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This article is about the classical liberal individualist philosophy that strongly emphasizes private property rights conjoined with civil liberties. For the libertarian political philosophy favoring socialism, see libertarian socialism.

Libertarianism is a political philosophy advocating the right of individuals to be free to do whatever they wish with their persons or property as long as they allow others the same liberty, by not initiating physical force, the threat of it, or fraud against others.



Libertarians support an expansive view of liberty as the proper basis for organizing civil society. They tend to define liberty as the freedom to do whatever one wishes up to the point that one's behavior begins to interfere with another's person or property. At the point of interference, each party would become subject to certain principled rules for adjudicating disputes, generally accepting that one who has demonstrated a proven lack of respect for the rights of others should be subject to sanctions, including possible constraints on their freedom. They believe that liberty is the right of every individual (some view it as a natural right).

Libertarians generally defend the ideal of freedom from the perspective of how little one is constrained by authority, i.e., how much one is allowed to do (also referred to as negative liberty). This ideal is distinguished from a view of freedom focused on how much one is able to do (also called positive liberty), a distinction first noted by John Stuart Mill, and later described in fuller detail by Isaiah Berlin.

Libertarians generally view arbitrary constraints imposed by the state on persons or their property (see statism) in much the same light as similar interference by other individuals, i.e., as a violation of liberty. They tend to view the proper role of government as defending liberty, and otherwise limited to defining the equal rights of individuals to their respective freedom, and using the law (and a presumed monopoly on violence it would confer) to punish those who harm others through force or fraud. Anarchism is an extreme version of libertarianism favoring no governmental constraints at all, based on the assumption that rulers and laws are unnecessary.

Many libertarians view life, liberty, and property as the ultimate rights possessed by individuals, and that compromising one necessarily endangers the rest.


See Liberalism and Classical Liberalism

Renaissance thinkers such as Erasmus, Francis Bacon, Niccolò Machiavelli and Galileo Galilei represent the rise of empiricism and humanism in place of scholastic tradition of Dark Age. This was followed by Age of Reason, which attempted to organise philosophy on rational, skeptical and axiomatic grounds which eventually culminated into the natural philosophy of Issac Newton. Three major thinkers of this period was René Descartes, Blaise Pascal and most importantly, Thomas Hobbes, whose Leviathan set the framework of all subsequent Western political philosophy. Influenced by the English Civil War, Hobbes conceived the hypothetical notion of the natural condition of mankind from the axiomatic proposition of human nature. Hobbes's state of nature is exemplified by the famous motto, bellum omnium contra omnes (""warre of every man against every man"), where every person has a right and a need to do anything to preserve their own liberty and safety. To escape this state of chaos, people form social contract, cededing their individual rights to create sovereignty ruled under absolute monarch in explict rejection to democracy. The law under this Leviathan state is positive, that is man made law which has no inherent or necessary connection with ethics or morality.

