Saturday, March 15, 2008

different kinds of Libertarians

Here's the second part of the first of three op-eds in the Jeff/NA News-Tribune on political labels. In this part, I distinguish between different kinds of Libertarians...

...I’d like to bring some clarity to our political categories by describing the three primary labels used today. I’ll describe “libertarian” in the remainder of this essay, because it is relatively easy to do. And in two essays to follow, I’ll describe the terms “conservative” and “liberal.”

Libertarians are easiest to describe because their political philosophy is well-defined. They believe that people should be allowed to do what they want-as long as they don’t cause significant harm to other parties. The role of government is, thus, easy to define. It should be ready to intervene in preventing or punishing those who do significant harm to others.

This worldview results in a small but strong government — along the lines described in the Constitution. The government should aggressively protect the people from external threats and internal thieves. But it should not protect people from themselves. So, for example, if people want to gamble, that should be their prerogative. Likewise, the government shouldn’t be used to help some at the expense of others — for example, by restricting markets for goods through trade protectionism or redistributing income to all sorts of people.

There are different types of Libertarians — or at least, significant differences between Libertarians on key policies. For example, many Libertarians are pro-choice on abortion. If life does not begin early on in the womb, then Libertarians adamantly defend the rights of the woman. But many Libertarians are pro-life. Since they believe that life begins in the womb, they adamantly defend the rights of the baby.

There is room for additional disagreement between Libertarians in other policy areas — for example, the extent to which illegal immigrants are prosecuted and the ways in which one would best try to prevent a terrorist attack. But such disagreements are relatively infrequent.

The term Libertarian is relatively clear. To describe conservatives and liberals, I’ll need two more essays!


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