Libertarian Does Not Equal Libertine

Exercising my God-given right to squander my meager wealth as I choose, I went to buy the Kid one of those camera-equipped cell phones. Capitalists effectively advertise these things and the teen set feel they are deprived if they don't have one. They understand prestige. The buyer must function within very narrow specifications.

The clean-cut, well-dressed young man with whom I had dealt before is personable and very knowledgeable about his job, the equipment and the contracts. Hah! The contracts! Another capitalist gimmick; the price of the unit isn't dirt cheap, although surprisingly inexpensive for all you get and for the quality of the image, the quality of the sound, the saturation of signal in this area. The hook is in the requirement to sign a two-year contract for service with this company…; they can't fool me; that's where the profit is. I signed and I paid.

The clean-cut, well-dressed, personable young man and I had chatted throughout the dealing and the equipment preparation; the sim card had been installed, the number checked (no change), the check signed, the rebate instructions explained (another capitalist gimmick: how many people lose the proof-of-purchase, wait until too late, forget or just don't get around to sending in that rebate offer application?). It was time for me to take my leave.

But, has recently run three articles I wrote and I'm eager to get the word out to clean-cut, well-dressed, personable and intelligent young men…, or young ladies as the circumstances dictate, about my thoughts thusly recorded and about the site. I leaned over his desk/work station and asked, "Do you have any, uh…, Libertarian, uh…, leanings?"

I really haven't perfected that opener – and I wasn't particularly clean-cut or well dressed at the moment.

The flash of disbelief, tinged with an instant of terror, that passed over his face and settled into a deeply suspicious, even contemptuous visage told me I needed to work on that opener. With a quick explanation that libertarianism is a socio-politico-economic school of philosophy that espouses freedom I lamely ended with a protest that it was not the same as libertinism, nor was I a libertine.

He seemed to accept that and seemed to relax a bit. I hurriedly explained my mission, beyond buying the new, slim, camera-phone, and signing the two-year contract, wrote down the links for him and beat my retreat. I wasn't optimistic about having made a convert but he did say he'd check out the links.

It was obvious to me that this young fellow had heard the word "libertarian." It was quite apparent that he had a considerably different, probably incomplete, understanding of the meaning of that word than I do. He will receive a copy of this article whether or not it is ever published.

From the panicky, contemptuous expression I deduced that his understanding was in the sense of "libertine." That, I think, is a common miss-sense of much of the public, who pay any attention at all, regarding the logical, workable, even noble ideas of libertarianism. It's a concern I've felt for a long time; I even had some notes jotted down that I dug out to put these thoughts together.

A concise definition of the two words, in comparison, is found at The Columbia Guide to Standard American English from which it is copied as follows: "A libertarian is a believer in free will or, more frequently, a supporter of absolute freedom of thought, word, and deed [provided the action does not infringe on the freedom of thought, word and deed of others]. A libertine was once a freed slave in Rome, but today a libertine is morally unrestrained, a profligate, dissolute person, and the word as both noun and adjective is a pejorative."

It bears repeating: Libertarianism embodies the idea that every individual is free to think, speak and act as he chooses provided that those expressions and acts don't materially infringe upon the freedom of others to think, speak and act as they choose. Libertinism is simply nasty behavior…, in my opinion.

This is based on the concept that each and every person owns himself (generic "him"), that each and every one is personally and individually sovereign.

Libertarianism is most pertinent in three realms of our existence: political, social and economic. Based on the tenets of libertarianism these are three distinctly separate realms, as they should be. In our present system there is tremendous overlap of the political over the social and the economic at great cost to all three.

In the political realm libertarianism stands for the most minimum of government, government to exist only for the protection of life, liberty and property, and in the furtherance of those rights, perhaps, protection of the borders and shores. This includes a minimum of taxation, and that minimum not to include taxation on income.

The Constitution of the United States of America, as it was intended, is nearly a libertarian construct, especially when the first ten amendments are considered. The Founders were very much libertarians, those most overtly so being Patrick Henry, George Mason and Thomas Jefferson.

The Constitution was created to strengthen but also to limit the central governance of the federated States and to guarantee rights to the people. Leanings toward further centralization, leading to partisan divisions among the Founders, were led by Alexander Hamilton and John Adams and, implicitly, by George Washington.

The word "libertarian" seems to have arisen about that time but was not used by the Founders and apparently was first used as indicative of free will in the metaphysical sense. "Libertarian" apparently didn't take on its current meaning of freedom of thought, word and action in political, social and economic usage until the mid-twentieth century.

There is an American national Libertarian Party and there are state Libertarian Parties. There are many libertarians elected to lower offices but none to Congress. There have been Libertarian presidential candidates for many years.

