49. What Is A Libertarian?

On past episodes, we’ve used the word “libertarian” before, but we’ve never really dug deeper into what this world means. Today, Connor and Brittany discuss what a libertarian is and how, just like in other ideologies, this name has taken on different meanings for different people.


  • Libertarian: A person who believes in individualism and an individual’s ability to make better decisions for themselves than a large, central government. 



Here is the transcript of our conversation:


Connor: Hey there, Brittany.

Brittany: Hey Connor.

Connor: So I’ve been called a lot of things over the years, but the thing that I like to be called the most probably other than dad is a libertarian. And it’s a big word. And our Tuttle Twins books. Definitely, I would say, lean Libertarian. And I think a lot of people who might call themselves conservative or free marketeer or independent definitely lean libertarian and at least several aspects. And so I wanna talk a little bit about what does it mean to be a libertarian? We had on recently Julie Borowski who mentioned that she took the world’s smallest political quiz. That might be fun to throw on the show. Yeah,

Brittany: I was gonna say we’ll link to that. That’s fun.

Connor: So people can go take that themselves. It does bill itself as a very short political quiz. I have a hard time with those, if I’m being honest, cuz sometimes they present you only a few answers where you’re kinda like, eh,

Brittany: I don’t agree with that entirely.

Connor: Yeah. So it’s kind of the general thing just for

Brittany: It’s a good starting point. It’s not the end all be all.

Connor: I agree. So she mentioned that when she took it, she got the answer of You’re a libertarian, then she’s like, What’s that? And then had to go research it and look it up. So what is a libertarian? Let me just throw it to you, Brittany. How would you define the term or explain it to someone?

Brittany: I always think of the show Parks and Rec, which our younger listeners probably wouldn’t have ever seen. But for the parents listening, there’s the character Ron Swanson, just the libertarian who wants to be left alone. He doesn’t wanna have to get a permit or a license for fishing. He just really wants to be left alone and do his own thing. And I always think of that and that’s helped me explain libertarianism to other people only because everybody’s seen that show. So I was able for me to say, Okay, that guy, except not as crazy as that guy, except maybe a little bit.

Connor: Just a little bit.

Brittany: Just a little bit. So

Connor: I like the term libertarian, I feel like has a lot of baggage for some people. Yeah. When you hear the word libertarian or even liberty, a lot of people might explain or might perceive that, oh, that means that, you know, think all drugs should be legalized and we should be able to buy heroin on the corner it’s 7/11. And they kind of feel like some of these extreme ideas and so forth represent libertarian. And then of course there’s Britney, what we kind of call little L Libertarian. And then big L Libertarian, which

Brittany: I think is very important to discuss the difference

Connor: Between. Yeah, totally. So big L Libertarian refers to a member of the Libertarian party, which is a political party like the Republicans and the Democrats. And they have their own platform which is a set of policies that they agree with. And there’s a lot of lowercase l libertarians who are kind of like, Eh, I don’t agree with that, or whatever. And so there are some differences. But a lowercase l libertarian really is just someone who supports the philosophy of liberty. In fact, there was this Abraham Lincoln said once the world has never had a good definition of the word liberty is what he said. I think maybe we’ll do an episode on Abraham Lincoln one time and

Brittany: We should

Connor: Talk about all the challenges with Abraham Lincoln. But it’s interesting that he said that. We’ve talked about Frederick Bastiat many times, and wrote The Law. I wanna share a little quote from him that I think is a good starting point when we talk about what is a libertarian or someone who believes in liberty. So Bastiat

says What is this political struggle that we witness? It is the instinctive struggle of all people toward liberty. And what is this liberty whose very name makes the heart beat faster and shakes the world? Is it not the union of all liberties, liberty of conscience, of education, of association, which is hanging out with the people you want to of the press like the media of travel, of labor, of trade? In short, he says, is not liberty. The freedom of every person to make full use of his faculties like his abilities, mind, your body, so long as he does not harm other persons while doing so is not liberty. He goes on the destruction all despotism, including of course legal despotism, which is tyranny, controlling people. Finally, he says, is not liberty. The restricting of the law only to its rational sphere, its kind of domain, or where it’s properly controlled. It’s the rational sphere of organizing the right of the individual to lawful self-defense and of punishing injustice. So he is saying, this was Frederic Bastiat

Brittany: That’s what I thought ok, I was very confused.

Connor: You must have missed that portion where I said it was Frederic Bastiat, our homeboy.

Brittany: That sounds, yeah. Ok, that makes more sense.

