Column: Libertarian leader dies, but not his ideas

By John Ostrowski

This past Wednesday, March 1, Harry Browne passed away. Browne was best known for the numerous libertarian books he had written and his presidential campaigns in 1996 and 2000 as a Libertarian.

Browne was one of the giants in American libertarianism, though most people wouldn’t know it. I will refrain from trotting out the tired argument against America’s two-party system. As much as it would be nice to see more votes going to third parties like the Libertarian and Constitution parties, it remains to be seen if the best way to do this would be changing the entire way Americans approach elections.

What Browne advocated was not really anything new to anyone familiar with libertarianism. The libertarian ideology has been present in American political thought since the founding of this nation. Rugged individualism drove frontier life, and libertarian thought ran heavy in intellectual circles. Concurrent with libertarian ideals, until 1913 there was no federal income tax.

The two major parties have evolved and changed over time – libertarianism has not. As Harry Browne points out, it is laughable to portray libertarianism as borrowing certain ideas from the major parties: “Conservatives and liberals sometimes advocate positions that are similar to libertarians. But, unlike libertarians, their positions aren’t grounded on consistent principles they can point to.” It may be convenient to call libertarians socially liberal and fiscally conservative, but it portrays the overall ideology as inconsistent while in fact the opposite is true.

Blatant mistrust and skepticism of government are the beliefs on which libertarianism stands. These are healthy beliefs that have driven American political thought for many years. Once upon a time, American conservatism shared this view, yet it does not anymore. By the traditional standard, George W. Bush is not a conservative.

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    What is more mind-boggling than anything else is that many people, especially liberals, mistrust, fear and hate other institutions. Big business is a vague term that describes a collective of corporations that people hate for some reason. Big Tobacco is a collective of tobacco companies that people hate because they peddle products that when overused can kill you. The Catholic Church is seen by some as a draconian institution that is arrogant enough to assert that there exists a universal morality.

    People despise and fear these institutions because they are seen to have power.

    For some reason, government is exempt from this hatred and fear from the very same people. The government is the solution to all of society’s ills, when in reality, it’s often the cause of the problem.

    Harry Browne made the case against government in such books as “Why Government Doesn’t Work.” If nothing else, libertarianism is a consistent philosophy. Why is this? Because whether or not libertarians will acknowledge this, it is based on a moral belief system. That moral belief system summed up is that individual liberty should be maximized, but it ends when it infringes on another’s liberty. Neither the Republican nor the Democratic parties can claim to be based on a moral belief system. Their platforms are vague and undefined and they change over time. Political parties need to base their platform off of some type of consistent moral belief system.

    Regardless of differences of opinion I may have with libertarianism – I base my political ideology on a different moral belief system – the fact remains that it has a rich history in America. This is what makes this country unique. While countries such as Austria jail people for their speech, albeit despicable speech, Americans look on in bewilderment because we hold fast to the libertarian idea of free speech, not the neo-liberal idea. Unfortunately, it may not be long before neo-liberalism completely replaces libertarianism. While many aspects of libertarian ideology may be downright ludicrous, it is a consistent theory, and its opposition to governmental power is an American tradition that should not be changed.

    John Ostrowski is a junior in Communications. Natural law dictates his moral belief system. His column appears Tuesdays. He can be reached at [email protected]