This was an essay written a while back, but the concept of liberty brings up many questions and the idea bears repeating. Is the ideology of liberty a dying philosophy, or is it slowly making a come back? Did the want for liberty ever really go away? A few things have changed since this was originally written. Marijuana has now been legalized in several states, and gay marriage was finally legalized federally. These actions have only proven that the idea of liberty is alive and well. So, why do we American voters keep putting the same politicians in office on repeat while expecting different results?
An Argument for Liberty
The political climate in America could easily be described as a circus. The paradox of the two-party system has bewildered many American voters, yet the concept of choice is still widely believed to be limited to only two political parties, each exercising the use of government power. Libertarianism can be summed up as a live and let live philosophy, but the deeper meaning of libertarian ideology seemingly baffles the American voter. The idea that a person could be the authority over their own lives, so long as it does not infringe on the rights of someone else, sounds good in theory. Still, it is deemed to be too progressive for those who have come to depend on government’s regulation and enforcement of what an individual can and cannot do. The call for freedom is a trend in the revival stages. More and more Americans are identifying as having a libertarian viewpoint, but the concept of alternative choice is only finally beginning to emerge into the realm of possibility. It is quite possible that there has been no better time to resurrect a libertarian agenda in America than now. After all, this is an ideology deeply rooted in the proud beginnings of this country. Liberty, it seems, is not a theory at all, but an essential principle of American history. The American people are becoming more vocal in their disapproval of massive government spending and waste, the accumulating national debt, and the ever expanding governance over individual’s personal lives. While the idea of liberty might still only be a historical ideology for some, is it really that far-fetched to suggest that the want for freedom is still alive and well? As with the trials of the American Revolution, liberty is not readily given. The turmoil in American politics implies that voters are leaning toward a more liberated agenda, but the idea of liberty in its intended spirit is still being construed as preposterous. What might a more liberated agenda look like in practice, and would individuals really be willing to take personal responsibility for their own life choices? Liberty requires that one pays the price for their own decisions, a thought that does not sit well with those dependent on the many paying the cost. Yet, liberty continues to be an inherent need for mankind. Americans have not seen the true benefits of liberty, freedom, and limited government in the last century, which has likely contributed to the belief that liberty, itself, is a pipe dream. The Libertarian philosophy promises to restore core American principles. America needs to get back to its roots in libertarianism because the libertarian philosophy preserves the rights of the individual, it promotes limited government, and it seeks to re-establish the principle of liberty.
The History of Liberty
On July 4, 1776, the final text of the Declaration of Independence was adopted, and would later be signed by fifty-six men who deeply believed in the purpose of their cause of freedom from government oppression. The, “unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America” (Jefferson, T., Franklin, B., Adams, J., Livingston, R., Sherman, R., 1776.) began, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these rights are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness…”(Jefferson et al., 1776. paragraph 2). This would be the beginning of the American Revolution, and the fight to break ties with Great Britain; the sole purpose being to establish a new form of government in a united States of America. The architects of the Declaration of Independence believed so passionately in individual’s rights and freedom from government oppression that they were willing to fight and die for it. “And for the support of this Declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor” (Jefferson et al., 1776. paragraph 6). The fact that a group of men were so dedicated to a cause should lend credibility and, at the very least, the consideration of the importance of that cause. The idea that men came together to discuss the unjust nature of their ties to Great Britain, and to conclude that after many requests for independence it had come down to the potential for war to gain independence? It speaks volumes of the priority these men placed on personal liberty. The endeavor to become a free nation did come to bloodshed. In the end, these united states did become independent of Great Britain. In essence, the very foundation of this country was established on the principles of an individual’s right to pursue a rich life, and one of substance, without the interference of government. Libertarianism seeks to restore the rights of the individual because personal liberty is a core principle in the Libertarian political ideology.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these rights are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness…”
A Government Too Big to do Anyone Any Good?
The role of government has significantly changed in the last 200 years, and the focus has drifted away from the rights of the individual. Evidence throughout history suggests that man becomes disobedient under the oppression of personal liberties, escalating to the extremes of war in the name of resistance against tyranny. Does this not further support that the concept of freedom is most assuredly timeless? An ideology that so many have fought and died for must hold some semblance of importance to the generations that have proceeded them. How, then, has man drifted so far from the inherent need to be free? According to History.com (2009), after the American Revolution, the task of creating a guide to govern the newly formed United States began. At the time, there was great debate between the “framers” of the U. S. Constitution. The worry was that the document had not completely eradicated the possibility of government’s abuse of power. There became a divide, and from that emerged two opposing sides; the Federalists and the Anti-federalists. The Federalists contended that the Constitution was fine as it was, and moved to ratify the document. The Anti-federalists, who had not wanted the Constitution to pass as is, contended that it was not suitable to prevent future attempts of government to usurp individual’s rights, and to overstep its role to the people (History.com, 2009). The authors of the Declaration of Independence were very clear on the role that government should assume writing that, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,–That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and institute new Government”(Jefferson et al., 1776). The Bill of Rights were added to the U.S. Constitution, as the first ten amendments, to limit the role of government, and to prevent abuse of power. The architects of American Independence had just cut ties with a government they believed was oppressive, so the arguments over the wording of the Constitution were due, in large part, to the insistence of the Anti-Federalists that the language provide protections for the people of the United States. However, the gradual encroachment of government was inevitable.
