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Published January 09, 2012 in Talking Points by Sharon Harris
Recently, Liberator Online editor James W. Harris was trying to think of a way to explain libertarianism to a child. The child, though smart, was ignorant of most political concepts.
He thought over his usual stock of answers, and found them lacking in this situation.
Finally he came up with something like this:
"Liberals and conservatives both believe the government should force peaceful people, at gunpoint if necessary, to live the way they think they should. Libertarians are against this."
He followed that with a more familiar libertarian definition:
"We think people should be free to do as they wish with their lives and property, as long as they aren't harming anyone else."
The first paragraph of his definition is one I'd never heard before. There are several useful things about it.
* It makes libertarians stand out distinctly from all other political viewpoints.
* It puts non-libertarians in the position of defending and justifying their advocacy of violence. This is a valuable switch, as usually it is libertarians who, right from the start, find themselves in the position of defending the elimination of various government programs.
* It is a definition that immediately invites a nod of agreement and appreciation. Most people, after all, don't consciously advocate the initiation of force, and don't realize that's inherent in liberalism and conservatism.
* It makes libertarianism sound downright moderate and reasonable. The immoderate, unreasonable ones are those who would use violence to force peaceful people to live the way they think they should. They are the bullies; we are the ones who defend them against the bullies.
Every libertarian should have an excellent answer memorized for this common question, "What do libertarians believe?" (You can find some suggestions here.
This particular formulation is not a perfect answer for all occasions, by any means. But it may be a useful addition to your libertarian communication toolbox.