I always enjoyed lecturing about the libertarians when I taught political philosophy. They style themselves as serious thinkers; and, calling themselves the “Party of Principle,” they choose theoretical consistency over political expediency.
In 1972 presidential election philosopher John Hospers garnered only 3,674 votes, but a “faithless elector” from Virginia gave him one vote in the Electoral College. Running on the libertarian ticket in 1988, Ron Paul received 432,179 votes, and in 2012 former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson won 1,275,971 votes. In a three-way 2016 race, Johnson is now polling from 7 to 11 percent.
I generally agree with the libertarians on maximizing personal liberty on social and cultural issues. The Libertarian Party platform states that “individuals own their bodies and have rights over them that other individuals, groups and governments may not violate.”
Libertarians were the first political party to call for according full rights to gays and lesbians. They also believe that there is no such thing as a victimless crime, “such as the use of drugs for medicinal or recreational purposes.”
In 1980 the Libertarian Party was more specific and expansive about such actions, which included “consensual sexual relations, including prostitution and solicitation.” They also wished to repeal “all laws interfering with the right to commit suicide.” Silence on these issues today may be due to the influence of so-called “Christian” libertarians, which I believe is a contradiction in terms. See www.NickGier.com/LibertarianChristian.pdf.
Following the principle of self-ownership of the body, libertarians traditionally have strongly supported a woman’s right to an abortion. Libertarian Murray Rothbard is firm in his opinion about the status of the fetus: “No being has a right to live as a parasite within or upon some person’s body.”
Ron Paul is primarily responsible for the change in the party’s position on abortion. Paul states that he is “strongly pro-life” and “an unshakable foe of abortion.” He, along with other anti-abortion libertarians, affirm the principle of “non-aggression,” and they believe that abortion is a fatal act of aggression.
This position begs the question of whether or not the fetus is a person, which our moral, legal, and religious traditions have answered in the negative. In fact, the ancient Jews believed that if the fetus is a threat to the life of its mother, it is guilty as a “pursuer” under the negative commandment which demands that one may not “take pity on the life of a pursuer.” See www.webpages.uidaho.edu/ngier/abortion.htm.
Because of pressure from Paul and his fellow Christian libertarians, the party platform now reads: “Recognizing that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on all sides, we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration.” But Republican state governments are constantly intervening and violating the rights of millions of women to their own bodies.
I find myself very much at odds with libertarians on the role of government. Their charge that governments are responsible for “damage done to our environment and have a terrible track record when it comes to environmental protection” is groundless. Without agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency our air and water would be far less clean. The air in America’s large cities is the cleanest in the world because of government regulation.
The libertarians want to privatize all health care and abolish Medicare and Medicaid. However, single payer and other government-run systems around the world provide coverage at sometimes half the cost and produce health results better than the U.S. Obamacare is now failing because private insurers are pulling out of state exchanges because they cannot make a profit.
Libertarians would also lift all regulations on the economy for a goal of complete laissez-faire. However, economic facts from around the world disprove this theory. The “mixed” economies of Europe and Asia should have failed long ago, but they survive and in many cases thrive (for example, Sweden) with high taxation and heavy regulation.
Libertarians should be commended for their theoretical consistency, but they fail miserably at matching theory to the realities of the society we live in. Communism failed for the same reason, because it misjudged human nature. Libertarians overrated people as rational actors, and Communists overrated their altruism.
In conclusion, I think traditional libertarians are right on personal choice issues, but they are dead wrong in the proper role of government.