Libertarianism [edit]


Austrian School
Classical liberalism
Individualist anarchism


Key issues
Economic views
Views of rights
Theories of law

The term libertarian is also claimed by libertarian socialism (also called left libertarianism). The article Libertarianism (metaphysics) deals with a conception of free will. See also civil libertarian. This article deals with the propertarian meaning of "libertarian."

Libertarianism is a philosophy based on the principle that individuals should be allowed complete freedom of action as long as they do not infringe on the same freedom of others. This is usually taken by libertarians to mean that no one may initiate coercion, which they define as the use of physical force, the potential use (threat) of such, or the use of fraud to prevent individuals from having wilful use of their person or property. For libertarians, a voluntary action is one not influenced by interpersonal coercion.

Libertarians believe that governments should be held to the same moral standards as other individuals. Thus, they oppose governmental initiation of force, even if it is supported by a democratic majority. Libertarians believe that if individuals are not initiating coercion against others, then government should leave them in peace. As a result, they oppose prohibition of "victimless crimes." This opposition to coercion extends into the economic realm, as they generally oppose taxation and government interference in business activities (other than to forbid coercion). Libertarians wish to reduce the size and scope of government. To the extent that libertarians advocate any government at all, its functions tend to be limited to protecting civil liberties and economic liberties (by protecting private property and a free market) through a police force, a military (with no conscription), and courts. Anarcho-capitalist libertarians, on the other hand, maintain that these institutions should be privately owned, operated, and funded.

While libertarianism's influence has grown in the past few decades, most libertarians see their ultimate vision for society as far from realized.



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The term libertarian originally meant anarchist. This use is still common in Europe.

The term "libertarianism" in the above sense has been in widespread use only since the 1950s. Originally, it referred to the philosophical doctrine of free will. Later it was applied to the political sense. After the French Government banned anarchism, some French anarchists adopted libertaire as an alternative term. It was first used in print in 1857 by French anarchist Joseph Dejacque in a letter to Pierre-Joseph Proudhon from New Orleans. Dejacque also published a periodical in New York called "Le Libertaire" (The Libertarian) from 1858 to 1861.Template:Ref The english term "libertarian" was used in the 19th century and early 20th century in America to refer to one who espoused individualist anarchism --a type of anarchism that opposed the European forms of collectivist anarchism at the time. But, for the most part, English-speaking anarchists choose to call themselves anarchists, individualist anarchists, anarchist-communists, or anarchist-syndicalists. Often, when distinguishing between the different uses of the term, the word libertarian is qualified as in "left-libertarian" or "right-libertarian" to distinguish between collectivist and individualist forms, respectively.

A typographical convention

When the "L" in Libertarian is capitalized, the word often refers specifically to a member of a Libertarian Party, as opposed to someone who favors the philosophy of libertarianism. This distinction is important because some libertarians do not align themselves with a Libertarian Party, and may even be members of other parties. For example, Nobel Prize-winning libertarian economist Milton Friedman, author of the influential book Free to Choose, says he is a member of the United States Republican Party for the sake of "expediency."Template:Ref

Libertarianism in the political spectrum

While the traditional political spectrum is a line, the  Chart turns it to a plane to repose libertarianism in a wider gamut of political thought.
While the traditional political spectrum is a line, the Nolan Chart turns it to a plane to repose libertarianism in a wider gamut of political thought.

Most libertarians do not consider their political philosophy to be right-wing, left-wing, nor centrist. In the U.S. some conservatives such as Andrew Sullivan regard themselves as both conservative and libertarian (differentiating conservative from right-wing), but other libertarians argue that the two conflict and that libertarianism is really a form of liberalism. One example of this position is Friedrich Hayek's Why I am Not a ConservativeTemplate:Ref.

Instead of a "left-right" spectrum, some libertarians use a two-dimensional space with "personal freedom" on one axis and "economic freedom" on the other called the Nolan Chart, which is named after David Nolan, who designed the chart and also founded the United States Libertarian Party. A similar chart and political quiz to place individuals on it is promoted by the Advocates for Self GovernmentTemplate:Ref.

