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Are Libertarians Constitutionalists?

Above all else, libertarians value individual rights.  Libertarians believe that a group of individuals cannot possess rights that the individual members of the group do not individually possess.  Specifically, if individuals do not have the right to murder and rob, neither will any group or organization they form, even if they draft a formal declaration proclaiming that they have those rights, possess the right to murder and rob.  

Libertarians come to the libertarian movement from a number of different backgrounds.  Tolerance to differing views is a part of the libertarian philosophy.  Therefore, some libertarians may hold the Constitution in high regard and consider themselves to be constitutionalists.  

The Statement of Principle of the Libertarian Party Platform states:

We, the members of the Libertarian Party, challenge the cult of the omnipotent state and defend the rights of the individual.

We hold that all individuals have the right to exercise sole dominion over their own lives, and have the right to live in whatever manner they choose, so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose.

Governments throughout history have regularly operated on the opposite principle, that the State has the right to dispose of the lives of individuals and the fruits of their labor. Even within the United States, all political parties other than our own grant to government the right to regulate the lives of individuals and seize the fruits of their labor without their consent.

We, on the contrary, deny the right of any government to do these things, and hold that where governments exist, they must not violate the rights of any individual: namely, (1) the right to life -- accordingly we support the prohibition of the initiation of physical force against others; (2) the right to liberty of speech and action -- accordingly we oppose all attempts by government to abridge the freedom of speech and press, as well as government censorship in any form; and (3) the right to property -- accordingly we oppose all government interference with private property, such as confiscation, nationalization, and eminent domain, and support the prohibition of robbery, trespass, fraud, and misrepresentation.

Since governments, when instituted, must not violate individual rights, we oppose all interference by government in the areas of voluntary and contractual relations among individuals. People should not be forced to sacrifice their lives and property for the benefit of others. They should be left free by government to deal with one another as free traders; and the resultant economic system, the only one compatible with the protection of individual rights, is the free market.  

Omnipotent State

Libertarians recognize the problems with collectivist endeavors.  The Constitution for the United States replaced the previous form of government created under the Articles of Confederation. The preamble to the Constitution reads:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The constitution implies creation by the collective “We the People of the United States”, which in actuality was just the 55 delegates that attended the Constitutional Convention sessions, of which only 39 actually witnessed the Constitution.  The stated purpose was “form a more perfect Union” than existed under the Articles of Confederation.  This meant a stronger and more powerful centralized government.  

The words “power” or “powers” occur sixteen times in the text of the Constitution.  Each time it is in reference to a “power” being granted by the Constitution to the new government it was creating.  Powers assumed or granted to government result in the decrease of an individual right.  By contrast the word, “right” only appears once in the Constitution, “The Congress shall have Power… to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries” (Article I, Section 8, Clause 8).   

Most state Constitutions included a Bill of Rights as part of their Constitutions.   Often, the Bill of Rights was the first article of the state Constitution.  The Constitution for the United States of America did not include a Bill of Rights when it was presented to the states for ratification.   As a result, the states demanded a Bill of Rights.  This is evident in the Preamble to the Bill of Rights begins:

THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.

Many Libertarians support and defend the Constitution.  2004 Libertarian Presidential Candidate Michael Badnarik teaches a class on the Constitution and wrote an excellent book on the Constitution, Good to be King.  Many Libertarians think that government should be limited to the functions prescribed by the Constitution.  Other Libertarians recognize that the Constitution significantly undermines individual rights.  They would agree with Lysander Spooner who wrote.  “But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain - that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case it is unfit to exist.”  This quote is from Spooner’s essay No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority.  

Lysander Spooner

Libertarians are not necessarily constitutionalist, although some may be.  Some libertarians may see the constitution as a legitimate attempt to limit the role of government, while others see it for an expansion of government power, which it has been unable to restrain.  

 

 

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