THE PARTY OF CHOICE

The Ontario Libertarian Party is proud to be known as "The Party of Choice." Choice is what we stand for, and promoting choice is why we exist.

Choice, according to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, means both "an act or instance of choosing between alternatives" and "a range from which to choose. To “choose" means to "select from a number of alternatives," "decide," "like," and "prefer."

Human choice is always individual, as only individual minds can choose. Libertarians consider the recognition of, respect for, and protection of individual human choice to be the highest political good.

Why the highest good? Because choice appears necessary for so many other things that we consider good. Indeed, it is hard to separate the idea of choice from that of good: If you (or I) consider something (X) to be good, that is only because you (or I) have chosen X as a good; believing that X is a good necessarily also means believing that choosing X is good. Whatever we value in life, we value by our own choice, and in valuing it we also value our own choosing.

Choice is necessary not just for ourselves, but for everyone. Respecting the choices of our friends, family, neighbours - indeed, all of humanity - seems essential to respecting them as persons. Honouring the choices of others seems a necessary part of the idea of morality.

Equally, choice looks like a basic part of the idea of justice. Phrases like "he brought it on himself" or "you made your bed, now lie in it" reflect a basic intuition that it is just for people to experience the consequences of their own choices. Similarly, we consider it unjust to hold people responsible for actions they did not choose to commit, or had no choice but to commit.

As well, choice appears necessary to human progress and abundance. Without the ability of humans to imagine and act on preferred alternatives, we would literally still be living in caves. All creativity, all advancement, every new idea and invention, exists only because of the power of choice. The market and the price system - an economy directed by nothing more than individual choices - makes these ideas and inventions widely available, empowering us to live without the age-old fears of starvation, poverty, and disease.

Despite all this, some people worry about choice. One worry is that people's choices often conflict. Letting everyone do whatever they choose can only lead to disagreements and conflicts; rules that override or trump individual choice are needed to solve these conflicts.

That is a legitimate concern. Libertarians agree that choice should be governed by rules and principles; what they deny is that any of these trump the principle of choice. Rather, they come from that principle itself. What John wants to do to himself is a matter of his own choice; but what John wants to do to Mary, is not simply a matter of John’s choice, but also (and more importantly) of Mary’s.

The idea of choice requires the complementary idea of individual human rights - of what philosopher Robert Nozick calls the ‘moral space’ within which each person’s acts are governed solely by his own choices. In turn, the idea of human rights helps define, and protect as well as limit, the scope of everyone’s freedom of choice.

Acting on one’s choices requires not just moral but also physical space, and (often) access to physical things. Human choices about how to use these spaces and things are a fertile source of conflict. So choice requires property rights, as a necessary part of human rights.

Another anti-choice objection is that some people make bad choices - some choose to rob, some to murder, some to defraud. Why should those choices be respected?

But this second objection is simply a special case of the first - that choices conflict in some cases - with the same solution. Recognizing the principle of choice, means recognizing that actions which violate the personal and property rights of others (without the choice of those others) should not be respected, or even permitted; not because one person’s choice is not important (it is), but because everyone else’s choices are equally important (they are).

That leads to the Libertarian theory of law: that actions which violate the rights of others should be legally forbidden, while those that do not should be left alone. What is important, in judging a law good or bad, is the nature of the acts it forbids. Does an action affect only the person acting, or only those who consent (or choose) to be affected? Then it should not be interfered with. Does it hurt those who have not consented? Then it should not be allowed. Whom an action affects; where it takes place (in one’s home? on a public street corner?); and whose property it uses or affects; are what the law should consider when judging any action.

Applied in this way, the Libertarian theory of human and property rights makes possible a free society, one based on and maximizing individual choice. That society of choice, in turn, makes possible the realization of those other values of liberty, respect, justice, harmony, progress, and abundance.