Age of Enlightement

John Locke challenged Hobbes in his Two Treatises of Government which was written beforehand and published after the Glorious Revolution with an introduction explicitly endorsing the event. His formulation laid the foundation of liberalism and was loosely reflected in the policy and the philosopy of the Whig of Britain. In contrast to Hobbes, John Locke proposed actual state of nature, a primitive society with no government. In this state, everyone is in a state of perfect freedom which is only constrained by the law of nature characterised by right to "life, liberty and estate". However, this ideal state lack effective authority of enforcement and the state of nature soon degenerate into Hobbesian state of unrest. However, unlike Hobbes's ethical egoism, this does not release men from moral obiliation to observe natural law. Subsequently, a social contract was formed where men submit to the rule of law to "preserve" the state of nature and it's natural law. The basis of Lockean social contract is the consent of the governed derived from the natural rights. On this basis, Locke formulated the justification of slavery and conquest in term of response to or retailation to violation of natural right. This is, however, "but the state of war continued" and therefore all forms of slavery and tyranny are invalid by definition. It thus follow that there is a moral injunction to rebell against such institutions. As a practical matter, in every society, a part must rule the whole. As the majority is composed of more will and is stronger than the minority, the will of society must be determined by the majority. This makes liberal democracy a moral imperative of natural law and reason itself. Parliament should be comprised by those men who own estate. The role of legistrature was to protect natural law in the form of civil right. In Locke's definition, "property" means "life, liberty, and estate." because the word "property" is derived from Latin 'proprius' meaning "that which is one's own including oneself". Hobbes argue that, in a state of nature (which he denied actual existence), everything would be held in commons: there could be no private property, and hence no justice or injustice. Locke proposed a labour theory of property that built on the idea of natural law (see Thomas Aquinas). Each individual in the state of nature, at a minimum, "owns" himself and consequently own his labour. By applying one's labour to nature, any fruits of labour become his by merit of its effort. This eventually cause natural emergence of economy based on private property, trade and money (tradable piece of metal). In ideal state of plenty, it makes no sense to enclose more land than one needs for it's own consumption and exchange. However, as the population increases, problem of scarcity arises which cause inevitable conflict which prompt the formation of social contract where everyone submit both private property and commons under the rules of laws.

The Lockean framework was further developed by later Enlightenment thinkers, most notably, Immanuel Kant, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Adam Smith. Kant expanded the concept of natural rights in his formulation of categorical Imperative, from which all other moral obligation and natural rights are generated as inalienable natural law. Rousseau, reformulated state of nature by contending that man was good by nature, a noble savage in direct conflict with the notion of the original sin. Rousseau suggested that man's bad habits are the products of civilization, specifically social hierarchies, property, and markets, which led to increased interdependence and inequality and chaos, resulting in deeply flawed original social contract which ought to be revised. The idea of Rousseau together Montesquieu's separation of powers provided the founding principle of revolutionary republicanism of subsequent era.

Republican reforumlation of Lockean framework, which emphasise civic virtue and the common good is somewhat contrasted by the classical economics of the Wealth of Nations, magnum opus of Adam Smith. The book was Smith's attempt at refutation to the theory and policy of mercantilism, bullionism and monopolistic guilds. Written at the dawn of industrial revolution, Smith further reformulated Lockean labour theory of property into labour theory of value. He also demonstrated that division of labour is a result as well as a consequence of dynamic engine of economic progress which was made possible by the use of capital. At the same time, he stated that such specialisation leads to a 'mental mutilation' in workers and adovocated government investment in compulsory public education. Smith stresses the critical importance of meritocracy, allowing individuals to achieve what their "God-given talents" will allow them to, without interference from outside forces which lead to inefficiency in the division of labor and hamstring progress generally. Smith stated that "a voluntary, informed transaction always benefits both parties." provided that there is no coercion or fraud. Smith repeatedly admonished tendency of merchant and craftsmen to form cartel. But despite this tendency, the market, while appearing chaotic and unrestrained, is actually guided by so called invisible hand to produce the right amount and variety of goods at it's natural price. His thinking was further developed by subsequent English classical economist such as David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus and John Stuart Mills.

General tenet of Enlightemenent was that nature, while basically good, was not basically self-ordering and, instead, had to be ordered with reasoning and maturity. Thinking of later enlgitenment thinkers such as Smith and Rousseau who believed that social order at it's natural state as somewhat self-ordering and that chaos was, in a real sense, the result of excessive intervention of authority or entrenched political or commercial interest. This shift represented the impending end of the Enlightenment and the begining of Romanticism.


Romanticism was an artistic and intellectual movement in the history of ideas that originated in late 18th century. It stressed strong emotion, the individual imagination as a critical authority, and overturning of previous social conventions, particularly the position of the aristocracy. There was a strong emphasis on the importance of sublimity through a connection with nature. In economic term it was the period of Industrial Revolution. In political term, it was period of greater demand for democracy represented by independent movement in American Revolution and subsequent French Revolution, the Latin American independence movement and the May Constitution of Poland. In term of libertarian political philosophy, the period is characterised by the emergence on utilitarianism, individualism, anarchism and laissez-faire economics.

