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
We know where libertarians come from. They come from the political left and the political right and the non-political; they come from New Hampshire and California and Nebraska; they come from white and black and brown and endlessly rainbow-colored racial and ethnic families and non-families. They come from male and female and LGBTQ. And more. Libertarians come from everywhere.
What is really meant by the question of course is why some people come to libertarianism from all of those places and more while others from those very same places and more don’t come to libertarianism.
Since libertarianism is as intellectually heterogeneous as the people who populate it the first thing to understand about the answer to the question is libertarianism itself.
What is known as the Modern American Libertarian Movement comes in two major categories typically identified as “big L” and “little L.” Libertarian with a capital L—characteristically referring to the Libertarian Party or LP—represents the political side of the movement while lower case libertarian refers to the philosophical side. Not all libertarians are Libertarian Party members and, as many thinking lower-case libertarians will argue, not all Libertarian Party members are libertarians.
It’s almost a certainty, in fact, that the overall movement is made up of far more non-LP libertarians than card-carrying Party Libertarians.
Jacob H. Huebert addresses all of this and more in his audiobook. But more on that in a bit.
How Do People Get Libertarianized?
The first question here is how do people become libertarian in the first place?
Ask a hundred libertarians how they became libertarians and you are virtually guaranteed to get a hundred different answers.
And all those answers actually point to the one single answer: Individualism. Somewhere within the innate personalities of those who eventually become libertarians, whether obvious on the surface or buried deep within, there is that spark of individualism.
That’s not to say that everyone imbued with strong individualist personalities become libertarians, but those without that individualist attribute are not likely to become libertarians unless they develop that spark later in life.
Those same hundred libertarians will also give you dozens of different definitions of their personal libertarian belief system. There will be Libertarian Party members of course, but a plethora of philosophical libertarians, constitutionalist libertarians, laissez-faire free market libertarians, anarchists, anarcho-capitalists, minarchists, voluntaryists, individualists, agorists, Objectivists, post-statists, and the list will likely go on beyond those self-identities like those who self-identify as Misesians, Randians, Rothbartians, Freidmanites, and ad infinitum.
American Libertarianism, in short, is a big tent with three rings and high wire acts all offering interrelated and competing philosophical ideas all at once. Jacob H. Huebert’s Libertarianism Today—published a decade ago by Laissez-Faire Books but perhaps even more relevant and accessible now in Audiobook—speaks to all of this. A contemporary review by Walter Block in the Mises Institute’s library offers this quote that shows the author’s big tent concept that welcomes religious people, natural rightists, utilitarians and all those other unnamed ad infinitums:
“To accept libertarianism, at least in its purest form, one has to agree with the non-aggression principle—the idea that it is wrong to defraud or use aggressive force against another person. Why would someone accept that idea? Libertarians do so for different reasons.”
In short, being libertarian is more than just politics. Being libertarian is an attitude, a belief system, a lifestyle, a moral stance, a philosophy that rests on the non-aggression principle against coercion, intimidation and fraud that encompasses the Golden Rule, the Live and Let live tenant, the good neighbor policy and the very lesson that all good people teach their own children: Don’t hit, don’t bully, don’t lie.
Many will point to books or individuals who influenced them but that simply brings up another question: Why are some receptive to libertarian ideas while others similarly exposed are not?
Many claim they were always libertarian long before they ever heard the word “libertarian.” Maybe they just naturally sought to make sense of the world around them rather than accepting everything they were told. Others may have just grown up inquisitive; give them a choice between two alternatives and they instinctively looked for third and fourth and fifth options.
Whatever that initial spark was it then had to survive the bombardment of conformism from family and friends, from school and church, from the greater social and cultural forces that can so easily extinguish that spark.
The Spark and the Effort
Still, that spark is just the start. To fully understand, appreciate and apply libertarianism requires intellectual effort. It isn’t as easy as adopting someone’s authoritarian groupthink set-piece like some form of left or right socialism that claims everyone can live at the expense of everyone else if they only just swallow the promises and follow along.
In his Quora article staunch libertarian Henry Walleski (now banned from Quora for no specified reason) explained what this intellectual effort results in for those who turn that spark into intellectual effort:
“Unfortunately for their political adversaries, libertarians are a different breed altogether because libertarians usually arrive at their principles through an arduous process of intellectual and often psychological discovery. They are quite certain of the correctness of their belief system—which extends beyond themselves and their own self-interest. Unlike most others, libertarians are not actually interested in obtaining or maintaining political power: they despise political power as corrupt and fraudulent; their objective is to dismantle it.”
