Thursday, March 1, 2012

Libertarianism: A Beginner's Guide

Libertarians and conservatives are two different animals.  If you need an in-depth explanation, just try calling a libertarian a conservative on steroids or some such, and you will be treated to a full, vociferous explanation.

Conservatives want to conserve; libertarians, as the name implies, put personal liberty first.  From there, libertarianism branches out into a multitude of variants.

Lew Rockwell vs. The Kochtopus

Perceptive outsiders perceive two principle libertarian camps in America:  Lew Rockwell's and the Koch brothers.  From my own vantage point I tend to agree with that gross taxonomy.

I'm not a true libertarian, there's too much Russell Kirk conservatism in me, but I do find frequent recourse to libertarian sources in my daily combat against progressive statism.  It provides a much more coherent pro-liberty philosophy than contemporary conservatism.  I would make the same comment of modern day liberalism, but that is nothing but a core-less, twitching bundle of outraged claims on other people's stuff wrapped in logical incoherence.

Anarchy:  The Extreme End of Libertarianism

After my initial tentative forays into the land of libertarianism, I found myself gravitating towards, a most excellent Austrian School Libertarian website.  It was founded by Lew Rockwell, but I find him and his brand of libertarianism hateful and repellent. Many think it was Rockwell behind the racist Ron Paul newsletters, and brilliant Austrian economist Murray Rothbard gets mentioned often by Southern Law Poverty Center types as an abettor and racist, although I've never been able to sort that out.

I enjoy reading Rothbard's works about money and economics, and I continue to frequent because I have found nothing racist or rabidly anti-American there.  It is a place of scholarship that is also accessible to ordinary people who do not have economics degrees.

On the other hand, I detest Rockwell's site,  It is a cornucopia of anarchic insanity.  It is an OWS reading room where our soldiers are called criminals, and traitor Bradley Manning is a Hero.  Writers ingest and regurgitate Islamist rhetoric that essentially says our "meddling" is why they hate us., and we are treated to intellectual works that explain why our bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki makes us a criminal terror state.

I'm also turned off by Ayn Rand, a humorless, stentorian didact who knocked off God and put herself in his place.  She got the big things right:  Freedom is good, statism is bad, and people act in their own rational self-interest.  Good enough, but from there she proceeded to make a cult of it, assailing us with punctilious philosophical verbosity and interminably turgid prose seemingly designed to push the bounds of tediousness and run off all but the most stubborn.

These figures represent the extreme end of libertarianism, and I cannot abide them.  If anarcho-capitalism is so damned good, why hasn’t it worked anywhere?

F.A. Hayek is the sweet spot...

... and his ideological progeny can be found at CATO and Reason. So if you want to explore libertarianism but like me are repelled by anarchist extremists, start out by going to these two sites and reading some of the articles.  Don't be offended by their advocacy for gay marriage.  They also stand up for your church's right to not perform or recognize them.  Libertarians are not extreme conservatives, they are extreme liberty lovers in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson.

Liberals don't understand Austrian Economics, but Ludwig von Mises Institute's declared arch-enemy, Reason does a nice job setting the record straight.  So if you want to know what the Austrian School is all about, those two articles are a good place to start.  If you're still intrigued, go to and dive in.

Further Reading:
Why I am not a Conservative - Friedrich A. Hayek
Why I am not an Austrian Economist - Bryan Caplan


Fredd said...

" punctilious philosophical verbosity and interminably turgid prose..."

I started to count the syllables in that one, but decided to reign in the 'Rain Man' in me and stopped.

Dabbling in libertarianism is a hobby more than a philosophy. When it comes to running (or ruining) a country, you gotta pick one of the dogs in the fight: conservatism or liberalism.

The Constitutional Insurgent said...

As a card carrying Libertarian, I agree with the gross taxonomy and the sweet spot. I'm probably a bit more ardent than Hayek, enough to where I haven't been at all impressed with the Tea party.

I find it rather refreshing that someone can actually lay out a rational overview of Libertarianism in it's many forms, though I'm sure someone will come along shortly to interject the obligatory amount of invective.

Thanks for writing this, posts like this keep me coming back almost daily.

Thersites said...

So what's the difference between a libertarian and a libertine?

Anonymous said...

I'll have to address the rest of this terrific post later -- after I've studied a bit -- but this review of Ayn Rand, whom I saw several times on television when she was a brand new phenomenon, could have been cribbed from my own thoughts -- many of which I've written down at FrontPage Magazine and elsewhere in years past.

" ... Ayn Rand, a humorless, stentorian didact who knocked off God and put herself in his place. She got the big things right: Freedom is good, statism is bad, and people act in their own rational self-interest. Good enough, but from there she proceeded to make a cult of it, assailing us with punctilious philosophical verbosity and interminably turgid prose seemingly designed to push the bounds of tediousness and run off all but the most stubborn."

That, as they say, is dead on target -- and wonderfully well phrased. I couldn't agree more. Her prose -- always regarded as problematic, even by many of her fans -- was accurately criticized by liberals as "terrible, tendentious stuff."