Classical liberalism

Main article: Libertarianism and Classical Liberalism

Libertarianism originated in the tradition of classical liberalism, and often the terms are used interchangeably. Advocacy of free markets, free trade, limited government, and a focus on personal liberty unite the two philosophies.

The founders of the U.S. were called "liberals" at the time, as they opposed the European restrictions on individual liberty. Thomas Jefferson is credited as saying that "the government that governs best, governs least," which shares a common flavor with libertarianism. Libertarians tend to agree with the views of the liberal thinker John Stuart Mill on liberty but disagree with his socialist politics. The original framers of the U.S. Consitution were noteably aware of what they perceived as a danger of majority rule in oppressing freedom of the individual. For example, James Madison, in Federalist Paper No. 10 advocates a republic over a democracy precisely to protect the individual from the majority.Template:Ref

Some, such as David Boaz — executive vice president of the influential libertarian U.S think tank the Cato InstituteTemplate:Ref argue that the term classical liberalism should be reserved for early liberal thinkers for the sake of clarity and accuracy, because of differences between many libertarian and classical liberal thinkers.

Libertarian politics and philosophy

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Many libertarians, including the Libertarian Party of the United States consider the Statue of Liberty to be an important symbol of their ideas. Others comment on the irony of libertarians choosing "a big government statue" as the symbol of an anti-state movementTemplate:Ref.

Libertarians tend to call themselves "individualists," and oppose anything that they see as paternalistic or collectivist. Many libertarians hold that both personal liberties (such as privacy and freedom of speech) and economic liberties (such as a right to own property, and freedom to trade, profit, labor, or invest) are justifiable on the same philosophical or ethical foundations. Some libertarians have elaborate philosophies to support their positions, while others are simply drawn to freedom instinctively.

Rights and the law

Main articles: libertarian views of rights and Libertarian theories of law

Libertarians believe that initiation of physical force, the threat of such, or fraud to compel behavior or acquire property of individuals should be regarded as a violation of their individual rights. By "initiation" they mean "first use"; force is not considered immoral when it is used in response to an initiation of force, threat, or fraud (as in self-defense). Most rights-focused libertarians would argue that the only "rights" are variants of "the right to be left alone" (also called negative rights). According to Capitalism Magazine's online tour:

Rights are not guarantees to things, but only guarantees to freedom of action (right to liberty)—and a guarantee to the results of those actions (right to property).
The only obligation one's rights impose on others is for them to leave you alone, i.e. free to act within your sphere of rights.Template:Ref

This view of rights has changed over the centuries, and nowadays many "rights" that must be provided by the actions of others ("positive rights") are now the status quo in the United States, especially in politically thorny areas like racial discrimination and health care. Libertarians believe that providing for others should be a matter of voluntary decision, and that no-one has the right to compel anyone else to do so.

Libertarians argue that only individuals have rights—never groups. Thus, the government has no original rights but only those duties with which it has been lawfully entrusted by individual citizens, and, consistent with individualism, majority rule is not considered sufficient justification for government coercion. To protect individual rights, libertarians often tend to favor a system of law based on a constitution, possibly supplemented by a bill of rights, that limits the range of government actions against individuals and protects them from "tyranny of the majority." Many libertarians favor common law, which they see as less arbitrary, more consistent, and more adaptable over time. Friedrich Hayek had some of the most developed ideas on what libertarian law would be like, while Richard Epstein, Robert Nozick, and Randy Barnett are three of the most influential modern thinkers in this area.

A popular perception of libertarians is that they would allow pollution of the environment. However, libertarians oppose environmental damage as an act of initiatory coercion, and would impose civil or criminal penalties against it. For example, Russell Means, a Native American activist who competed for the 1988 presidential nomination for the Libertarian Party says: "A libertarian society would not allow anyone to injure others by pollution because it insists on individual responsibility."Template:Ref The U.S. Libertarian Party opposes pollution as "a violation of individual rights" in its platform.