The Party has been adversely affected in the past by fringe elements that have attached themselves and have garnered much attention for their social issues. They tend not to be supportive of general libertarian principles. These have been rather flamboyant libertines who espouse and flaunt their life style…, which doesn't attract many from the heartland.

Socially there isn't much dispute among the convinced: libertarianism proscribes any governmental restraints on action that doesn't infringe demonstrably on others' well-being. This means the hedonists are supported in their right to freedom from governmentally coerced proscription of their behavior. They need not be considered conventionally correct or morally correct or socially approved for such behavior.

This means there should be no governmental regulation of alcohol, drugs, gambling, prostitution or other activity between consenting adults. I don't apologize for repeated use of the "G" word because libertarianism doesn't object to the restriction of activities by and within voluntary associations such as churches, social or fraternal organizations, or any other groups that do not use coercion.

Libertarians do not support any sense of encouragement for the use of alcohol, drugs, pornography, gambling, prostitution, etc., by or among consenting adults. Libertarians decry the abuse of alcohol, drugs, pornography, prostitution, etc. Libertarians absolutely oppose the use of coercion in the practices of alcohol or drug use, pornography, prostitution, etc.

Libertarians encourage aid for habitués of alcohol use, drug use, prostitution, etc., from foundations, corporations, societies, associations, churches, families, individuals, etc., but believe strongly that there is no role for government in this endeavor. There is no role for government in any welfare schemes; non-coercive sources of funds for relief of all sorts of misfortune flow fairly freely even in our current over-taxed circumstance; the private organizations do a much better job than the government.

If taxes were a much, much smaller percentage of our gross domestic output the funds available privately for relief of misfortune would be much, much more. Misguided government funding of welfare schemes weaken family; there would be less need for governmental or organizational funding if families were less stressed by such misguided funding and by tax drainage on the family budget.

Finally, libertarianism allows for no governmental constraints on, aid to, taxing or regulation of business. Aside from some flagrant incursions from time to time this was the state of American business and commerce from colonial times until World War I.

The progression of interference that blossomed with wartime regulations in WWI actually started in the 1860s, in another war, but they were limited enough, mostly to the railroad and banking industry, that they didn't hold back prosperity too significantly before WWI. Those were the golden years that built the foundation of American wealth that allows the continued building of the economy today despite the restraints of government.

Libertarian principles hold that with a laissez faire (non)management of the economy, with money stable by being based on gold and with lack of welfare disincentives, individual and cumulative wealth of the country would be immensely greater than it is. This is considered, reasonably enough, to be a societal good.

Libertarian economic principles are best articulated in the Austrian School of economics, so-called because its early formulation was by Viennese economic philosophers, Carl Menger and Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk in the 19th century. It was then developed further down through the 20th century by Ludwig von Mises and by Friedrich von Hayek, who were both Austrians and who both came to the United States.

Murray Rothbard was the intellectual heir of the Austrian School and carried it much further until his untimely death in 1995. Today there are many teachers, researchers and students of the Austrian school scattered widely over the U.S. and the world.

Located here in Alabama, across Magnolia Street from the Auburn University campus, the Ludwig von Mises Institute is the research and educational center of classical liberalism, libertarian political theory, and the Austrian School of economics. Working in the intellectual tradition of Ludwig von Mises (1881–1973) and Murray N. Rothbard (1926–1995), with a vast array of publications, programs, and fellowships, the Mises Institute seeks a radical shift in the intellectual climate as the foundation for a renewal of the free and prosperous commonwealth.

Lew Rockwell is the founder and president of the Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, and vice president of the Center for Libertarian Studies in Burlingame, California. He is an opponent of the central state, its wars and its socialism.

Lew also is editor-in-chief of this web site, LRC highlights the news and commentary that he finds important, or simply interesting. He describes this immense task as his "hobby."

Libertinism gets short shrift as a closer. In religion the libertine is a freethinker or a non-thinker; the libertarian may be of any faith. The libertine is a dissolute, unrestrained by convention or morality; the thinking, principled libertarian does live by convention and morality, albeit there may be a wide range of convention in the libertarian community.

The important distinction is that the true libertarian lives by his principles which include, above all, that all people own their own self and that no coercive agency may dictate their behavior, while the libertine either has no principles or his principles do not interfere with a hedonistic, dissolute life.

The 25th was the Kid's fifteenth birthday, too. The camera-phone was a great success. He says this was the greatest Christmas/birthday ever. He says he loves us. Now I have to find the "proof-of-purchase" and send off for the rebate.

January 2, 2006