What enters your mind when you consider the words “rights,” “liberty,” “individual,” “aggression,” and “property?” If you self-identify as a libertarian these concepts likely have a very solid place in your mind. If you’ve been involved in online discussions about libertarianism for a bit of time, it’s probably second-nature to think that other libertarians have an understanding of them nearly identically to you.
Libertarianism as a philosophy attempts to get to the most fundamental parts of interpersonal actions. Agreement (or disagreement) with larger libertarian ideas can direct a person into very different actions depending on that understanding. Is it ever permissible to disregard another person’s consent choices? Why or why not? What are the exceptions? What makes them the exceptions? How do situational conditions change the question? Why do people get to choose if they consent anyway?
Libertarian theory examines the root of these questions. It dives deeper and deeper into the fundamental nature of how humanity’s members live together until there is nowhere else to go. It is the “molecular biology” of interpersonal existence.
But very few people in the world self-identify as libertarian, and that poses a challenge.
The challenge isn’t that people disagree, of course — every person is free to hold whatever opinion they wish. The challenge comes when those disagreements end up in the physical world as force, coercion, and violence.
So the larger challenge we as libertarians face is living in this world where so many people outwardly reject these ideas when presented with them. This challenge is as real as it would be to deal with people who deny the fundamental laws of nature. A person who takes action without an understanding of chemistry, physics, mathematics, or economics could end up destroying people’s property, livelihood, or even killing themselves or others depending on what they do. Try to navigate an airplane across the southern hemisphere with a flat-earth map and your passengers will probably want a refund — if they survive.
The same could be said for people acting without understanding fundamental libertarian theory. If someone doesn’t know about property rights for example, people living near him are more likely to have a worse experience than if that person understood property rights, and a better one still if he consistently respected them.
The goal of this column is to meet this challenge by exploring fundamentals while taking a step outside the standard libertarian boilerplate language. This will be necessary if we ever hope to mold these ideas into a message non-libertarians can digest. Meeting people where they are — meaning, speaking in their political language, and allowing them to keep their self-identity — is critical if we want more people to have a deeper understanding of libertarianism and what the philosophy means to the larger world.
The ultimate effort of course is to bring more minds and more voices into the growing family of peace-focused individuals who in turn, use that voice on others — a societal positive feedback loop. What’s not exciting about that?