Private property

Libertarians often justify property rights on the basis of self-ownership or the right to life. They reason that claims by others on one's labor and its products are tantamount to slavery, and may also argue that if individuals feel reasonably secure that their produce will not be confiscated (or treated as collective property as in socialism), then they are more likely to be productive and therefore contributive to the material wealth of themselves and society. Libertarians believe that capitalism is the only system that respects self-ownership and external property.

Libertarian economic views

Main Article: Libertarian economic views

Libertarians believe that the means of production should be privately owned, and that investments, production, distribution, income, and prices should be determined through the operation of a free market rather than by centralized state control. Hence, in opposition to statism and socialism they support capitalism. According to libertarians, government interventions such as taxation and regulation are at best necessary evils (as they involve coercion and disrupt markets). Libertarians contend that independent, subjective valuations by individuals interacting in a free market are the only sensible means of making economic decisions, and that any attempt by a centralized authority to override these decisions by decree will fail or have overall negative consequences (see Austrian School). Libertarians favor separation of government and economy, therefore they also oppose all collusion between government and corporations (see crony capitalism) that would override the free market.

Libertarians oppose initiatives that would seek to forcibly "redistribute" resources in an egalitarian manner. One reason is that welfare programs serve as a perverse incentive to keep individuals from working to earn a living, and that they tend to perpetuate unemployment and povertyTemplate:Ref. The maximization of economic freedom, they assert, would reduce poverty by making the economy more efficient, obviating the perceived need for tax-funded programs. Moreover, they believe that any temporary equality of outcome gained by redistribution would quickly collapse without continuous coercion, reasoning that people's differing economic decisions would allow those that were more productive or served others more effectively to quickly gain disproportionate wealth again. They see economic inequality as a outcome of people's freedom to choose their own actions, which may or may not be profitable.

Libertarians oppose forcing individuals to subsidize unprofitable businesses through taxation (see corporate welfare). Likewise, they oppose trade barriers to maintain businesses who would otherwise fail in the face of international competition, as well as oppose tax-funded programs such as The National Endowment for the Arts to support unprofitable artists. Libertarians believe government spending and government programs should be eliminated unless they are directly involved in protecting liberty, and that private institutions should replace them. When dismantling government services is impossible, many libertarians (like Milton Friedman) prefer market reforms like school vouchers to the status quo, while others (like Lew Rockwell) see such programs as a threat to private industry and as a covert means of expanding governmentTemplate:Ref.

In principle, libertarianism asserts that there should be no taxes at all, while Milton Friedman supported negative income tax, and geolibertarians defend Land Value Tax.

The libertarian movement

Libertarians and their allies are not a homogenous group, but have collaborated to form think tanks, political parties, and other projects. For example, Austrian School economist Murray Rothbard co-founded the John Randolph Club, the Center for Libertarian Studies, and the Cato InstituteTemplate:Ref to support an independent libertarian movement, and joined David Nolan in founding the United States Libertarian Party in 1971. (Rothbard ceased activity with the Libertarian Party in 1985 and some of his followers like Lew Rockwell are hostile to the group.) In the U.S. today, some libertarians support the Libertarian Party, some support no party, and some attempt to work within more powerful parties despite their differences. The Republican Liberty Caucus (a wing of the Republican Party) promotes libertarian views. A similar organization, the Democratic Freedom Caucus, exists within the Democratic Party, but is less organized. Republican Congressman Ron Paul is also a member of the Libertarian Party.

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The Movimiento Libertario is one of the most successful libertarian political parties in the world.
Costa Rica's Movimiento Libertario (Libertarian Movement) is a prominent non-U.S. libertarian party that occupies roughly 10% of Costa Rica's national legislatureTemplate:Ref. The Movimiento Libertario is considered the first Libertarian organization in history to accomplish substantial electoral success at the national level.