The origin of utilitarianism is credited generally to Jeremy Bentham who was born at a time of great social change accompanied by demands for greater democracy. He stated that the utility, that is pain and pleasure is the the only absolutes in the world which govern human behaviour. He further insisted that what is ethical is whatever brings "the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people". Benthan soon realised that the former could potentially conflict with the later. he dropped the second part and talked simply about Greatest happiness principle. The ethical proposition of Bentham was a clear break from the ethical proposition of natural law. Moreover, in political term, the principle can be applied to both totalitarian and anarchist principle.

John Stuart Mills reformulated Bentham's utilitarianims in term of individual liberty. Mills state that "Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign". Mill is compelled to say this due to what he calls the "tyranny of the majority", wherein majority could control etiquette and morality of individuals. Mills also articulated harm principle that people can do anything they like as long as it does not harm others. Mill insisted that cultural and spiritual happiness to be of greater value than mere physical pleasure and that utilitarianism requires that political arrangements which satisfy the "liberty principle", where each person would be guaranteed the greatest possible liberty that would not interfere with the liberty of others, so that each person may maximize his or her happiness.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon advocated an anarchist version of social contract which was not between individuals and the state, but rather "an agreement of man with man; an agreement from which must result what we call society". One of his famous statements is that "anarchy is order". In his formulation of mutualism, he asserted that labour is the only legitimate form of property ("property is freedom"), rejecting both private and collective ownership of property in favour of possesion ("property is theft!"). However, he later abandoned his rejection of property and endorse private property "as a counterweight to the power of the State, and by so doing to insure the liberty of the individual.".

Laissez-faire economics is the combination of quantity theory of money proposed byJean-Baptiste Say, Say's law of demand and supply articulated by James Mills, international trade theory based on David Ricardo's comparative advantage and lastly, John Stuart Mill's articulation of theories of production based on factors of production. In essence, it state that markets or economy is self ordering and recession cannot occur because of failure in demand or lack of money. This theories evolved into what is sometimes called "law of markets" which was the framework of macroeconomics from mid 1800's until the 1930's and inspiration of neoclassical economics which arose later in the 19th century.

Post Romanticism

In the latter 19th Century, English philosopher Herbert Spencer espoused the "law of equal liberty" stating, "every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man."

By the early 20th Century, mainstream thought in many parts of the world began to diverge from an almost exclusive focus on negative liberty and free market ideas to a more positive assertion of rights promoted by the Progressive movement in the U.S. and the Socialists in Europe. Rather than government existing merely to "secure the rights" of free people, many began to agitate for the use of government power to promote positive rights. This change is exemplified by Franklin Roosevelt's Four Freedoms, two of which are negative (freedom of speech and worship), one of which is positive (freedom from want, i.e., basic economic security), and one (freedom from fear) which could be defined either way depending on its scope.

Progressives, who emphasized positive as well as negative rights, began adopting the "liberal" label as their ranks swelled during the Depression. As "liberal" came to be identified with Progressive policies in several English-speaking countries, many of those who espoused the original classic, minimal-state philosophy, in order to distinguish their doctrine, began calling themselves "libertarians" or "classical liberals."

Libertarian policy

Many libertarians, including the Libertarian Party of the United States and New Zealand's Libertarianz Party, consider the Statue of Liberty to be an important symbol of their ideas.
Many libertarians, including the Libertarian Party of the United States and New Zealand's Libertarianz Party, consider the Statue of Liberty to be an important symbol of their ideas.

Libertarians strongly oppose infringement of civil rights such as restrictions on free expression (e.g., speech, press, or religious practice), prohibitions on voluntary association, or encroachments on persons or property except as a result of due process to establish or punish criminal behavior. As such, libertarians oppose any type of censorship (even for offensive speech), restrictions on gang membership (as distinct from gang violence), or pre-trial forfeiture of property. Furthermore, most libertarians reject the distinction between political and commercial speech or association, a legal distinction often used to protect one type of activity and not the other from government intervention.

