But you may be acquainted with "libertarian" only in its perverted Randian use as a justification for the property rights of the rich and powerful to predominate over the public interest whenever there is a conflict. Polluters win over the communities they poison. Bankers who peddled "gotcha" mortgages prevail over the poor they duped.
The Randians' real message dates back to the Latin alright, just like libertas, but at it's core, it's nothing more than "Caveat emptor" (Buyer beware!) and "Argumentum ad baculum (loosely-might makes right)." It is in this twisted sense that the Koch brothers are "libertarians."
Diametrically opposed to the Kochs' and Pauls' "look out for number one" philosophy is the real libertarian philosophy that finds its roots in Thoreau, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Goldman, Zinn and Chomsky. It recognizes that threats to human liberty do indeed come from government, but they also come from powerful business enterprises and dogmatic church bodies. Emma Goldman, a Jewish Russian emigre to the U. S. who was later deported under the 1920s Red Scare, put it as succinctly and eloquently as anyone. She talked about three aspects of liberation:
the liberation of the human mind from the dominion of religion; the liberation of the human body from the dominion of property; liberation from the shackles and restraint of government.
What does a real libertarian believe?
Real libertarians oppose one human being having authority over another by virtue of gender, race, sexual orientation or ethnicity. So far, there's nothing different from what some classic "liberal" would profess. But the libertarian goes further. Real libertarians oppose any authority based on differences in wealth or power. That's what makes them radicals in any society.
Bakunin put it this way:
Liberty without equality is a fraud.
America holds onto the myth that it is a land of liberty because no government tells you where you must work or live. But that liberty is a fraud. If I am poor, I can only live in neighborhoods with high crime and bad schools for my children--if I can afford to keep any kind of regular roof over my head. If I am poor, chances are that I will be barred from better paying jobs because of the lower quality of my education or my bad credit rating or nothing more significant than the badly worn shoes I sport at a job interview because I have no others.
Focusing on the advantages of the rich rather than the disadvantages of the poor, our society awards guaranteed "success" to those "wise" enough to be born rich. Better neighborhoods, better schools, better connections produce better outcomes for even the most mediocre individuals. Consider, for starters, the President we recently endured for eight years.
That example alone reminds us not only that America is far from a meritocracy but also the system under which we currently live fails at least as often as it succeeds when evaluated even by standards promulgated by those who accept the status quo as a given. Those who are inclined to defend Capitalism and its benefits must always be reminded of the fall of 2008 when we were all told that it was necessary for all of us to sacrifice so that this system could even survive another year.
We sacrifice the benefits of a more equitable system to "enjoy" the fruits of a Capitalist system that is so unstable that it must be bailed out by its victims.
What would real libertarians do differently?
The influence of any religion on public policy would be gone. Real libertarians oppose superstition and endeavor to expose all humanity to human attainments in science and reason.
Decision-making would be done by direct democracy wherever possible. True libertarians believe ultimately in the ability of human beings to govern themselves rather than be ruled. We live in a society where the powerful do their best to retain and expand their power to make decisions for us. Witness the recent revelation by a Democratic Party man of standing, Tom Daschle, to explain the genius of the Administration's approach to health care reform was to involve the "stakeholders" in the process, those stakeholders being the hospitals, the doctors and, above all, the insurance companies. Left out of all discussions was one party upon whom this legislation had great impact: patients. One important real Libertarian decision-making principle is:
The most affected should have the most say.
The "nanny state" would cease to exist. This is one place "liberals" have a problem. Liberals have a tendency to want to regulate away social problems while leaving the source of those social problems in place. The most recent example might be a "sugar tax" on soda. It's true that we're being sold poison by soft drink companies. The liberal solution is to leave the soft drink companies and their ad companies in place but to place a tax on Coke. The real libertarian solution is to recognize that drink production is locally based--it is--and give control of those drink-producing enterprises to the communities in which they're based. With local control over food and drink production, combined with local democratic control over health services, libertarians argue that communities of rational human beings, with the perverting profit motive gone, will choose to produce more healthful food and drink. They would certainly not spend millions upon millions trying to induce people to buy and drink a problem that is personally and socially harmful.
Is the real libertarian vision radical?
You bet it is. For a brief shining moment in Spain, described glowingly by George Orwell who was there, communismo libertario was in control of large parts of Spain. Class distinctions disappeared. A true flowering of humanity took place. Orwell put it this way:
But it (the revolution) lasted long enough to have its effect upon anyone who experienced it. However much one cursed at the time, one realized afterwards that one had been in contact with something strange and valuable. One had been in a community where hope was more normal than apathy or cynicism, where the word "comrade" stood for comradeship and not, as in most countries, for humbug. One had breathed the air of equality.
A place where hope was more normal than cynicism. That is the goal of real libertarians.
It is radical because at its core, real libertarians trust human beings to be able to govern themselves. They believe that huge and unaccountable institutions are places from which the sociopathic and power hungry can exploit other human beings with impunity, while it would be far more difficult to fool and exploit one's own neighbors in a society that was governed by local institutions run by direct democracy. Those lacking in empathy and social conscience would end up as powerless and isolated as they were in early human tribes.
The owner of this website once flirted with a union between Democrats and libertarians. He was onto something as long as we insist on the meaning of "libertarian" being held to what it's meant before the Randians tried to hide behind it. Most of the regular participants in this site are skeptical about the influence of religion on our politics. Most hate government intrusion on civil liberties. Most are antiwar. More and more are coming to realize that America's class structure and economic system are destroying the very virtues that we have been taught to value. Most laud locales that break from crowd and enact laws that enhance equality and liberty.
I am a libertarian not like Rand or Paul but in the tradition of Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Goldman, Zinn and Chomsky.