What is libertarianism? 

Libertarianism is a political philosophy emphasising the principles of individual freedom, minimal government and free market capitalism. For the aim of maximising individual freedom in society, libertarians strongly hold that the government that governs least, governs best. Voluntarism is the standard in human relationships and thus, libertarians believe that most functions of government should be handled by the free market and civil society.

Being voluntarist, libertarians also champion the non-aggression principle. The non-aggression principle (also called the non-aggression axiom, or the anti-coercion or zero aggression principle or non-initiation of force) is an ethical stance that forbids actions that are inconsistent with a right-libertarian conception of property rights and other rights.

What is the purpose of government?

The role of government, if we should have one at all, would be to protect the rights of individuals only. This implies the necessity for a legal system to adjudicate disputes and enforce contracts, a police and a military to ensure civil peace. A minimal degree of public goods provision and a social safety net may be justified.

Libertarians believe that if government exceeds its proper role, as outlined above, and pursue some other collective national goal, this would constitute an injustice, since it would entail the violation of individual rights.

Why do libertarians support the free market system?  

Libertarians believe that supporting the free market system is primarily, a moral imperative. The main reason behind capitalism’s morality, is that it is based on voluntary cooperation and bars the mutual initiation of force and fraud. Since individuals - in order to pursue their aims - must engage in peaceful and consensual trade with others in a free market system, it respects the inherent dignity of individuals.

Additionally, the free market system also provides many tangible benefits to individuals. Countries that exhibit greater degrees of economic freedom also tend to be ranked higher on numerous indicators of human and social welfare. People in free societies live longer, are healthier, are happier, enjoy cleaner environments and are less exposed to societal discrimination.

Why do libertarians want to limit government interference in the economy and society?

There are many practical reasons why libertarians want to limit government involvement and maximise the scope of the private sector.

  • First, central planners lack the requisite information to know the best outcomes for society. Knowledge is necessarily localised and not available to any one agent in totality, and as such, markets facilitate trial-and-error learning. Central planning rests on a fatal conceit.
  • Second, the state may have perverse incentives, and may not always act in the public interest. This may arise because government is not exposed to market competition, and thus has no incentive to innovate, improve and be responsive to the wider public. Additionally, government intervention also attracts special interests, who may then capture the state for their own interests. It is thus unsurprising that in many societies, the pernicious link between state and business is the source of corruption and scandal.
  • Third, the state is a coercive institution that possesses a monopoly on the use of force. As such, it enjoys a concentration of power that is unavailable to any other party. This only means that we ought to bear Lord Acton’s aphorism in mind, that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Libertarians are realists and know that we ought not trust fallible human beings with so much power to shape society, regardless of intentions.

Are libertarians anarchists? 

Some libertarians are anarchists, in that they believe in a polycentric legal order. This is a system in which law enforcement and adjudication services are provided not by a single territorial monopoly, but by multiple, competing providers in a given jurisdiction. In short, the free market has the ability, according to market anarchists, to provide all the functions of government currently provided by the state. Having said that, most libertarians still believe in the necessity of the state, though they emphasise it should be limited to several core functions only: the protection of property rights, the rule of law, and contract enforcement.

Is libertarianism a new ideology? 

Libertarianism has its roots in the classical liberalism of 18th century Western history, during which individuals like John Locke and Adam Smith argued against the mercantilist and monarchical tendencies of their day. Since then, libertarianism has been propounded by illustrious individuals like Mary Wollstonecraft, Isabel Paterson, Ludwig von Mises, and the Nobel Laureates Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek.

While libertarianism has always been around, it has experienced a recent resurgence in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. This is because traditional economic theory failed to predict or explain the crisis, which opened the way for libertarian, market-based accounts from the Austrian-school of Economics to better participate in the discussion. Today, libertarians are a growing force in the political process in the United States, and in many other countries.

Is libertarianism a Western concept? 

According to the "Asian values" thesis, libertarianism is a foreign philosophy that is applicable to Western contexts only. This however, is an incorrect position. The contest between the state and individual is present in the historical narratives of numerous societies, not only Western ones. The Indian academic and economist Amartya Sen contends that traditions of debate and argument, as well as the belief in universal values, are as inherent to Asian cultures as they are to the West. There have been numerous major figures, like the Daoist sage Lao Tzu, in the Asian tradition who have also emphasised highly libertarian themes of non-intervention and individualism.

Additionally, to say that libertarianism is a Western concept makes a mockery of the valiant efforts of liberal democrats in many non-Western countries to secure greater civil and economic liberties for ordinary citizens. "Those who wish to deny us certain political rights try to convince us that these are not Asian values," said Aung San Suu Kyi, the former Burmese political prisoner and a Nobel laureate. "In our struggle for democracy and human rights, we would like greater support from our fellow Asians.” Additionally, Martin Lee, a leading democracy activist in Hong Kong, deemed the idea of Asian values a "pernicious myth."

What’s the difference between libertarianism and liberalism?

Libertarianism is a subset of the wider family of liberal ideologies, which emphasise the primacy of freedom and rights as a political value.

Libertarianism is a successor to the classical liberalism of the 18th century, and places a strong value on economic liberties, free trade and property rights. This is in contrast to modern liberals (also called left-liberals) today, who mainly adhere to a form of social democratic thought and instead emphasise the need for economic redistribution, regulation of corporations and the achievement of distributive justice.

Are there any libertarian countries in the world?

There are no fully libertarian countries in the world, in that no society today enjoys a minimal state system.

However, some countries or regions are more libertarian than others, that is, they enjoy a greater degree of civil liberties and economic freedom. Historically, there have also been periods of greater libertarianism, which happen to be correlated with higher standards of living. For instance, the 19th century has been called the “golden age of classical liberalism”, during which the theories of free trade, economic liberty and democratic freedoms dominated intellectual and political life.

Is the Libertarian Society of Singapore (LSS) against the ruling PAP party and pro-opposition?

The LSS has no allegiance to any specific political party. The LSS’ main aim is to promote the goal of individual freedom, limited government and free market capitalism, and would support any effort or initiative aligned to that end, regardless of the political party or individual that initiated it.

Thus, LSS is mainly interested in the intellectual goal of promoting the paradigm of libertarianism, rather than a political one of opposing any party for the sake of it.

Isn’t Singapore already libertarian, since it has such a free economy?

While it may be true that Singapore’s economy is relatively free as compared to many other countries (according to the Index of Economic Freedom),  it is simply incorrect to classify Singapore as libertarian by any stretch of imagination. Numerous government-linked corporations exist in Singapore, and great amounts of state subsidies are given out as incentives to businesses and individuals.

Furthermore, Singapore fares poorly in the area of civil liberties, press freedom and political competition, all of which are in direct contrast with libertarianism.

Are there any libertarian political parties in Singapore?

The PAP is a generally right-wing conservative party. It emphasises a relatively free market economy based on individual responsibility, low taxes and free trade, but simultaneously, socially conservative policies to ensure social stability and traditional values.

The opposition parties in Singapore however, generally oppose the incumbent PAP government on the economic front by advocating greater levels of economic redistribution and social spending. On the other hand, opposition parties also generally call for greater protections of civil liberties in Singapore.

Thus, there is no libertarian political party in Singapore. A genuine libertarian political party in Singapore will emphasise both economic as well as civil liberties for the individual. It would be generally aligned with the PAP’s stance of an open economy, but be aligned with the current opposition parties’ desire for more political competition, human rights and civil liberties.