Libertarians: Do you know Sons of Liberty now—or then?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Libertarians
HOW MUCH DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THE REAL SONS OF LIBERTY? How many of these patriots can you name from their portraits? Answers are below. (All images in public domain, collage courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

HOW MUCH DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THE REAL SONS OF LIBERTY? How many of these patriots can you name from their portraits? Answers are below. (All images in public domain, collage courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

How much do you know about the “Sons of Liberty”? Lots of Americans are making claims about these forefathers—but you may be surprised at how little is known about them. That’s true both now … and then.

FIRST: Take our visual quiz! How many of the 18th-century Sons of Liberty can you name from their portraits, above?

SECOND: Where are the new “Sons of Liberty” today?

Liberty—freedom from restraint—is an American value that goes back to the founding of the nation. The original Sons of Liberty were an underground organization, dedicated to opposing British rule and championing the rights of colonists to self-determination. The saying “no taxation without representation” and the symbol of the “Liberty Tree” hark back to this early time.

Are the Sons of Liberty alive today? That may sound like a sexist way to phrase the question. But, the large majority of libertarians today are mostly men—almost seven of ten, according to the just-released 2013 American Values Survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). Almost all are non-Hispanic whites (94%). And, the majority is on the younger side: 62% are less than 50 years old.

Just looking at these basic demographics, today’s libertarians resemble the Sons of Liberty. But does the resemblance stop there? The original Sons of Liberty weren’t opposed to government. They were opposed to British rule, which had become more arbitrary and harsher over time. As historian David Hackett Fischer notes, they viewed liberty in “its classical sense of separation.” They also believed in the rule of law and the importance of government.

What do today’s libertarians believe? Mostly, it’s “hands off” for the government. A majority oppose increasing the minimum wage, according to the PRRI survey. Virtually all have a dim view of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare.) They oppose stricter environmental laws. They also oppose government restrictions on a host of social issues, as we’ll cover this week.

How many American subscribe to libertarian beliefs? Just 7% of American are strict libertarians, according to the PRRI poll, with and additional 15% who lean that way. In total, that’s just over two of ten Americans—yet libertarianism remains a strong thread in American history and politics.

Are you a modern-day “Son of Liberty”?

What do you think of their beliefs?

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ANSWERS to the visual quiz: If you correctly named more than a few of these portraits, then you are a remarkable American historian! The correct answers are … TOP ROW, left to right: Samuel Adams, Benedict Arnold, John Hancock, Patrick Henry and James Otis. MIDDLE ROW, left to right: Paul Revere, James Swan, Alexander McDougall, Benjamin Rush, and Charles Thomson. BOTTOM ROW, left to right: Joseph Warren, Marinus Willett, Christopher Gadsden, Oliver Wolcott and Haym Solomon.

Libertarians: More guns, marijuana, and pornography?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Libertarians
THE START OF A LIBERTARIAN'S GARDEN? More than 7 in 10 libertarians agree that there should be less government control of marijuana. (Photo uploaded to Wikimedia Commons for public use by a photographer who declined to identify himself by name.)

THE START OF A LIBERTARIAN’S GARDEN? More than 7 in 10 libertarians agree that marijuana should be legalized. (Photo uploaded to Wikimedia Commons for public use by a photographer who declined to identify himself by name.)

Should you have the liberty to do things that might harm you? Should the government make laws that keep you from harming yourself? Most libertarians believe that it’s not the government’s business to try to protect people from themselves. I wonder what the original Sons (or Daughters) of Liberty would think about this opinion.

Libertarians generally oppose government regulation, but their attitudes about social issues are mixed—even contradictory, according to the just-released 2013 American Values Survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). Here are some of the issues and how libertarians stand on them.

Legalizing the use of marijuana: Very strong support for this issue, with 71% of libertarians in favor of it.

Doctor-assistant suicide: Strong support here, too, with 70% of libertarians saying that we should allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to terminally ill patients who want to end their own lives.

Access to pornography: Almost seven of ten (68%) of libertarians oppose making it more difficult to access pornography on the Internet.

So far, these findings are consistent with the libertarian view of maximizing personal liberty and free choice. But, there is less support for other issues.

Legalizing same-sex marriage: A majority of libertarians (59%) oppose legalizing gay marriage.

Making it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion: A majority (57%) oppose doing so, consistent with a libertarian view—but a sizable minority support making it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion.

On which issues do you agree with the libertarian view?

Which ones do you disagree with?