In 2001, the Free State Project was founded by Jason Sorens, a political scientist and libertarian activist who argued that 20,000 libertarians should migrate to a single U.S. state in order to concentrate their activism. In August of 2003, the membership of the Free State Project chose New Hampshire. However, as of 2005, there are concerns over the low rate of growth in signed Free State Project participants. In addition, discontented Free State Project participants, in protest of the choice of New Hampshire, started rival projects, including the Free West Alliance, to concentrate activism in a different state or region. There is also a European Free State Project (

Disputes among libertarians

Libertarians do not agree on every topic. Although they share a common tradition of thinkers from centuries past to contemporary times, no thinker is considered a common authority whose opinions are universally accepted. Rather, they are generally considered a reference to compare one's opinions and arguments with. Jacob Levy, writing for the weblog The Volokh Conspiracy, writes that "there hasn't been any one libertarian organization that has the semi-authoritative position that National Review had for a couple of generations of conservatism — or that, say, the Leonard Peikoff group [the Ayn Rand Institute] has among orthodox Objectivists."Template:Ref

One illustration of this disagreement is the recent use of the term Neolibertarian to denote libertarians (both small and big 'L') who advocate domestic incrementalism and a strong, interventionist U.S. foreign policy.

Anarcho-capitalists and minarchists

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The Libertatis quilibritas is a symbol of anarcho-capitalism. Some libertarians and Objectivists also use the dollar sign as a symbol.

Main articles: Minarchism and Anarcho-capitalism

There is a debate among libertarians about how much government is necessary and whether there a monopoly of protection is legitimate. Minarchists believe that the government should be limited exclusively (or almost exclusively) to protecting rights. For them, the legitimate functions of government might include the maintenance of the courts, the police, the military, and perhaps a few other functions (e.g., roads or schools), all the while imposing no taxation.

Anarcho-capitalists wish to keep the government out of matters of justice and protection, preferring to delegate these issues to private groups. Anarcho-capitalists argue that the minarchist belief that a state monopoly on coercion can be contained within any reasonable limits is unrealistic.

With the exception of a few groups, including some anarcho-capitalists and those influenced by an orthodox interpretation of Objectivist philosophy, the minarchist/anarcho-capitalist division is generally friendly. Since both minarchists and anarcho-capitalists believe that existing governments are far too intrusive, the two factions desire change in the same direction, at least in the short term. Some libertarian philosophers such as Tibor Machan argue that, properly understood, minarchism and anarcho-capitalism are not in contradiction. Template:Ref

Natural law and consequentialism

While some libertarians do not emphasize the justifications of their beliefs, those that do can be broadly classified into two major categories: those who emphasize legal rights, and those who believe that rights are justified by practical reasons such as economic efficiency. For those in the former group, such as Robert Nozick and Murray Rothbard, protecting rights is an end in itself. Though Ayn Rand rejected the label "libertarian", she advocated a similar but distinct form of rights-based natural law.

Representatives of the latter group, such as Milton Friedman, instead emphasize arguments that libertarianism is the most effective means of promoting social good. This is a more pragmatic, consequentialist line of reasoning. Consequentialist libertarians favor protection of rights not because they consider rights to be sacred, but because, in their view, protecting rights produces a society which has good results, such as an increase in wealth, safety, happiness, and fairness.

Some, like Frdric Bastiat see a natural harmony between these two points of view, and do not attempt to establish one view as truer than the other.

The role of Objectivism

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The libertarian Reason magazine dedicated an issue to Ayn Rand's influence one hundred years after her birth.

Main article: Libertarianism and Objectivism

Libertarianism and Objectivism have a complex relationship. Though they share many of the same political goals, some Objectivists see libertarians as plagiarists of their ideas "with the teeth pulled out of them",Template:Ref whereas some libertarians generally see Objectivists as dogmatic, unrealistic, and uncompromising. According to Reason editor Nick Gillespie in the magazine's March 2005 issue focusing on Objectivism's influence, Ayn Rand is "one of the most important figures in the libertarian movement... Rand remains one of the best-selling and most widely influential figures in American thought and culture" in general and in libertarianism in particular. Still, he confesses that he is embarrassed by his magazine's association with her ideas.Template:Ref In the same issue, Cathy Young says that "Libertarianism, the movement most closely connected to Rand's ideas, is less an offspring than a rebel stepchild."Template:Ref Though they reject what they see as Randian dogmas, libertarians like Young still believe that "Rand's message of reason and liberty... could be a rallying point" for libertarianism.

