Americans in larger numbers are embracing the ideas, at least to some extent, of libertarianism. This is in large part because of the increasing degradations of our personal liberties over at least the last couple of decades thanks to big government liberals and authoritarian conservatives.
Still, I am amazed that more Americans do not embrace libertarianism, or what I prefer to call it, classical liberalism. After all, our Founding Fathers were, largely, classical liberals. This country was found on libertarian values.
The problem seems to be a lack of understanding of libertarianism mixed with an active misinformation campaign from Democrats and Republicans, because the last thing the two major parties want to see is an upsurge of people advocating for liberty. It is a threat to their duopoly on power.
Libertarianism is simple. It is not a Utopian philosophy. No one claims that a libertarian society would be a perfect society. But it would be a fair and just society. And, perhaps more importantly, it would be a flourishing and prosperous society without the yoke of massive and costly government regulations beyond those needed to protect people from fraud.
Libertarians like to talk about the nonaggression principal as the core libertarian belief. Yes, this is true, but it might sound pedantic to your average American. What the nonaggression principal tells us is that no one may initiate or threaten violence against a person or his or her property.
This axiom includes government, which is nothing more than people joining together to exercise their natural rights in a collective manner. Hence, the only legitimate function of a government is to protect the rights of the individual because that is the only power that the individual naturally possesses.
A simpler way of explaining libertarianism is that you can do whatever you wish, so long as you don’t interfere in the rights of others to do as they wish. For example, if two people of the same sex wish to marry, who does it harm? It is their choice, not yours, so you have no right to interfere. Living in a free society does not mean living in a society where the majority is permitted to use the force of law to impose its moral or philosophical beliefs on the minority. Laws outlawing such things as prostitution, gambling and drugs, are pure force and an abuse of the power of government. They prevent free adults from living their lives as they see fit so long as they harm no one else.
Living in a free society is not easy because members of that society have to be willing to allow others to engage in activities they might find abhorrent. Living in a free society means not using the force of law to protect sane adults from themselves. You can certainly try to educate them. You can debate the merits of their decisions, but you cannot, in a truly free society, prevent them from engaging in unhealthy or unwise activities.
A better explanation of libertarianism is the ethic of reciprocity.
About 2,000 years ago, a popular Pharisaic Jewish rabbi named Hillel the Elder was approached by a pagan. The pagan told Hillel that he would be willing to convert to Judaism if Hillel could recite the whole of the Torah to him while standing on one leg.
Hillel told the pagan (depending on which source you consult), “Do not do unto others as you would not have done unto you. That is the whole of the Torah: go and learn it.”
Christians will recognize this ethic of reciprocity as the golden rule, which the authors of the Gospels of Luke and Matthew quoted Jesus of Nazareth – if not a Pharisee himself he certainly had Pharisaic sympathies – using it to summarize the Old Testament. Confucius also extolled the same idea.
In fact, the ethic of reciprocity can be found in nearly all major religions. It is a moral truth that we should all take to heart before trying to force people to behave in a certain fashion. That is libertarianism. It is neither license nor anarchy; it is self-control, nothing more, nothing less. It is not a Utopian idea, just a fair one.