Sorry Libertarians: Choice Isn’t a Choice

If Libertarians want a shot at success, in this election cycle or in the future, they must avoid being branded as the ‘party of choice’.

At the surface level, the argument for “choice” seems simple. Should same sex marriage be permitted? Let the individual(s) choose if that’s right for them. Should marijuana be legalized? Let the individual choose if that’s right for them. Should assault rifles be bought and sold? I think we get the picture.

But what happens when one person’s choice damages another person’s right? Should an individual be allowed to get an abortion at any stage of pregnancy, for example? Here’s where the “libertarianism means choice” argument begins to fall apart.

Vote Libertarian
Picture Credit: The Commentator

In the case of an abortion,  one person’s supposed right to make a choice potentially interferes with what would be another individual’s right to life. Whether or not one believes that life begins at conception is not our issue; the question is whether or not the permission granted by “choice” extends to all actions. Consider, in a different example, a person who willingly allows himself or herself to be cannibalized, and places ads looking for a consumer. Grotesque, no? Certainly, willful cannibalism offends most peoples’ morality. Similarly, suicide poses a moral contradiction to the “libertarian as chooser” model, as would indentured servitude. Yet under the banner that announces libertarianism as the “party of choice”, these choices must be respected.

“Their life, their rules, their choice.”

While this redefinition of libertarianism as pure choice is catchy, oversimplification holds the potential to erode true libertarianism and begin a slip into anarchy and relativism.

Libertarianism is, above all, the party of principle – not the party of choice.

Libertarian Porcupine

Non-aggression: non-interventionism: limited government: free market economics: individual rights: these are all concrete examples of the libertarian state – a state that exists to protect life, liberty, and property, and to administer justice when these are infringed upon. This is a far cry from Democratic and Republican (party) governments, which seek to create utopia through social engineering, coercion, and above all a redistribution of power from the individual to government.

This isn’t to deny that choice is a central part of libertarianism. All of the principles listed above return power and choice to the individual. But libertarianism, though choice-centric, cannot afford to be equated with anarchy (an equation big-government supporters will undoubtedly make). “Society in every state is a blessing”, Thomas Paine wrote in 1776, “but government even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one”. Libertarians must affirm the existence of government as a necessary evil and clearly assert the foundation of principle over the relativism of choice.

In short, the entire case for liberty must be made – not just catchy, commercialized slogans. If not, anarchy could soon become as imminent as statism is today.


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