In order for a free society to function several conditions are desirable. I call them the three R’s of libertarianism.
The first great R is “reason.” The popular will needs to be reasonable. The chief threat to reason is the innumerable appeals to irrational emotions that political leaders make in order to achieve their own ascendancy. The politics of hate, fear and ignorance come to dominate. Along with them come the list of designated enemies the government will attack to appease the now aroused populace. This game is as old as time. Foreign enemies are convenient targets. Appeals to the tribal, racial, and nationalist prejudices that have been cultivated over generations make foreign wars popular. This tactic has been in the decline in recent decades. Unfortunately violence over religious differences has increased at the same time to replace it.
In the U.S., the government has put aside many of the conflicts based strictly on race as the public perception of politicians who pander to those conflicts has turned negative. However, we now have the drug war to rally irrational anger and a war on terrorism to cultivate fear and paranoia. We also have the old class conflicts. The hostility toward corporate America, or the rich, doesn’t really serve the public interest at all. It only fuels the government’s power to regulate and tax in ways that do more harm than good.
In a democratic system bad public policy is the result of irrational thinking by the public. Bad public policy means more laws, more taxes, more regulations, and more government power. Libertarians offer objections, both principled and prosaic, but are overwhelmed by the media dominance of the two old parties. It should be understood that economic issues can always be decided by reason. It can be shown that markets produce a better economic life for the greatest number of people, including the poorest among us. Reason alone should be enough to adopt market oriented economic systems.
Respect is key to overcoming emotionally charged arguments. If you respect the freedom of others yours should be respected as well. It is the willingness to give respect that is essential in getting it. In a respectful society you need not worry about being caught up as a minority in some new wave of government generated hysteria. It is respect that keeps government out of legislating morality. That includes “economic” morality where governments force you to give away your money to support someone the government has decided is more deserving than you are. By the same token the government can’t attack and imprison you for your own questionable life choices such as drug addiction. Each person’s freedom ultimately depends on their willingness to support the rights of others.
Our country has been going the wrong way on the respect issue for a long time. The way America views teenagers is just one example of the increase of authoritarianism in recent decades. As teenagers have systematically been stripped of the rights they had as recently as 1970 their sociological problems have actually gotten worse. Too many Americans see the goals of child rearing as focused on teaching obedience to authority. You must obey your parents, obey your teachers, obey the laws, follow the rules, etc. Change that to you must respect your parents, respect your teachers, respect the laws and rules and you get a totally different mind set. Respect is a two way street. The law to be respected must respect its citizens. That’s why laws that attempt to punish consensual crimes are held in such low regard by so many people.
Freedom means responsibility. If you are free to smoke marijuana you are responsible for the consequences. It is not up to the police, the society, the taxpayers, or anyone else to address the fact that you are working as the bag boy in a supermarket instead of in the productive career you might have had if drug free. If teenagers have children they should take up the responsibility of supporting them. That includes the fathers.
Respect, responsibility and reason work well together. Each supports the others in creating a society of freedom, tolerance and affluence, in which moral values are held for moral reasons and not followed under threats of government sanction. If people ever start listening to the Libertarian Party maybe we can start building this type of world instead of the hostile and counterproductive one perpetrated on us by other political parties.
”’Tracy Ryan, chair of the Libertarian Party of Hawaii, can be reached by email at:”’ mailto:email@example.com
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