Libertarianism: What Do People Know About It?

Teagan Fair | United States

Obviously, libertarianism is not as popular as modern liberalism or modern conservatism, nor is the Libertarian Party as popular as the Democrats or the Republicans. But if it’s not this well known, how known exactly is the ideology? What do youth know? What do adults know?

If I were to personally define libertarianism, I would say a philosophy and/or consistent ideology advocating for liberty and minimal government intervention in the lives of the citizens, economically, socially and politically.’

I interviewed both minors and adults alike on the subject, receiving very diverse responses between the two groups. Obviously, the adults were generally more informed on what the ideology was, however, tended to be more biased towards it since obviously, they had already formed their own political opinions over time.

I interviewed 15 students, most of which were in middle school. Many of those students could not identify with any particular political ideology or party, as well as the majority of the students did not know what the term ‘libertarian’ meant. I had several students identify as centrists, one as a Democrat, one as a Republican, one claimed ‘socially liberal and fiscally conservative’ which some would argue is what libertarianism itself is. The rest claimed that they did not know a political ideology to affiliate themselves with.

When asked what the term ‘libertarian’ meant, the student who identified themselves as a Democrat responded, “Libertarians dislike government intervention and they advocate for more rights.” I then followed up by asking him if he thought libertarianism was a good thing or a bad thing, and he responded with, “To some degree it is good, but only if it is moderate. Not if it gets out of hand.” This makes me question what his idea of moderate libertarianism was.

The one student that identified as a Republican also gave a response as to what the term meant. When asked for the definition, he responded with, “Well I know there are different types of libertarianism. They’re kind of like conservatives, but they want a small military and other stuff but I’m not sure beyond that.” When asked his personal opinion on the ideology, he responded that it was good, ‘I guess.’

There was a student that claimed that they didn’t know of an ideology to affiliate with, however still gave an interesting response. When asked what the word meant, they responded with, “They’re feminists. Kidding. It’s like, freedom, yay. Well, all of the parties are but like, it’s their core thing, I don’t even know.” When asked what their personal opinion on it was, they replied with, ” It’s good in principle, and bad in execution. Well, not necessarily bad as an ideology, but their supporters kind of make it a joke. They take their core values and blow them up to the point of hilarity. Except they’re dead serious. Which ends up in people not taking them seriously. Which is bad for whatever they’re trying to pass through. Stereotypes can have an unconscious effect in peoples’ minds.”

There was a student that identified themselves as a centrist. When asked what the term was, they responded with, “I think it’s a more conservative ideology because people I’ve seen identify as conservative before have also identified as libertarian later.” When asked their opinion on it, they said, “It’s kind of a good thing I think, because I know I share at least some opinions with them.”

As for one more somewhat humorous response, a student who claimed they didn’t have a political ideology, when asked what the term was, took a guess along the lines of, “I think it has something to do with a library. Oh, wait! Is it liberty? Either library or liberty.” Since they didn’t exactly have any idea what it was, obviously I did not ask them their opinion on the term. Several other students had claimed they had heard of it but had no clue what it was.

One adult who leaned liberal defined the term as, “Libertarians are kind of against rules and laws or certain things within society, and they push to deregulate a lot of things.” When asked their opinion, they said that it could be good, but it could get dangerous or out of hand if left too deregulated. You get the point. Every person who had a definition on the subject that I talked to, had a response along the same lines. I could throw in the words of every single person I talked to, but since it is all so similar, that would get redundant pretty quick.

We see a consistent idea that libertarianism is about less government intervention, which definitely isn’t wrong. As for opinions, we saw that out of the responses listed, several of them had talked about the idea that it is good to some extent but can get out of hand if taken to higher levels. Of course, no one that gave a response identified as a libertarian themselves, so it is understandable that many of them would see moderate forms of it as more reasonable, as any ideology would say of another. It also strikes curiosity in me as to what people would define as ‘moderate libertarianism.’ However, the consistent idea that a level higher than ‘moderate libertarianism’ would get out of hand quick, more than likely comes from a personal bias, which is predictable. Of course, there are hints of personal bias all around the answers if you look carefully enough. For example, the student claiming to be a Republican specifically mentioned that libertarians advocate for a smaller military, which likely comes from the fact that he may disagree with that aspect of it, even though he said that he thought that the ideology, in general, was good.

Obviously, as mentioned before, our youth and adults alike are exposed to the two main parties and their platforms much more than to the ideas of liberty. Perhaps in the future our youth and adults alike will be exposed to what I would say is a more liberating and moral option.

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3 thoughts on “Libertarianism: What Do People Know About It?”

  1. Very interesting article. Libertarians clearly have a lot of work to do just to make people familiar with our ideas and what we believe. The good news is that there are many millions who will embrace those ideas once they do understand them.

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