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In defense of libertarianism

Kate Mozynski

Picture this scene: it’s 3 A.M., it’s been a long day, and you’re driving home. You are stopped at a red light for what seems like forever, and you know that you would pose no risk to yourself or others by just driving through the light. Sound familiar? Then you might be a libertarian. And no, I don’t mean one of the reactionaries waving a Tea Party flag in front of a town hall. I mean “libertarian” with a small “L.” It’s time to clear up some confusion.

As our campus continues to express both a combination of intellectual dialogue and unfounded propaganda leading up to the 2012 presidential race, I’d like to take a break from all of the partisan squabble to talk about ideas independent from any party; the ideas of mutual respect for life, liberty and property.

To all of the moderate democrats and left-leaning individuals out there, I used to be one of you. In a lot of ways, I still am. I believe in equal rights for all people, regardless of their race, gender, background or sexual preference. I believe in freedom of speech and expression, even if I might not like what someone has to say. What I don’t believe is that the federal government is the best way to solve our problems.

This is because I firmly accept individualism. This conviction stems from the principle of non-aggression, which is the basis for all libertarian philosophy. Boiled down, the principle says that it is ethically wrong to kill, enslave or steal. I think on an individual level, we can all agree this is true. If I were to walk into your dorm room and steal your TV, you’d likely be pretty upset.

So what if it’s on a larger scale? What if a group of people decides that they deserve your TV more than you do? Does that make it okay for them to take it? Or is it never okay to initiate force against someone and violate his or her rights?

What about when the government does it? The authority behind any institution, whether it’s the United Nations, our federal government or even our own campus administration, is derived from our consent through a mutual agreement to follow rules and guidelines that allow for a more secure and better society. But when it comes down to it, any authoritative body is really just a collection of individual people. While I personally would not argue that there is no role for government, we do see our rights unjustly violated under this arrangement, and sometimes more frequently than we would like to admit. Let’s take a look at our history: Henry David Thoreau thought the government was violating his right to property by funding an unjust war with his tax dollars. Martin Luther King, Jr. thought that the government was violating the rights of African Americans by denying their rights to liberty.  What they both had in common was that they sought non-violent, libertarian solutions to their problems.

When most people think of libertarians, they think of a heartless stereotype of people who do not care about the poor or starving or want to cut off all aid to suffering people in Africa. That’s definitely far from the truth. I firmly believe in helping people in need. The point is that it is my choice to decide how I’m going to respond to them, not the government’s. Denying me my right to liberty or property really doesn’t solve anything— it simply lays a foundation for a society where injustice is tolerated. After a while, people become complacent in what Frederic Bastiat would later term “legal plunder.” Violations of your rights appear to be okay, as long as the violators are organized about it and claim legitimacy. Or, as Bastiat wrote in his book “The Law,” “See if the law takes from some person what belongs to them and gives it to the other people to whom it doesn’t belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.”

This is why I choose to advocate for limited government, or at least bodies of authority that are consistent with the rights to which we all are entitled. That’s really what small-“L“ libertarianism means; that your rights end where the rights of another begin, and that we all should accept the responsibility for defending both our own rights and the rights of others. I like Ralph Waldo Emerson’s ideas on this topic which hold an appropriate context and sentiment to round off this discussion. He was addressing a body of college students at Cambridge University in 1837, but his words are just as fitting now: “We will walk on our own feet; we will work with our own hands; and we will speak our own minds.” That’s exactly what I challenge you to do.

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