Libertarians vs. Labels: Real People vs. Stereotypes

Updated on May 31, 2018
Garry Reed profile image

Garry Reed combined a professional technical writing career and a passion for all things libertarian to become The Libertarian Opinionizer.

Commentary From Your Libertarian Opinionizer

Consciously or subconsciously we all label each other until we get to know each other as individuals. But some people never get beyond their negative labeling.

And that’s the real problem; it’s not the labeling that matters so much as what we do with those labels.

For example the Internet has been littered for years with articles by people who can’t seem to distinguish between a conceptual label called “libertarianism” and a specific, unique, individual person called “libertarian” and so they just keep getting it all wrong.

A typical instance of this is an article from Daily Kos by Tony Greco entitled “Four Reasons to Reject Libertarianism.”

While old by online standards—posted in 2012—the ideas in this article are still regurgitated on a regular basis today and embraced by huge numbers of people, especially those who regularly haunt the hallways of social media and revere coercive collectivist ideologies.

Your Libertarian Opinionizer’s Book Break: Government Labels Everyone

Death By Regulation: How We Were Robbed of a Golden Age of Health and How We Can Reclaim It
Death By Regulation: How We Were Robbed of a Golden Age of Health and How We Can Reclaim It
Few people who blame the tragic shortcomings of America’s health system on greedy capitalists have an inkling of how their revered “public healthcare system” is the real villain. Ruwart takes us step by step through the massive disasters created by government regulatory interventions that drove a stake through the heart of the traditional patient-doctor-pharmacist relationship and turned us all into mere medical labels. Whether this was a result of unintended consequences or intentionally created wealth and power grabs by the statist elitists isn’t really important since the outcome has been the same: A colossally failed health system for everyone but the elitists themselves.

Four Reasons or Four Rationalizations?

Keep in mind that throughout this example of labeling that the Modern American Libertarian Movement is based on the non-aggression principle (NAP) that rejects coercion, intimidation and fraud. Failure to acknowledge this easy-to-understand premise is the primary reason why so many people mislabel, misclassify, misidentify and misunderstand libertarianism.

Some of these “Four Reasons” are easily dispensed with, but because of some people’s obsessive beliefs other “Reasons” will require more detailed refutations.

“1. Libertarian values are repellent”

Greco gets off to a quick start with an all-too typical banality with his blanket statement, “Libertarianism celebrates greed and selfishness.”

This is absurd on its face. “Libertarianism” is a philosophical concept. Philosophical concepts cannot “celebrate.” Only actual people can “celebrate” or otherwise express greed or selfishness. There is no requirement, or even a proclivity, tendency, penchant or any particular inclination for any libertarian to be greedy or selfish.

Furthermore, any individual can be or not be greedy or selfish, including progressives, liberals, social justice warriors, right-wingers, fascists or any other category of people. These are individual choices, not dictated by any philosophical concept.

In a similar way he proclaims that people are most often attracted to the left because they have an interest in helping the less fortunate. Apparently he is ignorant of people who self-identify as “the libertarian left” who focus their concerns on exactly those issues but in a voluntary way that doesn’t violate the NAP.

He goes on with these prescriptive clichés, that libertarians don’t care about social or economic equality, the poor or the underprivileged. But the same response applies; each libertarian is free to pursue whatever he or she decides is most important as an individual. And, in fact, that is exactly what each individual libertarian does in the real world outside of Greco’s Label World.

Greco steps on his own tongue when he arrogantly declares “Do you really think that anybody ever became a libertarian motivated primarily by the conviction that that was the best way to help the underdog?” The answer is a resounding “Hell yes! Voluntaryism is compassionate for everyone involved. It’s your groupthink coercion that is repellent.”

This brings the discussion full circle to his opening reason for rejecting libertarianism: “Libertarian values are repellent.” Since the primary value for libertarians is their non-aggression principle Greco must be openly admitting that he finds coercion, intimidation and fraud to be non-repellent and therefore acceptable.

“2. Libertarianism is intellectually myopic”

His reason for this proclamation is “Libertarians cherish freedom above all” to which libertarians and all other freedom-lovers would likely respond, “Duh!” Freedom requires “self-ownership” which means you own your own body, your own brain, your own life, and therefore the results of your own efforts.

Without self-ownership no definition of freedom is possible; you are owned in every way by someone or something else.

