At its core, libertarianism is an exercise in personal restraint; the ultimate philosophy of “live and let live”. Libertarians believe wholeheartedly in living the best lives for ourselves and, by extension, in others living their best lives, without interference. As Penn Jillette once said with Big Think, “I do not believe I know what’s best for other people. I also don’t believe that other people know what’s best for other people.”
Now, libertarianism is not a philosophy devoid of ideas. Quite the contrary, it is a philosophy with more ideas than any other ideology in history because it is made up of the ideas of every individual in existence. Every solution, every innovation, every creative thought; symbols of human progress and the ingenuity of one person seeking to bring positive change to their world. The difference is one must willingly accept an idea for it to apply to themselves. To reject an idea is not shameful, nor is it ignorant. It is a decision made from one’s own perspective. If it does not apply to my life, to my particularly unique set of circumstances, it is not the best course of action and I therefore reject it. But you go right ahead. Be well and be merry. I’ll be next door if you need any help.
In a recent interview with HOT 97’s Ebro in the Morning, the Libertarian gubernatorial candidate in New York, Larry Sharpe, defined libertarianism in a manner that put the philosophy in the context of the other major parties, clarifying that it is not a party of opposition, as we see with Republicans and Democrats, but rather a party of inclusion, one that is willing to tolerate the two polarized sides. Candidate Sharpe stated simply, “[A] libertarian is someone who says: ‘you can be as liberal or conservative as you want to be; just don’t force others to be like you’. That’s what we are all about.” It is in this statement that Sharpe explains the simple harmony that exists within a society when it is left to its own devices. It also subtly hammers down on the fatal flaw of democracy.
Most Americans are familiar with the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (or should absolutely be working on it). A simple collection of forty-five words that defines the very essence of this country. You are free to speak your mind without retribution from the state, even if your words directly criticize it. You are free to assemble peacefully and demand change from the government, even if you were to demand that government be abolished (peaceful being the operative word). You are free to associate or disassociate from those you choose, the consequences of such decisions are your own to bear. You are free to believe what you choose to believe, with neither the protection of the government, nor the condemnation or persecution of such. And that is the key idea here.
While political ideology is not akin to religion, it has the fervent followers one might expect within a congregation. And while it is not protected under the religious clause of the First Amendment, it is protected speech under the law. This explains why the United States can be home to conservatives and liberals, far-left socialists and communists, as well as far-right fascists and authoritarians. Could it not be said that the government not only endorsing different political ideologies throughout its history, but acting on such independently held beliefs, is in direct conflict with the First Amendment, as we would if the government decided that we are to all attend the same church?
Take it a step further, as many will say that because we are a democracy and we are able to bring a multitude of ideas together through our surrogates in Washington. Does the two party system actually allow for that? Between both the Democrats and Republicans, the same issues remain in place, with the same solutions being offered under the guise of different names and being backed by only slightly dissimilar values. A rising deficit, endless wars, wasteful spending, superfluous government programs in danger of failing at significant consequence, an erosion of civil liberties in the name of security. What is the actual difference? This is the aforementioned fatal flaw of democracy. The majority, no matter how slim, is able to enforce its own values and tenets on the minority.
Left or right, most people at any given time in their lives are being forced to live a life they don’t want. And, because campaign promises are rarely maintained to the high shine with which they are presented to the public, even the winning majority has a result that they do not want impressed upon them. As Candidate Sharp stated in that same interview: “…you have to remember something, at the end of almost every single law is a guy or a gal with a gun, to put you in a cage. And, if you don’t want to go in that cage, he or she is going to kill you.” Political speech and ideas are, quite literally, embraced and imposed with the full force of the law.
Democracy is the system that our founders embraced when laying out our foundation as a nation. But it is also the system by which the beliefs of some may be pushed on others and, in many cases, weaponized against others. If we are going to accept such a system of governance, we must embrace the First Amendment at all levels, ensuring that not even our elected officials are forcing their ideas or beliefs on the individual citizen. A third voice that is grounded in the very idea of not just allowing, but encouraging competing ideas to coexist may very well be the saving grace of our hallowed democracy.
And so it goes that if you are a conservative, who has a pre-defined notion of marriage, family, finance, and culture, then live your life as such; associate with like-minded individuals, stay within the bubble of your community, serve those you wish to serve, and do business with those of whom you choose. If you are a liberal, who is open to multiple definitions of marriage, family, and culture, then live your life as such; associate with like-minded individuals, interact with and embrace ideas outside your own sphere, serve those you wish to serve, and do business with those of whom you choose. And, down what I believe will be a very short line, if you need to ask your conservative or liberal neighbor for a cup of sugar, go ahead and ask them. They might just surprise you.
* Rory Margraf is a writer whose work has been included at the Freedom Today Network, Speak Freely, and the Foundation for Economic Education. He spends his free time studying classical liberalism and how to apply those tenets to his home in the United States, Northern Ireland, and abroad.