I’m a Libertarian. Maybe you are too.

Posted in Liberty at 16:46 by RjZ

Print out a membership form for the Libertarian party (as opposed to simply registering Libertarian which you are free to do) and you are asked to affirm the following statement with your signature:

“I do not believe in or advocate the initiation of force as a means of achieving political or social goals.”

It’s a powerful statement and it guides every decision libertarians make about policy. What do you think of this statement? Would you be willing to sign it? The Libertarian party is a party of principle. The Democratic and Republican parties ask for no similar statement when you join.

The American Heritage Dictionary says a libertarian is “one who advocates maximizing individual rights and minimizing the role of the state.” I first realized that I agreed with these principles when I noticed that the government just isn’t very efficient with most of the things it does. If you need to borrow $100 and you call me up and ask, then when I give it to you, it costs me $100 and you get $100. If we involve the government then we’ll have to fill out some paperwork and pay the people who thought of the forms, designed them, printed them, handed them to you and me and filed them. It might end up costing me $150 or more just to hand you $100.

Later, it occurred to me that the further government is from my door the less influence I can have. If I don’t like what’s going on in Louisville, Colorado where I live I can go to the city council and raise my voice. There’s no guarantee that my opinion will be heeded but it will surely carry more sway than in Washington. That’s not surprising either. Our central government in Washington attempts to meet the needs of as many Americans as possible. Louisville only needs to satisfy the needs of 18,000 people (18,715 as of July 2002)

I kept finding examples in my experiences and the more I thought about it the more I noticed that my views aligned with libertarians. I’ll likely discuss them now and again in this blog but more importantly, what about you? Do you think our government spends your money wisely? Did the Democrats spend your money better than the Republicans are doing? Are you satisfied that the $200 billion spent in Iraq is spent well? How about the $200 billion for Katrina victims? Would private charities be able to accomplish what we need there? Was the money you and I were taxed for FEMA and the department of Homeland Security well spent (1 billion in R&D alone in 2004)? In 1929 when Herbert Hoover was in charge of rebuilding after the flood of the Mississippi river he did so overwhelmingly by appealing to private individuals to donate their time, money and muscle to rebuilding. This leadership helped him to be elected president. Compare that solution to president Bush taking the credit for the $200 billion in our tax dollars the administration will spend to rebuild the Gulf coast. Today, I don’t need to donate to rebuilding in New Orleans because President Bush will take that money out of my pocket and spend it for me. I won’t get to choose whether to fund the rebuilding of levy or funding of a faith-based school and neither will you.

Many of us are dissatisfied with the Democratic party and (at least in my circle of friends) we’re disgusted with the religious controlled, socially conservative state of the Republican party. We’re tired of politicians motivated to feed themselves with larger programs and bigger government and we’re equally tired of a government that puts it’s nose into our bedrooms and wonders which library books we’re checking out.
The Libertarian party is the socially liberal, fiscally conservative party that you’ve been looking for! Sure, the party is filled with quite a few extremists. One wonders what it is about a political party that attracts both gun nuts and pot heads at the same time (it’s about individual freedom in both cases). But we don’t have to let those things be the defining issues for the Libertarian party that they are today.

Many of us call ourselves “independents” perhaps because we’re unhappy with either of our choices. Alas, there is little power in being an independent. The whole point of political parties is to leverage the power of many like-minded people to forward our views. I don’t agree with everything the Libertarian party says or with every candidate. But I am tired of throwing away my opinion and my votes on the lesser of two evils. Maybe you are too.

Some links:

Reason.com: An excellent magazine. Equally disparaging of Democrats and Republicans and in general a voice of reason(!) in today’s partisan media.

Worlds smallest political quiz
The quiz is lame, the questions are leading, but it’s interesting just the same.

Libertarian party of Colorado: Great stuff right along side ravings. Like any political party. Admit your Libertarian when people ask, register Libertarian or even join and maybe we can take it back from the extremists.


  1. Penelope said,

    September 21, 2005 at 21:28

    Wow! What a great ad for the Libertarian party!

