By Jason Stenack
With the Libertarian Party being in the public eye more this election than any other the big question people are asking is, “What do libertarians believe?” Gary Johnson and his running mate can’t seem to formulate a good answer since neither of them seem to understand what is at the core of libertarianism. Gary’s response to this has historically been to say libertarians are fiscally responsible and socially liberal. His running mate, Bill Weld, says he wants the government out of your bedroom and your wallet. As a consequence of this mischaracterization many people new to libertarianism seem to think small government is at the core of libertarianism. As nice as they sound, those would be the wrong answers. They are wrong because those answers are the byproduct of libertarian beliefs and not the starting point. Libertarians do not borrow a little from the left and a little from the right as Gary and Bill make it sound. Libertarians have their own well thought out philosophy that everything else centers around.
The actual core value of libertarianism is a strict adherence to private property rights. From property rights we can deduce the non-aggression principle. The non-aggression principle rejects the initiation of force against property. Property rights extends to your body because you own yourself. You own your body. If you do not own your body, then you are a slave. Thus, your body is your property and any violations of your body is a violation of property rights.
It is through this lens of non-aggression that libertarians examine the world. This is a simple philosophy that you should have learned as a child. Don’t hit people and don’t take their stuff. Libertarians apply this philosophy to all people, no matter their employer, their goals, or any organization they belong.
Governments, clubs, corporations, and religious denominations are nothing more than individual people working toward a common goal. From a philosophical standpoint, these things do not physically exist. You cannot use any of the five senses to confirm their existence. These are all concepts used to describe a group of individual people the same way the number “ten” describes how many rocks lay in a pile. You do not see the word “government” floating above police officers any more than you see the number “ten” floating above those rocks. You cannot point to a courthouse and say that you see the government. You do, however, see a building made of stone, wood, glass and other tangible objects that exist.
People also exist and when we apply the non-aggression principle to people we also apply it to any social construct they belong. This is why libertarians apply the same moral standard to governments as they apply to themselves. That which is immoral for you to do must be immoral for the government since the government is just a group of individual people.
When libertarians study a problem we ask ourselves if there is a solution possible that doesn’t require coercive force and we go from there. In the case of government, its first solution is the threat of violence in order to force people to behave a certain way.
Government does this through legislation by passing laws, which are nothing more than decrees demanding you act a certain way “or else”. That “or else” is the threat of violence against you in the form of police, with guns, forcibly locking you in a cage called prison. If you resist the police they will beat you, tase you, or shoot you with guns until you comply or die in the process.
It does not matter how innocent the law is, like failing to use a turn signal while driving, there must be an enforcement mechanism otherwise they’d be called requests, not laws.
There are often several layers that must be passed before physical violence is used to force compliance but all of those layers are the threat of violence and who likes to be threatened with violence? The most common layer in the process used to obscure the violence is a fine. A fine is just a nice word used to describe the threat of violence against you. Much like an armed robbery, if you choose not to hand over your money, violence will be used to take it from you. However, in an armed robbery, the thief is kind enough to not force you into a cage afterwards. Taxes are just a form of tribute and if you choose to not pay you’ll meet the same violent fate as an armed robbery. This is why libertarians will point out that taxation is a form of theft.
It should now be clear why libertarians are always pushing for smaller and smaller government and how small government is actually a byproduct of the real core value of libertarianism. This is why libertarians bemoan the passing of new laws or when someone suggests the solution to a problem is another law. More laws equate to more violence against the citizens and the bigger the government needs to be to enforce them. We must not forget that every time a new law is passed many ordinary people are suddenly considered criminals from a legal standpoint. This is especially true in a system where so many laws exist that no one person can possibly know them all, not even those charged with enforcing them. This leads to citizens unintentionally breaking laws throughout their daily lives, which potentially exposes them to the violence used to enforce those laws.
It would be nice if legislators understood this before they passed more laws. If the people passing the laws had to enforce the laws themselves they’d probably find other more peaceful solutions. The next time you think a law should be passed imagine if you had to personally enforce it. Imagine if you have to enforce a law you support that your neighbor just broke. Are you willing to walk over to your neighbor’s house with a gun and make them obey the law?
It is doubtful the average person would be willing to force compliance from their neighbor through physical violence. Anyone who isn’t a sociopath will consider it immoral for you to do so. Furthermore, if it is immoral for you to use violence to force your will onto others then why does it suddenly become moral and just to have someone else do it on your behalf through a ballot box? Legality does not dictate morality. Using violence to influence behavior of peaceful people is immoral no matter who does it. Therefore, nobody should advocate the passing of a law that they are not willing to kill for. This is how libertarians, armed with property rights and the non-aggression principle, come to support little or no government.