Sunday, January 1, 2012

Libertarianism to me

The upcoming Iowa Caucus is, as always, generating a good deal of media attention. People are eager to see who Obama's challenger will be. Although we have presidential elections every four years, it feels different as of late. Maybe we feel like we all have more at stake now with an economy slowing to a mere crawl? Or it could be the erosion of many civil liberties in just a short decade. Whatever it is, people are interested.

In the last two weeks, a number of people have approached me to ask which Republican candidate I like for president. When to their surprise I utter Ron Paul's name, they tend to give me the same kinds of responses. "He's good and honest but so extreme." Or else they'll say, "I like his fiscal sense but his foreign policy is just outdated."

Now, I'm not writing this to defend my candidate of choice, but rather to simply talk about my personal brand of libertarianism. After all, any candidate I support, I support with some reservations and some difference of opinion. The only candidate who will agree with everything you believe is yourself.

However, I consider myself to be somewhat Libertarian in my beliefs, and I'll even use the term to describe myself. To some, Libertarian means extreme isolationism. To others its a fiscally conservative philosophy that is also socially liberal. Other's view it as an anarchist philosophy that desires no law or order (drug legalization is often associated with this.)

As is the problem with many labels, a word by itself doesn't always capture that entire perspective. In fact libertarianism in itself probably has the most diverse following of any major American political perspective. I'm just going to tell you what it means to me.

To me, in simple terms, it is the ideal of using government in a way that maximizes freedom and protects liberty to the full extent possible (particularly those freedoms outlined in the Constitution.) This means that although I may personally disagree with something socially, I may still want the government to protect someone's right to do that. I say this because choice is not only important to a libertarian, but important to any free society. Without choice, freedom does not exist.

Appreciating choice, I support other nation's having the opportunity to choose and be free. This doesn't however lead me to an isolationist perspective, but simply one that is "less interventionist." Especially at the grass roots level, the people of a nation have to embrace choice for themselves. After all, if we would have asked ourselves what we could have learned from past foreign endeavors, we would already be traveling down this path of less intervention. From Korea, to Vietnam, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, one would have thought we would have learned something about intervention.

If I've learned one thing concerning foreign policy from my government, its that long war campaigns not only wary a country financially and emotionally, but the inevitable prolonged collateral damage emboldens and multiplies your enemiees against you.

In very simple terms, this summarizes my Libertarian perspective. However, how philosophy breaks down into specific policies is case by case and a conversation for a different day. If you ever want to discuss more specifically, feel free to leave comments and I will respond.


John said...

I understand the libertarian position. I simply think that it is like socialism in that it works well on paper as an ideal, but tanks in a real world society. It lacks a practical basis to operate on. So in the instance of drugs the Libertarian philosophy would say that we should not take away the rights of others to utilize a substance. Rather, we should just hold people accountable when they misuse the particular drug by inflicting harm to others or their property. The problem with this philosophy is that you can never be preventive. You and I both know some ideas are bad and doomed to fail. Allowing people the right to take opiates without medical advice might be seen as a right but you’re going to have misuse, crimes, deaths, and problems. It is simply foolish in the name of freedom to not stand up for and speak out against what is harmful to a society.

Those with wisdom should legislate and ban certain things based on a better decision making model. That being based on the business model of risk and rewards. If we took this model into our government on this particular issue we would be asking the question: What does a society stand to gain by permitting wide spread drug usage and conversely what does it stand to lose? That really gets at what is in the best interest of the folks. Clearly, in America today if you gave the green light to use substance those ill effects are to be offset by what gain? I see the risk but what on earth is the reward on this one? What does the society stand to gain? Will unrestrained access to cannabis stand as a bulwark against the government unlawfully seizing property? Is that it?

