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Libertarianism: What Is It?

Updated on April 27, 2018
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There are a lot of misconceptions and assumptions regarding various political parties and issues. Because it is easy for myths to become more widespread than facts, this article will clarify misinformation and reveal some basic truths about the often-misunderstood Libertarian party (LP).

This article's aim is to provide a basic, unbiased overview of what Libertarianism is and is not. As with all things, it's good to do your own research. Ask questions, read books, watch videos, and do whatever you can to learn as much as you can. And as always, take everything you read or watch with a grain of salt—especially when it comes to learning about third party political options. They've been heavily vilified to keep people from wanting to learn about them, and there's plenty of misinformation being spread on the internet that only enhances that vilification.

What Is Libertarianism?

Okay, we're going to keep this super duper simple:

Libertarianism is an ideology that values the Non-Aggression Principal (NAP) and enables the maximum achievable amount of individual freedom without resulting in harm to anyone. The Libertarian ideological perspective is balanced out by calling for the establishment of the most minimal central government that would exist without infringing upon the rights of anyone.

That's it! It's pretty simple, right? We'll go into some basic details below, but this is the basic core of it all. Libertarianism is about having maximum freedom and minimal government interference. That's the all you need to believe in to "be" a Libertarian.

Others might say you need to do or believe in more, but that perspective is simply a product of subjective viewpoints. Most Libertarians agree that a person doesn't really need to do anything more than desire to be a Libertarian and believe in the above premise.

Debunking 6 Myths About Libertarianism

There are a lot of misconceptions about Libertarianism, most of which come from propaganda that's designed to scare folks away from looking into the ideology. This article is not going to cover all of the myths surrounding this political ideology, nor will it deeply explore every misconception, but it will clarify matters so interested people can start to form their own opinions. Let's briefly address some of the most common myths.

Myth One: They're all Anarchists!

This is probably the most common misconception and it is common because anarchy is a very scary topic. It is also common because there are a lot of anarchists who believe that if they join forces with Libertarians, they can bring about anarchy, rather than establish maximum freedom. While Libertarians do have some things in common with Anarchists, Libertarians believe in limited government, not a complete absence of government.

Myth Two: They're really just Democrats/Republicans who don't like their original parties.

This is both true and false. Libertarianism has its roots in classical Liberalism, which is also known as "Democratic-Republicanism," but like the old Democratic party that fought for civil liberties and the old Republican party that fought to end slavery, Libertarianism has very little in common with the modern crony oligarchies that run the Democratic and Republican parties. That being said, the Libertarian party is often considered to hold the values that both the Democratic and Republican parties held when they first manifested. So in a way, we are actually the true democrats and republicans. Because those ideological parties have been co-opted and corrupted for too long by the DNC and RNC, they're virtually meaningless nowadays. This is partially why the Libertarian party was founded. It creates a clear and concise separation from the crony ways of the modern major parties. Additionally, Libertarianism is considered to be the only ideology that is both socially liberal and fiscally conservative. This is why this myth has been harder to uproot.

There are times when when you might find a libertarian rooting for something very liberal, and other times where they are rooting for something very conservative. Other times we might be arguing for something liberal, but with a conservative bent, or something conservative with a liberal bent! It just depends on the issue. One of the greatest points of divergence from both parties is that Libertarians don't believe anyone's beliefs, "morals", or plans should be forced on anyone else, regardless of how well-intentioned that force may seem to be.

Myth Three: They're all heartless and hateful or don't care about the poor/disadvantaged.

This is another very common myth because most libertarians believe that modern entitlement programs do not work and create more problems than they solve. Many of us have experienced the welfare system first hand, and we know just how ineffective and wasteful it is. This system, as well as many other entitlement systems were never created to solve problems like poverty or retirement, and instead they perpetuate the problems they claim to alleviate. That being said, there are very few Libertarians who believe that the poor, under-employed, disabled, or old should be left to suffer in the world. The majority of sensible Libertarians care very much about helping people who really need assistance.

