We'll start with the extremely useless dictionary definition:
noun1. a person who advocates liberty, especially with regard to thought or conduct.
Anyone who's read a sampling of the posts here knows that liberty is extremely important to me, and is part of the reason libertarianism has appeal to me. However, there's a bit more to it than that.
Moving onward to Wikipedia, we have:
That definition is more complete, but still not adequate, because the Wikipedia article points out:
Different libertarian schools of thought disagree over whether or not the state should exist at all and, if it should, to what extent. While minarchists propose a state limited in scope to preventing aggression, theft, breach of contract and fraud, anarchists advocate its complete elimination as a political system. While certain libertarian currents are supportive of private property, such as in land and natural resources, others reject private ownership and instead advocate collective or cooperative ownership and management.
Whoa! Some libertarians "reject private ownership" and "advocate collective or cooperative ownership" instead? I'll admit that's news to me and I definitely don't mean that when I use the term.
When I think of a libertarian state, I think of the United States just after the constitutional convention. At the Federal level, it was mostly a Minarchy:
In the strictest sense, it holds that states ought to exist (as opposed to anarchy), that their only legitimate function is the protection of individuals from aggression, theft, breach of contract, and fraud, and that the only legitimate governmental institutions are the military, police, and courts. In the broadest sense, it also includes fire departments, prisons, the executive, and legislatures as legitimate government functions. Such states are generally called night-watchman states.
That's a pretty good definition of the direction I'd head and what I mean by libertarianism.Minarchists argue that the state has no authority to use its monopoly of force to interfere with free transactions between people, and see the state's sole responsibility as ensuring that contracts between private individuals and property are protected, through a system of law courts and enforcement. Minarchists generally believe a laissez-faire approach to the economy is most likely to lead to economic prosperity.
There are a few caveats.
- I only advocate for libertarianism at the federal level. As far as I'm concerned, the 50 States can do whatever they like (within constitutional constraints) since I can always move.
- I'm libertarian leaning as opposed to libertarian. That is, I believe that all incremental change at the federal level should be towards a smaller government and that the change should be done in small increments as opposed to a revolution or rapid restructuring. I suspect that well before we got to a true minarchy at the federal level, I'd want to put on the brakes, but we're so very, very far from that point today, that I simply needn't worry about it now (or in my lifetime). I'm also very, very sure that the federal government does not need to get any bigger and yet more cumbersome.