I think I became a libertarian right around the time John McCain became the presidential nominee for the Republican Party in 2008. Then I referred to myself as a “disgruntled Republican” or a “true conservative” in order to separate myself from what I saw as a party and a political persuasion that had become increasingly isolated from its “roots.” I became disillusioned with a party that no longer seemed to care about things like government spending or civil liberties, and instead expected to win voters on the two issues of abortion and gay marriage. And I was also exceedingly turned off by the manner in which the Republican Party had been hijacked by evangelical Christians, who, although I happen to be Christian, seemed to want to use the Republican Party in order to create an exclusively Christian society and outlaw religious pluralism, in direct opposition to what the Founding Fathers and the Constitution intended.
I became tired of always having to qualify my statements whenever someone asked me about my political beliefs. I would have to say, “I’m a Republican, but not that kind,” referring to some right-wing figure that wanted to make it illegal to teach evolution in schools or something else of an extreme authoritarian persuasion. As that party became further and further isolated from the ideals of the Founders and sacrificed those ideas in the interest of courting support from certain blocs–evangelicals and Hispanics there, left-Indepedents there–I had to start referring to myself as a “conservative who votes for Republican candidates.” Then, once they started talking about Sarah Palin as the potential nominee in 2012, I knew something had to change.
I didn’t become a libertarian overnight, upon reading a book or talking to libertarians. Rather, I realized that the political philosophy I had come to over the past few years as I watched the Republican party’s platform disintegrate into something monstrously different from what Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine believed in–two individuals whose legacy they implicitly claimed to uphold.
Thus, I’ve been a libertarian for awhile, but only recently did I realize that this was the most appropriate way to categorize my individual political philosophy.
What’s the difference?
The most important revelation that I have come to is that “liberals” and “conservatives” both want the same thing. Both want an enormous government with the ability to control the lives of its citizens. They just want that government to be used for different means and ends.
Liberals want to use government to abolish the property rights of the individual. They believe that human existence is a perpetual struggle between haves and have-nots, and that government’s role is to end this struggle by creating an artificial equality. They do this by using government as an instrument of plunder, through taxation, regulations and socialism. They wish to expropriate functions once retained by the individual or by communities and to place these functions under the control of government. Liberals reject the notion that an individual may have exclusive rights over, and control of, himself and what he has created through his own talents and abilities.
Conservatives want to use government to abolish the liberty rights of the individual. They want to use government to control certain types of social behavior that they find reprehensible to their particular moral frameworks. If a majority of individuals found eating breakfast to be morally wrong, conservatives would see no problem in using government as a means of outlawing that activity. Conservatives reject the notion that the individual has rights to act in ways outside of what a majority of individuals at any given moment would view as acceptable.
What is paradoxical about both these worldviews is that they both rely on the same logic. Thus, while a conservative may decry a liberal’s attempt to redistribute wealth in society, he uses the exact same logic to support the criminalization of certain types of social behavior. Both liberals and conservatives reject the idea that individuals have rights to life, liberty and property which are immune from the interference of others.
Only libertarianism maintains this consistency. This ideology rests on what Murray Rothbard and others refer to as the Non-Agression Axiom: the belief that all human beings have the fundamental, inalienable and unquestionable right to be free from coercion and aggression from other human beings or groups of human beings. The only legitimate function of “the law” is to limit the ability of an individual to engage in coercive and aggressive acts against other individuals. Any action of the law outside of this is illegitimate and tyrannical.