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Libertarians: Have you heard of their enemies—’communalists’?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Libertarians
LIBERTARIANS & "COMMUNALISTS" as charted by the new Public Religion Research Institute report. (Click the chart to visit the website where you can download the entire report.)

LIBERTARIANS & “COMMUNALISTS” as charted by the new Public Religion Research Institute report. (Click the chart to visit the website where you can download the entire report.)

Libertarians prize personal liberty, unfettered choice, and minimum government. We discussed some of their specific attitudes and beliefs earlier this week.

What’s the opposite of a libertarian?

The Public Religion Research Institute’s new survey focused on identifying libertarians and their views, but at the same time also identified their opposite. These are called the “communalists” because of their opposite views about the role of government and personal liberty. Perhaps “enemy” is an overstatement, but communalists take positions that are opposed in every way to what libertarians believe, according to the new report.

Unlike libertarians, communalists argue that the government should make laws that keep people from harming themselves. Unlike libertarians, they support gun control, making the use of marijuana illegal, and making it harder to access pornography on the Internet.

The best way to stimulate the economy, say libertarians, is to cut taxes and cut government spending. Not so, say the communalists. The best way is to spend more on education and infrastructure. Taxes should be raised for the rich and for businesses.

Overall, then, communalists are willing to sacrifice personal liberty in pursuit of other social and economic objectives. Libertarians oppose just about the anything that would reduce personal liberty. In a way, libertarians and communalists are arch enemies when it comes to the value of liberty.

Are you a communalist? Do you know one?

Which set of views is closer to your own—libertarian or communalist?

Is there a way to reconcile these seemingly irreconcilable views?

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Libertarians: What kind of God do they envision?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Libertarians

William Blake GodLibertarians hold distinctive attitudes about economic and social matters, as we’ve discussed so far this week. Above all, libertarians hold sacred the principle of personal liberty—freedom from restraint and government regulation.

But what kind of God do they envision?

A majority of libertarians (58%) do believe in a personal God, according to the new survey by the Public Opinion Research Institute (PRRI). But this is lower than the percentage of all Americans (61%). And, it is considerably lower than the percentage of Tea Partiers (73%) and white evangelical Protestants (90%) who believe in a personal God.

Do you think it is necessary to believe in God to be moral?

Libertarians are the least likely to say that it is necessary to believe in God to lead a moral life. Only 42% believe so. In contrast, almost half of all Americans (48%) believe it’s necessary to believe in God to be moral, as do a majority Tea Party members (53%) and over two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants.

Not surprisingly, libertarians are the least likely to say that religion is the most important thing in their life. Only 15% say it is the most important thing. Libertarians are also the least likely to believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible (19%), or to attend religious services on a weekly basis or more often (22%).

Overall, the religious beliefs and views of libertarians show that they are more secular than other Americans.

Are you surprised by the secular leanings of libertarians?

Do you subscribe to any of their religious views?

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Libertarians: Who do they want in 2016?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Libertarians
RAND PAUL at the Conservative Political Action Committee 2013 conference. Photo by Gage Skidmore, provided for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

RAND PAUL at the Conservative Political Action Committee 2013 conference. Photo by Gage Skidmore, provided for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Libertarians represent a persistent strand of values in American history and culture. They highly value personal liberty, freedom of choice, and minimal government. Their ideological stance leads to distinctive opinions about a range of social and political issues.

Who do they want to win the Oval Office in 2016?

Libertarians were not happy that Obama won a second term in 2012. Eight of ten said they supported Mitt Romney, according to the new Public Religion Research Institute poll we’ve consulted all week. We’ve discussed libertarians’ likeness to the colonial Sons of Liberty; their permissive attitudes about guns, marijuana, and pornography; the communalists, who are the opposite of libertarians; and the kind of God libertarians envision. Today, we consider libertarian visions of the presidential future.

Consider Senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio, as well as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. All are possible candidates for the nation’s highest office. Who is currently the libertarian favorite?

Paul is the current favorite, with 56% of libertarians having a favorable view of the junior Senator from Kentucky. Christie comes next, with 44% of libertarians giving him a positive rating. Florida’s junior Senator, Rubio, is third, with 41% of libertarians viewing him favorably. Finally, 39% of libertarians give Texas’s junior Senator, Cruz, thumbs up.

As this week ends, I am left wondering about the role of libertarians. Though few in number, perhaps their greatest influence is to remind us of the importance of the American themes of liberty, freedom, free will, and choice.

Are you a libertarian?

If not, do you see value in their ideology?

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