10/04/2011 03:27 pm ET Updated Dec 04, 2011

A Consideration of the Libertarian Party Platform: Part 1

As a Libertarian-turned-Progressive, I nevertheless remain intrigued by Libertarian philosophy. Therefore, I thought it might be of some value to undertake a serious consideration and analysis of Libertarian principles. Is it philosophically coherent? Does it make unwarranted assumption or logical errors? And where better to begin than with the official Libertarian Party Platform, the most recent version of which was adopted in May 2010?

The Preamble of the Platform emphasizes the value of freedom:


As Libertarians, we seek a world of liberty; a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others.

We believe that respect for individual rights is the essential precondition for a free and prosperous world, that force and fraud must be banished from human relationships, and that only through freedom can peace and prosperity be realized.

These opening paragraphs raise issues to which we must return as they are developed or given substance. Fundamentally, what are individual rights, and upon what ground do individuals possess them? Next, although it might be clear, perhaps even a tautology that such rights are necessary for freedom, are they truly necessary for prosperity? And what if this is not true in practice, that prosperity can be achieved by other means, by other forms of political organization?

Yet perhaps most intriguing is the following claim, that "force and fraud must be banished from human relationships." Is the word "must" here used as "ought to," that this is an ideal? Or, is it meant as a principle underlying what limited responsibilities governments rightly possess? If so, who determines what qualifies as fraud or force? And from a Libertarian perspective, why is it not within an individual's rights to use fraud to, for example, game the market by means of insider trading and thereby gain wealth? Should government regulation seek to prevent and punish fraud (do Libertarians praise the work of the Securities and Exchange Commission?!), or is the free market supposed to police itself in this regard?

The Preamble continues:

Consequently, we defend each person's right to engage in any activity that is peaceful and honest, and welcome the diversity that freedom brings. The world we seek to build is one where individuals are free to follow their own dreams in their own ways, without interference from government or any authoritarian power.

In the following pages we have set forth our basic principles and enumerated various policy stands derived from those principles.

These specific policies are not our goal, however. Our goal is nothing more nor less than a world set free in our lifetime, and it is to this end that we take these stands.

We are confronted with additional questions. Is "defend each person's right" meant in a philosophical sense? In a sense that justifies government protection? Or, does it indicate a willingness to take up arms? And again, in terms of judgment, who is to judge what is "peaceful and honest," and how do Libertarians justify prohibiting dishonesty? Would they prohibit it (and if so, how?), or just frown upon it?

As the second to last paragraph of the Preamble suggests, to answer such questions, we will likely have to wait for the explicit policy stands promised in the pages ahead. Likewise, my further analysis will have to await another post.