Libertarians, because they so naturally self-identify as individualists, are often vilified as being anti-social. But libertarians are social animals as much as everyone else, barring the occasional recluse, cave-dwelling survivalist or Himalayan mountaintop-perched Zen Buddhist. It’s simply that unlike collectivists who attempt to impose specific social mandates on everyone libertarians choose to peacefully interact with others. It’s not an issue of social versus antisocial, it’s an issue of coercion versus voluntaryism.
Its choice libertarians seek. Libertarians routinely join, participate in and leave all sorts of social interactions as a matter of personal decision-making. That’s all individualism really means.
Libertarianism, as noted, comes from within a person; by definition it cannot be imposed by someone from the outside. Some accuse libertarianism of being a religion, and in fact many religious people do find libertarianism to be compatible with their religious beliefs, but for the vast majority libertarianism is simply a commitment to their fellow humans based on common decency.
See “non-aggression principle” again that prizes self-ownership, individual freedom, personal responsibility and one’s own integrity that rejects the use of physical force except in the form of self-defense against those who would initiate force against them.
Self-Ownership and Individualism
A strong component of libertarianism is self-ownership. You own your own self, your own mind, your own body and therefore the things you create and justly acquire with your own mind and body. If not then who owns you? The country? The government? The society? The people? The politicians? The Borg? Everyone?
This is essentially a corollary of the non-aggression principle, that no one has the right to initiate coercion, intimidation or fraud against another specifically because no one owns anyone else.
Yes, as with all philosophical questions this can and should be debated endlessly. But that would be a separate issue for a separate place. You have had or can have these and other discussions elsewhere. The intent here has been to introduce the basic concepts of libertarianism to those who are new to it.
If you have that innate spark of individualism within you, that spark of irresistible questioning, of searching for answers, of seeking freedom and self-value, then you will pursue these and all the other issues about libertarianism on your own, in your own way, in your own time.
Libertarians can be anyone and come from anywhere. And if you are already a libertarian yourself and want to encourage young emerging libertarians you might consider recommending Jacob Huebert’s Libertarianism Today as the introductory book most highly praised by his fellow libertarians.
Here’s how Walter Block ended his review of that book, and how Your Libertarian Opinionizer will end this article:
“This is a brilliant, magnificent book. It is the work of a libertarian genius, one who, happily, has many years, no, many decades, in which to make that signal contribution to libertarianism I have grown to expect from this young man. I am privileged and honored to be a member of the same libertarian movement as he. If the future of liberty is in the hands of young men such as this, I cannot help but be optimistic.”
References and Links
Why Be Libertarian? “It is our view that a flourishing libertarian movement, a lifelong dedication to liberty can only be grounded on a passion for justice. Here must be the mainspring of our drive, the armor that will sustain us in all the storms ahead.”—Murray N. Rothbard
Key Concepts of Libertarianism “Libertarians see the individual as the basic unit of social analysis. Only individuals make choices and are responsible for their actions. Libertarian thought emphasizes the dignity of each individual, which entails both rights and responsibility.”—David Boaz
The Simplicity of Libertarianism “In a libertarian society, what is considered immoral, unethical, or sinful is the domain of conscience, family, and religion, not puritanical busybodies, nanny-statists, or government bureaucrats.”—Laurence M. Vance
How To Argue For Libertarianism “Generally speaking (for there are always exceptions in matters like this), libertarians are a cut or two above the masses in the reasoning they have invested in their political beliefs.” —George H. Smith
J.H. Huebert introduces his book Libertarianism Today
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.
Garry Reed (author) from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas on October 06, 2020:
Thanks Doris. I came from the conservative Republican side of politics (My first ever vote was for Goldwater but had never heard that his lead writer was a libertarian back then). I later became active in the LP and when I told another member about that he said incredulously "How can you come to libertarianism from the right?" I had always wondered how anyone could come to it from the left. I'm much older and wiser now.
Because of my deep dive into Objectivism after Goldwater but before discovering the LP I knew that the philosophy must take hold first before any political success could happen, so I supported only educational candidates as opposed to Must Win candidates. I haven't been an active supporter of the LP for decades now other than to support it as an educational outreach platform.
but only supported educational candidates because I had read deep into Objectivism
Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on October 06, 2020:
I like a lot of the libertarian concepts because I think the Party took the best of political concepts from both parties, as the parties were deserting them. My father was a life-long Democrat, but as I look back at his philosophies, I realize that he was a Libertarian at heart. I just wish the Libertarian Party could come up with a viable and charismatic candidate. The party's Lum and Abner show of 2016 just didn't win friends and influence people. Good article, Gary.