Leaving Liberty? You Were Never Really There in the First Place
It happened again — one of my acquaintances gave up on the liberty movement. He made it clear in a very public way that he’s “leaving liberty” — a trend that seems to be happening more and more these days.
Several of my friends have said they still love liberty, but can’t devote the time and energy into being a spokesperson and a public defender of the philosophy. I can certainly understand that and can appreciate the burnout from trying to convince Starbucks-sipping iPhone-tapping communists that freedom works daily. They prove Twain’s line that it’s easier to fool someone than to convince them they’ve been fooled. I get it. It’s extremely tiring and stepping down from the podium is understandable.
Others, however, claim to no longer identify as a libertarian or that the message of liberty no longer makes sense. And these defections are much more curious.
They’re curious because once you really understand the principles of liberty, it’s utterly illogical to then disown them. It’s like coming to understand that 2+2=4, only to later claim, “No, I really just feel like 2+2=5 and that’s what I’m going with from now on.”
It may seem audacious to compare libertarianism to math, but it’s valid because the principles of liberty are logical. In fact, while other political philosophies contradict themselves constantly, libertarianism is self-consistent.
Libertarianism holds that all humans have certain inalienable negative rights (life, liberty, and property) and that it is illegitimate for anyone to infringe on those rights.
Other political philosophies maintain that people have positive rights granted by the government, such as the right to education, healthcare, or to watch football without protesters. The problem is that whenever one asserts positive rights, he necessarily infringes on another’s negative rights. You can’t have a right to education at the same time that teachers have the right to free association. You can’t have the right to health care and have the right to your property that pays for that health care. You can’t have the right to watch football without protests while others have the right to free speech.
Libertarianism isn’t simply, “You can do whatever you want,” as some will have you believe. Libertarianism is, “You can do whatever you want as long as that doesn’t infringe on the same right of others.” It’s a beautiful, balanced and symmetric philosophy — the only one that makes logical sense.
Of course, the principles of liberty may allow for some uncomfortable moments. For instance, the freedom of speech means that even a morally depraved white supremacist has the right to be a bigot and indeed to speak his corrupted mind. One does not have the right to stop him. If you have a right to speak your mind (and you do), you must allow that consistently for all persons.
Enemies of liberty will take situations like that and use it to tarnish the philosophy. They will claim that if you allow a white supremacist to speak, you must be a white supremacist yourself! If you think even the top 1% should be able to keep the fruits of their labor, then you must hate poor people! If you’re skeptical of government funded climate science, you must be a denier!
Liberty-haters want to paint libertarians as racist, money-grubbing, science deniers to make them abandon the cause, and it works sometimes. If your understanding of libertarianism is “Hey, let’s do some weed!” then you risk losing faith when someone calls you names like that. But if you fully understand the logical beauty of the libertarian framework, there’s really no going back.
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