To the realm of foreign policy it is indeed the same effect. The Bush era policies are unsustainable, they are wrong. It is asinine to think that you can defeat radicals by removing their safe heavens by creating stable democracies around the world. Not going to happen despite trillions of spending and the efforts of the best military in history. Again risk and rewards. What do we stand to lose and what do we gain. In regards to Libya Obama blew it. When Secretary Gates testifies to congress that “there is no strategic national interest in Libya,” that tells you there nothing to gain for us there. It is a stupid misuse of our military and money to be involved there.

Finally, when it comes to the Libertarian view of the constitution, I think they have some stuff right and are off based on some others. They get that the constitution was intended to function as a restraint on the federal government. The founders didn’t want a country like England. So the constitution limits what the fed is responsible and holds authority for. However, I think it is more than that. The constitution also acts as a contract in which we the people are granted rights that safeguard a political process. Governing is a process and it evolves over time. SO when libertarians want to get rid of something just because the constitution doesn’t provide for it this is a little like throwing the baby out with the bath water. The constitution does give the fed power for an army and navy. Does this mean we have to disband the Marine Corps, Air force and Cost Guard? There not provided for in the constitution. If the argument for a constitutional form of government is used to dispell government waste to be fair you’re going to have to stand in opposition to some stuff that quite frankly was a good think for the fed to do. The above examples and another would be the interstate commerce system. Again risk and rewards model should be how we as a nation engage the debate.

Taken as a whole I think libertarianism provides some counterbalance to the discussion but as a coherent system it seems to me impractical. When folks react I think, don’t know but think, that is that sentiment they are expressing.

jtjjw4 said...

I guess my question might be? Do you think we have balance in our government right now? Do you really believe the government has the right to tax the citizens of this country, to the degree in which they do now? They have squandered our Social security and plunged us ever deeper into debt with no real accountability. They only push to raise the debt ceiling, and have used that money not to help the people, but bail out large banking institutions. Liberals and conservatives have both brought us to where we are now. There has been little care given to protect the freedom of the individual. It may seem idealist to chose freedom, but at some point people may again sacrifice much to attain it.

Josh said...


Any ideal if taken to an extreme will work better in theory than in practice.  Capitalism, Democracy, Republic, Monarchy, etc.  You argument about opiates is not something I'm knowledgable on nor what i percieve to be one of the pressing issues facing the country today.  My philosophy is, lets fix the major problems in the country, and then we can fight about the lesser ones.  Although there are certainly drugs better kept off the market, the question isn't whether drugs are good or bad.  Drugs arent only a question of personal freedom, but also a question of effectiveness.  How effective are drug laws?  Its a question worth asking.  There are also studies to support that strict drug laws have created more situations for violent crime that otherwise may not exist.  Whether libertarian or not, I think its ok to look at the drug issue from both sides and ask ourselves whether the "war on drugs" is efficient and beneficial.           

When you look at cost to rewards, its interesting that you leave out the individual, assuming that its a government issue.  Many people if drugs were legal, would still choose not to do them because of personal cost.  Take smoking for example, the more we've learned about the dangers of smoking, the greater reduction we've seen in regular smokers.  

Then, on foreign policy, sounds like you are aknowleging the missteps of both parties on this one.  There is only one candidate right now that will even examine our foreign policy.  What's more, he's even asked how those actions are percieved by those we engage in it with.   Do they say you are only a fool if you make the same mistakes over and over again?  Well, its something like that.       

As far as the constitution goes, most Libertarians understand that its fallible.  However, there are some remarkable principles in a remarkable document.  Most politicians first ask how they can get around Constitutional guidelines, rather than ask why they are there.  Examples are the fact we haven't declared War since World War II, we continue to renew and expand the Patriot Act, and now you can detain indefinitely if suspected of terrorism.  Honestly, its not insane to disagree with this legislation.  Laws like this always begin with good intentions, but grow into something else entirely.  There is such a thing as seeing things with perspective, and the fact that I've heard the term "terrorist" in so much legislation these days when there have been so few attacks domestically, means we may not be looking at this quite right.  

At the end, you said it seems impractical.  I still can't understand that statement.