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Why I’m a Libertarian–or, Why Libertarianism is Beautiful

[Originally published December 12, 2006 here on the Mises blog; archived comments here]

In a recent email, Walter Block wrote, responding some pessimistic comments I had about our libertarian movement:

“Dear Stephan: I never feel like dropping out. Never. No matter what. To me, libertarianism is a most beautiful thing, right up there with Mozart and Bach. Non corborundum illegitimi.

I replied with some comments, and Walter encouraged me to post them, so here they are, lightly edited:

Walter’s email got me to thinking about why I’m a libertarian–why libertarians are libertarian. What is it about us that drives us, that makes us passionate advocates of it, and intensely interested in it? Some of us have been self-indulgent enough to write up how we became libertarians (e.g., my How I Became A Libertarian); but I don’t mean exactly that. I mean what is it about it that you love; that drives you; that attracts you?

Walter’s comment that libertarianism is beautiful struck a chord with me; I think I’d never thought of it that way before. It seemed just, and fair, and right, but beautiful–? but then, justice, and rightness, and fairness, and goodness are beautiful.

I think I’m a libertarian because for some reason I hate injustice; I hate bullies; I hate inconsistency; I love fairness and logical consistency and treating people correctly. I like answering the question asked, and not dodging issues: if someone asks how should this person be treated, I try to answer that question, rather than advert to some Marxian notion of utopia.

I like the ruthless logic of libertarianism and its unflinching honesty: how we are unafraid to say that people have a right to be greedy, or selfish, or rich, or not to hire people because of their race–because it is their property. I like the in-your-faceness of it … when it is simply a matter of venting or justice to hurl in the face of a soma-ridden mainstreamer the solid, bracing truth about things, even if it will do no good. I like libertarianism–I love libertarianism–because I think it is the outcome of goodness applied to human interaction. I do agree that libertarianism is beautiful. It is refreshing and cleansing to know that I am willing to respect the rights of all who will respect mine; and to take the responsibility to earn my own way, and to pay for my own mistakes–and the right to profit from my successes. I am a libertarian because it is obviously good, and I would rather be good than evil; and the more good, the better.


Thoughts of others on your reasons for why you’re a libertarian are welcome in the comments.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Alexander S. Peak August 21, 2009, 3:43 am

    It’s hard to write or speak on why I am a libertarian without addressing how I became a libertarian, but I think you capture it quite nicely when you write, “I think I’m a libertarian because for some reason I hate injustice; I hate bullies; I hate inconsistency; I love fairness and logical consistency and treating people correctly.”

    I am a libertarian because I truly believe that aggression, the initiation of force, is unjust, criminal, and base, even if the intended ends of this means is otherwise good, noble, and desirable. I am a libertarian because I am willing to dedicate my life to following the non-aggression axiom, because I will not act to violate the rights of my fellow woman or man no matter how angry I get, no matter how tired or desperate I am; and if I were to accidentally violate my neighbour’s rights, I would not object to paying restitution for my accidental crime.

    I watched a short film on YouTube today. A man was presented with a black button. If he pressed it, he would get a suitcase full of money—money he desperately needed. The catch is, if he pressed it, one person on earth would die. The guy offering the money pointed out that the Earth has more than six billion people, and that people are dying all the time anyway. But I know I would not push that button, that I would rather die than push that button. I wouldn’t have to sit there and weigh my options like the gentleman did in the short film—my immediate answer would be no, period, end of story. That’s why I am a libertarian.

    Alex Peak

  • clay barham January 13, 2010, 3:56 pm

    American children are taught that the speedy “wabbit” wastes time and energy accomplishing little, while the plodding turtle gets the job done, ultimately. I get the sense this means the plodding bureaucracy, the community, proves superior in the end when compared with the individual interest pursued by the “wabbit.” To the kids, Obama and the plodding turtle are related, while the self-interest pursuing creative types are muddying the pure waters of society and its needs. The “wabbit” makes waves, leaves a wake, drops pebbles in the placid pond, and supposedly never gets anything done. The “wabbit” is an Ayn Rand character, like the entrepreneurs in America who create all the jobs the turtle ignores as he slowly plods along doing the same thing the elite rulers have always done in the Old World, making war on “wabbits.” Claysamerica.com

  • Mahesh January 14, 2010, 12:58 am

    I differ a bit from you. I am a libertarian not because I have some pet values like “hate injustice; I hate bullies; I hate inconsistency; I love fairness and logical consistency and treating people correctly”

    Instead I am a libertarian after observing that nobody actually “knows” anything, especially in social science. Its just one belief replaced by other and various group of people call it variously, the most popular ones being knowledge, ideology, value, morality etc.

    I am a libertarian once I observed that all knowledge is just ” pretense of knowledge” : thanks Hayek

    I am a libertarian once I oberved that ” experience is king” and every experience is subjective

  • t w v January 14, 2010, 3:20 pm

    My libism grew out of my independence of mind, my natural stance of moral autonomy, my preference for principles. But this was not a mere egoistic efflorescence. Early I became empathic. Still, this did not lead to any idea of self-sacrifice. Instead, it led me to commiserate with those who were not treated as autonomous.

    As a child I became wary of group behavior, of making exceptions for in-group folk that one wouldn’t for out-group, for dumping on outsiders, for group bully action, for the whole dynamic of in-group/out-group perversity.

    These were proximate causes for me to opt to place liberty high in my value scale, as some economists might put it.

    What convinced me of a generally liberal/individualist/libertarian paradigm, of a mostly consistent advocacy of a general, basic right to liberty, and extrapolating its consequences, was learning more about the subjective nature of value. The dispersal of knowledge, the inevitability of valuation differences from mere situational differences as well as more core personality diversity, led me to understand the need for a strong position of principle in the basic rule of law. Values and agreement alone cannot do it, because values vary too much. One has to reach deeper, and search for what David Friedman identifies as Schelling Points, and which he identifies with basic liberty and property rights. I adopted this approach while reading Mises’ THE ULTIMATE FOUNDATION OF ECONOMIC SCIENCE.

    So, I remain a libertarian, of sorts, because it meets the requirements of my individualistic challenges to basic problems of people in conflict. It thus matches most of my moral instincts.

    I see it not as others do, though. I see it as a balancing of human personality forces, of schemes for supremacy and advantage. Liberty, it seems to me, is the ideal Middle Way. It thus fits with many moral notions that are age-old, but were rarely applied in ancient times to politics.

    They are still rarely applied, because people get sucked into the idea of gaining more from others via political special favors, and get caught in the traps of statism.

    Pity the folk. They cannot think their way out. Worse yet, we have actual obstacles to freer living now, because others feel trapped and remain addicted to both initiatory and extravagantly vindictive coercion as a way of life.

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