    But do you take requests? Some blog entry soon, please tell us about The Republic of Ron! Pretty please? I love that story! You can picture little Penelope and others sitting at your feet, eyes bugged out in rapt attention as you tell us all about the hostel system and preventative health care (little Rachel will like that part best) and low taxes and motorcyclists deciding for themselves whether to wear a helmet. Little Penelope will be knitting the whole time, of course, but that’s just so you’ll know she’s paying attention.

  2. RjZ said,

    September 21, 2005 at 22:58

    Well now you’ve gone and spoiled it haven’t you.

  3. tim rohrer said,

    September 22, 2005 at 9:13

    First, kudos to Penelope. She took your arguments apart better than I ever could.

    It sounds to me like the Libertarian party is giving in to the extreme right-wing panic government we now live under, and by having such a statement is trying to insulate itself against being dubbed a haven for “terrorists” of whatever kind. Sad–it reminds me of the “loyalty” oath I was required to sign before I could accept a teaching position at a state-sponsored university. Perhaps meaningless at a personal level, but shameful obeisance in the bigger picture.

    I do have to admit that much of your reasoned rant for Libertarianism rings hollow to me… it seems to me that many of the things that our many governments do are important and are not well provided for by private businesses or individuals or NGOs. The privatization of the utility companies has proven to be sheer disaster (E.g. see “Enron: The smartest guys in the room”)–and Xcel Energy may not be far behind. Most matters of public safety, pollution, basic education, basic services, and the like are better served without the profit motive. For example, we once had private fire-fighting companies in this country–and they would only fight a fire at your house if you were paid up. We’ve gone away from that model for good reason. Now going away from “minimizing government” may not be a good idea for every area or in every instance, but it is often is. I support reinventing government, not blindly minimizing it. Hence, I can’t agree with your Libertarian principles per se.

    Second, governments may be inefficient and unresponsive to individual needs, but having worked in many large corporations–so are they! I think much of what you have pointed out is more of a problem with large-scale organizations in general than with government per se.

    Also, mightn’t there not be times where instead of voting for the lesser of two evils, one is better off by voting AGAINST the greater of two evils? Perhaps the Republican Party has become so extremely right-wing as of late that they have crossed that line. In that case, sometimes voting for the “Democrat-I-sort-of-like” in a close contest is better than voting for the “minor-party-candidate-I-really-like”, whether Green or Independent or Libertarian or Transcendental Meditationalist or whatever. And certainly better than not voting at all, and then complaining about the government!

    Always happy to be your neighborhood Pragmatist,


    PS: You are little off in your timeline re Hoover. That Mississippi flood was in spring 1927, he recieved the nomination and was elected in 1928, and took office in March 1929. Then-president Coolidge sent Hoover (the Secretary of Commerce) into the flood-stricken states with the Army Corps of Engineers, Army doctors, the Coast Guard and the federal weather bureau. Not exactly no federal aid, though among the things Hoover did was head a Rockefeller Foundation-sponsored drive for the Red Cross to improve public health in those states.

    Hoover’s other notable accomplishments as Secretary of Commerce? Promulgating safety standards to regulate the auto brake, elevator. air travel, radio and other emergent industries. Not exactly Mr. Minimize-the-Government. Good thing for us locally too…NIST in Boulder is an eventual descendant of Hoover’s expansion of the Bureau of Standards regulatory agenda.

    As president, Hoover had a similarly mixed record. He failed to contend with the banking and financial corruption that led to the 1929 stock-market crash, though in fairness he really inherited that problem from the previous Republican administration and the Democratic state government in NY. After initially resisting the idea, he presided over enormous federal handouts to farmers when the drought struck the Midwest (the beginning of the dust-bowl years), and sucessfully developed the RFC (Reconstruction Finance Corporation) to finance the rebuilding of the economy during the Great Depression and to–gasp–regulate business activity. He was philosophically opposed to such Federal activity, but the pragmatic realities of governing forced his hand. The Stock Market Crash and the Great Depression exposed the failings of having no business and banking regulations, and the need for federal aid when large-scale disasters overwhelmed state and local relief efforts.

