Does Libertarianism Diminish Freedom?

Hillsdale College in Michigan hosts Mises Lectures in free-market economics and houses the library of Mises in the Ludwig von Mises Room in its Mossey Library. But being a neocon outfit, it also has on the campus statues of Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill.

This dichotomy is also evident in the college’s monthly newsletter, Imprimus. The newsletter regularly features articles on the Constitution, limited government, and the free market. However, it just as frequently features articles that uphold Ronald Reagan, foreign wars, and an interventionist foreign policy. Imprimus sure has come a long way since Lew Rockwell served as its inaugural editor.

The most recent issue (April 2013) contains an article by R. R. Reno – the editor of First Things magazine – titled “Religion and Public Life in America” – that was adapted from a speech he delivered on February 20, 2013, at a Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar in Bonita Springs, Florida.

In his speech/article, Reno slanders libertarianism. Here is the complete context:

A recent book by University of Chicago professor of philosophy and law Brian Leiter outlines what I believe will become the theoretical consensus that does away with religious liberty in spirit if not in letter. “There is no principled reason,” he writes, “for legal or constitutional regimes to single out religion for protection.” Leiter describes religious belief as a uniquely bad combination of moral fervor and mental blindness, serving no public good that justifies special protection. More significantly – and this is Leiter’s main thesis – it is patently unfair to afford religion such protection. Why should a Catholic or a Baptist have a special right while Peter Singer, a committed utilitarian, does not? Evoking the principle of fairness, Leiter argues that everybody’s conscience should be accorded the same legal protections. Thus he proposes to replace religious liberty with a plenary “liberty of conscience.”

Leiter’s argument is libertarian. He wants to get the government out of the business of deciding whose conscience is worth protecting. This mentality seems to expand freedom, but that’s an illusion. In practice it will lead to diminished freedom, as is always the case with any thoroughgoing libertarianism.

So, according to Reno, a thoroughgoing libertarianism will diminish freedom. This is the most preposterous falsehood about libertarianism I have ever heard out of the mouth of a conservative. And it is strange that Reno would slander libertarianism based on the argument of Leiter, a leftist who is sympathetic to Marxism.


In a libertarian society; that is, a free society, government (the antithesis of freedom) is strictly limited, a real free market exists, property rights are supreme, and individual liberty abounds.

Libertarianism embraces financial freedom. Instead of the government confiscating a portion of everyone’s income and redistributing it in the form of grants and welfare, paying the bloated salaries of government bureaucrats, maintaining an empire of troops and bases, and spending billions on numerous boondoggles and pork barrel projects, Americans keep the fruits of their labors and save, spend, or support charitable causes as they deem best.

Libertarianism embraces educational freedom. This means no Pell Grants, student loans, vouchers, research grants, teacher-education requirements, teacher-certification standards, Title IX mandates, free and reduced school-lunch programs, Head Start funding, bilingual-education mandates, forced busing to achieve racial desegregation, diversity mandates, standardized-testing requirements, special-education mandates, math and science initiatives, directives such as the No Child Left Behind Act, restrictions on homeschooling, regulation of private schools, and, of course, no federal Department of Education.

Libertarianism embraces medical freedom. This doesn’t means just repealing Obamacare, but also the elimination of Medicare, Medicaid, FDA, the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health, SCHIP, government vaccination programs and mandates, government grants for medical research, medical-licensing laws, government funding of clinical trials, government HIV/AIDS-prevention initiatives, government nutrition guidelines, restrictions on organ sales, restrictions on the sale of medical devices, government regulation of medical schools, government medical records mandates, regulation of alternative medicine, federal laboratories, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, special privileges for the AMA and Big Pharma, and all laws and regulations related to drugs, health insurance, hospitals, physicians, and medical care.

Libertarianism embraces economic freedom. Instead of abandoning free-market principles in order to save the free-market system, as George W. Bush once said, libertarianism espouses a real free market based on the principle of laissez faire. This means no price-gouging laws, ticket-scalping laws, minimum-wage laws, anti-trust laws, interest-rate caps, SEC, FCC, FTC, Commerce Department, price-discrimination laws, restrictions on advertising, predatory-pricing laws, anti-dumping laws, special privileges for unions, corporate welfare, or restrictions on any business conducted between willing buyers and sellers.

Libertarianism embraces gun freedom. This means no government background-check system, waiting periods, government required gun-free zones, licensing of gun dealers, gun-owner databases, gun licensing, concealed weapons laws, government limits on gun purchases, government mandated trigger locks, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, National Firearms Act, Gun Control Act, Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, Gun Free School Zones Act, bans on certain types of weapons, magazines, or ammunition, or regulation of gun sales, gun purchases, gun shows, gun storage procedures, ammunition, magazine capacities, gun calibers, or gun barrel lengths.

Libertarianism embraces personal freedom. Want to travel to Cuba or any other country? Go right ahead. Want to grow, sell, or use marijuana? Go right ahead. Want to discriminate based on religion, race, age, height, weight, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, ethnicity, or color? Go right ahead. Want to drive without a seat belt? Go right ahead. Want to ride a bike or motorcycle without a helmet? Go right ahead. Want to fill in a “wetland” on your property? Go right ahead. Want to drink raw milk? Go right ahead. Want to purchase a beer on a Sunday morning? Go right ahead. Want to permit smoking anywhere in your bar or restaurant? Go right ahead. Want to play blackjack with your friends for money in your own home? Go right ahead. Want to purchase Sudafed without restriction? Go right ahead. In the words of the great Leonard Read, anything that’s peaceful. In a free society, consenting adults have the fundamental right to do anything that’s peaceful as long as they don’t aggress against someone else’s person or property while they do it.

In short, libertarianism embraces real freedom, not the false freedom of conservatism. Most conservatives never met a federal program they didn’t like as long as it furthered their agenda. We know what the conservative idea of limited government is: a government limited to a government controlled by conservatives. We experienced it for over four years under George W. Bush and a congressional majority of conservative Republicans. And what did that get us? It got us two senseless foreign wars, the destruction of civil liberties, a doubled national debt, the TSA, and the monstrous Department of Homeland Security.

For the libertarian, freedom is not the absence of morality, the rule of law, or tradition; it is the absence of government paternalism. Libertarianism is the absence of the ability of puritanical busybodies, nanny-statists, and government bureaucrats to make it their business to mind everyone else’s business.

It is a conservatism like that espoused by Reno and the Republicans that has contributed to this country becoming more and more every day a fascist police state. It is a conservatism like that espoused by Reno and the Republicans that diminishes freedom.

Originally published on on May 23, 2013.

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