Connor: I almost gave you a brain aneurysm or something. He did. I mean Thomas Jefferson, he said, of liberty. I would say that the whole planet to its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But he says rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will, within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. And so this point I feel like liberty in a general sense is you can do whatever you want. Liberty is just you doing whatever you want. If you wanna have chickens in your backyard or an Airbnb in your basement, or you wanna drive fast when it’s 3:00 AM and there are no cars around you at all, right? Or if you want to walk across the street and not use the sidewalk or have a lemonade stand, whatever it is, you can do whatever you want as long as you don’t harm anyone else.

Cuz people have the right to be left alone. They have the right to their body to be unharmed. And so these guys are saying that if we’re talking about liberty, Liberty is no despotism, no control by other people, the voters, the mayor, the governor, whatever. You should be able to do whatever you want. Leonard Read, of course, founded the organization you used to work for the Foundation for Economic Education, he wrote a great little book called Anything that’s Peaceful and the same idea, You should be able to do anything that’s peaceful. Obviously, if I punch Britney in the head, that’s not peaceful, that’s wrong. I’ve violated your rights. That’s not liberty. But other than that, if I’m not negatively hurting anyone else, I should be able to do whatever I want.

Brittany: You should be able to do it, everyone. And there is another great quote, it’s kind of a similar thing, Matt Kibbe runs an organization called Free, Free the people, I believe is what it’s called. He always says, Don’t hurt people, don’t take their stuff. And I love that because it’s so simple and to the point and it kind of sums up what libertarianism is, right? You don’t have a right to take somebody else’s stuff and you don’t have a right to hurt them. There are only two rules. It’s pretty simple. That’s a pretty simple way to live. So I like that it kind of some or waters it down into a quick little sound bite.

Connor: So one thing that I’ve struggled with over the years, Brittany, is a lot of my friends and my former self refer to themselves as conservatives. And our listeners might be interested to note that we sent a survey out a little while back asking a lot of questions. One of them was, what are kind of the political leanings of your household or the adults or whatever? And it was pretty split between people who identified themselves as libertarian and people who identify themselves as conservative. And then there was a sprinkling of people who said they’re independent or anarchist or progressive or liberal.

Brittany: Did you Have a lot of progressives? Was there a Big chunk?

Connor: I think we had 0.4% of people or something like that.

Brittany: So Not a big amount.

Connor: not, but I’m always surprised that they’re there. So welcome. We gotta educate everyone. And so it’s interesting to me because a lot of my friends I think definitely identify with a lot of these ideas that we’ve been talking about. They feel that freedom is, we should have the right to be free and not controlled by their people, but they use the name conservative for it. So I’ve always enjoyed using a quote from President Ronald Reagan who was a Republican and kind of the father of the modern conservative movement, which is kind of funny cuz he used to be a California Democrat. He was an actor in Hollywood. And so he became a Republican and became this shining star of conservatism. And conservatism is a challenge because when you ask someone what it mean to be conservative there’s not really a good definition. In fact, in all my years, no one has ever really been able to define it.

And what I mean by that is, Britt, you and I just define libertarianism or liberty as being able to do whatever you want as long as you don’t harm or hurt or bother other people. And that has a very kind of specific and meaningful definition. However, conservatism, being a conservative doesn’t have that definition. Most people will say limited government or fewer taxes or more national defense or less regulation, which is interesting because that is a relative term. What that means is relative means you’re comparing it to something else. Less government means less government than I guess we

Brittany: Have now or Okay, got it. Yeah.

Connor: You see the Russians over there in the USSR, we want less government than that, but like 90% less or 5% less. So what do you mean when you say less government and fewer taxes? Okay, well are you just saying you want a 1% reduction? Cause I kind of want a 91% reduction. And so that’s the problem I have experienced with people who are conservative most, I’m very friendly, very many of them. But they’ve often struggled to be able to identify what it means specifically to be a conservative. So I’ll stop rambling after this and throw it back to you. Here’s a quote from President Ronald Reagan, who is kind of a mega-conservative. He says, If you analyze it, I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. He says, I think conservatism is really a misnomer, like a bad name, just as liberalism is a misnomer for the liberals. If we were back in the days of the revolution, he says, so-called conservatives today would be the liberals. Cause we call ’em classical liberals now. But back in the day, he’s saying the founding fathers, they considered themselves liberals. And because the root word of liberal is the same as liberty.