Libertarians also frown on any laws restricting personal or consensual behavior (also see victimless crimes). As such, they tend to support the legalization of drugs, gambling, and prostitution. They believe that citizens should be free to take risks, even to the point of actual harm to themselves. For example, while most libertarians may personally agree with the majority who favor the use of seatbelts, libertarians reject mandating their use as paternalistic. Similarly, many believe that the FDA shouldn't ban unproven medical treatments, that any decisions on treatment be left between patient and doctor, and that government should, at most, be limited to passing non-binding judgments about efficacy or safety.

Aside from their distaste of constraints on personal behavior, libertarians believe that government should refrain from imposing any positive moral obligations, such as religious practices, mandatory national service, or tax-financed welfare. In fact, most libertarians consider any forcible redistribution of wealth to be theft, whether done by private individuals or through state power in the form of taxation. As such, they generally oppose the tax-funded provision of public services such as postal service, transportation, social insurance, public education, and health care. They further argue that whatever services a government provides, the private sector could produce at a higher quality and lower cost and, in most cases, in greater abundance.

Libertarians generally believe that such freedoms are a universal birthright, and they accept any material inequalities or wanton behavior (as long as it harms no one else) likely to result from such a policy of governmental non-intervention. Some libertarians, including anarcho-capitalists, oppose all taxation, but most who self-identify as libertarians support minimal taxation for the limited purpose of funding public institutions that would protect civil liberties and property rights, including police, military (with no conscription), and judicial courts. (See also minarchist)

Rights and the law

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

According to Walter Block, a U.S. Austrian School economist, the "non-aggression axiom is the linchpin" of libertarianism.[{{fullurl:Template:FULLPAGENAME}}#endnote_BlockCentralLynchpin] Individuals may not violate the rights of others by initiating the use of force, though force is not considered immoral when it is used in response to an initiation of force, threat, or fraud (as in self-defense).

Libertarians argue that only individuals have rights. Thus, the government has no original rights but only those duties with which it has been lawfully entrusted by individual citizens. Furthermore, libertarians do not consider majority rule to be sufficient justification for government coercion. To protect individual rights, libertarians tend to favor a system of law based on a constitution (which may be supplemented by a bill of rights) that limits the range of government actions against individuals and protects them from the "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.

Most rights-focused libertarians would argue that the only "rights" are variants of the negative rights.[{{fullurl:Template:FULLPAGENAME}}#endnote_Capitalism] Currently, however, many "rights" that must be provided by the actions of others ("positive rights") are now the status quo especially in politically thorny areas like Affirmative Action and health care. Libertarians believe that providing for others, and the decision of whom to provide for, should be a matter of voluntary decision and that no-one should forcefully overrule individual choice on the matter.

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 of the United States says: "A libertarian society would not allow anyone to injure others by pollution because it insists on individual responsibility."[{{fullurl:Template:FULLPAGENAME}}#endnote_Means] The U.S. Libertarian Party opposes pollution as "a violation of individual rights" in its platform. Pointing out that legal lack of accountability by government and government favored corporations or groups is the real weak spot, the Libertarian Party led a campaign to document the cause of pollution, leading the Government Accountability Office to the humiliating admission that over 95% of environmental problems were the result of government misconduct, including revelations that EPA buildings weren't following their own regulations, poisoning workers. In response, some leading leftist writers such as Ernest Partridge, reverting to older progressive views promoting forced development, then criticize Libertarianism as being too strict, suggesting that such adherence to personal rights and freedoms would have prevented use of the steam engines and derailed the industrial revolution, and government pollution as a natural result of progress. Meanwhile, protests against government pollution continue.