We all have differing opinions on how we could best help those in need. Additionally, most of us care very much about the environment, protecting people from crony corporate interests, providing for indigenous Americans, and many other issues.

Myth Four: They're all racists and fundamentalists.

There is a common belief that because Libertarianism does not dictate the way that people should or should not behave (except in cases of violence or aggression), that we somehow all want to return to the Jim Crow Era, or that we want to allow religious zealots to rule the country. While I cannot say that Libertarianism is so pure as to be free of all jerks and extremists, most sensible Libertarians are not racists, haters, fundamentalists, bigots, or intolerant. In fact, the very basis of our ideology is tolerance for everyone, and not just a select few. In order to have freedom for one, freedom must be given to all, which includes the freedom to make mistakes or be a jerk. Though that does not mean that people will protected from the consequences of making mistakes or being a jerk.

Myth Five: They're all Pacifists.

Most party members adhere to the None Aggression Principal and non-interventionism. The most basic explanation of this is that forcing someone to participate in something under the threat of violence, when that person has not initiated aggression against anyone else, is wrong. Most folks misunderstand this and believe that it means that aggression should never occur under any circumstances, which is incorrect. Most of us agree that if someone hurts you, steals from you, destroys your property or does something equally as bad, the police or a similar agency, should be able to use force to protect you, get your stuff back, make the other person pay for repairs, or even put someone in jail if it is truly necessary.

The same can be said of war. Many folks believe that because most Libertarians are non-interventionist, we do not believe in strong defense, which is completely untrue. Most sensible Libertarians believe that a strong standing army is necessary in a world with real threats. We just believe that we shouldn't waste the lives of our young men and women by sending them out to steal resources, nation-build, or to perpetuate illegal wars for profit. Most of us believe that the only time we should participate in war is when it occurs directly on our soil, and when it is legally and constitutionally declared by congress. While there are some pacifists among us, the majority of us are certainly not pacifists when it comes to national protection.

Myth Six: Libertarians are just Republicans who like to smoke weed.

This is a more recent myth that's been thrown around since Gary Johnson's first political run in 2012. When a great number of conservatives found their way towards the Libertarian party, they thought they had found a newer and better Republican Party that would support their fundamentalist and nationalist values without penalizing them for being liberal on certain social issues like smoking pot. And in the sense of not being penalized for wanting to end the war on drugs, they did find a home. Some of them even found that they preferred the Libertarian stance on freedom and non-aggression. Others realized that they never actually embraced modern Republican values, and they actually really were Libertarians and just hadn't learned about the party yet.

Sadly though, there were a large number of hardcore conservatives who were dissatisfied with the Republican party and who weren't actually interested in really practicing Libertarianism or compromising any of their socially conservative stances. They still wanted to outlaw abortions, penalize immigrants for our crappy immigration system, legally prohibit marriage equality, and advocate for policies that limited the freedoms of others. For the modern "moral majority," there's no room for compromise. Thankfully, most of these conservative Republicans found that the Libertarian party was not for them, and they left of their own volition. Many found a better ideological home in the Constitution Party, the Alt-Right, the Conservative Party, and other political ideologies that were more aligned with their strict beliefs about controlling how other people act and behave.

Unfortunately, before leaving the party, many of these folks have and still do manage to create a negative impression of the Libertarian party or they spread false interpretations about the party's stance on certain issues. Considering that the LP is still widely unheard of by most folks, these impressions are often the only experience many people have of the LP. These unfortunate interactions have created and perpetuated many myths.

As stated above, most of these myths are purposely created and spread by people who are not truly part of the LP. The rest mostly exist as a result of misunderstandings or a lack of experience with the party. Libertarianism is not so much about the difference between left or right, but about the difference between Totalitarianism or Authoritarianism and Anarchy. We are not anarchists, but we are certainly closer to anarchy than we are to totalitarianism. We are people who come from all walks of life. All races, all cultures, all creeds, all religions (or non religions), all levels of education, all levels of sanity, and all ages. Basically, we're just like you. We just believe that you are awesome and that most people are generally good and kind, and make right decisions on their own. We also believe that the only folks who should be punished for their wrong actions are those that have actually done something wrong.

