Ruwart: Is libertarianism the “ultimate answer” to the world’s problems?

Excerpted from the Liberator Online newsletter from the Advocates for Self-Government:

Mary RuwartAsk Dr. Ruwart

Dr. Mary Ruwart is an At-Large Representative on the Libertarian National Committee, an active member of the Texas LP, and a leading expert in libertarian communication.  In this column she offers short answers to real questions about libertarianism.  To submit questions to Dr. Ruwart, see end of column.

Is libertarianism the “ultimate answer” to the world’s problems?

Question: I find it very hard to find flaws in the liberty ideal. Still, I am asking a lot of questions about libertarianism, and probing the libertarian philosophy deeply, because I want to make sure it is truly the ultimate answer to the world’s problems. What are your thoughts on this?

Photo: jmscottiMD

My Short Answer: We always need to question our values and keep open minds. Otherwise, where is freedom of thought?

You say you are asking questions to determine whether liberty is the “ultimate answe”’ to the world’s problems, whether liberty will ever fail us. I would say, as trite as it sounds, that love is the ultimate answer and that liberty, or political freedom, is one aspect of that love. Without love, liberty will be fleeting. If you are looking for the ultimate answer, you need to look one step beyond liberty.

If we are loving towards each other, we won’t assault, steal from, or defraud one person to give to another. If someone is in need, we give of ourselves. If another person doesn’t want to help, we honor their choice out of that same love. When we love, we are not tempted to aggress.

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LEARN MORE: Suggested additional reading on this topic from the Liberator Online editor:

There are libertarians of every religious persuasion (and none). Here are two sources for learning more about why Christian libertarians reject force out of love and respect for others. (Libertarians of other faiths will find much to agree with in both pieces.)

* “Thoughts On the Word ‘We’” by Doug Stuart. This short piece is from the website, an excellent source for learning more about how some libertarian Christians believe their religious and political views are in harmony.

Excerpt: “It is not a Christian duty to ensure that our subjective preferences are imposed upon those around us who may and do have very different preferences. It is our Christian duty to love our neighbor and fight injustice. To seek a just society means we must advocate for a free society where individuals are embraced as unique and worthy of being handed the power to their own lives. We must oppose a planned social order and seek a free one because we know that groups that emerge spontaneously through free association are likelier to provide a social benefit because people are free to participate. Their benefit to the individual and to society depends largely on the extent to which these groups are joined voluntarily. Forcing people to belong to and identify with the collective effort of seeking social justice will create a society that is neither social nor just.”

* “Must a Christian be a Libertarian?” by Clifford F. Thies. economist and long-time libertarian activist, explores religion and libertarianism in this 1996 speech.

Excerpt: “Because we are commanded to love one another, we cannot be morally neutral. But because we respect the limits on our authority, and we trust in God’s plan of salvation, we do not violently intervene into the lives of others. … It’s with loving kindness, not coercive force, that we are to uphold each other.”

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Got questions? Dr. Ruwart has answers! If you’d like answers to YOUR “tough questions” on libertarian issues, email Dr. Ruwart at:

Due to volume, Dr. Ruwart can’t personally acknowledge all emails. But we’ll run the best questions and answers in upcoming issues.

Dr. Ruwart’s previous Liberator Online answers are archived in searchable form.

Dr. Ruwart’s outstanding book Healing Our World is available from the Advocates.


Read the rest of the newsletter here.

18 thoughts on “Ruwart: Is libertarianism the “ultimate answer” to the world’s problems?

  1. Starchild

    The way I often describe it is that there are two halves to the ideal world I would like to live in — the political half, which addresses the question of how much legal ability there is to exercise the various freedoms that are our birthrights, and the cultural half, which is how people choose to use those freedoms.

    I see libertarianism, aka the Non-Aggression Principle, as kind of a “unifying field theory” for the political half of the equation. For this reason I consider it the single most important idea I’ve encountered in my life.

