What is a “libertarian” anyway?
If you look up what the word means you will find that it means someone who has a passionate respect for the importance of individual rights and freedom.
This is something that damn near everyone can get behind. It’s common sense to anyone in a democracy that one’s rights and freedom are vitally important.
So then why has “libertarian” become such a dirty word?
Well you see friends it’s because many of the people who call themselves “libertarians” are actually nothing of the sort.
Think about it for a moment. Libertarians believe that people should be allowed to do pretty much whatever they want unless doing so would violate the freedoms of others. If you want to cover yourself in gravy and run naked through the streets you should be allowed to do so.
This is almost identical to my own beliefs, and some of my weekends.
But, rationally, this means that libertarians should, mostly, be in favour of:
1. Legalising drugs
2. Giving women the choice of abortion
3. Letting gay people marry
4. Rooting out racism and any other subtle infringements on rights
5. Defending the right of people to associate with whoever they want and however they want (in a workers’ union for example)
6. Reducing the prison population to the absolute minimum
7. Never using military force unless there is literally no alternative; the loss of the rights of civilians is massive and unavoidable
8. Never forcing someone to adopt a religious practice they disagree with (like being made to say a prayer in school)
9. Defending all peaceful protests, even ones that are insulting or offensive, and
10. Letting people come into the country and work if they want to
The funny thing is that I reckon that Penn Jillette and Ron Paul (to cite two topical examples) actually do agree with most of those ideas, because they really are libertarians.
I mean Ron Paul is against unions but that isn’t because he’s not a libertarian it’s because he’s a very nice man who lives in a fantasy world where corporations never exploit people.
But when you look at other people who call themselves libertarian who do you find?
Glenn Beck, Dick Cheney, George Bush, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and an icky torrent of other people who have made entire careers around wanting to infringe on people’s freedom.
Sometimes whole countries at a time.
So wtf is going on here?
Well, it seems to boil down to just one thing: libertarians believe that government should be as small as possible and never take away people’s hard earned money.
And since government is the only force that has the power to restrict big business’ ability to take advantage of people (and obey any kind of moral compass) this part of libertarian ideology appeals very strongly to self-obsessed rich people who don’t like being told that the only way to stop people starving is by taxing them at a higher rate.
So these people call themselves libertarian because it’s a way of adding credibility to their beliefs. Even though those beliefs can often be summarised as: “It’s mine! All mine! Muahahahahaha!”
It allows them to pretend that they are standing on solid ideological footing when they pay death squads to execute union leaders.
This is the business level. But there is also a political level.
When you look at the policies enacted by the Republican Party you see that damn near all of them are oriented around one thing: helping the rich.
They claim that their platform is more complex but most of the shitty changes they make are window dressing. These changes don’t actually do anything, at least not when compared to the very large effects of the moves they make to benefit the rich.
Compare the destruction of the union movement to letting gays marry and decide for yourself which one has affected the social landscape of America more widely.
(protip: it’s not teh gheis lol)
Of course the problem with taking such an obviously pro-business set of agendas is that it’s obvious, and politics is all about perception. What they need is exactly what the businesspeople I mentioned above need: a legitimizing label. So they call themselves libertarian, as if that makes it all ok.
So the Republicans who call themselves libertarian tend to reflect this ideology. They will be pro-rich and will adopt any political stance that gives them the power to support the rich, themselves included. They will gleefully infringe on people’s rights while calling themselves libertarian.
So for a lot of people the title “libertarian” has nothing to do with their actual beliefs, it’s just a handy shield against those who would criticise them. It allows them to say “I’m not pro-rich I’m battling to defend freedom for all people over here!”
Which is probably true. Since the way many of them treat the poor makes it clear that they don’t regard them as “people”.
[EDIT: Since I wrote this it has come to my attention that Penn Jillette doesn’t actually call himself “libertarian”. His ideas are pretty much all in line with libertarian principles and others usually refer to him as a Libertarian but it is still inaccurate for me to say the he calls himself a libertarian.]
[Standard Disclaimer: this post was entirely my own opinion and was not paid for in any way, directly or otherwise, by anyone or anything that stands to gain in any way from the ideas expressed herein.]