Other controversies among libertarians

These controversies are addressed in separate articles:

Criticism of libertarianism

See main article: Criticism of libertarianism

Conservatives often argue that the state is needed to maintain social order and morality. They may argue that excessive personal freedoms encourage dangerous and irresponsible behavior. Some of the most commonly debated issues here are sexual norms, the drug war, and public education. Some, such as the conservative Jonah Goldberg of National Review consider libertarianism "a form of arrogant nihilism" that is both overly tolerant of nontraditional lifestyles (like drug addiction) and intolerant towards other political views. In the same article, he writes "You don't turn children into responsible adults by giving them absolute freedom. You foster good character by limiting freedom, and by channeling energies into the most productive avenues. That's what all good schools, good families, and good societies do... pluralism [should not be]... a suicide pact."Template:Ref

Some liberals, such as John Rawls and Ernest Partridge, argue that implied social contracts and democracy justify government actions that harm some individuals so long as they are beneficial overall. They may further argue that rights and markets can only function among "a well-knit community of citizens" that rests on social obligations libertarians reject. These critics argue that without this foundation, the libertarian form of government will either fail or be expanded beyond recognition.Template:Ref

The argument that property itself is theft, promoted by many anarchists, would undermine almost all of capitalist theory if successfully argued. Some also argue that current property owners obtained their property unfairly, and therefore lack rightful or complete claim. This is especially true in the Americas where, they argue, land was stolen from its Native American owners, but applies in any context where critics believe the power of the rich enables them to gain unearned profits at the expense of their workers.

Other criticism focuses on economics. Critics argue that where libertarian economic theory (laissez-faire capitalism) has been implemented (as in Chile, 19th century Britain, and 19th and 20th century U.S.), the results show that libertarian economic ideas threaten freedom, democracy, human rights, and economic growthTemplate:Ref. In addition, some critics claim that libertarianism's anti-statism would eliminate necessary government services. A frequently cited example is health care; critics argue that a lack of medical knowledge among consumers, and what they believe to be a moral requirement of society to provide service for those who cannot pay, make sufficient health care impossible in a free market. These critics claim that a nationalized health care system provides better outcomes than does the market, and that health care, contrary to libertarian positions, is a public good justifying coercionTemplate:Ref.

Such critics may argue that the libertarian definition of "freedom" (as visualized in the Nolan Chart) is flawed because it ignores the effects powerlessness and poverty have on liberty. Others argue that the associated political quiz is biased towards libertarianism or that the chart dismisses non-libertarian values.Template:Ref

Others critics, such as Jeffrey Friedman, editor of Critical Review magazine, argue that libertarians oversimplify issues such as the efficacy of state intervention, shifting the burden of proof to their opponents without justification.Template:Ref Friedman also argues that libertarian views on human nature consist more of "ideology and political crusading" than "scholarship," as when he claims that libertarians assume that people act to maximize their own utility or that their self-interested actions will always serve human needs better than government.

Some criticize the motives of libertarians, saying that they only support libertarian ideas because they serve as a means of justifying and maintaining what these critics perceive to be their position near the top of existing social hierarchies. They claim that libertarians view the very wealthy as having earned their place, while the classical liberals were often skeptical of the rich, businesses, and corporations, which they saw as aristocratic. Thomas Jefferson in particular was critical of the growth of corporations, which such critics claim would form an important part of a libertarian society.

