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If you don't step on my toes, I won't step on yours

By Melody Ayres-Griffiths - posted Monday, 9 January 2012

I've been reading some of the recent articles and associated comments on mainstream media sites regarding libertarianism, and some of them appear to demonstrate a complete misunderstanding of libertarianism not only on the part of some of the contributors, but on the part of many commenters as well. As one who favours the libertarian philosophy myself, I would like to take a minute or two to clarify a few very important points, and do so from a slightly Australian perspective, so as not to be completely Amero-centric:

Firstly, to address the most common concern straight-away, libertarians by definition cannot be racist in action because that would impact upon the liberty of those they discriminate against. They cannot be homophobic in action either, for the same reason. As much as libertarianism supports the right of the individual to act how they choose, it equally supports the rights of other individuals not to be negatively impacted by those actions.

This is a very important point to make.


For example, libertarianism supports unrestricted gun ownership as a matter of philosophy; but once again, the issue then becomes one of balancing this liberty with the probability that an individual's gun ownership will not impact on another individual's right to exist free of being shot. Thus, it is perfectly within the bounds of libertarianism to dictate how an individual stores and transports their firearm, assuming this does not directly impact that individuals ability to use their firearm in a manner that has a minimal chance of injuring another person.

Libertarianism is not about re-enacting the wild, wild west. It is simply about one individual being free to live their life how they choose without restriction, as long as they do not impact upon - or create a situation comprising a serious risk of impacting upon - the liberty of any other person to do the same.

As the Wiccan faith states, "Do what thou wilt, but harm none." This is libertarianism at its most basic. So is marriage equality. But let's put that issue away for now.

Secondly, to address concerns regarding social services, it is indeed true that libertarians oppose government-mandated public welfare programs such as Medicare and the aged pension. Libertarianism encourages communities and community groups to provide health services such as hospitals to those who cannot afford to be insured, or pay the required fees outright at a commercially-run facility.

Of course, it has been this way before. However, the reason why it did not work well at that point in time was largely due to two difficulties: deficiencies in medical technologies, and refusals to provide care to individuals for various "morally-motivated" reasons. Addressing the first problem, widely-available, cheap advances in health care now permit patients to be treated of most ailments efficiently and inexpensively using commonly available, affordable medications. Databases of drugs, symptoms and patient histories permit doctors to make accurate diagnoses in a very brief amount of time, further reducing the cost.

For the vast majority of medical issues, we live in an age where a libertarian philosophy toward health care is becoming quite viable.


As previously noted, libertarianism abhors discrimination, and thus the second issue of community-run health and welfare facilities employing racist or other bigoted policies that directly impact upon the liberty of the individual to seek medical care becomes moot. Pure, genuine libertarianism is more than willing to legislate in order to ensure that individual liberties to life and the pursuit of happiness cannot be infringed upon by others based on bigotry or intolerance. Libertarianism does not consider 'religion' or 'morality' in any legislative context, beyond recognising organisations founded around such principles that provide social services to the community - and even then, only in a strictly non-secular fashion.

And, with regards to financial support for community-run social services, should new facilities or operating funding be required, the annual Childrens' Hospital Good Friday Appeal has more than proven that the average individual can be quite generous, if they can be convinced their money will be put to good use. Libertarianism in health care merely requires the community to organise themselves, and find the money to run these charitable facilities themselves. The Bendigo Community Bank project in regional Victoria has proven quite definitively that communities are more than capable of doing precisely that, with many rural communities forming organisations and finding the financial means to sponsor their own local bank branch.

There is no reason whatsoever why founding a local community medical facility should be any different. Obviously, it is much more complicated than a bank, but as libertarianism champions the notion of widespread community participation in social service delivery, finding the required volunteer expertise is simply a matter of appealing to the better nature of those with the needed skills. People are typically not heartless.

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About the Author

Melody Ayres-Griffiths is a lesbian libertarian living in country Victoria, and a contributor to ABC's The Drum.

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