Because he doesn’t understand that “freedom” requires self-ownership he claims that libertarians “understand freedom almost exclusively in terms of freedom from government” and then goes on to chirp about all of the other wonderful concepts of freedom envisioned by the intellectually and emotionally superior progressives such as freedom from poverty, hardship, and oppression.

Yet without the self-ownership definition of freedom none of those other definitions of freedom would be possible.

He also apparently forgets that freedom from government means the right for progressives and libertarians alike to voluntarily work together to find the best solutions to the very issues of poverty, hardship and oppression that all compassionate, well-meaning people care about no matter what label the Tony Grecos of the world try to box people into.

Then after whining about people who are “forced to move long distances in search of decent jobs”—as though not a single person has ever done exactly that voluntarily, i.e., the whole American historical wagon train migration of people westward—Greco steps on it again when he airily asks, “How many people do you know who have ever been forced to move from their home town by government?”

Has the man never heard of the “Trail of Tears” relocations that resulted in 15,000 deaths when the US government forced some 100,000 Southeast tribal people out of their homes and marched them thousands of miles to “Indian Territory” where they were shoved into concentration camps called “reservations?”

Never heard of the millions of men forced from their homes by military conscription to fight in the Civil War that killed 620,000 Americans and then the millions more forced every year into military servitude from then through 1973 (when the draft finally ended) for the purpose of fighting the government’s far-flung wars?

Never heard of the Tennessee Valley Authority that forcibly relocated an estimated 15,000 families—not individuals but whole families—to make room for dams and reservoirs?

Never heard of the 110,000 to 120,000 Japanese-Americans forcibly herded into “internment camps” (the American prison gulag) during World War 2 by government edict?

But even that misses the real point. Libertarians do not—repeat for emphasis, do not—“understand freedom almost exclusively in terms of freedom from government.” Libertarians understand freedom in terms of freedom from all forms of coercion, intimidation and fraud including government.

The NAP. Remember? This is what invariably happens when someone tries to force-fit individuals into a label called “libertarian” while ignoring the non-aggression principle of a manifestly individualist philosophy.

“3. Libertarianism is utopian”

Libertarians have a saying that the author has apparently never heard: “Utopia is not an option.”

His position is “An active state is a universal feature of advanced societies.” True, but other “universal features” throughout centuries of “advanced societies” are torture, nearly constant warfare and continuous slavery. Is that his idea of Utopia?

But he quickly adds: “The minimal government society that libertarians envision doesn’t exist anywhere in the industrial or post-industrial world, and never has, for good reason.” And that’s true. The “good reason” is that neither a “minimal government” nor a “free society” can exist in an industrial or post-industrial world any more than a democracy can exist in an absolute dictatorship: The free libertarian society requires a post-statist world.

If that sounds way too utopian for the likes of the Grecos of the world they should consider that most libertarians are both idealists and realists:

“Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society.”—RPI News, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, July 2011

“4. Libertarianism is politically hopeless”

What he doesn’t get here is the same thing that most capital L Libertarians also don’t get; that politics is merely the practical application of philosophy and therefore the philosophy of libertarianism must be firmly established in society before a politics of libertarianism can be established.

Repeat: most libertarians are both idealists and realists.

Repeat: Rensselaer Polytechnic quote above.

Hopeless? Labeling something so doesn’t make it so.

The Government or Nothing Mentality

Now for that “more detailed refutation” mentioned earlier.

In Reason “2. Libertarianism is intellectually myopic” Greco asks, “Is a gravely ill person free if she lacks access to decent health care?” Ignoring that this is a different meaning of “free” used in a different context (a favorite ploy of progressives) this is the old unspoken cliché that pretends government cares about people while libertarians throw the poor, homeless, ill, elderly and all other needy out into the streets to die.

That’s childish progressive myopia writ large and slapped on libertarianism because it’s easier to label than it is to think.

Dr. Mary J. Ruwart’s new book Death by Regulation is a perfect example of a label—government—taking precedence over real people—individuals.

Dr. Ruwart explains how the 1962 Amendments to the original Food and Drug Act, created in response to the Thalidomide drug tragedy that caused horribly deformed babies, actually created an even bigger tragedy: It robbed us all of a “Golden Age of health.”

The book documents how the new regulations, among many other failures, increased the time it takes to develop new drugs from 4 years to 14 years; caused terminally ill patients to turn to the black market if they wanted to live; caused costs of everyday prescription drugs to soar; and caused drug companies to stop developing new drugs because they knew they could never recoup their development costs.