Most economists agree that decentralized decision-making is an important part of efficient markets, but non-free-market economists argue that market failures tend to result unless government intervenes. While libertarians believe in the efficacy of free markets to allocate resources efficiently and equitably, they would not allow market forces to occasion any violations of individual negative liberty. Moreover, they oppose any coercion that would be employed to remedy what some perceive as "market failures."

Some critics see the libertarian view of property rights as a threat to the environment, rather than a cure.Template:Ref They also claim that many aspects of the environment, such as scenic beauty, are extremely hard to valuate.

See also

Notes and references

  1. Template:Note Huben, Michael. A Non-Libertarian FAQ, March 15, 2005 (
  2. Template:Note Nettlau, Max. A Short History of Anarchism, 2000. p. 75
  3. Template:Note Friedman, Milton. The Drug War as a Socialist Enterprise. From: Friedman & Szasz on Liberty and Drugs, edited and with a Preface by Arnold S. Trebach and Kevin B. Zeese. Washington, D.C.: The Drug Policy Foundation, (
  4. Template:Note Hayek, F.A. Why I am not a Conservative, University of Chicago Press, 1960link (
  5. Template:Note Advocates for Self Government website. "The World's Smallest Political Quiz".[1] (
  6. Template:Note Huben, Michael, A Non-Libertarian FAQ, March 15, 2005 link (
  7. Template:Note Madison, James. Federalist Papers #10. Daily Advertiser, November 22, 1787 link (
  8. Template:Note David Boaz, "A Note on Labels: Why "Libertarian"?", accessed June 21, 2005 link (
  9. Template:Note The Capitalism Tour. Capitalism Magazine. link (
  10. Template:Note Advocates for Self Government website. "Russell Means—Libertarian" link (
  11. Template:Note Partridge, Ernest. "With Liberty and Justice for Some." Environmental Philosophy edited by Michael Zimmerman, Baird Callicott, Karen Warren, Irene Klaver, and John Clark, (
  12. Template:Note Cleveland, Paul and Stevenson, Brian. Individual Responsibility and Economic Well-Being. The Freeman, August (
  13. Template:Note Rockwell, Lew and Friedman, Milton. "Friedman v. Rockwell." Chronicles, December 1998. link (
  14. Template:Note Libertarian Party News. Murray Rothbard: 1926-1995, February (
  15. Template:Note Sanchez, Julian. "The Other Guevara." Reason magazine, August 12, (
  16. Template:Note Levy, Jacob. SELF-CRITICISM, The Volokh Conspiracy, March 19, 2003 link (
  17. Template:Note Machan, Tibor R. Revisiting Anarchism and Government, link (
  18. Template:Note Rand, Ayn. Ayn Rand’s Q&A on Libertarians from a 1971 interview link (
  19. Template:Note Gillespie, Nick. Rand Redux, Reason magazine, March 2005 link (
  20. Template:Note Young, Cathy. Ayn Rand at 100, Reason magazine. March 2005 link (
  21. Template:Note Goldberg, Jonah. Freedom Kills. National Review Online, December 12, (
  22. Template:Note Partridge, Ernest. "With Liberty and Justice for Some." Environmental Philosophy edited by Michael Zimmerman, Baird Callicott, Karen Warren, Irene Klaver, and John Clark, (
  23. Template:Note Kangas, Steve. Chile: the Laboratory Test. Liberalism Resurgent, link (
  24. Template:Note Yglesias, Matthew. "Health is Forever". April 15, 2005. link (
  25. Template:Note Friedman, Jeffrey. What's Wrong With Libertarianism, Critical Review Vol. 11, No. 3. Summer 1997PDF ( (large PDF file)

External links

Libertarian political parties around the world

Libertarian think tanks

Other libertarian political projects

Libertarian publications and websites

Sites about libertarianism

  • site ( Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on libertarianism
  • Libertarian FAQ (

cs:Libertarianismus de:Libertarismus eo:Libertarianismo fr:Libertaire ja:リバタリアニズム nl:libertarisme fi:Libertarismi sv:Libertarianism simple:Libertarianism pl:Libertarianizm


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