There is a view that Libertarianism is the fastest growing movement in the free world. Indeed, it is a rare democratic nation that does not have a branch at home, including the socialist strongholds of Sweden and Russia. Libertarianism is, quite simply, the polar opposite of socialism. Libertarians are self-governors, preferring freedom in both social and economic matters. It is a political philosophy that carries the echoes of the first tenet of Wicca; 'An it harm none, do as ye will', and libertarians are ardent promoters of tolerance and non-violence. Libertarians believe that the government's sole purpose is to provide for the national defense, and to otherwise protect people from coercion and fraud. Governments have been exceeding their authority, they claim, and to the detriment of society as a whole.
Libertarianism has its roots in classic liberalism. Indeed, the term 'liberal' means something much different now than it did in years past. Some democratic nations have a true liberal party, but in the US, Canada, and others where the label 'socialist' is tantamount to political suicide, the word has been hijacked by Social Democrats. A liberal in the classic sense believes in personal freedom in the very essence of the word. It's a philosophy that dates back to the Greek philosopher Epicurus, and has been developed by such fine minds as John Locke, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Adam Smith, and Milton Friedman. Ayn Rand's Objectivism philosophy is libertarian in nature, although she denies this. It would be fair to say that all objectivists are libertarians, but not all libertarians are objectivists.
Parties and the Political Compass
The confusion of the term 'liberal' between modern and classic interpretations requires an attempt to find agreement on certain definitions. Despite the typical two-party, either-or scenario that usually develops, one could argue that there are four opposing political outlooks:
A libertarian (social freedom, economic freedom) believes in personal and economic freedom, believing that when people act in their own self-interest, they manage better than any impersonal government can. Government exists to protect the individual from abuses by big companies or from physical harm. Examples of this ideology are Canada's and the US's Libertarian parties, and New Zealand's Libertarianz.
- A liberal (social freedom, economic regulation), in the modern sense of the word, believes in personal freedom but believes that the government should extend a hand to the unfortunate, and should level the playing field for everyone. Examples of modern liberal parties are UK's and NZ's Labour parties, Germany's Social Democrats, and USA's Democrats and Green Party.
- A conservative (social regulation, economic freedom) is one who believes in free-market principles, and believes that the government's duty is to protect the people from social upheaval and the defense of 'moral values'. Parties who promote this view include US's Republicans, UK's Conservatives, and NZ's National Party.
- An authoritarian (social regulation, economic regulation) is one who believes that the government's task is to oversee every aspect of civilization for the benefit of all. Communism is but one form of authoritarianism.
It is claimed by some that libertarians are 'right wing' reactionaries, but the libertarians themselves deny this claiming to be neither 'right' (conservative) nor 'left' (liberal) in the modern sense of the words.
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The Libertarian Party
Although the ideas had been around for centuries, the Libertarian Party itself has appeared in recent history. The first such party was formed in the US in December of 1971, as a reaction to what they perceived as an alarming trend for the government to become involved in every aspect of life. The party was able to get a candidate on the ballot in the 1972 presidential election, and this has continued unbroken ever since. Libertarianism spread first to Canada, and then eventually overseas.
The Libertarian Party claims itself to be a no-nonsense political party. When, they say, other elected officials sling mud at each other and make vague promises about change, the Libertarians, the 'Party of Principle', offer 'tangible alternatives'. Their stance on key issues is as follows:
Abortion: Regardless of any person's moral stance on this issue, the federal government has absolutely no business telling people what they can and cannot do with their own bodies. The Libertarian Party is therefore pro-choice.
Drugs: The Libertarian Party makes a clear distinction between the social and pathological effects of drugs and the violence associated with them, just as society makes this distinction with alcohol. Furthermore, they point to the absolute failure of the 'War on Drugs' to keep narcotics out of people's hands, and the parallels between the gang problems and rampant crime today with those of the US alcohol prohibition in the 1930s. The party also sees there are clear medicinal benefits to marijuana use that are being refused, as well as environmental benefits due from the cultivation of hemp. The party supports immediate decriminalization of drugs, and the release of all prisoners detained for nonviolent drug offences.
Crime: Libertarians are big on personal responsibility, and criminals assume none. Libertarians are therefore very tough on crime. With prison overcrowding alleviated with the decriminalization of drugs, criminals would serve their full sentences. Furthermore, they would also enact legislation which forces convicted criminals to make full monetary restitution to their victims, and allow the victims to be present and heard during all trials.
Trade: The Libertarian Party believes that trade barriers and tariffs serve only to hamper business, not help it, and promotes their elimination on a global scale.
Taxes: The Libertarian Party is against all forms of taxation. They would prefer to fund public facilites through usage fees. By stripping the government of responsibilities it was never supposed to have in the first place, the tax burden would be significantly reduced.
Defence: The US Libertarian Party supports the early American policy of avoiding entangling alliances. They are against allowing the resources and people of the United States to assume the defence burden for other countries. They believe the sole purpose for national defence is the defence of the actual nation and its people.