“Their philosophy is simple: you’re on your own,”
“You’re on your own if you’re out of work, can’t find a job. Tough luck you’re on your own. You don’t have health care: That’s your problem. You’re on your own. If you’re born into poverty, lift yourself up with your own bootstraps, even if you don’t have boots. You’re on your own. They believe that’s how America is advanced,”
“That’s the cramped narrow conception they have of liberty, and they are wrong,”
“We simply cannot return to this brand of ‘you’re on your own’ economics if we’re serious about rebuilding the middle class in this country,”
These ground breaking critiques of libertarianism are courtesy of our commander-in-chief, Barack Obama. Although they were directed at the Republicans, the mainstream media and most people, including the President, are equally targeting libertarians with these attacks.
Libertarianism is a pretty vague term nowadays. It is incorrectly applied to a wide variety of tea-party types and other Republicans. Since the attacks are thrown at anyone who associates with any “brand” of libertarianism, a defense from real libertarians is warranted.
The problem with the common critiques of libertarianism is that they completely misunderstand the very essence of the philosophy. It is not an issue of merely misunderstanding a couple of principles of minor importance. These attacks misunderstand the very foundation.
Pure libertarians, i.e. the anarcho-libertarians, are concerned with one thing: the proper use of violence. We oppose the initiation of aggression. Anything else is outside the scope of libertarianism.
To quote Murray Rothbard: “No one may threaten or commit violence (‘aggress’) against another man’s person or property. Violence may be employed only against the man who commits such violence; that is, only defensively against the aggressive violence of another. In short, no violence may be employed against a nonaggressor. Here is the fundamental rule from which can be deduced the entire corpus of libertarian theory.”
Should you give money to the poor? Volunteer for a charity? Do drugs? Marry your cousin? Libertarianism has no theory about any of these things. They are outside the scope of the philosophy.
The only way libertarianism can address these issues is like this:
- Don’t steal from your neighbor to give money to the poor
- Don’t violently force people to give to charity
- Don’t violently force other people to use drugs
- Don’t violently force your neighbor to marry their cousin
What you will notice is that nothing is being said at all about whether or not you should give to the poor at all, or use drugs at all, or marry your cousin. These issues are completely separate and unrelated to libertarianism.
Many libertarians are Christan or Catholic. For example: Ron Paul, Robert Murphy, Andrew Napolitano, Tom Woods, Lysander Spooner, Frédéric Bastiat, Jeffrey Tucker, Gary Chartier, and Robert Higgs. A big part of these doctrines is helping your neighbor. Are they no longer libertarians if they, as Christians or Catholics, help the poor? Of course not. (Ron Paul, for example, gave medical care for free to patients who could not afford it. How un-libertarian of him!)
Libertarians can be greedy, gay, straight, chartiable, rude, nice, racist, feminist, charming, pacifist, etc. Libertarianism is not philosophy that answers questions of morality. It is a philosophy concerned with the proper use of physical force. The reasons why libertarians oppose the initiation of aggression varies. Some are libertarians because of their religion, some believe in non-religious based natural rights, and some are utilitiarians. The common thread that ties all libertarians together is the opposition to the initiation of violence.
The reason why libertarians oppose government providing charity is because it relies on theft. It does not follow from this that they don’t want to help poor people, or that they oppose social cooperation. The President’s criticisms imply that people can only work together to help each other if it is done through the government.
“A common defense of the State holds that man is a “social animal,” that he must live in society, and that individualists and libertarians believe in the existence of “atomistic individuals” uninfluenced by and unrelated to their fellow men. But no libertarians have ever held individuals to be isolated atoms; on the contrary, all libertarians have recognized the necessity and the enormous advantages of living in society, and of participating in the social division of labor. The great non sequitur committed by defenders of the State, including classical Aristotelian and Thomist philosophers, is to leap from the necessity of society to the necessity of the State.” – Murray N. Rothbard
 Some people maintain that taxation is not theft. I am familiar with the arguments and critique them here http://wesker1982.wordpress.com/2012/04/16/taxation-is-theft/
More on this subject:
Do libertarians favor corporate power? Are they unconcerned about the poor? | Gary Chartier: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XI4k8w13zCk