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Libertarian Positions

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What is the libertarian position on _______ ? There probably isn’t one. Here is Murray Rothbard’s classic description of libertarianism: Libertarianism is not and does not pretend to be a complete moral, or aesthetic theory; it is only a political theory, that is, the important subset of moral theory that deals with the proper role of violence in social life. Political theory deals with what is proper or improper for government to do, and government is distinguished from every other group in society as being the institution of organized violence. Libertarianism holds that the only proper role of violence is to defend person and property against violence, that any use of violence that goes beyond such just defense is itself

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What is the libertarian position on _______ ?

There probably isn’t one.

Here is Murray Rothbard’s classic description of libertarianism:

Libertarianism is not and does not pretend to be a complete moral, or aesthetic theory; it is only a political theory, that is, the important subset of moral theory that deals with the proper role of violence in social life. Political theory deals with what is proper or improper for government to do, and government is distinguished from every other group in society as being the institution of organized violence. Libertarianism holds that the only proper role of violence is to defend person and property against violence, that any use of violence that goes beyond such just defense is itself aggressive, unjust, and criminal. Libertarianism, therefore, is a theory which states that everyone should be free of violent invasion, should be free to do as he sees fit except invade the person or property of another. What a person does with his or her life is vital and important, but is simply irrelevant to libertarianism.

For a compact definition of libertarianism, here is Future of Freedom Foundation president Jacob Hornberger:

Libertarianism is a political philosophy that holds that a person should be free to do whatever he wants in life, as long as his conduct is peaceful. Thus, as long a person doesn’t murder, rape, burglarize, defraud, trespass, steal, or inflict any other act of violence against another person’s life, liberty, or property, libertarians hold that the government should leave him alone. In fact, libertarians believe that a primary purpose of government is to prosecute and punish anti-social individuals who initiate force against others.

I myself have written the following about libertarianism:

Libertarianism is the philosophy that says that people should be free from individual, societal, or government interference to live their lives any way they desire, pursue their own happiness, accumulate wealth, assess their own risks, make their own choices, participate in any economic activity for their profit, engage in commerce with anyone who is willing to reciprocate, and spend the fruits of their labor as they see fit. As long as people don’t violate the personal or property rights of others, and as long as their actions are peaceful, their associations are voluntary, and their interactions are consensual, they should be free to live their lives without license, regulation, interference, or molestation by the government.

Yet, conservatives, liberals, moderates, and progressives—and even some libertarians—have made libertarianism more complex than it is by confusing it with elements of liberalism or conservatism, reading into it what they think it means, expanding it beyond what it professes to be, ascribing to it what its critics have falsely said about it, or equating it with the absence of morality.

Libertarianism is the philosophy of nonaggression, whether that aggression be theft, fraud, the initiation of nonconsensual violence against person or property, or the threat of nonconsensual violence. The initiation or threat of aggression against the person or property of others is always wrong, even when done by government. Aggression is justified only in defense of one’s person or property or in retaliation in response to aggression against them. And aggression is only defensible against actual aggression, not because there is a theoretical possibility that someone might commit aggression.

Libertarianism, therefore, takes no position on:

  • whether one attends church.
  • whether one gambles.
  • whether one practices meditation.
  • whether schools require students to wear uniforms.
  • whether businesses pay a “living wage.”
  • whether one smokes marijuana.
  • whether UFO’s are real.
  • whether one wears a seatbelt.
  • whether one has a particular musical taste.
  • whether one uses Bitcoin.
  • whether one masturbates.
  • whether one discriminates.
  • whether one is a cross-dresser.
  • whether one uses racial slurs.
  • whether one celebrates diversity.
  • whether one believes in God.
  • whether one is an agnostic.
  • whether one commits adultery.
  • whether one enjoys a particular kind of art.
  • whether one uses profanity.
  • whether one owns a gun.
  • whether one is a homosexual.
  • whether one is bisexual.
  • whether one commits fornication.
  • whether a company has an Affirmative Action policy.
  • whether one boycotts a company.
  • whether couples live together before marriage.
  • whether one believes in natural law.
  • whether one watches porn.
  • whether one disdains tradition.
  • whether one eats red meat.
  • whether one drinks alcoholic beverages.
  • whether one abstains from alcoholic beverages.
  • whether one buys organic produce.
  • whether schools have prayer and Bible reading.
  • whether one is religious.
  • whether marijuana has medicinal value.
  • whether Oswald acted alone.
  • whether one is in a polyamorous relationship.
  • whether one tells racial jokes.
  • whether one sells illegal drugs.
  • whether one partakes of illegal drugs.
  • whether one should like science fiction movies.
  • whether one gets his children all of the CDC recommended vaccines.
  • whether one wears a bicycle helmet.
  • whether one wears a motorcycle helmet.
  • whether one believes in life after death.
  • whether one believes in heaven or hell.
  • whether one believes in a last judgment.
  • whether one practices licentiousness.
  • whether one abstains from pork.
  • whether one has sex with prostitutes.
  • whether one participates in orgies.
  • whether one visits National Parks.
  • whether one consults a medium.
  • whether one makes a sex tape.
  • whether one celebrates change for change’s sake.
  • whether one practices an alternative lifestyle.
  • whether one takes hormones of the opposite sex.
  • whether one cheats on his taxes.
  • whether one works for a large corporation.
  • whether one has cable television.
  • whether one buys local produce.
  • whether business owners hire illegal aliens.
  • whether one exercises.
  • whether one celebrates alternative lifestyles.
  • whether one votes.
  • whether one is a vegetarian.
  • whether one is a vegan.
  • whether one takes vitamins.
  • whether one reads a horoscope.
  • whether one supports local businesses.
  • whether one frequents strip clubs.
  • whether schools post the Ten Commandments.
  • whether one plays the lottery.
  • whether space exploration would be beneficial to mankind.
  • whether one practices social distancing.
  • whether martinis should be shaken or stirred.

Whether any of these things is right or wrong, healthy or unhealthy, moral, immoral, or amoral, ethical or unethical, or good, bad, or neutral is irrelevant.

Libertarianism is not about one’s lifestyle, social attitude, diet, or vices. It has nothing to do with materialism, selfishness, or hedonism. And it neither disdains tradition or custom nor rejects religion or moral absolutes.

Libertarians reject government aggression and violence against peaceful people’s person or property to effect changes in behavior or achieve some desired end. Virtuous action should never be compelled; it should be left up to the free and voluntary choice of the individual.

The libertarian position is that as long as one’s conduct is peaceful and doesn’t violate the personal or property rights of others, government and society should just leave him alone.

Laurence M. Vance
Laurence M. Vance is an author, a publisher, a lecturer, a freelance writer, the editor of the Classic Reprints series, and the director of the Francis Wayland Institute. He holds degrees in history, theology, accounting, and economics. The author of twenty-four books, he has contributed over 700 articles and book reviews to both secular and religious periodicals.

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