Asked for her personal comment for this article Dr. Ruwart offered the following assessment:

“Whether we are regulators, doctors, drug company executives, or patients, we have all lost 5-10 years of our lives to the 1962 Amendments to the Food & Drug Act. We all have a stake in rolling back these regulations and living longer, healthier lives!”

In addition to that one can ask virtually any American war veteran what kind of “decent health care” he or she gets from the “public healthcare” VA hospitals.

Reed’s Rule: Anything that becomes politicized ceases to be about that thing and becomes all about the politics.

The other side of the government versus people equation is brilliantly laid out in David T. Beito’s From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State that documents how people voluntarily working together in the private sector actually gave us “access to decent healthcare” in the past until Big Gov, Big Med and Big Insurance co-opted, monetized and politicized it all to benefit their own greed for power, money and personal egos.

Remember then that it’s not the labeling that matters so much as what we do with those labels.

Libertarianism is an individualist philosophy designed for individuals. There is only one thing required for a person to be a libertarian. As Matt Kibbe so succinctly put it in his own book’s title: Don’t Hurt People and Don’t Steal Their Stuff.

Collectivist philosophies require their adherents to believe, think, act, interact and live based on certain dictated rules as demanded by the people who inevitably control them and their societies, whether through faux “democratic voting,” absolute dictatorship, or any variation in between, and suffer negative consequences if they don’t obey.

But let’s be very clear here: All too often libertarians are just as guilty of labeling people and then treating them as labels rather than as individuals. It’s an all too easy trap.

If we want to rescue those from the grip of coercive collectivist ideologies who are truly rescuable we must always remember to engage them in a respectful person-to-person manner, not in a mindless label-to-label way.

Everyone is an individual until they absolutely insist that they are not.

References And Links

Four Long-Festering Reasons to Reject Individual Freedom The full 2012 Tony Greco article in which he attacks a falsely-labeled stereotype version of libertarianism that few libertarians fall for but many collectivists swallow whole.

A Free Society Requires a Post-Statist Consciousness Where “government” is not a monopoly, is voluntarily funded and is based on rights protection rather than law enforcement, the latter meaning no so-called “victimless crimes.”

Mutual Aid vs. The Welfare State “Single-Payer Healthcare” is just a label for “anonymous government bureaucratic medicine” that creates paternalistic dependency and kills people on long waiting lists. People have lost control of their own wellbeing.

Don’t Hurt People and Don’t Take Their Stuff Libertarianism is simply the adult version of the lessons that every responsible parent ever taught their children: Don’t hit, don’t bully, don’t lie.

Video View: Your Libertarian Opinionizer’s Pick “I Am Not A Label!”

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.


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    • tamarawilhite profile image

      Tamara Wilhite 

      24 months ago from Fort Worth, Texas

      Jonathan Haidt has done revolutionary research on personality types versus political views. Liberals are hard to disgust, love novelty to the point of hating the familiar and only use perceived fairness and harm as moral measures. Conservatives have stronger disgust, better threat recognition and 5 channel morality.

      And libertarians are the only group high on personality trait reactance (I find contradicting others stimulating) and high on the ability to reflect on what they believe and change beliefs in light of new evidence. They're the MOST likely to think about what they believe and why they believe it of any group.

    • Garry Reed profile imageAUTHOR

      Garry Reed 

      2 years ago from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas

      Tamara, I don't know if it was Jonathan Haidt's research on personality types that I ran across some time back but one of those studies claimed that libertarians scored lowest among liberals, conservatives and libertarians when it came to compassion.

      I can definitely state that while I don't know who all those low-compassionate libertarians are or what sort of questions were posed to get that result (asking "Are you against government welfare, government health, government safety net, "free" government college education, etc would certainly do it) I proudly proclaim myself to be a compassionate libertarian. So I have a problem with Haidt or whoever did the study i read about. To me libertarians are the MOST compassionate because we don't advocate government violence as a means of helping some at the detriment of others.

    • tamarawilhite profile image

      Tamara Wilhite 

      2 years ago from Fort Worth, Texas

      Jonathan Haidt's research on personality types relative to politics might explain a lot of this. Libertarians are unique in being high in reactance, answering yes to I find contradicting others stimulating, and in the trait of re-analyzing their beliefs when presented with facts that contradict their beliefs.

    • Garry Reed profile imageAUTHOR

      Garry Reed 

      2 years ago from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas

      Thanks Astra! Always love hearing from you.

    • profile image

      Astra d'Oudney 

      2 years ago

      Good article, Garry, and as ever finely-tuned and expressed.


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