Who Are Libertarians and What Do They Believe?
In the United States political system, a strong emphasis is often placed on the importance of having a two-party system. But while it is true that political elections most often come down to a campaign between two parties, American democracy is not exclusively a two-party system. In most cases, groups like Democrats, Republicans, or Independents are fairly well known and easy to understand; but what about the less-familiar groups, like Libertarians: how do they fit into the political system?
Libertarianism is a political philosophy which believes that a person's individual freedoms and liberty are more important than anything else in our political or civic culture. Because they believe so strongly that this should be the foundation of free society, Libertarians also advocate for as little governmental control as is possible.
On the spectrum of American political beliefs, Libertarians tend to be incredibly liberal on social issues, and profoundly conservative on fiscal issues. For example, many Libertarians advocate for substantial changes to U.S. drug policies, because they believe that it's a governmental imposition on their right to do what they want with their own bodies. Meanwhile, Libertarians might also suggest getting rid of the Department of Education or the Food and Drug Administration, because they believe that the government should not be spending money on or be involved in these areas of public life.
Though they often advocate for a very limited government, Libertarians don't believe that there is no role for government in the nation. Having said that, most Libertarians agree that the government should be limited to issues of peacekeeping and public safety, and stay out of social regulation.
Libertarians and Business
Because of their strong beliefs about personal freedoms, Libertarian platforms tend to focus heavily on business and free trade. For example, in the United States, business and economic trade is heavily monitored and regulated by the government to ensure that it's fair and safe. Libertarians might claim that this governmental involvement restricts a person's right to make a living however they choose and would advocate for no governmental restrictions.
Rather than support the government's role in economic trade and commerce, Libertarians tend to encourage an open and unregulated system in which people are free to conduct their business as they see fit. This type of economic system is what is known as laissez-faire capitalism.
Where Did Libertarianism Come From?
Unlike other political belief systems, like Republican and Democratic, it can be difficult to pinpoint where Libertarianism started and how it evolved. This is because Libertarianism isn't really a political affiliation; it's more of a personal philosophy that strongly influences a person's political views.
For example, Libertarian thought can be traced back to 18th century Europe, during a time in which many people began to advocate for smaller governments and increased personal freedoms. These 'free thinkers,' as they're known, placed considerable importance on personal autonomy, which emphasized an individual's right to make decisions for themselves and act on their own behalf.
In the United States, Libertarianism grew out of the Neoliberal movement during the 1970s. Like Libertarians, Neoliberals wanted a more open and unrestricted form of commerce and society that was free from governmental interference.
The Libertarians became an official U.S. political party in 1971, in an effort to challenge American policies on issues like the Vietnam War and economic depression. For more than 40 years, the Libertarian party has run in elections on a platform that opposes foreign intervention, advocates free trade, and encourages limiting governmental powers.
Opposition to Libertarianism
As you might imagine, such strong opinions and beliefs about politics and society are not without their critics. The most common criticism of Libertarianism is its focus on the individual. The right to do whatever you want, whenever you want may sound good in theory, but nations are made up of different people who need to compromise in order to make it work. In light of this, there are no examples of a Libertarian nation anywhere in the world.
Another common criticism of Libertarianism is their perspective on substantially reduced government. Once again, in theory, getting rid of restrictions and governmental involvement may sound like a good thing, but it has substantial downsides. For example, imagine what would happen if the government eliminated the Department of Education. This would save federal money and reduce governmental involvement in private life, but it would dramatically affect the number of people that could go to college in the United States by eliminating federally subsidized student loans.
Though some critics will admit that Libertarian beliefs and perspectives are not entirely invalid, it's widely believed that these theories don't work in the context of a functioning society, and would likely lead to much larger earning gaps, social inequality, and so on.
In theory, the perspectives and beliefs of Libertarianism may sound reasonable, or even enticing. After all, personal freedom, autonomy, and the right live your life the way that you see fit are admirable goals. From the critics' perspective, however, limiting the government and engaging in laissez-faire capitalism would have a harmful effect on society, and perhaps even worsen the problems that Libertarianism hopes to solve.
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