After racist homophobic anti-semites, libertarians are the Left’s favourite whipping boy, as this post at Liberal Conspiracy confirms. The author has paraphrased the statements of a Tory MEP at the Tory conference and, because one or two of them had a libertarian bent, has asked, ‘Are all libertarians this childish?‘
Short answer: no, but I’ll allow you the question because it’s obvious you’ve never come within spitting distance of an actual libertarian.
The comments then devolve into an argument about labels and the nature of libertarian ideology. I don’t comment at Liberal Conspiracy, but happily I have my own blog.
Picking some randomer from some other part of the political spectrum who advocates a single vaguely libertarian idea and calling him a libertarian does not, in fact, make him a libertarian.
Meanwhile, spouting one’s interpretation of libertarianism as ‘Hands off my Lexus, hippy,’ or ‘only freedom from taxation’ does not, in fact, mean that is what libertarianism is. I don’t even own a Lexus, and the tax I personally pay is not overly onerous.
The truth is that advocates of freedom are found all over the political spectrum, but the only true libertarians are the ones who advocate it at all times in all circumstances, from the bedroom to the wallet – who believe that ‘freedom from’ is the only state of being consistent with the dignity and majesty of humankind.
‘Freedom from’ is the most important part of that ideology. Freedom from coercion. Freedom from interference. Freedom from oppression.
‘Freedom to’ is where the misunderstandings enter. People on the right think libertarians are advocating freedom to burgle, rob, rape, murder – because they read ‘freedom’ to mean ‘freedom to do whatever you please.’
People on the left think libertarians are advocating exploitation, pollution, callousness, and the primacy of making (and keeping) money above all else – because they read ‘freedom’ to mean ‘freedom to do whatever you please.’
And both sides think libertarians consider the laws we have prohibiting these activities to be a restriction on freedom.
When will they realise that they don’t understand?
Libertarians believe you should be free from coercion – and that you must not coerce anyone else. Libertarians believe you should be free from interference – and that you must not interfere with anyone else. Libertarians believe you should be free from oppression – and that you must not oppress anyone else. Because these are to be universal freedoms: what you do not wish done to you, you must not do to anyone else.
For the libertarian, there is no ‘freedom to.’ Freedom represents an absence, the absence of force and fraud. It does not represent a licence to do anything, or a right or entitlement, except the absolute human right not to be forced or defrauded.
‘Freedom to’ is where conflict enters the system. ‘Freedom to’ often becomes a right: a right to a family, a right to cheap healthcare, a right to a job, a right not to starve. In this way a person can argue that poverty constitutes a lack of freedom, because poor people are not, to use the most extreme example, free to eat. And so a non-libertarian may say, their right to eat must override someone else’s freedom from coercion.
A libertarian may say, are the poor victims of coercion, interference, or oppression? If so, it must stop – and then they may be able to provide themselves with food. Thus not only are the freedoms of the poor restored, they are helped without obviating anyone else’s freedoms. No conflict exists; the principles of freedom are not only maintained, they are extended.
And for holding this principle, for advocating it, and for trying to practise it in their daily lives, libertarians are ‘childish’ and vilified as ‘Hands off my Lexus, you hippy.’ We, who are concerned only with the heights of dignity and achievement all humans could reach if only they were freed from coercion, interference, and oppression, are called ‘selfish’ and ‘misanthropic.’
So be it.