Private property

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

However, Jefferson (to some extent), Rothbard, and Robert Heinlein (in several talks) have been careful to point out that libertarianism, while based on self-ownership, does not presume any particular form of external property, legal reaction to initiation of force, particular economic motivations, or even assumption of individual identity, so long as the situation is voluntary and acceptable to its users. Rothbard, in particular, distinguishes sharply, along with other libertarian writers, between private voluntary ownership which may include public property, and government ownership which, to the extent it's coercive, is viewed as not ownership at all. That is, saying something is publicly owned does not mean it is not privately owned, and one should not jump to the conclusion that it should be government owned. Private means non-coercive in this view. This refusal to identify libertarianism with any particular solution or cultural conception in effect makes most critiques of libertarianism based on these concepts irrelevant: Rothbard notes that libertarian socialisms, libertarian municipalism, societies where no prices are charged and people work little, or that completely ignore criminal acts, are not only conceivable but also have various functional examples from history, anthropology and the current day. Heinlein wrote several science fiction stories exploring the nature of multi-individual beings. NaodW29-HTMLCommentStrip428ac1ed7ad2c1bc00000001

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 the belief of many libertarians 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 poverty.[{{fullurl:Template:FULLPAGENAME}}#endnote_ClevelandPerverseIncentive] 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 an 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 wherever possible. 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 government.[{{fullurl:Template:FULLPAGENAME}}#endnote_Friedrock]

Libertarian philosophy in the academy

While seminars in libertarianism in the US were being taught in the 1960's, with a personal studies philosophical seminar at SUNY Geneseo, starting in 1972, Philosophical libertarianism first gained popular acceptance in the academy (as opposed to popular society) in 1974, with the publishing of Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia. Left-liberal philosopher Thomas Nagel famously argued that Nozick's libertarianism was 'without foundations' because Nozick's libertarianism proceeded from the assumption that individuals owned themselves without any further explanation.

The work of Jan Narveson aimed to meet this challenge. Based on the work of David Gauthier, Narveson developed contractarian libertarianism, outlined in his 1988 work The Libertarian Idea. In this work, Narveson argued with Hobbes that individuals would lay down their ability to kill and steal from each other in order to leave the state of nature, but he broke with Hobbes in that he argued that only a minimal state, not an absolute state, was necessary to enforce this agreement. In other words, property rights, including self-ownership, may be produced by contract rather than existing naturally. Other advocates of contractarian libertarianism include Nobel Laureate, and founder of the public choice school of economics, James M. Buchanan and Hungarian-French philosopher Anthony de Jasay. However, such acceptance of social contract theory is not common among libertarians outside of academia, perhaps because it makes property rights a less than absolute right, and may be seen as providing an opening to arguments phrased in terms of the rights of society as opposed to individuals.

The libertarian movement

Libertarianism originated in the tradition of liberalism, and often the terms are used interchangeably by Libertarians. Advocacy of free markets, free trade, limited government, and a focus on personal liberty unite the two philosophies. Raimondo Cubeddu of the Department of Political Science of the University of Pisa says "It is often difficult to distinguish between "Libertarianism" and "Classical Liberalism." Those two labels are used almost interchangeably by those who we may call libertarians of a "minarchist" persuasion: scholars who, following Locke and Nozick, believe a State is needed in order to achieve effective protection of property rights." [{{fullurl:Template:FULLPAGENAME}}#endnote_Cubeddu]

Not all libertarians agree on every topic. Many libertarians share a common tradition of thought emerging from classical British liberalism. This tradition does not have a single representative: no thinker is considered a common authority whose opinions are universally accepted. Instead, libertarians make reference to a variety of past opinions when advancing contemporary arguments. 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]NaodW29-HTMLCommentStrip428ac1ed7ad2c1bc00000002 has among orthodox Objectivists."[{{fullurl:Template:FULLPAGENAME}}#endnote_Levy]

Purists, who favor absolute laissez-faire, advocate aggression insurance, large scale private security and arbitration, voluntary taxation, and other means of achieving civilized and natural systems of security and law governed by sovereign individuals and the "invisible hand". These are called free-market anarchists, Anarcho-capitalists, or radical capitalists.

