My “Aha!” moment regarding libertarianism came in 1992, when I had a chance to interview Andre Marrou, that year’s Libertarian Party candidate for president, when he visited St. Norbert College in De Pere outside Green Bay.
Oh, I was already well down that road. I was enamored of Republicans like Lee Sherman Dreyfus, governor of Wisconsin 1979-83, who said the role of the federal government should be limited to “defending our shores, delivering our mail and staying the hell out of our lives,” and Ronald Reagan, president of the US of A 1981-89, who said, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
But Marrou finally focused my attention on the fact that neither major party was especially inclined to champion liberty. In fact, he said, both parties want to be our parents. Republicans want to be our stern disciplinarian father, and Democrats want to be our mommy, watching over us from cradle to grave.
That crystalized the concept for me, as I began to realize our divide is not between “left” and “right,” or Republican or Democrat. Our divide is between those who believe the primary responsibility for our lives lies with the government and those who believe in individual rights and responsibilities.
The parties differ over what aspects of our lives the central government should control, but they are in lockstep agreement that the central government should control our lives. They don’t trust us with the responsibility.
“But without government you’d have anarchy! chaos!” is the standard response. That’s literally true, seeing as the root of the word anarchy is the Greek anarkhia, or “without a ruler.” Most of our problems seem to stem from someone deciding s/he ought to be the ruler of the roost, the city, the nation, or the world. Grownups don’t need a parent; we are more than capable of ruling ourselves.
A little search engineering found disagreement about whether governments killed 160 million, 170 million or 262 million people during the 20th century, and the mayhem didn’t let up just because we switched millennia. With that kind of record, I might be willing to try anarchy for awhile. In any case, I dare say the ruling class tries too hard to be our parents.
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These thoughts are among the reasons I collected a few of my writings on this subject into a little book called Echoes of Freedom Past: Reopening, Reclaiming and Restoring Liberty, now available at a bookstore or e-merchant in your neighborhood. I’m always timid about self-promotion, but the early comments have been positive and so I would be remiss not to mention it.