Making Distinctions

London, United Kingdom. Lately I’ve read a lot of negative comments and commentary aimed at people who are “against big government.” This is fair to a certain extent. That is, as far as it targets those who generalize about the so-called evils of government, or a faction of the Tea Party that has carried blind hatred to an unacceptable level, or targets those who use violence and hysteria to market their ungrounded beliefs. The problem is, the group “against big government” encompasses more than just fanatics. Unfortunately, intelligent people who defend individual rights, those who may reasonably warn about the encroachment of the state, are thrown into the unholy mix. This article clarifies the situation and points to one group that has become mixed up in the anti-big government crowd -- libertarians. It reiterates that “hating government doesn’t say anything about what a person believes. Many people seem to equate hating the state with being libertarian. But that is not the case by any means.”

There are plenty of ways to hate the state and also usurp the principles that libertarians believe in. Take the Bolshevik revolution, for example. “When Lenin and his Bolsheviks began to impose their bloody rule on the poor Russian people—in the name of the poor Russian people—they were opposed by the ‘White Russian’ forces. From 1917 to 1923 the ‘Whites’ fought the new government of the Soviets. But what did they support? Few seemed to be defenders of individual rights or individual liberty. What they tended to advocate for was monarchy. Instead of the Soviet whip they preferred to be lashed by the Czar.”

Or take a more recent example: “One major error made by some ‘libertarians’ is that they assume anyone who opposes Obama or the federal government is pro-liberty. Clearly this is not the case. At the recent Tea Party rally that I dropped in on, the theocratic Constitution Party was there with a literature booth. You will remember they were the Party that Ron Paul endorsed. Yet this party explicitly calls for imposing ‘God’s law’ on the country. They are theocrats, not libertarians. Gary North, a former staffer for Paul, who hangs around with so-called paleo-libertarians, has openly called for theocracy in America. He wants a nation where people would be stoned to death for sinning against the 'laws of God'. Yet he pretends to be a libertarian.”

Libertarians often fail to articulate their own beliefs well. “One of the problems of politically defining yourself by what you oppose, is that it may make you appear allied with some pretty odious individuals. It may be easier to find 'allies' that way but it is likely to easily backfire. The Tea Party movement was formed primarily in opposition to Obama and some of his policies. But what unites these people besides a common hatred? Not much. Many of the protesters are big government conservatives who would love nothing more than reducing individual freedom in numerous areas."

There is also the problem of generalization. Liberals in America often criticize the Tea Party movement and conservative groups for their generalized beliefs, their ill-formed ideas, and their willingness to compress myriad complex issues into one catchy slogan, “Reduce big government.” On one hand, it is easy for the opposition to lump everyone together and throw good arguments out with the bad. On the other hand, conservatives and libertarians often make it easy to do so.

There is much to be celebrated about libertarian thinking, and adherents should do a better job at defining and promoting the many beliefs, values, and principles that it encompasses. To the extent that they do, liberals should be careful to make distinctions between the different strands of political thinking to their right. For those who may not be familiar with the core beliefs of libertarianism, here's a start:

“Our agenda is not primarily a negative one, but a positive one. I am a libertarian because I believe in peaceful, voluntary cooperation. I believe in the sanctity of the thinking individual and their right to grasp reality as best they can, and their right to express their views without anyone having the right to sew their lips shut. I believe in a tolerant society where all are equal before the law. I believe in a world where individuals are free to travel and trade as they wish, where people are allowed to keep what they produce, and where no man may use violence against another except in self defense. I believe that individuals have clear, distinct rights and that no other individual, or collective of individuals, should have the power to violate those rights. 
People inspired by hatred easily become violent. And violence is inherently destructive. That is precisely why a libertarian opposes institutional violence or coercion. Violence breeds more violence, it takes a society on a downward spiral. Martin Luther King wisely said: 'The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.' Action inspired by hatred teeters constantly on the edge of violence. 
And that is contrary to the basic principles of peaceful cooperation that is at the heart of libertarianism. Hatred fuels hatred and evils multiply. Our first priority as libertarians is the defense of the rights of the individual, not opposition to some policy or government. Policies change, governments change, but individual rights are a constant. 
What distinguishes libertarians from the anti-government crowd is not that we oppose many government policies but that we support the rights of the individual. Ours is an agenda inspired by positive values, by the love of human freedom, by our belief in the sanctity of the thinking mind, not by hatred for a president, or an administration, or any government.”

We should engage in debate about policy, ideals, and how we think governments and societies should be structured. However, none of this is possible when people from both sides are slinging insults and perpetuating generalizations. We don't all have to love each other, but we could aim for understanding, and on the way, find some common ground.

*All quotes in this article are from this post