validity of government force, the methods inherent in coercive government have to be suspect. But the word anarchy has been almost completely abused, so that it is usually more productive to begin conversations about freedom without it. Libertarianism, on the other hand, at least sounds like liberty, a word still touted by government propagandists in spite of their manipulation of it.
Unfortunately, much like peace, true individual political liberty will probably never be experienced in this world. Some people will always seek and have the power to control others. That does’t mean the principles of freedom are invalid or that we should not speak up for it. Inner peace and liberty, on the other hand, can be had. Understanding that a government has no right over you is freeing on one level. Discussing such issues with clarity is also freeing. But, mostly, knowing that true freedom and hope are not dependent on the choices of others is freeing. Political freedom and spiritual freedom may meet on this spinning globe, but spiritual freedom has a life of its own and a promise beyond these confines. Maybe I will call myself a spiritual libertarian? That should get people talking.