In a political climate dominated by a two-party system, Libertarians are constantly confused as off-brand Republicans.
Although the two groups sometimes align on issues, there are stark ideological differences between them, particularly in this era of Trump. So let’s, briefly, clear up any confusion over the difference between Libertarians and Republicans.
What is a Libertarian?
Libertarianism is a political philosophy centered around the rights of the individual — or as the ole Declaration of Independence would say, “…the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Like, literally.
Libertarians strongly oppose government interference in their personal, family, and business decisions. They believe people should be free to live their lives as they see fit, as long as they do not harm anyone else.
The philosophy is bounded by the non-aggression principle (NAP). This means that no one may aggress with violence, coercion, or any use of force for any reason other than in defense of their rights. In other words, just don’t start the fight.
Libertarians say you have the liberty to say, eat, smoke, buy, sell, learn, and do whatever you want with whomever you want, so long as you don’t hurt anyone or take someone else’s stuff along the way. “Live and let live” is the Libertarian’s motto.
Do I know any Libertarians?
While not as prevalent as the two major parties, there are still plenty of Libertarians. The party gained major exposure, especially within the younger crowd, when Ron Paul campaigned for the Republican nomination in 2008 and 2012.
Paul’s son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, recently campaigned for the Republican nod in 2016. This discrepancy — a Libertarian running for the Republican platform — is yet another reason people confuse the two groups.
Still, you’ll remember Rand chastising his fellow candidates in debates over things like military spending, foreign intervention and mass incarceration — all long-held Libertarian causes.
The Pauls aren’t the only popular members of the Libertarian party. Penn Jillete, Joe Rogan, John Popper, Peter Thiel, Vince Vaughn, John Stossel, Big Boi (from OutKast), are just a handful of well-known Libs.
This year, Austin Peterson and John McAfee (yea, the virus-protection system creator and potential bath salts aficionado), were the serious contenders for the LP presidential nomination. However, Gary Johnson, the former two-term governor from New Mexico, won the nomination and will be on the ballot for this year’s presidential election.
Taxation is theft
When it comes to governance, Libertarians believe that a government big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take everything away. Libertarians claim that by running the police, military and courts, governments have a monopoly on the use of force and violence. Through these entities, governments are able to enforce laws (whether we agree with them or not) and tax their citizens to run these and other programs.
They argue that the government is essentially an institutionalized version of the mafia that will take your money at gunpoint, but will offer “services and security.” According to Murray Rothbard, a well-known libertarian, “taxation is theft, even though it is theft on a grand and colossal scale which no acknowledged criminals could hope to match.”
Libertarians believe that governments should be so small they could manage solely off voluntary monetary contributions, similar to a country club or gym membership.
Republican vs. Libertarian
Republicans and Libertarians share ground on some policies. They are, generally, both in favor of economic freedom, national defense, respect of property rights, and the right to bear arms.
Clear issues of departure between the two groups arise when you begin discussing social issues, like drug legalization, abortion and same-sex marriage. Republicans will advocate for prohibition of these actions while Libertarians are in favor of a more “you do you” stance.
War! What is it good for?
As exemplified by Rand Paul in the debates, Republicans and the LP are at odds when it comes to foreign policy. Republicans see the importance of showing global military strength and agree that it is the moral duty of the United States to use that strength to maintain global order. This obviously is an expensive task, but one Republicans agree is worth the cheddar.
Libertarians are critical of this mentality and advocate for huge reductions in military size and spending. Bringing troops home to focus on national defense and leaving the rest of the world alone is much more in line with the NAP.
Pro-Market is not pro-business
Libertarians have a slight quibble with the GOP’s claims of being free-market advocates. They find that the GOP is often in favor of policies that offer tax loopholes, subsidies and special privileges to large corporations. Libertarians will argue that this is not the free-market and is more like corporate welfare. If businesses cannot compete in the market without the help of government, it should fail. Libertarians are not “pro-business,” they are pro-markets.
In fact, Libertarians are so pro-market that they advocate for opening the border, which is definitely something we don’t hear from Republicans today. They believe the free movement of labor across borders can allow people to be more productive and increase the wealth of the world by trillions of dollars.
In a nutshell
Libertarians feel government size and scope to be excessive and that the private sector can do most, if not all, of those things just as well. While total abolition of taxes is exceedingly unlikely, Libertarians still advocate for lower taxes through smaller government, and more social and economic freedom.
To be sure, the LP is trying to carve out its own space by welcoming the #NeverTrump and the #SlogansAgainstHillary folk, but it is important to note that the LP is distinctly different from the Republican Party. Their concern is that this vocal transition of a chunk GOP members may water down what the libertarianism is all about.
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