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.

There is also a camp of libertarians in Anglo-American Political Philosophy who hold egalitarian principles with the ideas of individual freedom and property rights. They call themselves "left-libertarians". Left-libertarians believe that the initial distribution of property is naturally egalitarian in nature, such that either persons cannot legally appropriate property privately and exclusively or they must obtain permission of all within the political community to do so. Some left-libertarians even use the Lockean proviso in such a way as to promote redistributive types of justice in ways seemingly compatible with libertarian rights of self-ownership. Some left-libertarians in modern times include Peter Vallentyne, Hillel Steiner, Philippe Van Parijs, and Michael Otsuka, whose book Libertarianism Without Inequality is one of the most egalitarian leaning libertarian texts currently in publication.

Criticisms of left-libertarianism have come from both the right and left alike. Right-libertarians like Robert Nozick hold that self-ownership and property acquisition need not meet egalitarian standards, they must merely follow the Lockean idea of not worsening the situation of others. G.A. Cohen, an Analytical Marxist philosopher, has extensively criticized left-libertarianism's virtues of self-ownership and equality. In his Self-ownership, Freedom, and Equality, Cohen claims that any system that takes equality and its enforcement seriously is not consistent with the robust freedom and full self-ownership of libertarian thought. (Tom G. Palmer of the Cato Institute has responded to Cohen's critique in 'Critical Review'[1] and has provided a guide to the literature criticizing libertarianism in his bibliographical review essay on "The Literature of Liberty" in The Libertarian Reader, ed. by David Boaz [2].)

One result is The Libertarian Program, an international project to define and document key current and potential voluntary replacements of government programs.

Some, such as David Boaz, executive vice president of the libertarian U.S think tank, the Cato Institute, [{{fullurl:Template:FULLPAGENAME}}#endnote_DavidBoazOnClassicalLiberalismLabel] argue that the term classical liberalism should be reserved for early liberal thinkers for the sake of clarity and accuracy, and because of differences between many libertarian and classical liberal thinkers. Nevertheless, the Cato Institute's official stance is that classical liberalism and libertarianism are synonymous; they prefer the term "liberal" to describe themselves, but choose not to use it because of its confusing connotation in some English-speaking countries (most self-described liberals prefer a mixed economy rather than a free market economy). The Cato Institute dislikes adding "classical" because, in their view, "the word 'classical' connotes a backward-looking philosophy". Thus, they finally settle on "libertarian", as it avoids backward implications and confused definitions.

Anarcho-capitalists and minarchists

The Libertatis Æquilibritas is a symbol of anarcho-capitalism.  Some libertarians and Objectivists also use the dollar sign as a symbol.
The Libertatis Æquilibritas 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. Libertarians debate if a government monopoly of protection can be legitimate. Minarchists believe that the government should be limited exclusively (or almost exclusively) to protecting property 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), while imposing little or 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 being contained within any reasonable limits is unrealistic, and that institutionalized coercion on any scale is counterproductive. The Libertarian International Organization holds this isn't classical anarchism at all but is effectively limited government without a territorial base, as opposed to competing territorial governments with which Americans are familiar; and is sometimes called poly-archy or pan-archy. It also points to a less discussed form, minimal government, where officials play symbolic and essentially conflict prevention roles as in early Republics, all programs being voluntarily provided. This is in fact the classical Libertarian view in line with XIXth century libertarians such as Pi y Margall.