Today, government has a hand in almost every aspect of American life. It regulates everything from the health insurance an individual purchases and the individual’s right to refrain from purchasing health insurance, to the gender of a person one can marry. The fact that government is so heavily involved in personal choice implies that an individual is not qualified to make decisions for themselves. This begs the question that if an individual is unqualified to make personal decisions, how are individuals competent enough to make sound choices in political leaders? That would infer that the process of democracy is only an illusion of control over one’s government. In the beginning years of this country, government’s job was to enforce the will of the people, and not its own will on the people. Government’s role was to protect the individual from those who would step outside of the boundaries and violate the personal liberties of another individual. It would appear that the aim of government has essentially become to protect one from themselves. This presents as a gross perversion of the intended role of government. “One of the more disturbing trends in government expansion over the last 30 years has been the collection of laws, regulations, and binding court decisions that make up the ‘nanny state.’ Those laws and regulations represent government at its most arrogant. Their message is clear: politicians and bureaucrats know more about how to live your life, manage your health, and raise your kids than you do. Former president Ronald Reagan once said: ‘Government exists to protect us from each other. Where government has gone beyond its limits is in deciding to protect us from ourselves’”(Cato Institute). Reason would indicate that the problem in keeping government in check is that it has grown so large, the task of monitoring its operations is, at the very least, daunting. Where states once had a larger role in decision making, the Federal government has overstepped states’ rights, rendering oversight an inevitable fault. Monitoring the inner-workings on such a large scale means that it is next to impossible for government to be held accountable to the people.
The Bill of Rights illustrates that our Founders understood that for personal freedoms to be broad, the power of the federal government must be limited. Our nation, however, has moved away from its founding principles, especially during recent decades. Our ever-growing federal government is intervening into more and more aspects of our lives, especially through bureaucratic regulations, and is reducing our personal freedoms in the process. Government at all levels is doing more and more things that were once left to private individuals and groups, and the federal government is doing more and more things that were once the province of state and local governments, where greater accountability to the public is often possible (White, 2014).
“…government’s role is not to enforce or provide choice, as this would bloat the true role of government and merely create the illusion of choice…”
Libertarians, just as members of the Constitutional Convention, believe that a central government is necessary. However, it is a strong libertarian belief that government’s role is not to enforce or provide choice, as this would bloat the true role of government and merely create the illusion of choice. “Indeed, government has an important role to play in a free society. It is supposed to protect the rights of the individual, creating a society in which people can live their lives and undertake projects reasonably secure from the threat of murder, assault, theft, or foreign invasion”(Boaz, 2015). That ideology is quite contrary to what government’s current role is in America. Instead of government remaining limited, it has grown vastly.
To define everything that government has a hand in would be a major undertaking, but the expanse of government overreach is certainly not limited to the direct violation of personal rights. It can be assumed that any “service” or subsidy the government provides is an infringement on personal rights and freedom of choice in some form. Taxation is a well known, and vaguely understood concept for most any working American. Americans, taxpayers or not, have come to believe that taxes are a duty paid to the government for certain conveniences. In reality, taxpayers do not use all, if even a few, of the government services the taxed individual funds. There are many examples of unwanted or undue taxation. Boaz uses the example of government subsidized childcare, “As more parents pay for childcare outside the home, there is a larger constituency of people who would like to be relieved of that expense. Thus politicians begin to declare that child care is a national responsibility or that parents ‘can’t afford’ child-care expenses” (2015). Boaz goes on to add that, “actually, they can afford it- they are affording it- but they don’t especially like paying for it. The politicians never address exactly why childless people and stay-at-home mothers should be taxed to pay for the care of other people’s children” (2015). Of course, it’s understandable that childcare is an expense that is plausibly burdensome, but the important question is, where is the personal responsibility for life choices? Why does this become the burden of the taxpayers? What should happen to those that do not directly benefit from the service? The simple answer is that the individual will pay for it anyway. It can be summed up as government legislating morality, or enforcing an individual’s obligation to society. In basic terms, the individual will pay for the subsidies or services whether one utilizes them or not. Libertarians maintain that public services be rendered by the private sector, and that subsidies be provided by private charities. For every government service or subsidy, there is a private company providing the service better, more cost effectively, and more efficiently. The U.S. Postal Service is a classic example of this claim. Libertarianism promotes the idea of limited government because, in no uncertain terms, government has no business being involved in choices of or for the individual.
