So what’s a Libertarian?

27 April 2003 09:42:44

My brief for this column is to give a libertarian perspective on issues like tertiary education to offset those opinions provided by Liz Gordon. Given that the libertarian position is hardly well known it would be prudent to start out explaining what one is. A libertarian is, by definition, a person who believes that the only action that may properly be banned in a free society is the initiation of force. People can arrive at this position by any rationale. Most libertarians I know, however, subscribe to the philosophy of Objectivism (which I’ll discuss at a later date) and would thus agree with the following deductions.

An individual is an end in and unto himself — he should live to pursue his own happiness and no other individual or group may legitimately treat him as a means to their ends. Whereas individuals interacting by mutual consent will do so only if they both consider such interaction to be mutually beneficial, interaction where one individual’s behaviour is coerced forces him to act against his wishes and results in his being treated as a means to the other’s ends. The only way to ensure each individual can pursue his own happiness in a social context is for a government to exist that bans the initiation of force or its derivatives, such as threats or fraud.

To this end, a government should concern itself with defence (to protect us from foreign aggressors), police (to protect us from domestic aggressors) and justice (to punish domestic aggressors and to uphold and interpret contracts). You may wonder whether the state should go further, as it currently does. We libertarians would point out the nature of the state is always to act through force — even when giving people handouts it must acquire the wealth through force, such as taxation. Force is only justified in reacting to an initiation of force and thus the state should only concern itself with preventing or punishing the initiation of force. Moreover, to prevent itself becoming just another extortion racket, it should do so using voluntarily contributed funds.

We libertarians consider ourselves neither left wing nor right wing, as we do not advocate the regulation of economic freedom that defines the left nor the regulation of personal freedom that defines the right. The election of the Libertarianz Party ( to government would thus result in the legalisation of all drugs and of prostitution, the abolition of state mandated standards of decency (censorship) and education (also censorship). Students are quite often ‘liberal’ in the best sense of the word and thus should not have too many problems with this I imagine.

A little less popular perhaps would be our intention to privatise, deregulate and cut funding to roading, electricity, gas, water, telecommunications, post, banking, money, parks, health, superannuation, charity, education and anything in the economic realm that the state gets its pilfering hands on. The last named might well have the reader up in arms. “That’s my interest group!” I hear you say. Those worried about how someone could possibly consider let alone propose privatising education will have to wait until next week for me to show why doing so is a moral imperative.

*Andrew Bates is writing a Masters thesis in Finance at the University of Auckland where he founded the Young Free Radicals (now Libertarianz on Campus) and lead the Student Choice campaign to victory in the 2000 VSM referendum. He is also the Libertarianz Party spokesman on the deregulation of tertiary education. Send him hate mail at [email protected]