Rand is, perhaps, THE classic example of how one may be right and wrong all at the same time. She was a BITCH. Did you know her real name was Rosenbaum? Not important, but an interesting sidelight.

Bill Buckley, who knew her well, reported some hilarious anecdotes about Rand. It might be fun to look them up.

Great analogy about the many strands that make up a rope.

~ FreeThinke

Anonymous said...

" ... what's the difference between a libertarian and a libertine?"

One is airy and the other is teeny -- or tiny -- depending on how you pronounce libertine.


Did I really say that?


~ FreeThinke

Silverfiddle said...

Fredd: So true from a party politics standpoint, but libertarianism provides a rational philosophy to talk about so many issues. Parties are about getting elected, libertarianism is about our rights and the proper role of governments.

And what I've said of Rand is in no way meant to disparage her intellect or message. I simply find her work tedious, and some of her more ardent followers overbearing.

Thersites: A libertine wants to burn it all down. Libertarians do not. Of course, that's a broad statement, since the logical end of pure libertarianism is anarchy.

Silverfiddle said...

Constitutional: Thanks for the kind comments, and thanks for not stomping on me for being a squishy Hayakian.

And you are right about the invective. When I made a few tentative forays into this area, the predicable attacks would come from militant libertarians attacking me because I was not sufficiently pure.

I also think, at this point in our history, that conservatism will not save the country; only constitutional libertarianism will.

Anonymous said...

"... at this point in our history, that conservatism will not save the country; only constitutional libertarianism will."

I am only certain of one thing, myself.

Neither Marxism or any of it's hideous derivatives will save us from lapsing back into servitude.

When all is said and done, however, no one could save us but our individual selves.

Just as the early settlers and westward pioneers had to wrest Civilization with their bare hands from virgin forests, stony soil and the tough, centuries-old mat of prairie grass, so must we wrest freedom from the grip of our oppressors, even if it means bloodshed.

~ FreeThinke

Anonymous said...

I am constantly intrigued by the different view to politics and political thought in America.

i understand the history and events that make it so, but that should in theory make variants and not hybrids.

Though I am sure you all will disagree, which is fine by me, Libertarianism is a concept within Conservatism and not a stand alone political philosophy. To use SF's example - to conserve liberty is a paramount ideal above other 'important' others.

I am not after an argument and I respect your view SF and again perhaps American libertarianism has mutated as such?

Damien Charles

Jim at Conservatives on Fire said...

Your vocabulary and your skill in using it are impressive.

I agree with your comments about I do, however, manage to find some good articles there at times.

Politically, I think conservatives and libertarians should join forces in a new third party. With neocons at one end and libertarians at the other end, the possibility exist for a workable movement in American politics.

Ducky's here said...

Your point is sound until you get to the statement that "Liberals don't understand Austrian economics". You read like you think you found the Grail. We understand the Austrian school just fine, Fisher King.

It is also instructive that your readers are unwilling to apply this same granularity to leftist economics. I'm not sure about yourself, Silver.

Bunkerville said...

Thanks for helping with a better understanding. Mark Levin last week spent an hour or more on the topic, and the frequent picture portrayed often turns out to have a rather sinister side apparently.

Anonymous said...


IF you really did"understand" Austrian Economics, you would, perforce, embrace Austrian Economics.

You are pointedly antagonistic toward Austrian Economics, ergo you couldn't possibly understand Austrian Economics.

~ FT

Anonymous said...

Damien Charles,

Our Founding Fathers could only be described AS libertarians. No other designation could properly apply to them.

Conservatism really indicates an instinctive distrust of anything "new" that purports to guarantee "improvements" that may not in actuality be strictly either wanted or needed.

Conservatism advocates intense, prolonged study of the ramifications of "new" ideas before entertaining any thought of embracing them. Conservatives show a marked tendency to want to preserve the status quo.

By that definition -- and by the lights of their time -- the Founders were RADICALS certainly not "conservative" at all. They stood for sudden, enormous, sweeping change. They wanted a DIVORCE from the status quo for reasons brilliantly and succinctly outlined in our Declaration of Independence.

Now, in today's Russia and it's former satellites, if one advocated a return to Soviet-Style Communism, one would -- in the context of Russian society today -- have to be called a "Conservative."

The meaning of many terms are relative to the various situations -- and loci -- to which they are applied.

Both our Founding and our Way of Life -- up until recently -- were UNIQUE in all recorded history. Our success -- up until recently -- was UNPARALLELED and UNDENIABLE. Therefore, there should be no mystery as to why "we" see things from an entirely different perspective than almost any other nation.

Unfortunately the validity and value of our success has been "questioned" from within by nefarious elements whose covert ambition has ALWAYS been to weaken and DESTROY us.

Their evil work has -- very sadly -- been successful beyond, I suspect, their wildest dreams. That spells tragedy both for us and for Western Civilization.

"Presentiment is ––
That long shadow on the lawn ––
Indicative that suns go down ––

The notice to the startled grass ––
That Darkness is about to pass."