Government’s job is not to be the savior of those who would fall between the cracks, or the enforcers of good will for those who intend to do nothing positive for society, and of their own volition. Instead, the libertarian philosophy promotes the idea that the individual will seek to do good, and will positively impact society by having the freedom to make individualized choices. Not every individual will contribute positively, just as they do not now. The majority, however, will aim to be constructive participants. The role of government has grown beyond the scope of its original intentions, yet for the ever-growing national debt, the increased taxes, and the multitude of legislation, society does not appear to be much better off. The poor are still poor, the rich are still rich, the gays are still gay and want equal rights, and the gun activists still love guns. Libertarians believe that personal decisions should be left to the individual, and that government must stay out of the way of progress. In most aspects, Libertarians view government as a hindrance to progress. It can be argued that limited government will not completely cure the issues of society, but it can also be argued that big government certainly has not. It has long been long said that government cannot legislate morality, and it cannot tax a nation into prosperity. When a nation is prosperous, everyone has potential to benefit. The libertarian ideology supports this belief and maintains that limited government is not a cure-all, but it is the only reasonable approach to societal ills.
“The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental and spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest”
The Founding Fathers can arguably be considered the original Libertarians in America, but liberty has been described in a myriad of texts throughout history, and has been identified in diverse cultures under various names. In The Libertarian Mind: A Manifesto For Freedom, David Boaz (2015) asserts that, “The first known libertarian may have been the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu, who lived around the sixth century B.C., and is best known as the author of the Tao Te Ching”(p. 39). He goes on to provide evidence that a libertarian idea of freedom can be attributed to the two main lines of Western thought, the Greek and the Judeo-Christian. “Libertarianism is often seen as primarily a philosophy of economic freedom, but its real historical roots lie more in the struggle for religious toleration. Early Christians began to develop theories of toleration to counter their persecution by the Roman state”(Boaz, 2015. p. 43). Boaz notes case after case of documented historical movements rooted in early libertarian philosophy. Indubitably, man has long sought to live in a state of self-governance and liberty. The very premise for the Libertarian philosophy is that an individual should be able to live their lives as they see fit, but that one should not aim to infringe upon the personal liberties of another individual. John Mill wrote, “The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental and spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest” (Mill, J., 1869. Ch. 1, para. 13). The Preamble for the Libertarian platform, adopted by the Libertarian National Committee, states that, “As Libertarians, we seek a world of liberty; a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefits of others” ( [LNC], 2016). Libertarians stand by the philosophy that individual’s rights are the crucial precondition for prosperity and freedom. If the recurring theme is that Man seeks a life of freedom of choice, it would be ill conceived to conclude that the basis of human belief is not rooted in a libertarian ideal. Therefore, it can be concluded that man should desire to preserve liberty in its purest state. The importance of such a notion being so great that the Founding Fathers pledged their lives to it. The libertarian philosophy seeks to return America to its libertarian roots. It endeavors to reintroduce America to the principle of liberty.
Libertarianism abides by the belief that individuals are qualified to make personal choices, and that by doing so, those individuals assume the responsibility of that choice. If a person should harm another, or infringe on the rights of another, they are responsible for the consequences of those violations. The idea, in its simplest form, is that a person has the right to choose, but that person is not free from the consequences of that choice. The libertarian ideology promotes limited government believing that the people will do their part, as positive contributors to society, under the precept of personal choice. Libertarians believe that society works more efficiently when government gets out of the way. The true essence of liberty is found in these principles of individual’s rights and limited government, and these ideals must be present in order for liberty to exist. A life of liberty is the cornerstone for libertarian philosophy. Americans have not seen the true benefits of liberty, freedom, and limited government in the last century, which has likely contributed to the belief that liberty, itself, is a pipe dream. The Libertarian philosophy promises to restore core American principles. America needs to get back to its roots in libertarianism because the libertarian philosophy preserves the rights of the individual, it promotes limited government, and it seeks to re-establish the principle of liberty.
Boaz, D. (2015). The Libertarian Mind: A Manifesto for Freedom. Simon & Schuster.
Cato Institute. The Nanny State. Retrieved August 29, 2016 from
History.com staff (2009). The U.S. Constitution. History.com. Retrieved September 1, 2016 from http://www.history.com/topics/constitution
Jefferson, T., Franklin, B., Adams, J., Livingston, R., Sherman, R., (1776). Declaration of Independence: A Transcription. National Archives & Records Administration. Retrieved from http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/print_friendly.html
Libertarian National Committee.(2016). Preamble. Adopted in convention, May 2016, Orlando Florida.
Retrieved August 30, 2016 from http://www.lp.org/platform
Mill, John Stuart. (1869). On Liberty. Library of Economics and Liberty. Retrieved August 31, 2016 from http://www.econlib.org/library/Mill/mlLbty1.html
White, E. (2014). The Bill of Rights and the Importance of Limited Government. Retrieved from http://aclj.org/us-constitution/the-bill-of-rights-importance-limited-government?