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What is a Libertarian?

By   /   October 2, 2010  /   Comments

On a web comment regarding Leesburg City Council candidate Jeff Sexton, someone claimed that they opposed Jeff because he was a Libertarian. This person claimed that Libertarians want to take down all government, and specifically cited police and fire departments as targets of ours. Now, the ignorance was abundant in this comment. However, there is a misunderstanding on what Libertarianism is and what we actually want.

First, one must understand that Libertarians aren’t some monolithic voting group that speaks with one voice. We’re not. Truth be told, we have people with varying levels views on any given topic. However, I’m going to speak of the bulk of the Libertarians floating around the world. There will always be an example someone can give of a Libertarian who believes “X”, because we all have our own opinions.

To address the specific criticisms of the comment, that we want to eliminate police and fire departments, I have to say I don’t know a single Libertarian who feels that way. You see, Libertarians believe that the prime things that should be illegal are instances when force is used against another. Things like robbery, rape, murder, assault and anything similar. Frankly, we get very little resistance on what we think should be illegal, because these particular crimes are universal. They probably predate government per se, so it’s no surprise there.

Because these crimes exist, and because some jerk will commit these crimes at some point, a police department is unavoidable. I’m the son of a police officer after all, and one thing I learned a long time ago was that crime will happen. So, since these crimes will happen, we need people to deal with the criminals. There would only be two options, and the best one society has ever come up with is the police department.

The other public safety entity mentioned is fire departments. First, it’s worth noting that municipally funded fire departments are a relatively modern concept. Once upon a time, there were free market fire departments. It was a disaster on many levels, and the municipal fire departments sprung forth. While there are some privatization efforts underway with fire departments throughout the country, those efforts tend to be where a community contracts with a company to provide fire service. This, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily a Libertarian position. Many Libertarians don’t begrudge tax dollars going to fund governmental fire departments.

Some people argue that we want to tear out all the stop lights and let the world go nuts. The problem is that the people saying these things know little about Libertarianism. They don’t realize that a Libertarian Utopia wouldn’t look like Somalia (as some have claimed). Instead, it would look like the United States shortly after the Constitution was ratified but without slavery.

The vast majority of Libertarian thought springs from the idea of property rights. You own you, and you own your stuff. No one should be telling you what to do with your body or your stuff. You know what’s best for you, or at least you should be able to learn from your own mistake. No one has a right to force you to do anything. It’s not anyone’s job to protect you from you either. This isn’t a difficult concept to understand, yet it seems to be one that folks can’t grasp.

Now, I’ll admit that the interpretation of this can get a little dicey. For example, on the issue of abortion, there is a Libertarian position for both sides of the issue. Personally, it’s an issue I try to avoid discussing because it’s too easy to take me to school on it. There is an issue on the initiation of force versus personal property rights, and it makes it difficult. I accept arguments as being in good faith from both sides…because they are.

In most cases, however, it’s not overly difficult. There are a lot of things you can hit a Libertarian on. Our position on legalizing many drugs, for example. Our position on intervention in another nation’s foreign affairs is another. For the record, not all Libertarians agree with the “party line” on those issues either. However, they are indicative of the bulk of Libertarians. But if you’re going to criticize us, at least know what you’re talking about when expressing our positions.


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  • Published: 1796 days ago on October 2, 2010
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  • Last Modified: October 3, 2010 @ 1:17 am
  • Filed Under: Tom Knighton


  1. George says:

    I’m a libertarian and I know that police and fire departments are instances of those universal crimes Tom mentions. Why? Because they operate on tax dollars, which are procured by theft. Also, these operations claim monopolies for themselves, universally in the case of police departments. They prohibit competition. If the government fights monopolies in telephones and oil, why does it ignore its own monopolies?

  2. Suzanne says:

    I think many more people would embrace the Libertarian views if they understood them, but the Libertarian party does a horrible job – from the party down to the local levels they are totally arrogant and spend their time criticizing others and the way it is instead of educating others on how it could be. With the current Tea Party movement, the Libertarian Party could be signing up people in droves, but instead they are turning them off. A negative message never works – they need to learn how to focus on a positive message, such as Tom has done here.

About the author

Owner / Editor / Writer

Tom Knighton is the publisher of The Albany Journal. In November, 2011, he became the first blogger to take over a newspaper anywhere in the world. In August of 2012, he made the difficult decision to take the Journal out of print circulation and become an online news agency, a first for the Albany area.

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