Keep your money, keep your guns, keep your stash – any two out of three and you might be a libertarian; all three and you might be in the Libertarian Party.
This slightly irreverent pitch was how I was introduced to the Libertarian Party many years ago. It doesn’t mean we advocate tax cheating, violating gun laws, and taking drugs, but it is useful shorthand to describe the three basic strands of libertarianism: economic liberty, constitutional government, and personal liberty.
Most Libertarians start out from one of those three reference points and then discover that all three are inseparable. Personal liberty and economic liberty are two sides of the same coin, and the Constitution constrains the government from taking it away.
Libertarianism (small letter “l”) is a political philosophy that places Liberty – the absence of government in choice – as its first principle. This was the bold American ideal, the noble purpose for which our nation was formed, the reason we prospered. It was radical at first, then mainstream, and is now radical again.
George Washington used the phrases “liberty of conscience” and “immunity of citizenship” when describing the uniquely virtuous relationship between the American people, their government, and the Constitution that protects the former from the latter. That is eloquence that can not be improved upon.
And I believe that Liberty is still the first principle of most Americans, whether they identify themselves as Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, or Independents; and especially if they are political agnostics.
Most Americans want government to keep us safe, protect our rights, and then leave us alone to live our lives as we see fit. Most of us do not want government to tell us what we can and can’t do, what is good for us and bad for us – we have many other sources much better qualified to give us guidance in these matters.
Most of us do not want to criminalize our neighbors’ choices; but neither do we want to pay for them. We treasure natural diversity, and we hate forced conformity. Look at how we dress, decorate our homes, accessorize our cars – we will spare no expense to be different. You have to confiscate our money and use it to impose uniformity upon us by force, we won’t accept it voluntarily.
Most Americans want to live a Dutch Treat life - each making our own choices and paying our own way. Equality of opportunity is a buffet, while equality of outcome is prison food. This is a buffet nation; we hate prison food.
Most of us want a stout defense of our nation, but we do not want to defend any others; and we don’t wish to impose our will on them by threat of force. We want to buy and sell things with other countries, not keep them dependent on our foreign aid. We want our troops brought home - defending us here, not fighting abroad for years in undeclared wars where there is no clear strategy for victory.
There are libertarian Republicans and libertarian Democrats, although it is getting more and more difficult to find them. Most Libertarians started out as one or the other of these and then decided to drop the second half of the label when they became unwelcome in their own party. Libertarian independents aren’t welcome in either party – except, of course, on election day, when even candidate Obama promised to cut their taxes.
But you are all welcome in the Libertarian Party. Whether your thing is personal liberty, economic liberty, or constitutional restraint of government, you will find that the Libertarian Party is the Party of Principle, just as we claim. Today’s Republicans and Democrats bear little resemblance to the parties of Goldwater and Kennedy; the divergence began in the late 1960’s and led to the creation of the LP in 1971. We haven’t changed; they did.
In my congressional campaign, I have used the acronym FLIP – Free trade, Limited government, Individual liberty, and Private property – to convey to people the basic pillars of my libertarian political philosophy. It is easy to remember, and more respectable than “keep your stash”, especially when children are present.
You might be a Libertarian and not even know it. That's where we all started.
Tim Nerenz is the Libertarian Party Candidate for U.S. House of Representatives from Wisconsin's 2nd District. To support Dr. Tim's campaign, please visit the campaign website at www.timnerenz.com.