Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Liberal Libertarian

I have been hearing from some of my friends on the Left, both pagan and Christian, that libertarianism is actually an "extreme right-wing Republican” philosophy and incompatible with liberalism. I find this both humorous and alarming; it is the first time in my life anybody has ever accused me of being “right-wing” or “Republican”! I have been called by various names or labels in the past, such as “wild-eyed liberal,” “loonie,” “hippy,” “jesus freak,” “pagan,” “heretic,” “crazy bitch,” “nerd” and “idealist,” many of which I admit are to some degree accurate, and some more so than others. But until recently nobody has ever called me “right-wing.” LOL, or rather, ROFLMAO! Anyone who knows me would find such a label hilarious. Only since the rise of the Tea Party has the word “libertarian” come to mean “extreme right-wing Republican” in the public consciousness.

It could be argued that the Libertarian Party in America has always had a strong connection to the right wing in the sense of being pro-capitalism/ ”free market,” not that there actually is, or probably ever was, a “free market” in America. While this "free market" connection has always existed in the Libertarian Party, I have noticed a definite trend towards the more conservative/Republican direction in recent times, as opposed to the Libertarians I knew as a child in the 1970s.

But, it must be noted that libertarianism as such predates the American Libertarian Party, having its roots in classical liberalism in Europe in the 1800s, when the term at that time referred to “left-wing anarchism” or anarcho-socialism. I refer the interested reader to these links which may help clarify:
Libertarians Against Capitalism

So, how do I personally manage to be a libertarian without being a right-wing/ Republican?

First, I think it is necessary to distinguish between the Ideal World and the Real World: In my Ideal World, everybody would live together in peace, love and harmony, freely trading goods and services on a level playing field to everyone’s benefit, and/or forming voluntary collectives/communes - people basically being free to do whatever we darn well please, so long as we harm nobody. There would be no nanny government to steal our personal property or conscript our labor under the guise of protecting us from ourselves. At the very most, a consensual democratic government would exist in a limited manner to ensure that nobody took unfair advantage of anyone else, nobody used force or fraud, and the powerful did not exploit the weak. And everybody would hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” and we would all live happily ever after. OK.

By contrast, in the Real World in which I find myself, there already exists an entrenched System whereby the government enables the rich and powerful to use force and fraud to exploit everyone else - i.e., the other approximately 98% of us, who are kept on a very short leash and too busy trying to make a living to worry much about our "liberties" or lack thereof - and a few crumbs are thrown to the sick and poor only because enough compassionate people (the Left) loudly insist on it and politicians grudgingly go along with the charity only because it might help them get re-elected. Clearly there is no way to get to my Ideal World from the Real World by, for example, de-regulating Big Business in the hope of encouraging the “free market,” because a “free market” does not exist; there is no level playing field and the game is already rigged. This is the key point where I differ from my right-wing friends in the Libertarian Party.

Am I opposed to taxation? Yes, because in principle taxation = legalized theft or extortion. It allows the government to do something which, if you or I did it, would be highly illegal. Let’s say you have worked hard all day and earned $100, and I approached you and said, “I need you to give me $21 [the actual rate my partner and I are paying as independent contractors living just above the poverty line] to help build a parking lot in the meadow.” You might reply, “I don’t think we need another parking lot and the meadow is nice just the way it is. What we need is more green space. I’m not giving you the money.” If I then said, “I’m sorry, but it’s for the public good and anyway you have no choice because I have a gun and I can tie you up and take the money,” that would clearly be robbery. But this is exactly what the government does: take your money by force to fund all manner of projects that you may or may not agree with, including paying huge salaries with lavish benefits to the so-called “public servants” who make and enforce the laws. If you don’t pay you will go to jail and/or the government will take your home. So I am opposed to it in principle. Having said that, however, I am a law-abiding citizen and I do my part by paying my taxes, even though in my opinion they are excessive for somebody who makes as little money as I do. I would certainly feel more generous about paying taxes if my income were such that I could afford to pay my own mortgage, electric bill, food, etc. without falling deeper into debt. If I were wealthy it would be even less of an issue; I would be happy to help.

However, the other aspect of taxation which troubles me is that the money is being used to fund some things that I would not voluntarily support, such as setting up oppressive regimes overseas, and then sending our young men and women over there to kill and be killed when the dictators we put in place inevitably get out of hand and turn against us and need to be put down. I also do not appreciate my tax money being used to lock up drug users in prison; I would rather pay for them to go into voluntary rehab, which would actually be cheaper as well as more humane. I don’t want my taxes used to arrest people for such “crimes” as skateboarding or surfing, something with which I myself have been threatened on several occasions, because it is illegal to surf in Panama City, FL when a bureaucrat who has never been in the ocean or a police officer who is too fat to get on a surfboard, decides that the water is “unsafe.” I don’t want to pay to lock up prostitutes or other consenting adults minding their own business while getting their groove on in whatever manner they like, whether or not I personally agree with it. And I sure as hell don’t want my money used for “corporate welfare,” i.e., to bail out Big Business/ Wall Street when “the market” fails to reward their attempts at ripping people off! (Newsflash: in a true “free market” the government does not bail out businesses when they fail; the Big Boys should have to play by the same rules as the rest of us.)

Now, to give the conservatives credit where credit is due, and contrary to what you may have heard, most folks on the Right generally ARE in favor of helping the poor! Many of them contribute lots of money to charity. They just don’t believe that it is a proper function of government and/or that their tax money should be used for it. This, again, is where we differ and what perhaps, in essence, makes me a “liberal,” and it is a very fine line: I believe that in an Ideal World the government should not take our money by force for whatever purpose; but since we live in the Real World, as long as I am being taxed anyway, personally I would much rather see the money used to help the poor, to help people keep their homes and family farms, to fund health care, to clean up the environment, develop alternative energy sources, etc., versus many of the projects which the Republicans cheerfully fund, such as locking up dope smokers, promoting “abstinence only” programs in the schools, preventing gays from getting married, helping the multinational corporations exploit people here and abroad, and bombing the hell out of foreign countries, especially those which did not attack us.

Hence I am a “liberal libertarian” who, in the Real World, can no longer vote for the modern “Libertarian” candidates who are de facto Republicans in terms of most of the issues which matter to me. So I’m back to choosing between Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dee or Tweedle Dumber, whichever candidate I think will be most likely to uphold the individual liberty of men and women, while at the same time doing the least harm to society. And in my heart I still hold dear the Ideal that someday people will evolve beyond coercive government altogether and we will be free to live in peace, love and harmony, but it’s not going to happen through the political process.

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