It's become clear in recent days that there is more confusion over libertarianism than I'd thought. Recent comments suggest that readers are taking libertarian politics as a guide to morality - that 'do what you wilt' is thought to be 'the whole of the law,' at least when it comes to ethics.
This would be a mistake, since libertarian politics is essentially silent on morality. Morality pertains to the field of ethics, not of politics. You don't look to the field of politics to determine your moral choices, you look to the science of ethics. Naturally, in libertarian politics, the two are linked: You must be free in order to be moral. Without freedom no morality is possible, since without freedom no free choice is possible. As Ayn Rand points out, "morality ends where the gun begins." You must be free from coercion in order to make your own moral choices as to how you live.
Men's survival and flourishing demands that they be free to pursue their own paths in their own way, with the moral space needed to do so (provided of course they don't initiate force against another.) That moral space is yours to fill. The way you choose to fill it helps to determine your success or your failure; your happiness or lack thereof; your wealth, or your impecuniosity. Good choices tend to bring reward and happiness; bad choices not. Your choices are your responsibility -- responsibility being the flipside of freedom.
To be free means to be free to make choices: you are free to succeed -- you are also free to fail. Saying you should be free to do something is not an endorsement of that something -- it's an endorsement only that you should be free to do it. It's your right to make your own choices. It's my right to judge those choices.
It is with choice that morality is concerned. It is with your freedom to make those choices that libertarian politics is concerned.
So qua libertarian, I will defend your right to believe in nonsense; I will maintain your right to have appalling musical taste; I will argue for you right to be self-destructive; I will fight in your corner for your right to dispose of your money as you wish. But in my capacity as a human being, which is to say as an ethicist (which, like it or not, we all are) I wll judge you foolish for believing in nonsense, tasteless for listening to bland muck, mistaken for being self-destructive, and misguided for giving your money away.
Acting ethically is not simply recognising what is and isn't the government's business, or what you have a right to do. It is recognising what is in your own best interests -- what you should do -- and then going right out and doing it.
UPDATE: Link to related PDF article by Tibor Machan added.
This is part of a continuing series explaining the concepts and terms used by libertarians, originally published in The Free Radical in 1993. The 'Introduction' to the series is here.
LINKS: Cue Card Libertarianism - Altruism - Not PC
Cue Card Libertarianism - Introduction - Not PC
Cue Card Libertarianism -- Freedom (Liberty) - Not PC
Philosophy vis-a-vis the free society [PDF] - Tibor Machan, Mises Institute
TAGS: Cue_Card_Libertarianism, Ethics, Politics, Libertarianism, Objectivism, Philosophy