I consider myself a libertarian. However, talking to many people I know, I have realized that only a few are aware of Classical Liberalism (Libertarianism) and even less know what it is about. So I’m going to write a few words about what Classical Liberalism is. In no way should Libertarians be considered the same as Liberals (Democrats) or Conservatives (Republicans).
Libertarianism is the ideology that man’s life belongs to himself. We take the assumption that he can handle responsibility and think for himself. He is neither slave nor master to other men. Liberals usually support social freedom, while completely ignoring economic freedom. Conservatives on the other hand support laissez-faire capitalism (free trade) while being against social freedom. Libertarians believe in overall Freedom (Both Social and Economic)
It supports social freedom. That means man can do with his body as he sees fit, he has the right to befriend, marry and handle with whoever he chooses. He also has the right to hold the ideas that he so wishes along with the right to express them. It supports economic freedom, that means he may choose to handle and trade with anyone, and as long as all the concerned parties agree, provided they don’t harm anyone, they don’t have to answer to no one. Property rights are well established, and private property ought to be hold sacred under an impartial rule of law.
Man has the right to these freedoms, but he may not violate the freedom of other individuals.
Most libertarians hold it to be true that government is better left small in comparison to the economy (While some say there ought to be no government at all). “But why?” you may ask, well… big government means less freedom, for governments have the right to impose their decisions on anyone, unlike individuals who have to negotiate until both parties find it profiting, resulting in win-win situations. They may also prohibit things, that means that even though someone is willing to offer something (therefore believing that trading it will increase his overall happiness) and someone is willing to take it (also increasing his happiness) they may not do so.
Prohibition happens with marriage, schooling, products and services.
[This does not apply if one party is cheating (for example lying) saying “The car works perfectly” while it is actually broken, then it is considered a crime and the cheated party deserve a restitution, this is all possible under an impartial rule of law]
From my point of view, there are two sides of the Libertarian Argument.
The first part is philosophical, moral. These are premises on which you rest your ideas, the foundations if you will. It is that no one has a claim on anyone else, e.g your life belongs to you and no one else. All actions ought to be voluntary, and you may do with your life as you see fit (provided you don’t harm anyone else). These premises lead to believe in laissez-faire capitalism, and overall freedom between consensual adults, where the government doesn’t meddle in your affairs, unless a crime is committed, or to secure your freedom (police).
However, not many wish to mix philosophy with politics or economics (Although I think you should not separate them), that’s why most libertarian arguments are discussed outside the realm of premises (metaphorically it would be as if playing in the other player’s court), and what is argued is not the morality of the free trade system, but rather the efficiency of it. How it has lifted millions from poverty, how it has brought advantages no one could have even imagined of. And also how no other system has been successful in comparison to capitalism.
There’s a lot of evidence that support this. Countries with more freedom are more developed. Even if you didn’t like the morality of these ideas, you would have to agree there is at least no other system that has proven to be more effective or humane.
Among libertarians there are also a lot of tendencies that differ on how small governments ought to be, or even if they should exist at all.
Some believe they should do some things that individuals wouldn’t do themselves, such as building roads and bridges (Adam Smith), schools, water, electricity, and so on. This of course, without much interference in the economy, besides small taxes. This means, no tariffs, no price regulation, freedom to hire and fire, and so on.
Some believe in what is called Minarchism that is that government should provide only the police force, courts to settle affairs, and an army to protect the country from outside enemies.
Some believe in Anarcho-Capitalism which is, no government at all. With private police and courtrooms. Most libertarians find themselves in the first group.
The biggest gateway to classical liberalism (Libertarianism) is the Best-Selling author Ayn Rand , although she didn’t consider herself a libertarian (she was an Objectivist), she has had a great influence among libertarians.
If you care to know more about Classical Liberalism, here are some authors (there are a lot missing, but I am no expert after all)
Ayn Rand (Novels: Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, We the living, Anthem)
Friedrich Hayek (Nobel laureate, The Road to Serfdom, The Use of Knowledge in Society, Fatal Conceit)
Ludwig von Mises (Human action)
Menger (Founder of the austrian school of economics)
Federic Bastiat (What is Seen and what is Unseen in Political Economy, The Law)
Rothbard (Anatomy of the State, For a New Liberty)
John Stuart Mill (On Liberty)
Adam Smith (Wealth of Nations, Theory of Moral Sentiments)
Milton Friedman (Nobel Laureate, Free to choose, Capitalism and Freedom)
Ron Paul (American politician)
Tom G. Palmer (Morality of Capitalism)
Robert Nozick (Anarchy, State and Utopia)
Randy Barnett (Structure of Liberty)
And there are a lot of organizations who spread the word of liberty, such as:
http://www.learnliberty.org (Great, short videos)
Economic Freedom (On facebook)
Institute for Humane Studies (On facebook)