  4. RjZ said,

    September 22, 2005 at 11:34

    First, thanks for your comments! Longer than my blog entry! You can’t beat that!
    Also thanks for pointing out my wrong date for Hoover. Note, I wasn’t supporting Hoover, but rather that particular solution which depended primarily (albeit not exclusively) on private spending. It’s a model I think we should continue to emulate.
    One more thing, and I suspect this will show up in future articles; I don’t propose that there is no place for central government. The short version is that central government belongs in infra-structure related things like the military or interstate commerce (just as our constitution says…) If both corporations and big government are bad at spending money as you might be implying, then at least I would rather not have that money stolen from my pocket to do it and have a choice not to have it taken.
    Thanks again, blogging is great!

  5. dan clegg said,

    September 23, 2005 at 0:13

    I agree with Mr. Rohrer above that inefficiency comes with large organizations. I don’t think it is avoidable. So at best we can hope to minimize it.

    I like many of the goals of libertarians, but I’m not confident enough in society, and especially the private businesses, to take care of things that need taking care of just out of the kindness of their hearts (or the publicity their donations will get them). I have discussions all the time with my father, who feels strongly that pretty much everything should be privatized. But there are some things that are for the better to remain in society, that should remain in the grand scheme of things, but that society is too short-sighted or self-centered to support. Case in point: libraries and symphony orchestras.

  6. Penelope said,

    September 23, 2005 at 22:16

    I think a kind of soft libertarianism is called for, in which the government takes care of a few things that affect everyone and are best run by a large organizing force–maintaining roads and fighting fires, for example–and allows individuals to fend for themselves in most ways. Government also should regulate activities that affect other people, from violent crime to smoking in public to wandering around with untreated tuberculosis, and leave people alone on issues that affect only the individual, like the decisions whether to wear a seatbelt or a motorcycle helmet, or whether to smoke tobacco or marijuana in an area where nobody else has to breathe the smoke with you. Government should also let capitalism work to keep business fair and efficient, and police any attempts to gum up the wheels of capitalism, such as price fixing, lying to investors, and false advertising.

    From in-person talks with Ron, I think he actually believes a lot like this, too. When I asked him to tell us more about the Republic of Ron, I wasn’t intending to pick apart his libertarian arguments, but to have him tell more about his individual ideas on a middle ground between libertarianism and our current system. He has some good ideas, which I’d like to see him tell more folks about. I don’t think I can do nearly as good a job as he does, and so I hope I haven’t really ruined it with my summary above. Maybe a future entry will give a full view of the Republic. It sounds like a nice place.

    Finally, Dan has a point about needing the government to help fund things that are great for a society, but that individuals tend to be too short-sighted or selfish to pay for. However, I have seen that many of these things, like educational institutions, museums, and (dearest to my heart) live theater, are better cared for by private foundations than by the government. There are a great many wealthy but generous individuals, as well as giant corporations who want to look good to the public, who do a great job of funding the arts, education, and science. What the world needs more of, actually, are grant writers who can connect the funders to the organizations who need them. (Learning to help with that is one of my near future goals.) With enough communication between philanthropists and cultural organizations, I think a lot of these things might work just fine without government interferance. In fact, we might get to have a wider range of information created and passed on by cultural organizations, from the information held in libraries to the concepts displayed by artists, if their funding came from many foundations with a variety of ideologies, rather than from one government. Let’s say the NEA didn’t exist, but everyone, including huge businesses with charitable foundations and very wealthy philanthropists, got to keep more of their money for their own uses. So Foundation #1 and Foundation #2 don’t like Robert Maplethorpe’s photos? Foundation #3 does, so he can keep on working…

  7. Traveling Hypothesis » Hello world, again. said,

    September 26, 2006 at 11:27

    [...] Looks like it’s time to cut and paste from all those previous posts and make one of those sitcom-flashback episodes. Something about bringing a few books to India and starting a libertarian country powered by a nuclear power plant. [...]

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