Is Libertarianism Really About Politics? (from the “Cliff Notes” version of “Healing Our World”)

To answer that question, we need to know how libertarianism is defined. Libertarianism is the simple morality we learned as children: don’t start the fight by hitting first, don’t steal or destroy another’s property, don’t cheat, and keep your promises. If you inadvertently fail to live up to these standards, make it up to the person you’ve harmed.  This two-part ideology of honoring our neighbor’s choice and righting our wrongs is known as the non-aggression principle (NAP) and is the foundation of libertarianism.

You probably recognize the NAP as the way you normally relate to your neighbors on a daily basis.  The only time you’d engage in physical force would be to defend yourself from someone who is violating the NAP, like a would-be thief or murderer.  If you violate the NAP by putting a baseball through your neighbor’s window accidentally, you’d own up to it and replace it.  In most of our daily interactions, we are libertarians or “Good Neighbors.”

This philosophy is deeply embedded in many religions as well.  Christians, for example, might recognize the NAP as a way to “love our neighbors as ourselves” or a restatement of the part of the Ten Commandments that deals with human interactions.  Ethicists might see the NAP as a reflection of the Golden Rule.

Being a Good Neighbor keeps our neighborhoods peaceful and prosperous.  Few people want to live where residents frequently steal from each other or shoot at each other.  Such neighborhoods are dangerous to live in.  Property values plummet as people leave for better neighborhoods: neighborhoods where libertarianism (the NAP) is the norm.

Why then do we hear about libertarianism only in a political context?  The answer is simple: in politics, the NAP is generally abandoned.  As a society, we’ve come to accept certain forms of aggression as necessary and good as long as they done through government.  Libertarians who engage in politics are trying to make society aware that violations of the NAP—even by government—result in the same bad ends that we get in our neighborhood:  poverty and strife. In trying to do good through aggression, we get the bitter fruits of war and poverty instead.

The founders of the U.S. were, for the most part, aware of this problem.  They wanted liberty.  Liberty, in the political sense, is the freedom from aggression, especially aggression-through-government.  Liberty has come to be thought of—erroneously—as the freedom to do as we please. This misunderstanding happened because the things people wanted to do most—like working in a particular job so they could feed themselves and their families—were stopped by aggressive government.  Many Europeans immigrated to the U.S., for example, in order to escape the guild system imposed by their governments.  The idea that liberty was freedom from government aggression became entangled with the idea of freedom to do as one pleased.

Libertarianism became a political movement because, as a society, we’ve abandoned the NAP in that arena. In the posts to follow, we’ll explore how applying the Good Neighbor Policy in politics might heal the world by enriching the poor, saving the environment, deterring crime and defusing terrorism.  That’s the compassion of libertarianism—a better world for all!

Dr. Ruwart shares these posts as part of a “Cliff Notes” version of her award-winning international best-selling libertarian primer, “Healing Our World.” The next post from “Healing Our World” will be “Wealth Is Virtually Unlimited!” If you’d like to learn more about the NAP before the next post, check out the Introduction and Chapter 1 of the 1993 edition of Dr. Ruwart’s book, “Healing Our World,” in her Free Library at http://www.ruwart.com/product/healing-our-world.

 

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