You Say You Are a Libertarian, But Do You Know What That Means?

Reason magazine conducted a poll which showed that Obama won a majority of self-identified Libertarians. Let’s assume that’s true. 


I’m Libertarian, but one of the problems with being a Libertarian is that the word is used by so many people to mean so many different things that it’s really hard to tell what you’re getting when you have someone say to you, “I’m a Libertarian.”  For example, I understand that Reason magazine, a Libertarian magazine, conducted a poll which showed that Obama won a majority of self-identified Libertarians.  

Let’s assume that’s true.  What does that say?  It says first you’ve got a lot of people who call themselves Libertarians who are defining that primarily in terms of social issues such as gay marriage and legalization of drugs and other kinds of things, whereby Obama would be a much more attractive candidate to them then a conservative Republican.  

On the other hand, sort of the central tenet of Libertarianism is that each person owns his own body and that the State has a very limited right to tell us what we should do as long as we aren’t harming someone else.  Well, that means if you’re making an honest living and not bothering anybody else, the government really doesn’t have any right to regulate what you do economically as well as in your social behavior.  

And I think that probably what we have in polls that show most Libertarians voting for Obama are people who don’t understand when real Libertarians talk about freedom, they’re talking about the whole package.  And the whole package very definitely includes the freedom to engage in mutually agreeable economic transactions with fellow human beings without the government getting involved.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

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