The conscience of a Libertarian

OK, I know that generalizations usually don’t work. But I will generalize here and pose that the definition of a Republican is a person who wants more government in our private lives, and a Democrat is one who wants more government in the marketplace.

On the other hand, libertarians mostly want less government in both places.

In that regard, numbers of times after I became a libertarian in 2003 I heard many people from all different political persuasions tell me that they too in many ways believe they also are libertarians. And you know something? They are probably correct.

What is the real definition of a libertarian? Mostly it is defined as a person who believes in maximizing individual rights and minimizing the role of the state.

Simply stated, a libertarian has a belief in liberty. Thus, all adults should own their lives and property, and have the right to make their own choices as to how they live their lives, as long as they respect the same right of other people.

To say that libertarians do not believe in government is flat-out wrong.

This is shown by the most libertarian document ever created, which is the United States Constitution.

This brilliant blueprint basically states that the legitimate goal of government in a free society is to serve us in three important areas.

The first is to provide military protection against foreign enemies, and police protection against domestic criminals.

The second is to set up a system of courts that will punish criminals, protect people’s rights and enforce contracts. And the third is to set up a system of equality so that, as much as humanly possible, everyone will have the same rights to pursue their own happiness.

But mostly other than that, the Constitution expressly reserves all other powers to the states, or to the people themselves.

In other words, as Dr. Kenneth Bisson was quoted as saying: “Libertarianism is what your mom taught you: behave yourself and don’t hit your sister.” Thus, libertarians strongly support individual civil liberties, social tolerance, private property, and the positive powers of a free market, which in turn means that libertarians bring to life the philosophy of “live and let live.”

To delve into this matter more personally, visit the website of the Advocates for Self-Government at, and take the offered “World’s Smallest Political Quiz.” This will help you to see where your political philosophy fits by giving you 10 questions to answer. The first five deal with issues of personal liberty, and the second five with economic liberty.

My results showed me to have a 90% libertarian rating for personal issues, and an 80% rating on economic issues. Obviously it is not all-inclusive, because it does not address such important matters as racial issues and foreign policy.

But try it anyway, because I think you will find the results to be informative and thought-provoking.

Then in further contemplating where your political philosophy lies, please consider the following additional points. If you look at the Constitution, you will not find any authority for the federal government to do things like subsidizing farms, bailing out banks, running or even setting forth the parameters of a health-care system, managing automobile companies, or determining whether business executives are receiving too much income.

That is as it should be, because it is transparently clear that bureaucrats do not make good businesspeople. To nail down that conclusion, simply look at the experience of the Soviet Union. But that is what the government is increasingly doing in our country today, to the degree that the government established by the founding fathers in the Constitution has virtually disappeared.

Instead of the expansion of government, it is the expansion of liberty that has brought people to our land from the earliest times in our history. And this desire for liberty has been ratified, because it is our adherence to the principle of limited government that has made our country both great and prosperous. And it will not let us down in the future either.

So most of the answers to today’s problems actually lie in turning away from the government’s taking charge of our lives. To the contrary, the real answer lies in liberty, property rights, individual accountability and the free enterprise system, tempered by appropriate government regulation and oversight.

Adam Smith was right when he said in his book “The Wealth of Nations” that it is demonstrably true that the social good is best served by pursuing private interests. People act in their own economic self-interest by working to produce goods and services that others will want to buy and use. It just so happens that by doing that work, many other people receive benefits as well.

Besides, don’t fool yourself, people in government act in their own political self-interest, because that will allow them to obtain and stay in office.

So, as Milton Friedman asked, how can you believe that one person’s political self-interest will somehow be more noble than another person’s economic self-interest?

That is briefly and generally what libertarians believe, and it describes the conscience of a libertarian.

Give these matters some thought, and if you agree with these principles, seize the opportunities available to you to help us put more of them into practice!

Judge Jim Gray (Ret.)