The Good, the Bad, and the Realistic Aspects of Libertarianism

It would be nice if I could tell you that the Libertarian party was pure and ultimately perfect, but I cannot. Not only because there is no such thing as a perfect ideology, but also because as a Libertarian I'm a pragmatist and don't believe in utopianism.

The LP is not perfect and there are unpleasant aspects of the ideology. Like all ideologies, cultures, and identity groups, Libertarianism also has its own minority of extremists, purists, trolls, and people who pretend to be Libertarians with the intention of giving the party a bad name.

For the veteran Libertarian, most of these easy-to-spot trolls and extremists are just nuisances. Though for anyone looking in from the outside, or those who've curiously ventured into a Libertarian circle (especially online), all too often they have the unfortunate experience of meeting one or two of these nuts before they meet an actual sensible, intelligent, and civil Libertarian.

It also doesn't help that because of many of the myths and misconceptions that have saturated public beliefs about Libertarianism, there are also many otherwise sensible party members who have developed heavily offensive debating tactics to disarm their debate opponents early on. This understandably tends to turn away many otherwise open individuals who may want to learn about the ideology.

So while no Libertarian can deny that we as a party have areas to work on, we can say that it's definitely worth it to accept that nothing is perfect and continue to learn as much as we can before we form our opinions.

Where did you first hear about Libertarianism?

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  • MsMinarchy profile imageAUTHOR

    Miss Minarchy 

    14 months ago from Seattle

    Yes, I think all of us Johnson voters felt that twinge! Heck, here in Washington we actually achieved the 5% and should've become a minor major party in our state, but out republican secretary of state rewrote the rules and use a loophole to claim that our 5%, after several recounts, was invalid. That stung.

    Anyways, I'm excited for 20/20. Assuming we can play nice during nominations, then I look forward to Larry Sharpe's campaign. I'm hoping to write some articles about him. Maybe it'll get a few extra folks curious before election season starts! =)

  • WiccanSage profile image

    Mackenzie Sage Wright 

    14 months ago

    Excellent explanation. I was so bummed when Johnson fell short of the 5% he need, I'm praying next election will do it!

  • MsMinarchy profile imageAUTHOR

    Miss Minarchy 

    14 months ago from Seattle

    Thank you! I'm looking forward to yours too. I'm just about to read your new one about differences in income =)

  • Garry Reed profile image

    Garry Reed 

    14 months ago from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas

    Looking forward to your next article!

  • MsMinarchy profile imageAUTHOR

    Miss Minarchy 

    14 months ago from Seattle

    All very good points Garry! Thank you for the outstanding comment! I've enjoyed many of your articles here on Hubpages as well.

    This article actually took me a bit longer to publish, because I was originally going to include A LOT more about the history of Libertarianism, including the enlightenment movement in France and England, and how that carried over and influenced American founding fathers. Though as you can see, this hub is already especially long! lol

    Though I at least have enough material to get started on another hub going into greater detail about the history of Libertarianism, both in America and through Europe.

  • Garry Reed profile image

    Garry Reed 

    14 months ago from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas

    Outstanding job of explaining American minarchist libertarianism. I've been writing and debating on this subject for years -- decades, actually -- and have learned that inevitably we have to confront the fact that the word "libertarian" was created in Europe as a synonym for anarchy (virtually always meaning non-statist anarcho-socialism) and still means that to many many people there and in the US.

    So your next mission, if you choose to accept it, is to differentiate that from the Modern American Libertarian Movement usage of the word "libertarian" based on NAP and, yes, even includes people like me, a NAP post-statist voluntaryist libertarian.

    Long article but great resource for anyone serious about expanding their knowledge base.

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