    The cultural half is messier. No one has come up with a similar general theory to make sense of *how* people should choose to behave, within the spheres of choices that are legitimately theirs to make. As an example of why the cultural side matters, consider that a society could in theory exist (though I consider it unlikely to come about) in which people had total or near-total freedom in libertarian terms, but nevertheless almost everyone *voluntarily* adopted a strict practice of ostracizing and socially pressuring everyone who did not conform to a narrow set of religious norms. Most of us would probably not want to live in such a society, its admirable *legal* freedom notwithstanding!

    While I tend to agree with Dr. Mary Ruwart — for whom I have a great deal of affection and respect! — that “love is the answer” in a very broad sense, I do think we would be wise to be cautious in how we proclaim this.

    Sometimes love, or at least sentiments that popular culture tends to recognize as love, *can* cause people to commit aggression — for instance, the kind of jealous or possessive “love” that drives people to commit “crimes of passion” against loved ones, others who have affairs with them, etc.

    The ancient Greeks had numerous words for different types of love, including at least these four: eros (romantic love), philia or philia (friendship), storge (affection), and agape (unconditional general love for all). (See )

    The meanings of these terms are different enough, and the possibilities for misunderstanding great enough, that I think we would do well to distinguish between these terms when speaking of “love” in a political context.

    Of the four, agape probably best matches the kind of love that Mary Ruwart is speaking of above when she speaks of liberty as one aspect of love. It refers to a “selfless” generalized love or benevolence toward others.

    Some libertarians, especially those familiar with the writings of Ayn Rand, may look askance at the term “selfless”. But I think there is an important distinction to be drawn between the kind of “selfless” altruism that Rand condemned, which demands that people sacrifice their own needs and desires for the good of others, and the good kind of “selflessness” which acknowledges others as having independent value in and of themselves, and not merely viewing them as useful in terms of how they can help us achieve *our own* goals and desires.

    This recognition of the independence of others is key to respecting their freedom.

  2. Gains

    I think that the philosophy of liberty includes empathy at it’s core. The leap from recognizing your own rights to recognizing everyone’s as necessary is impossible without empathy.

    That is the cultural more you are looking for I think Starchild. It is the root of love and “selfless” acts that are not in contradiction to Rand at all in my book.

  3. Robert Capozzi

    sc, yes, love in the agape meaning of the word.

    Agape leads one to not aggress. Non-aggression is an outcome, not a goal. Agape is the unified field.

    Extreme application of “NAP” may or may not lead to the same conclusions as being loving. Dispatching US naval ships to support Japan in the post-tsunami efforts may violate the NAP. It may not violate a sense of agape, which is not deontological.

  4. JT

    Starchild: “But I think there is an important distinction to be drawn between the kind of “selfless” altruism that Rand condemned, which demands that people sacrifice their own needs and desires for the good of others, and the good kind of “selflessness” which acknowledges others as having independent value in and of themselves, and not merely viewing them as useful in terms of how they can help us achieve *our own* goals and desires.”

    Rand was an exponent of RATIONAL selfishness, which recognizes the independence of each individual and the notion that no one is a means to the ends of others. There’s nothing contradictory between what you said and Rand’s conception of egoism.

  5. JT

    I don’t like this answer from Ruwart. I don’t think it’s realistic to “love” people one has never met. Love is a very intimate, personal emotion, a strong response to the particular values and virtues of other people that one considers important. Of course, there are different kinds of love (e.g., love of a romantic partner, a friend, a parent). But those who proclaim “love” for everyone indiscriminately devalue the very idea. Respect for every individual’s autonomy is what I’d consider the root of liberty.

  6. Robert Capozzi

    jt, can you elaborate on why you think agape/love “devalues” personal love?

    It may be that what you call “respect for every individual’s autonomy” stops short of agape, but the thought process is the same. If one has universal respect for others, how is it inherent (or realistic) that we can’t go further, and recognize a kind of brotherhood/agape/love for all?

