Just like most ideological groups, libertarians are tasked with correcting misconceptions and strawmen of their own views. Some basic misconceptions about libertarianism and its relation to other ideologies (like anarchism, classical liberalism, and Objectivism) have already been corrected. Misunderstandings of the libertarian views on abortion have also been clarified. But there still remains numerous common misconceptions of libertarians held by the average person, regardless of their political leanings.
Are Libertarians Potheads?
One of the most promoted issues by libertarians is the legalization of marijuana. This does not mean it’s the most important issue to us (although it’s certainly important), but it’s promoted so often because it’s one of the more achievable milestones in today’s politics.
Do “pothead” libertarians exist? Of course. Many libertarians use marijuana either medically or recreationally. Some use it daily and others not as often. But even more common are libertarians that have only tried it once, or have never used it at all. Most libertarians oppose the War on Drugs on principle, regardless of whether it affects them personally or not.
Libertarians also oppose the War on Drugs from a pragmatic standpoint, considering drugs are the clear winner of the War on Drugs.
To claim that libertarians endorse drug use from an ideological standpoint is a gross misconception of the motives of libertarians. Libertarianism as an ideology neither endorses nor opposes drug use. It only states that since drug use does not constitute aggression, it would be a violation of the non-aggression principle for the state to violently imprison people for drug use. The personal opinions of libertarians on which drugs they would use or condone using varies widely.
Are Libertarians Climate Change Deniers?
Another popular misconception of libertarians is that we don’t believe in climate change or that we don’t care about the environment. This is yet another misconception that stems from the misunderstanding of what libertarianism is.
Frédéric Bastiat clarifies in his book The Law the issue that political opponents misunderstand about the libertarian view. He writes, “every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all.”
Libertarians unite on an opposition to government overreach, not an opposition to things being done by any other means.
Libertarians hold many different views on climate change. What they unite on is the rejection of Premise 4 of the five premises within the climate change debate, which is that government policy can stop climate change. Some libertarians don’t believe climate change is a threat, while others believe it’s a major issue. What they all agree on is that government is incapable of solving the issue.
Are Libertarians Against Healthcare and Education?
As stated earlier, libertarians are only opposed to government action, not action itself. A libertarian, like nearly every other person, wants humanity to move forward. Libertarians want better living conditions and access to education and healthcare. In fact, libertarians would celebrate if everyone had access to affordable healthcare. What libertarians reject is the idea that government managed healthcare and education are inferior to healthcare and education that would arise in the free market.
When examining education, libertarians notice the accomplishments of organizations like Khan Academy in bringing high-quality affordable (free) access to education to everyone.
They then look at tuition rates of public universities and the quality of education in public schools with incredible amounts of taxpayer funding and notice the difference.
Do Libertarians Support The Rich?
A misconception that is less of a misunderstanding and more of a deliberate attack is the claim that libertarians only care about the rich. It is true that libertarians are often defending the rich, but we also defend the poor. When libertarians oppose increased regulation and raising the minimum wage, this is a defense of the poor, but is often mistakenly seen as a defense of the rich.
Some have used Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged as evidence, pointing out her strong defense of the rich and attacks on the poor. The interesting thing is, those that have actually read the book refute this accusation. Many of the antagonists in the book are rich, the best example being James Taggart, the son of a wealthy business owner that inherited his wealth and contributes nothing.
Libertarians oppose tax increases for anyone, whether it be the poor, the middle-class, or the rich. But since the rich are often the target of tax increases, libertarians are stuck defending tax increases against them much more often than any other class.
It is a difference in worldview and misunderstanding of the workings of the world (especially within economics and government policy) that create these misconceptions. People assume that if they are advocating a solution to a problem, opponents to their solution must also be opposed to fixing the problem.
This is not the case. Libertarians will oppose government intervention as the solution but will tend to agree that a problem exists. Libertarians are doing what they can to solve the problems of the world through educational organizations like the Foundation for Economic Education and charitable organizations like Voluntaryism in Action. Just because libertarians oppose government intervention doesn’t mean they oppose voluntary personal and community action for a good cause.