~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

In the interests of modesty and good taste I won't assert that "we" have been "better" than other nations -- merely "different" -- but to us the preservation of our unique identity and character is as important as the preservation of their unique identity and character is to the Jews. If THEY can assert that right, surely WE should be able to as well.

~ FreeThinke

beamish said...

The logical end of libertarianism is personal autonomy, not anarchy. Self-control without coercion of others.

Anarchy is collectivized (or syndicalized) might-makes-right-ism, with coercion at its core.

Anonymous said...


I also would agree that your Founding Fathers were not at all Conservative in a modern-day American thought pattern. However, I would say that in that period of time they were and they very much in a frame of mind of the then British concept of political Conservatism. We will have to disagree on this matter I think.

It is interesting that you have placed what I think is an over-philosophical version of what is actually Conservative, such as with your Russian analogy. I believe that fails because it is basing the emphasis of Conservatism on being against "change" and strongly supporting the status-quo. By that definition every political party, and may I add even Libertarians, are thus Conservative because in that light, once their platform put in play they will want to conserve it.

I consider myself to be a Conservative on the basis of traditional British Conservatism and I have been a paid member of the British Conservative Party for just under 30 years. From our perspective, Conservative Politics is about three words only. Tradition, Freedoms and Order.

We wish to respect existing traditions, social customs and values. The word existing does not mean un-changeable - that comes automatically through time and events.

Freedom is a right and a responsibility, the State is there only to protect it. Freedom also refers to commerce, faith and ownership. You are free to do business, follow your faith and own property - but it comes with responsibities.

Order is a collective responsibility of all individuals as well as the State. Without order there is anarchy and the loss of tradition and freedom.

The word by the way comes not from "conserve" but "preserve". We desire to preserve these "institutions" of tradition, freedom and order.

Liberty is part of all three of these institutions and that is why Libertarianism is in fact a concentration of elements of traditional Conservatism. Personally I think it may be the American psychie that perhaps has created an emphasis due to its revolution, expansion and civil war?


Damien Charles

Anonymous said...


First para should read as follows:

"I also would agree that your Founding Fathers were not at all Conservative in a modern-day American sense of the word. However, I would say that in that period of time they most certainly was Conservative in the British concept of political Conservatism of that time. We may have to disagree on this matter I think."

(I have to strain with my poor eyesight and thus I dislike proofreading as it takes such a long time - and on this terrible iPad).


Anonymous said...

As I tried to say, Damien, the meaning of terms is relative to the culture and the times in which they are employed. It's quite a bit like reading Shakespeare or the King James version of the Bible where words that mean one thing in our day meant something entirely different in Shakespeare's time or to the translators who produced the King James version of the Bible.

That's why dogmatic literalism rarely serves us well in an honest search for truth and enlightenment.

~ FreeThinke

Anonymous said...

Definitions of Anarchy


Absence of any form of political authority.
Political disorder and confusion.
Absence of any cohesive principle, such as a common standard or purpose.


absence of government

a state of lawlessness or political disorder due to the absence of governmental authority

a utopian society of individuals who enjoy complete freedom without government

absence or denial of any authority or established order

absence of order : disorder


a situation in which people are behaving in a way that ignores normal rules and laws, and are unable to be controlled

a situation in which there is no government or no social control in a country

Submitted by FreeThinke

Finntann said...

"Libertarianism is a concept within Conservatism and not a stand alone political philosophy."

I immediately disagreed, until I read your second term explaining in the sense of British conservatism.

If I may attempt an explanation in the American political spectrum an parties:

Republican: Conservative positions on economic and social issues.

Democrat: Liberal positions on economic and social issues.

Libertarian: Conservative positions on economic issues, liberal positions on social issues.

Generally from an American political point of view Libertarians are predominately minarchist, not anarchist.

I know SF believes the Republican Party to be salvageable, for those that don't:

Because there is more to Libertarianism than economics.


Right Wing Theocrat said...

Thanks for the beginners guide. Just a question, what's the general libertarian position on abortion?

I have gleaned from seeing conversations from libertarians, but wanted to confirm.

Silverfiddle said...

RWT: I'm not an authoritative spokesman, but they are generally pro-choice.

dmarks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Right Wing Theocrat said...

Thanks Silver, that's what i have seen as well, just wanted to confirm from someone who knows a bit more about these sorts of things. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...


I know you're not much in favor of "idle speculation," but would you care to hazard an educated guess as to where Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Hamilton, Madison, Monroe, Mason, et al. might stand in today's political climate?

I believe they were all libertarians, but certainly not all of one mind. We know they had their differences and some were at times bitterly opposed to one another, so any answer you might give couldn't be simple.

May I dare suggest this would make a good topic for one of your future posts?

Let's hope next time you want to stage a serious intellectual discussion it won't be upstaged and sidetracked by another sensational Tragic Event like the sudden, mysterious, very disturbing demise of Andrew Breitbart.

~ FreeThinke

Silverfiddle said...

I'm going to post more stuff like this in the future, but I don't think I am well-versed enough in the founders to peg them politically, but you idea is intriguing.