The following is an excerpt of a comment I made in response to someone who clearly did not “get” what Libertarians mean by “libertarian.” This is a conversation that extended from a response to my comment on an article that also seemed to misinterpret the term. I wanted to capture this response here, but you can see the article and comments here:
Over a century before Déjacque, classic liberals like John Locke were penning the philosophy that shapes modern libertarianism. Libertarians (as a political movement) began to use the “libertarian” label because modern “liberals” no longer represented that classic liberalism. Instead, they were (and are) moving toward government-managed socialism. Today the word “libertarian” simply means “one who advocates liberty,” including wide range of social and economic views within that label (as in any political movement).
I’m confused as to how the economic system of capitalism is an affront to liberty. Perhaps we have different definitions of “liberty,” too. Every definition and common understanding of “liberty” that I am familiar with embraces an individual’s basic rights, provided that he does not infringe upon the basic rights of others. We have those rights by virtue of being human and for no other reason. Those basic human rights are as follows:
* Life (I can choose to live or die)
* Liberty (I can choose what I say and do)
* Property (I own my body and I can obtain ownership of other things, too)
* The pursuit of happiness (I can find, create, grow, or purchase things to make myself happy)
The economic scenario you’ve contrasted to capitalism–redistribution of wealth–is a socialist concept. In a socialist economic system, individuals work to directly benefit society as a whole rather than to earn anything for themselves. Socialism is a form of government that can work well on the small scales (neighborhoods, small towns) where it doesn’t need a bureaucratic hierarchy to manage it. On larger scales, though, it quickly instates a fascist/statist government system to support it, as we’ve seen in places like Cuba. That’s fine if that’s what you want. Modern libertarians, though, feel that public ownership of you and your possessions is a violation of our basic human rights.
In a capitalist, or free-market, economic system (the libertarian ideal), individuals are free to learn, grow, and work to make themselves more comfortable in life. This is the basic “pursuit of happiness” right. Individuals are free to choose to give away what they earn or to keep it for themselves. They are not forced to make that decision one way or another. They have the freedom–the liberty–to make that choice.
This site, featuring the research done by the non-profit group The Advocates for Self-Government, does an excellent job of addressing the questions and concerns that people have about modern libertarianism:
The U.S. has neither a socialist or a capitalist economic system. Over the last century, it has become a corporatist system. In corporatism, governments heavily regulate and control the market with favoritism toward special interest groups. Many professional politicians, lobbyists, and business (bank) executives have made a lucrative career because of this system. Some attribute the growing gap between socio-economic classes in the U.S. to this corporatist system. It’s no wonder, then, that there’s a growing interest in playing Robin Hood.
So… how, exactly, is forcefully taking my property to give to someone else a form of liberty?