Only John Galt knows what the most basic requirements of libertarianism are. Folks ranging from Bill Buckley to Noam Chomsky to Clint Eastwood have described themselves as partly or wholly libertarian, so maybe it has something to do with speech impediments, dumb politics, and the ability to marry younger and younger women as you approach 1,000 years old. Believe it or not, even some girls have called themselves libertarian, including the two ladies who were the top editors at Reason long before The Nation dared top its masthead with a member of the second sex.
First and foremost, libertarians like liberty, the idea that individuals have as much space as possible to make as many choices as possible (there’s a reason that Reason’s most recent anthology is called “Choice“). And unlike conservatives and liberals, who always fetishize some choices and demonize others, we’re pretty consistent. We generally like school choice and reproductive choice, for instance, and think you should have your choice of religion (including none at all) too, and drugs, and partners in life and business.
We recognize, too, that such a scheme is predicated upon tolerance and pluralism. Your right to boss me around should be as limited as my right to tell you what to do. There are legitimate areas where social consensus must be reached (defense, maybe courts, and a few other things) but since reaching that consensus is typically very expensive and ugly, those areas should be squeezed down to an absolute minimum. And if you make a mess, you’re responsible for cleaning it up.
More important, though, is the fact that libertarianism is not as rigid or programmatic as The Nolan Chart or your garden-variety Ayn Rand fan would have you believe. I like to think of it as an adjective rather than a noun. In any given situation, is your default position that people ought to have more freedom rather than less? If so, you just might be a libertarian (especially if you don’t find Rush—the band, not the bloviator—totally awful). Do you believe in decentralized, John Stuart Mill-like “experiments in living“ rather than top-down, command-and-control lifestyles (whether right-wing or left), then you might be a libertarian. Are you incredibly good-looking, witty and learned, the sort of man that women want and men want to be like (and vice versa)? Libertarian.
These are pre-political tendencies and urges and they might inform what party you vote for, how much in taxes you want to pay, and whether or not you think the United States should remake Afghanistan in the image of Chicago or Texas. And if you are nauseated by the fact that come November, one party will win and one party will lose and you will be stuck with the bill no matter what, then you are almost certainly libertarian.
And as such, you are welcome to the club. Even (or maybe especially) if you secretly bad-mouth the followers of one of the very few politicians you admit that you support, as Dave Weigel did in calling Ron Paul followers “Paultards.”
Just remember, though: It’s gas, grass or ass. Nobody rides for free.
Nick Gillespie is the editor in chief of Reason.tv and Reason.com.