The philosophy falls apart when it comes down to actual leadership.
In a May 27 commentary ("Republican Party finds its soul"), Jason Lewis claims that the only difference between libertarians and the rest of the Republican Party is their position toward war. On all other issues, he implies, they sing the same hymns.
First, it is nice to know, as the headline suggests, that the lost soul of the Republican Party has been found. Political parties most of all need to have a soul. And the soul of the Republican Party now seems to be, according to Lewis, that "free-market capitalism is its own reward because it embraces the morality of freedom."
Ayn Rand, the atheist philosopher that Republicans love, said the same thing probably a thousand different ways, but according to Lewis, this is a recent event brought about by Ron Paul and his supporters.
It seems to me that when their party is doing something unpopular or when the current Republican candidate for president is not inspiring, many Republicans turn to libertarianism.
Limited government is the heart of the libertarian philosophy. This is in direct conflict with the need for services from the government, and many Republican presidents and politicians have tried to reach the proper balance.
I could quote Theodore Roosevelt, who established the foundation for many government agencies and policies to ensure that the markets were not totally free to destroy the American economy, which they so often tend to try.
Instead, I will quote Newt Gingrich, who said: "I am a Teddy Roosevelt Republican. I believe in free markets within a regulatory environment. So I like having McDonald's and Wendy's competing, but I want the water to be drinkable and the hamburger to be beef. And I am prepared to sanction the government to ensure that."
Libertarians seem to ignore the difference between campaigning and governing.
Governing requires the resources to maintain agencies, policies and programs that will ensure that the "water is drinkable and the hamburger is beef" on an ongoing and consistent basis. As the number of McDonald's and Wendy's locations increases, government agencies need to grow to keep up with that responsibility.
If we are to have limited government, why not go all the way? Let us have the private sector collect taxes and deliver vouchers to everybody who deserves them, so that they may buy whatever their freedom-loving hearts desire! Surely this model would use the least amount of government possible, and we may even be able to do away with government completely. But I suspect that even hardcore libertarians know that without enough government, we would have less freedom and all services would ultimately cost more.
Nobody has ever proven the notion that limited government is the highest good for the majority of the citizens. Most citizens will agree, however, that we need the amount of government that will serve the needs of the majority of the people in the most efficient and effective way given the resources available.
As a small-business owner who is for free-market capitalism and for government, I appreciate the products and services available to my business and to my family through our taxes. They include public education; services that register and protect our company names; the roads and international airport that move the products we buy and sell, and the educational institutions that train our employees. Any reduction on any of these would have a negative impact to my business -- and most businesses -- and would eliminate jobs and hurt the economy.
Please also consider what happens when disaster strikes and affects the businesses or families or homes of libertarians or Republicans. What do they think of then? Are they looking for the private sector to come to their rescue?
It seems to me that we need to be speaking about effectiveness and efficiency, not about government size. By definition, government that is efficient and effective is also the proper size.
As for the difference in policies toward war, it would not be surprising to see that if Mitt Romney wins the presidency, many ardent libertarians of today would accept him as the savior of conservatism and also would accept his ideas about the existing wars and even new ones. Their current aversion to wars would most likely disappear as fast as the Republican aversion to budget deficits disappeared when President George W. Bush broke all previous records in deficit spending and new debt. And the soul of the Republican Party would be lost again.
Ben Kyriagis, of Plymouth, is a small-business owner.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.