Libertarianism: An Ethical Doctrine

Many people, including, sadly, libertarians, tend to characterize libertarianism (the radical application of "laissez faire, laissez passer" to everything) as an amoral posture. That is, because we state that the use of force in human relations must be limited to the defense of the rights of those people, that the result of all social interaction must be totally indifferent to us.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Clearly, libertarianism is an ethical doctrine (with significant implications for politics and law) and not a moral one; it does not establish an a priori moral code. It only seeks to address whether the use of force is justified or not.

In spite of the above, the libertarian does not stop being human. In other words, the libertarian holds political beliefs that in no way need to lessen his ability to establish rules for his house, or to lead his community, spread his spiritual views, become a benefactor for various causes, be a musical, intellectual, or literary icon, or anything of that sort. Simply because the libertarian believes that all forms of forceful interactions that threaten life or property are ethically prohibited does not follow that the libertarian is prevented from peacefully persuading and influencing others as to how to live the good life.

The libertarian is not a social atomist, a right-wing hippie, or an indifferent being per se. He can be such a thing of course, and his right to act that way is sacrosanct. But what differentiates the libertarian from the rest of those who seek change or look for a new way is that they are respectful of human dignity. The libertarian does not want to impose values; threaten countries with sanctions or embargoes, trade quotas or regulations; restrict movement and travel; censor speech, or any other abomination like that. He simply does not want to control people at gunpoint (or through taxation, which after all is nothing more than gun-backed positivist legislation).

Thus, libertarianism is the doctrine that aims to fully respect humanity, a doctrine that shares with medicine its starting axiom: "first, do no harm." Anyone who follows that rule is by default the most capable to test —according to the norms of non-aggression to fellow human beings— whether a particular solution to a societal problem is proper or not, subject to the approval of those involved (this is of course the way the market works: a system of completely voluntary interactions between members exchanging privately-owned scarce goods and services).

Libertarians also know, as Adam Smith (sometimes a better philosopher than economist) put it, that one does (and should) worry about things closest to our own life. Solutions, therefore, must be ordered on a concentric basis and starting from oneself. As more participants accept a particular solution, the circle of voluntary influence expands and a growing number of people see some need satisfied. The result of greater acceptance is amplified success. Here lies the radical difference between legitimate help and beneficial influence as opposed to state interventionism and, at a more personal level, all sorts of busybodies. Remember: my relationships, my home, my neighborhood, my company. The rest, maybe, and with utmost care.

In the words of Publius Terentius, homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto (I am a human being and I consider nothing human strange to me), but he also indicated that proximus sum egomet mihi ("I am closest to myself" means charity begins at home).