A brief introduction to the concept of liberty
By Aarhus Libertarian Society, Ariel Wertlen Spilkin
- Freedom is not a catch phrase.
- The libertarian philosophy
- The government as an agent of force.
- Common myths and misconceptions
Freedom is not a catch phrase
Freedom has become a popular term in modern culture. Wars of aggression have been committed in the name of freedom. Politicians even justify expansive social welfare programs so that their subjects can live “freely”. These are corrupted uses of the term freedom. Freedom can never be used as a justification for aggressive force. Nor can it be used to excuse forcefully distributive government programs. Being free from troubles or responsibility is not being free, in as much as being a caged animal is free.
Freedom is a complex and logical philosophy based on centuries of intellectual evolution and enlightenment. Through it civilizations have grown prosperous, and cultures have grown rich. Freedom is a living concept on which all aspects of life can be based and understood. Those that understand what freedom is, follow the libertarian philosophy.
The libertarian philosophy
The foundation of libertarian philosophy is the belief in the equality of all people, each person has the right to their life, liberty and property. While almost every person, or political ideology pays lip service to these principles. It is only libertarianism that attempts to extend these concepts to their logical conclusions.
Libertarianism rejects the use of aggressive force or coercion, whether it comes from individuals, groups or political systems. The belief that force is only ever justified in defense of ones life, liberty or property is called the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP).
All agreements between individuals are only valid as long as they are voluntary, to force someone to behave in a particular way or to buy certain products/services against their will is rejected by libertarianism.
Under these principles every individual has the right to choose their path to happiness, as long as the decisions and actions they make do not infringe on the rights of others.
The government as an agent of force
Libertarians reject an expansive and intrusive state apparatus.
To accept the NAP and the universal and inalienable rights of men is to logically reject:
- Involuntary taxation
- Censorship of speech/expression
- Forced religion
- All state sponsored discrimination
- Forceful theft of personal property for distribution
- State interference in an individuals’ pursuit of happiness.
Common myths and misconceptions.
Myth: What we have now is the free-market.
The current system we have is far from a market based solely on free exchange between mutually consenting parties. In almost every country the market is hampered by taxes and tariffs. Entire industries are monopolized-often as a direct result of government actions. Money and interest rates are manipulated by central banks, while politicians often use tax-payers money to subsidize favoured industries or corporations. Rent seeking and corruption are common as large businesses try to win extra privileges through political manipulation. Regulations and prohibitions often favour political and business elites at the expense of the individual. What we have now is far from a free market, it is more aptly called Crony Capitalism.
Myth: Libertarians are libertines.
Libertarians may support the right of people to decide what they do with their lives and their bodies, that doesn’t mean that they support the activities this can include. Supporting the right to do something is completely different from supporting every activity that this right then allows. Many libertarians are conservative, and prefer a modest life without excess, however they understand that their opinions on how one should behave can’t be forced onto others.
Myth: Libertarians think individuals are isolated from society.
Many libertarians may see themselves as strong individuals. However this doesn’t mean that they believe that all interactions between people should be competitive and individualistic. Complex cooperation on national and even international levels is perfectly compatible with libertarian philosophy. The existence of communes who pool resources, provide unemployment and safety nets for each other are a perfectly natural part of a libertarian society. What differs from such a society and one of state-socialism is that members of the commune or cooperative are not forced to contribute, or associate with these groups. To force contribution, or association is to cross the NAP.
Myth: Your democratic vote means you are free.
While you are given the ability to effect the political structure that rules you. This ability to vote doesn’t remove your rights to your life, liberty, and property. Your rights do not come from your political party or political establishment, therefore no political system what-so-ever can be justified in removing them.
Whether it is a single dictator, oligopoly or a majority of voters who decide on a law. The law is invalid if it infringes on the rights of the individual. People are not able to extend rights that they don’t have to corporations or elected politicians. If a person is unable to commit murder, they can’t elect a person to commit murder for them, since they can’t transfer rights that they themselves don’t have. In the same sense, if a person is unable to commit an act of theft, they are unable to elect a person to commit the theft for them, regardless of who the recipients of the stolen goods are.
Myth: Libertarians are utopian thinkers and ignore the fact that not all people are good at heart.
Libertarians do not assume that all people are good at heart. In fact the NAP is the best check to the abuse of power by evil individuals. A person may be as evil as they wish, but without the ability to force their evil on others they are harmless.
In return, to allow for the existence of a government in society that wields force and rights higher than that of an individual is utopian thinking. People are corrupt, therefore their power to hurt each other must be limited, an expansive government can only empower evil people, it can never limit them. Hitler without the ability to use the government as an agent of force would have been nothing more than a harmless raving extremist.
Myth: Libertarians support monopolies.
Libertarians do not support corporations or monopolies as such, all they support is free trade between mutually consenting individuals. Empirically monopolies tend to grow from government regulation and intervention. Exclusive trading rights, selling permits, subsidies, trade barriers and other forms of intervention are not acts of a free-market, but rather of a hampered market. These artificially constructed and nurtured monopolies often work at the expense of the average man, while supporting and enriching the state apparatus. A free society would most likely have far less monopolies and mega-corporations than today.
Myth: Government is society.
Government is not society, government is an institution comprised of a distinct number of people who operate under their own laws and whims. To reject that the government should do a certain activity, doesn’t mean that libertarians think this activity shouldn’t exist in a society. To say that there should be no state-sponsored religion is very different from saying there should be no religion within the society.
When the government uses force to remove one persons income to give to another it is not society that does this action, it is the governmental institution. Just because the government has the ability to use force on a group of people for the benefit of another or itself doesn’t make it a representative of society. It just makes it an institution that has powers greater than any one of us individuals.
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