    We can look on others with agape, or respect, or skepticism, or fear prior to having personal knowledge of them, yes? These might be viewed as initial assumptions. Sounds like Ruwart is choosing agape, you’re choosing respect, others might choose skepticism or fear.

  7. JT

    Robert, I explained exactly why in my previous post, and I don’t really have anything to add to it. Good will or benevolence toward mankind in general isn’t the same as love.

  8. Robert Capozzi

    Many people believe that God is love, too.

    JT may disagree, which is his prerogative, as is how he chooses to define words.

  9. JT

    Robert: “Many people believe that God is love, too.”


    Robert: “JT may disagree, which is his prerogative, as is how he chooses to define words.”

    I don’t choose that.

  10. Robert Capozzi

    So, JT, many believe that using the word “love” in the agape sense is aOK. By all indications, you choose to not accept that common usage.

  11. JT

    Robert: “So, JT, many believe that using the word “love” in the agape sense is aOK.”

    Yes, many people believe that.

  12. LibertarianGirl

    I always say Im the most un-educated Libertarian out there , I havent read all the books , I cant debate all the intricacies . Also growing up and attendimng several churches I could never quite find that belief that others seemed to have , i was even jealous because i wanted that faith “knowing for sure” that others seemed to have. A natural bnorn skeptic , I never quite understood or believed in things the government did even w/o ever having been introduce to tye libertarian philosophy. Faithless , pessimistic , unconvinced are just a few adjectives I was labled with.

    Then I was dragged into the ugly drug war when several friends were arrested for selling acid on a Dead tour . Society thought we were losers and criminals but i felt differently in my heart and did not know how to express it . In fighting against the drug war I got asked to speak at an LP meeting. I was literally in total shock that there was a political party that vocalized and belived in what id been feeling , and they were straight no less.

    The first book I ever read was Healing our World by Mary Ruwart and I can say that for the FIRST TIME IN MY ENTIRE LIFE I HAD AN EPIPHANY . THE KIND WHERE YOU JUST KNOW THAT WHAT YOUR READING IS ULTIMATE TRUTH.
    No, I havent read all the books everyone else have but i will never lose sight of that most awesome feeling of finally finding what youve been searching for.

    I dont know if I would have felt that if Id been given some other book first.

    thank you Dr Ruwart for givng me my faith.

  13. Starchild

    @5 – I know this is spam, but I can’t help commenting that one of the attractions that would help draw *me* to South Dakota again would be the confidence that I wouldn’t get arrested and hauled off to jail after having my vehicle searched following a mere traffic stop over driving 13 miles over the posted speed limit! >:-(

  14. Starchild

    Robert @4 – Perhaps agape is indeed the closest thing we have to a unified field theory for life.

    Unfortunately, while feeling this type of love will generally tend to keep people from personally committing aggression, it doesn’t necessarily prevent people from *supporting or condoning* aggression at a distance, when it can appear benevolent.

    I’ve met many people who’ve seemed to be living their personal lives in a generally agapic [to coin a word?] manner, who nevertheless politically supported many serious forms out of aggression.

    When it comes to politics, too many people see only the nicely packaged sausages, and close their eyes to how those sausages were made.

    Sending U.S. government naval ships to Japan to assist with tsunami relief does *not*, in and of itself, constitute aggression, assuming that no one is being forced to go on such missions. It is facts like this which are the source of much confusion and tragic misunderstanding, because they cloak aggression in benevolence and obscure the deeper and more hidden reality that the naval ships, and the power that commands them, were obtained through aggression.

    The Non-Aggression Principle says nothing about what *outcomes* should be, only what *means* should be avoided in seeking them. As such, it is a very useful deontological tool that can aid people in discovering how to best put agape into action with regard to *everyone*, despite the limitations of our subjective human perceptions.

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