Back in 1997, I read and very much agreed with Charles Murray's book, What it means to be a Libertarian
. It starts out like this:
Public celebrations of freedom used to be at the heart of America's pride in itself. When we bragged about being American (and how we used to brag), it was freedom we talked about, endlessly. We loved our liberty ---- the God-given, inalienable, constitutionally guaranteed right of every American to live his life as he saw fit, beholden to no one, taking his own chances, pursuing happiness in his own way, doing as he damn well pleased. We celebrated that individualistic, unfettered American in our politics, literature, songs, drama, and, later, in films.
As socialism gained influence in the twentieth century, it became intellectually fashionable to mock freedom, first in Europe and eventually in the United States. What does freedom really amount to, the left asked, in a world of poverty? The equal freedom of rich and poor to sleep under bridges? As the century progressed, the same dismissiveness toward freedom, especially economic freedom, spread from intellectuals into mainstream politics. This thing called freedom, we were told, is what the rich talk about when they don't want to face their responsibilities to the poor.
Call yourself a libertarian and you will often be asked a series of questions: Do you want to legalize drugs? Do you support the Patriot Act? How can you consistently vote for Republicans if you are a libertarian? Drugs and related issues
In principle, I understand why libertarians support the legalization of drugs. It's not based on the belief that injecting a "hard" drug is not harmful to oneself. Instead it is based on the idea that individual citizens should get to decide how to live their own lives and take responsibility for the consequences of their decisions. While I personally think that rock-climbing is too dangerous for me, that's not enough for me to want to make rock-climbing illegal. As a libertarian, I am tempted to think the same way about drugs, gambling, prostitution and all other behaviors that tend to be destructive to oneself. These issues remind me of another part of Charles Murray's book on libertarianism:
The Patriot Act and other security issues
Some people sincerely think their friends who drink martinis and eat rare steaks are doing themselves harm. They may be right be certain medical criteria. But they are in no position to strike the larger balance that the martini-drinking steak eater must strike for himself. What are the pleasures worth relative to the costs? I think the other fellow is harming himself. He sees it as paying a cost he is willing to pay.
Libertarians like to say that our inalienable rights existed prior to the formation of government. In principle, I believe this is correct. But in practice, rights often need to be protected by
government, not just from
government. Thus, I support the Patriot act, a large budget for national defense and Operation Iraqi Freedom. I've heard the quote from President John Quincy Adams saying that America should be a "well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all but the champion and vindicator only of its own." Again, it sounds good in theory. Our government does not exist to protect the interests of the Spanish or the South Koreans. But America is more secure when freedom is on the advance in the world, not when it is surrounded by dictatorships East, West, North and South.Libertarian Republican
As I see it, my commitment to and willingness to vote for the Republican party is strongly influenced by America's "winner take all" electoral system, a system which encourages people to form political coalitions before
the election, rather than after the election (as is the case with a system of proportional representation). I take it for granted that, when I vote a straight Republican ticket (vote for all Republican candidates), I will be voting for people with whom I disagree with.
I believe that there are only two serious choices in American politics: The Democrats and the Republicans. Sure, there are other parties: Greens, Peace and Freedom, Natural Law, National Taxpayers Party, Prohibition Party, Pro-Life Party and so on. My favorite radio talk show host, Dennis Prager, described voting for "third parties" as "political masturbation. It feels good, but it doesn't help the world." (Sorry, I realize that this is a family blog most of the time).
Since I only have two "real" choices, I choose the Republicans because a careful examination of the way Republicans and Democrats vote in state legislatures and in the US Congress has convinced me that the Republicans are the more libertarian party of America's two major parties. Political reality
You could argue that, as a libertarian, I have gone soft. I don't get as upset with Republicans when they vote for more spending on social programs or fail to introduce a national drug legalization act in Congress. In some cases, Republicans are just being cowardly and are afraid to take the reasonable amount of political risk associated with doing the right thing for America. In other cases, Republicans are just be smart for realizing that politics isn't a suicide mission. You want to be alive the day after the election.