Two hundred thirty nine years ago, Americans declared their independence. I’m suggesting that this Saturday we declare it again.
As we celebrate the freedoms already won, let’s celebrate as well our coming freedom from the tyranny of politics as usual and the yoke of corporate infotainment culture. Let’s commit ourselves to becoming a nation of grown-ups, with an eye for accounting, a respect for complexity, and a well-developed sense of humor. It’s time for the emerging libertarian majority to make itself known.
That’s libertarian with a small “l” – an ideal of personal freedom, not a political party. Parties serve their own ends, that’s one reason for the rebellion. We don’t necessarily need new parties, we just need to remind the ones we’ve got who’s boss.
My sense of this libertarian majority is based on no polling. That’s part of its strength, it doesn’t have to be validated by focus groups. Liberty is a founding principle of the country. It’s that simple. If you need anecdotal evidence that people actually want to be free, start listening to the vox populi making itself heard on weblogs (and social media). Or better yet, write a weblog of your own.
I propose that the motto of this movement be the Thoreauvian chestnut, “That government is best which governs least.” Or maybe we should quote Douglas Adams: “We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!”
Whatever. The plan is to legalize almost everything and let adults be adults.
Liberty is going to have to mean letting other people do things you don’t approve of. If you want to smoke dope and your neighbor wants to smoke cigarettes and the guy across the street wants to give a gun to his boyfriend as an engagement present before their lavish church wedding, nobody can be telling the others what they can and can’t do. Respect everyone’s privacy and maybe you’ll end up treating everyone with respect.
A lot of energy is spent arguing about issues of personal choice, stuff the government really doesn’t need to be regulating. It benefits politicians and the media to keep re-fighting the culture wars, but it distracts them from more important things – which is one reason those fires are continually stoked. Without the covering enfilade from ideologues on all sides, it should be harder for our public servants to lie to us.
The libertarian consensus is not a utopian movement. It’s a mindset, not a policy, vague but recognizable on sight – yet it has to be grounded in reality to work. A starting point is the fact that personal freedom demands personal responsibility and self discipline. This isn’t about abdicating moral authority, it’s about privatizing it. At our house we home school the kids, we just outsource the academics.
Principles endure, but needs and resources change, so solutions under the libertarian consensus need to be dynamic instead of static. Entrenched interests, served by both major political parties, are dug in against liberty. We need to root them out without dismissing the various good ends toward which they set off before getting trapped in their trenches.
Part of the dynamic worldview is accepting the law of unintended consequences. That’s key to its counterutopianism. Less regulation might lead to more litigation, for example. Ending the Drug War would save lots of money that is now spent on interdiction, enforcement, and incarceration, but it will cost money, too, to invest in healthcare for drug users and public education about the consequences of drug use.
The libertarian consensus doesn’t mean government spending and social programs are going to go away. Responsibility for yourself does not preclude responsibility to your neighbors and nation. People want to be left alone, but that’s an amorphous concept. There’s “left alone,” as in, adults who aren’t hurting anyone else should be left alone, and there’s “left alone,” as in, left alone to die, or left alone without any real opportunity to join the productive populace, or left alone when your job goes to Vietnam.
Any attempts to change the current system will get you labeled if not libeled. So what. Liberal and conservative are characterizations that serve the powerful. I feel reduced by them, not defined. The libertarian consensus is the new counterculture, a motivating force behind the second superpower emerging on the Web, the future. Let’s celebrate it on the Fourth of July, and then get to work on making it happen.
© Ed Cone – This article first appeared in 2003 at edcone.com and was slightly modified by HoT for contemporary reasons.