posted 25th September 2022
Who doesn't want to be free? Freedom, in its synonym liberty, is the first of the trinity of values proclaimed in the French Revolution and guiding French politics ever since: liberté, égalité, fraternité́ (liberty, equality, fraternity). There is a tension within this trinity: being free to acquire as much wealth and power as you can conflicts with equality; being free to do whatever you want without regard to others' interests or wishes conflicts with fraternity. Freedom is complicated.
For followers of libertarianism, though, freedom is pretty uncomplicated. Freedom is the highest good in all situations. What's more, it produces the best outcomes. It is the most pragmatic and the most principled solution to any problem; it works best, and it's right.
How does this work out in practice? Libertarianism can be applied to three main categories: social, political and economic.
At the time of her death in September 2022, it was frequently remarked how much the UK had changed during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. Nowhere was this more true than in the area of social values. When she became Queen in 1952, doing any of the following could easily make you a social outcast, cause you to lose your job and, in the last case (if you were a man), have you sent to prison: living with a partner you were not married to; having a child with a partner you were not married to (especially for women); marrying a person of a different race; having a partner of the same sex. The Britain of 2022 has completely different attitudes on these issues, respecting people's right to do as they choose in their private relationships. In that sense, social libertarianism has triumphed. However, the greater freedom this change in attitudes has brought for women, Black people and gay people has brought a corresponding desire to protect these groups by restricting the freedom to say what we like. Using misogynistic, racist or homophobic speech will bring you public shaming at best, dismissal from your job or even prosecution at worst.
For a libertarian, this restriction on speech is wrong. Anyone should be allowed to say anything, regardless of the offence they may cause. This is right in principle, because no one should have their thoughts or their speech controlled by someone else. It is also right pragmatically, because allowing a free exchange of views is the best way to arrive at the truth. If someone makes a misogynistic, racist or homophobic comment, the best response is to challenge them, and to expose the error in what they say, not to ban them.
For a libertarian, the less government the better. As much as possible should be delegated to individuals.
So, a libertarian would abolish the NHS and let everyone choose and pay for their own healthcare. There would be no government intervention on health issues, such as taxes on junk food or tobacco; no drugs would be illegal. During the Covid pandemic, libertarians were against all forms of lockdown and mask mandates, believing people should be left to take whatever precautions they chose.
Libertarians would also abolish state education and allow parents to find and fund their own schools. If a parent chose not to educate their children at all, they would not be prosecuted. Alternatively, if they wanted to set up a school which taught that evolution was a lie, gay people were going to hell and interracial marriages were evil, that would be up to them; it would not be for the government to tell them how to bring up their children.
Libertarians would let people build what they want where they want, and mine what they want where they want, provided they own the land. They would not impose any environmental restrictions.
Libertarians would probably accept that there was a need for a police force to protect us from criminals, and for an army to protect us from invasion. But apart from that, they would be happy to more or less abolish all forms of government.
Libertarians would argue that this approach to government is more principled, because the right of people to choose how to live their own lives without any coercion from anyone else is the highest good, and also because such an approach encourages people to take more responsibility for their choices. They would also say it is more pragmatic, because empowering people to make their own decisions, and to accept the consequences of those decisions, will ensure they make better decisions.
Libertarians' approach to economics is closely allied to their approach to politics. If you cut back the state, you can also cut back taxes. Libertarians would cut taxes to the absolute minimum, to allow people to keep as much as possible of their money to spend how they choose. They would accept - in fact welcome - the reduction of government spending this would entail. There would be no NHS, no state schools, and minimal or no benefits for sickness or unemployment.
Business would be left to its own devices. Employers could pay their employees as much or as little as they wanted. There would be no health and safety restrictions on workplaces. Women could be fired for getting pregnant. The way to deal with bad employers is not to work for them; if enough people do this, the bad employers will soon change their behaviour.
They would argue that this approach is right in principle because, provided wealth is acquired legally, people should be allowed to keep it to do what they want with and not have to hand it over to the government. They would also say it is more pragmatic; the more economic freedom people have, the more dynamic the economy will be, making everyone more prosperous.
Libertarianism means putting freedom above every other value.
Motions that go with this topic
- This house rejects cancel culture
- This house would abolish all censorship
- This house would abolish the NHS
- This house would abolish state education
- This house would legalise drugs
- This house would abolish the sugar tax
- This house would abolish income tax
- This house abolish the welfare state