Why Am I a Libertarian?
In high school, I was a mostly establishment conservative. I thought Bush I and Reagan were the good guys. My understanding of libertarianism was slight: I saw libertarians as anti-authoritarian libertines, those who wanted their pot and their pornography, and disrespectfully wanted the establishment out of their life.
I drifted into socialism, following the same sort of reasoning that many do: poverty is a problem. Therefore, doing something is better than doing nothing. I thought at least the Democrats talked about it as a problem, while the Republicans seemed to ignore it. Same with global warming, education, and social justice. (Of course, nowadays Republicans want changes in these areas; they just want them slightly less than Democrats do.)
Then I met an anarcho-capitalist. He was vehemently anti-state, rejecting Lockean philosophy. And also vehemently anti-war, anti-tax, etc. I began thinking about big government as more problematic.
The big change started occurring with Thomas Sowell’s A Citizen’s Guide to Basic Economics. I also read some Pat Buchanan and Russell Kirk. Paleoconservatism seemed like a natural fit. But the corpus of information to really comprehend seemed overwhelming. Libertarianism seemed much more comprehensible and consistent. I had a hard time getting excited about paleoconservative concepts of race and trade policy. Foreign policy perspectives from the Austrian theory made more coherent sense to me than paleoconservative foreign policy perspectives. I started becoming a libertarian. But there were the two big issues: pornography and drugs. These became less of an issue once I realized that negative rights libertarianism was what I was more allied with. This brand focuses on rights the government does not have, rather than on rights individuals possess. For instance, “The government has no right to appropriate a significant portion of my paycheck without my consent,” vs. “I have a right to my drugs and my pornography.” The former is more my line of thinking.
With both issues (granted, my opposition to the drug war is more complicated and extensive), it largely goes down to agency. Can we legislate our way to utopia? Does a pornography police (especially a federal one) really help public morality? I believe, rather, that public morality is largely composed of individual choices. If individuals choose to act a certain way, than law enforcement mechanisms are largely ineffective at truly preventing the problem. Negative, unforeseen consequences are also a high probability. For instance, alcohol prohibition not only didn’t prevent alcohol consumption, a large criminal organization was developed in response to it. One wonders what the descendants of those crime syndicates would be like now if Prohibition had never occurred. (My feelings about Prohibition are complex and unformed, so this example does not necessarily represent my view of Prohibition; but it does point out the problem of negative, unforeseen consequences.)
If I want to be part of a righteous world, how is pornography eradicated? It is eradicated when individuals refuse to participate in it at any level of their own volition. No laws are needed in this case.
That said, I am certainly supportive of local or private organizations monitoring carefully material (i.e. a local school board) for pornographic content, and censoring accordingly. And I am still open to the idea of other enforcement mechanisms. But I am at least skeptical of their effectiveness, and wary of negative, unforeseen consequences. Far better to have individuals persuaded to not touch the stuff, where no compulsion is necessary. The free market can also be a great help (i.e. internet filters). Consider what would happen if the telecom industry was truly a free market (or more of an unregulated free market): with so much competition, a la carte packages would be much more possible and price competitive. With only two or three competitors, though, (government is involved up to its elbows) such flexibility in nigh unto impossible. But some do not realize the free market could be a great benefit here.
The non-aggression principle seems wonderfully simple, and I see this as a sufficiently minimalistic purpose of government: to ensure that no one aggresses against another, and to ensure that contracts are kept. Now I admit I am in a quandry as to whether government is required to make us keep our contracts. Fear can be a powerful motivator, yet many (most) of our decisions are made and contracts kept independent of government force. After all, we pay the TV salesman full price because we want to buy the TV. But to ensure that none are aggressed against (i.e. theft, assault, murder) seems like a reasonable government function, at least compared to the current near total control government assumes over our lives.
Basically, my love of liberty and the knowledge of the effectiveness of a free market economy have really led to me becoming a libertarian. Establishment Republicans and Democrats far too easily compromise liberty and the free market in favor of government control. Not a good trade-off for me.