And so the word has come to mean something else. And then he says, the liberals would be the Tories, kind of the big government king supporters. The basis of conservatism he says is a desire. Here he is for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom. And this is a pretty general description of what libertarianism is. So you can see he’s using those relative terms less, and more. But he’s also describing that the heart and soul, the very kind of fabric of conservatism is this underlying libertarian feeling of freedom and wanting to be able to do what you want. And so I’ve always told my conservative friends and family and everyone else, Look, we’re simpatico. We’re all friends because we are your heart and soul. Maybe your arms are flailing out there a little too far. Your feet are taking you in the wrong direction. But listen to your heart. Listen to your soul.

Brittany: Well, I don’t know about Connor, but for me, I actually started out as a conservative. So I don’t know that I would’ve become a libertarian or I would’ve started to believe in libertarianism if I didn’t already kind of have that foundation. I do have a lot of friends that have come from the left that maybe were progressives or Democrats before. But for me it kind of made sense. Cause I already believed in smaller government, but then libertarianism kind of pushed me a little bit further. So it was like, all right, I believe in smaller government but wait, maybe libertarians, maybe it needs to be really, really small. Make it as small as we can make it. So I think that they do go hand in hand in a lot of ways. Their differences are definitely some differences. But yeah, I agree with you. I think our conservative friends are very closely aligned with us.

Connor: Another thing that I’ve experienced over the years is people always not always but often have considered it odd that I am a libertarian because I am a very religious, moral, straight-edge, clean-cut type of person. And some people have had the perception that a libertarian is kind of a crazy drug user,

Brittany: I’ve heard Republicans that like drugs, that’s a nickname that, that’s what a Libertarian is.

Connor: Yeah, just they think that your personality or your attitude or your behavior must be crazy. Cuz libertarians just wanna be left alone to do crazy things and do whatever they want. And it’s always like, Well wait a minute, just because I’m a libertarian, all the libertarian, in fact, Murray Rothbard has a great quote about this. But basically just because you’re libertarian, all that really means is you don’t think the government should be punishing people for doing something that’s that you don’t like or disapprove of. Certainly, if it hurts someone else, if someone is endangering a child or endangering their neighbor or whatever, then that’s okay. Hey wait, we need to stop that and protect the right. So the other person makes total sense. But if someone is just sitting in their basement engaged in behavior that you disapprove of, the libertarian says, leave them alone because they’re being peaceful

Brittany: they’re hurting anybody else.

Connor: They’re not hurting anyone else. They have the right, just we can go to get big gulps and Big Macs and become obese and kill ourselves or whatever. Everyone has the right to their own body. That’s their property. And so the government should respect that as long as they’re not hurting everyone else. But just because I don’t think the government should punish someone for certain behavior, let’s say using drugs or whatever, that doesn’t mean that I’m okay with it personally. It doesn’t mean that I endorse that activity or that I’m involved in it myself. All I’m saying is that the government should not be everyone’s mom and boss them around so that they can try and become good people. The role of individuals or churches or non-profits

Brittany: Community, your small local community or friend group. yeah,

Connor: For sure. So that’s something that I’ve noticed over the years with Libertarians is some people have this weird idea that they must all be crazy or I’m like, no, there’s a difference between saying, I don’t think the government should punish people who do this. And saying, I support that. You can think that something’s a bad idea and someone shouldn’t be engaged in that behavior and still not think that the government should send the cops and go force them to change their behavior.

Brittany: Exactly. In fact, we had an episode of a recent one. I think if you’re listening to this one, we did just before this kind of talking about how we can change behavior without bringing the government into it. So I think that might be a good thing for listeners to listen to if they haven’t heard it already.

Connor: Well, whatever you guys call yourselves, whatever terms you use, or maybe you just don’t like having terms and labels and that’s great too. But I think it is important to understand when those of us who call ourselves libertarians, or when other people call us libertarians, hopefully not any worse names than that, we understand what it means. We understand the philosophy of liberty is being able to do what you want as long as you’re not harming or hurting anyone else. In my mind, that’s what a free society looks like. And a lot of the books, especially The Law by Frederic Bastiat it is such popular little booklet because it teaches these principles so effectively and so persuasively. So if it’s time to dust off your copy of the law, go do that. You can also find it at tuttletwins.com/products for a single dollar. You can also find it for free online if you just wanna read an online version but definitely worth checking it out. As always, make sure you’re heading to total twins.com/podcast, Subscribe, and share the show with others and Brittany, until next time, we’ll talk to you later.

Brittany: Talk to you later.

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