In a free country, we are all libertarians to some degree

libertarianLibertarian is not a bad word. No, really, please hear me out. I see that word used a lot on Facebook, various blogs and news sites and I want to shout in a really bad Spanish accent a la Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Of course, I can understand the confusion. When we think of libertarian, the likes of Ron Paul, Rand Paul, Ted Nugent and Ayn Rand come to mind, even though Ayn Rand loathed libertarianism.

Their version of libertarianism consists of as little government involvement as possible in the lives of citizens. So little government involvement that it may as well call for anarchy (or at the very least, it calls for eliminating food stamps and trying to de-fund Obamacare for the 41st time.)

Libertarianism today is linked to the far right wing of the Republican Party, tea party members for example. They strongly believe in the Second Amendment, oppose gun laws, they favor lower taxes (if none at all), minimal government regulations regarding business and economics, and most favor decriminalization of drugs, especially marijuana. A recent poll commissioned by FreedomWorks shows that many republicans are self-identifying as libertarian.

But what is libertarianism, exactly? The basic definition of libertarianism is that the individual has the right to make choices on how to live his or her life without government interference. There are many varieties of libertarianism; from those who favor as little government as possible across the board, to those who only want the government to stay out of business and economics, but still favor government involvement in issues like abortion and gay marriage. This site is a good starting point for an introduction to libertarianism and its various shapes and forms.

As I said, when we hear the word libertarian today, we think of the far right wing of the Republican Party. Julian Drury wrote a wonderful piece on the history of libertarianism in America and how it got so skewed. This article from Bloomberg compares radical libertarianism to communism and shows how neither philosophy would work if put into practice.

Political compass

Radical libertarianism is basically the equivalent of anarchy. Even those who have a major hatred for government have to realize that there must be some kind of government structure because the alternative is mass chaos. Probably similar to what is currently happening in places like Somalia. I can’t imagine even the die-hard libertarian Ted Nugent would want to live in an environment like that.

So if we agree that there must be government involvement, the next question is, how much involvement? Those of us on the left-wing, progressive side of the political spectrum tend to favor government involvement in business and economics, while demanding minimal government regulation regarding issues like abortion, contraception, and gay marriage.

Noam Chomsky identified himself as a “libertarian socialist.” I think that fits most of us on the progressive side. I am not afraid to use the word libertarian to describe myself because I understand the true meaning of the word. We are social libertarians. We do not want the government to tell us who we can marry, that we can’t have an abortion, that we can’t use birth control, etc.

It’s time that we on the left take back the true definition of libertarian. I think that some progressives have such a visceral reaction just to the word libertarian that it may be almost impossible to convince them, but I think it is time that we try.

I also think part of the problem is that libertarianism could be used to describe everyone in the political spectrum, but to varying degrees. After all, we all live in a free country and love our liberty. Why can’t we embrace something that we have in common, even if the end results are different?

So the next time someone says that you can’t be a left-wing libertarian, feel free to quote Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”


  1. I guess the reason why this is such a peeve of mine is that because conservatives love to harp on liberals’ supposed “love of government.” Well, they have such an equal love, if we look at it objectively. They aren’t ashamed to demand government involvement in certain aspects of life, yet decry that involvement in other aspects. They are just as addicted to the government teat as they claim we are. But even though I do understand that the word libertarian has become synonymous with asshole, I want to change that because I do not think it is a bad word.

  2. This is a tough one for me because in my experience every time I have encountered a self-identified Libertarian, it doesn’t take much scratching at the surface to uncover a pissed-off Conservative. But you’ve given me something to chew on. Great post! Thanks.

  3. Thank you for putting this in terms that even an old fart such as myself can easily understand. I also happen to agree with you wholeheartedly on us all being very “Libertarian” at our core. I guess that’s why I tend to lean toward a very Jeffersonian look at our political system. I have wrestled with what to say when folks ask me where my political philosophy lays. I’ve been trying out a few: Social Democrat, Social Independent, Socialist, Anarchist, Nihilist, etc. I’m still trying to land on the correct moniker. Great post.

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