Libertarians are often defined as being “fiscally conservative and socially liberal.” This description not only oversimplifies our beliefs but greatly exemplifies misconceptions about libertarianism. We are not all “low-tax liberals” like Ed Clark, the 1980 Libertarian Party presidential candidate, once stated during a television interview. Libertarianism is solely a politically theory that only deals with the proper use of force.
Libertarianism has absolutely nothing to do with social values. Not all libertarians are libertines—a person devoid of most moral restraints. The liberty movement consists of social conservatives, liberals and moderates. Some of us will undoubtedly have different views on the morality of drug use, homosexuality, prostitution and gambling. But what brings us all together is we believe that government should not legislate morality or punish victimless “crimes”. Libertarians believe that everyone should be legally free to do as they please, so long as they do not infringe on the rights of another individual.
Is that an endorsement for all social behavior? No, it is not. I do not want the government to forcibly interfere with your peaceful activities even if I personally strongly disagree with your lifestyle choices. I support the legalization of marijuana even though I am morally opposed to recreational drug use of any kind. I have always found it self-destructive and just plain gross. Same goes with cigarette smoking and prostitution. I’m indifferent towards homosexual and interracial relationships. I believe in individual rights, not group rights.
Walter Block says it perfectly. “Let us relate libertarianism to the issues of prostitution, pimping, and drugging. As a political philosophy, libertarianism says nothing about culture, mores, morality, or ethics. To repeat: It asks only one question, and gives only one answer. It asks, ‘Does the act necessarily involve initiatory invasive violence?’ If so, it is justified to use (legal) force to stop it or punish the act; if not, this is improper.”
Do my traditional social values make me less of a libertarian? No, a thousand times no. I’ve heard some libertarians say that social values do not matter to them. “Whatever social values the free market decides” is apparently fine with them. One’s opinions on social issues are irrelevant to the political philosophy of libertarianism. But it is foolish to argue that individuals are not permitted to have opinions or preferences on the social values that society should adopt.
I see an unnecessary divide in the libertarian movement between libertines and social conservatives. Libertarians just might accomplish something if we stop fighting with each other. First, let’s stop defining libertarianism so narrowly that it excludes individuals with the same end goal. We all want individuals to be free from coercion to do as they peacefully please. Let’s not allow irrelevant personal values on social issues prevent us from working with each other to achieve that worthy objective.