Libertarian

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A Libertarian may be a person believes or advocates some version of the political philosophy of Libertarianism or simply a person who generally advocates maximizing individual liberty and minimizing the coercive power of the State. Libertarians differ from anarchists in that the latter oppose the coercive power of any institutional concentration of power, whether it is the State, Big Business, Big Religion or Big Media.

In practice, the phrase "libertarian" can include a fairly wide range of people, from rightist extremists to fiscally conservative liberals on the one hand, to leftist anarchists, and libertarian socialists on the other. This is because libertarian describes a position on the axis between authoritarianism (complete state control) and anarchism (no state control) and is orthogonal to the axis of economic philosophy between socialism/communism (complete state control, the Left) and capitalism/liberalism (liberalism in the classic or market sense, minute or no state control, the Right)[1]. It's another discussion altogether about how exactly these relate to the third axis between progressive (tomorrow could be better) and conservative (tomorrow could be worse).

It seems in modern politics that a new spectrum bisects the cubics created with these axes. This spectrum moves from what we now call the left -- less authoritarian, more socialist and more progressive -- through the centrist hub to the right, now seemingly dominated by the neoconservative -- more authoritarian, more laissez-faire (barring protectionism and military subsidy) and more conservative (see the discussion of this article).

"Big L" Libertarians are those that belong to or endorse the Libertarian Party. "Little L" libertarians are simply those that are sympathetic to the notion of "less is more" as it relates to government. Size and scope of government are not everything, however, because what the government does with its limited power can lead to wildly divergent results.

While nearly all libertarians agree that protection of "private property" as one of the few jurisdictions of government they view as legitimate, there are differing opinions amongst libertarians as to what constitutes "private-property". There is a basic consensus that your own person (one's body, personal sovereignty) and the physical product of your own labor belongs to you; right-libertarians want to extend this to include "intellectual property" (loosely, labors of the mind), and to give these rights to corporate persons as well. Left-libertarians tend to believe that corporations are not "persons"; that knowledge and information are not property (because each is infinitely reproducible) and that they work best when shared; and that "land is different". Land and natural resources exist as a natural commons --a wealth that every human being has the right to access and reap the wealth from for their own benefit, so long as they do not exclude others. See also Geolibertarian. Private ownership of land, resources and productive property (factories, businesses, infrastructure) that are not a product of one's own labor is a form of, or leads to, coercion. Left libertarians, taking a few cues from the labor theory of property, make a distinction between "productive property" and "possessive property" (possessions). So when left libertarians speak of the collective ownership of property, they mean the factory down the street, not, say, your toothbrush.

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Opposition to Coercion: Right vs. Left

If one could draw the largest distinction between right libertarians (including the Libertarian Party) and left libertarians, it is in their respective conceptions of coercive authority.

Right libertarians tend to view the power of the state as the ultimate coercive evil, the kind of authority that infringes upon the individual's freedom in the social, political and economic spheres. Right libertarians believe that the free market is a social good, non-coercive and more efficient than the state, and that any harmful attributes the market currently may have are a direct result of the state meddling with it, primarily through regulation of freedom of contract (e.g. minimum wage laws, bankruptcy protection, antitrust, etc.).

Left libertarians take a much broader view of coercion, drawing from societal critiques made by many different ideologies, such as feminism, critical race theory, socialism, and for some, atheism. Because of this, the libertarian left is just as willing to criticize government power (the Patriot Act, the bureaucracy of social programs, war) as it is private economic and market power (monopoly, lack of democracy in the workplace, harmful 'externalities' like pollution). Left libertarians are quick to point out that while popular culture extols the values and virtues of democracy, the vast majority of our productive lives are spent in veritable dictatorships -- that is, in the modern workplace. As a result, left libertarians are supportive of ventures in worker self-management, such as collectives and co-operatives (see the 'reclaimed' factory movement in Argentina as shown in the documentary "The Take", and to a lesser extent the state-sponsored co-management program in Venezuela).

Libertarian politicians

Idaho Senator Steve Symms and California congressman Dana Rohrabacher both had backgrounds as libertarian activists when they were elected to Congress. In Rohrabacher's case, a rather radical background as an anarcho-capitalist campus activist. Their voting records once in office turned hard-Republican. They abandoned libertarian principles on foreign policy in particular. Ron Paul has moved in the other direction. A hard-conservative when elected to Congress in the 1970s, he became more libertarian. Ron Paul eventually left the Republican Party to run for President as a Libertarian Party candidate in 1988. He returned to the Republican Party in the 1990s and regained a seat in Congress.

2004 Elections

During the 2004 Democratic Primary several libertarians organized in support of Howard Dean, establishing a Libertarians for Dean blog. After the primary most joined a preexisting organization called the Democratic Freedom Caucus. The goal of this organization is to reach out to libertarian votes and bring them into the Democratic Party, while also reaching out to Democratic Party activists and encouraging a more libertarian approach to politics.

Libertarian Dem

Kos caused quite a stir in June, 2006 with his post titled The Libertarian Dem. While kneejerk reactions to the word "libertarian" still abound, there has been a marked warming to the idea that "Democrat" and "libertarian" are not incompatible. See Libertarian Dem for more.

Nuttery-Buttery

At least one libertarian, J. Neil Schulman, claims that he has met god in person.

See also

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