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 R. Machan argue that, properly understood, minarchism and anarcho-capitalism are not in contradiction. [{{fullurl:Template:FULLPAGENAME}}#endnote_Machan]

This is also the view of the Libertarian International Organization which see the issue as between coercive government versus voluntary governance, the actual scope of size and functions being a subordinate issue. It simply classifies these as co-ordinate forms, each of which have acceptable practical examples so the argument as to which is best is misguided, but are practical tools for listing voluntary alternatives when kept to specific items, and so viewed increasingly by policy implementers. Thus instead of a coercive government phone monopoly, there might be a minarchist phone user co-op, minimal government with competing phone companies, or a classical anarchist network of self-subsidized cell phones or a social trust providing the phones on a non-monopoly basis, all in loose and voluntary association as a limited government. It also suggests that many writers miss that none of these is libertarian per se: what makes them libertarian is the actual presence of and leadership by libertarians—people pledged not to initiate force—and without libertarians they will begin to retrogress into coercive forms.

Finally, Libertarians themselves are quick to put context in this dialogue. The USA LP has pointed out that across the board reductions of 99% of government in many areas would still leave us with government as it was in the Roosevelt era, when many contemporaries felt it was already too large.

Rights and consequentialism

While some libertarians do not emphasize the justifications of their beliefs, those that do can be broadly classified into three major categories: those who emphasize legal rights and contracts as the foundation of their philosophy, those who believe that rights are justified by practical reasons such as economic efficiency, and those that see the first generating the second. For those in the first group, such as Robert Nozick and Murray Rothbard, protecting rights is an end in itself. The beliefs of rights-focused libertarians are often derived, directly or indirectly, from the writings of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Though Ayn Rand rejected the label "libertarian", she advocated a similar but distinct form of rights-based natural law that influences modern libertarian thought.

Representatives of utilitarianism, such as Milton Friedman, Ludwig von Mises, and F.A. Hayek, 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 better society with increased wealth, safety, happiness, and fairness.

Some libertarians like Frédéric Bastiat see a natural harmony between the natural rights and utilitarian points of view, and do not attempt to establish one view as truer than the other. This is similar to natural rights views expressed by Cicero and Spinoza, and accepted as a guide to decisons in Common Law.

Ayn Rand's "Objectivism"

Image:Ayn Rand Reason.jpg
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, many Objectivists see libertarians as plagiaristic. These Objectivists (including Ayn Rand) claim that libertarians use Objectivist ideas "with the teeth pulled out of them".[{{fullurl:Template:FULLPAGENAME}}#endnote_Rand] Some libertarians 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.[{{fullurl:Template:FULLPAGENAME}}#endnote_Gillespie] 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."[{{fullurl:Template:FULLPAGENAME}}#endnote_Young] 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. Objectivists often disagree with the isolationism of many libertarians. They argue that when it is in a nation's self-interest to do so, the state can and should act militarilly abroad, even proactively. Many also would like to see the state more aggressively protect the rights of US individuals and corporations abroad - that would include military action in response to nationalization.

More generally, orthodox Objectivists claim that Objectivism is a complete philosophical system, whereas libertarianism is a political philosophy which simply opposes coercion without containing any specific system of epistemology, metaphysics, or esthetics (although, many libertarians do ground their doctrine on philosophical foundations other than Objectivism). They condemn libertarians who consider state and government "necessary evils." For Objectivists, a government limited to protection of its citizens' rights is an absolutely necessary and moral institution. Objectivists are opposed to all anarchist currents and are suspicious of libertarians' lineage with individualist anarchism.

However, others who knew Rand say a distorted account of her views has been given by some followers, pointing out that she was quite friendly with many libertarians, and at one point even attempted a demonstration of the existence of God, a fact once ridiculed but now confirmed by biographers. Some who met her in her final years state she modified her views in light of the many of the Founders' own scepticism seeking to replace courts with juries, militaries with voluntary militias, and there being no police at all in the modern sense in the early years of the Republic. Rand at one point even surprised an audience when she advocated possible gun control, though demurring she was perhaps wrong on "technical issues," re-iterating that her main focus was not constructing an ideal Republic but reviving general understanding of limited government, particularly "Aristotelian Constitutionalism" as an indispensable prelude.

Libertarian Politics

See Libertarian Politics

Image:2d political spectrum.png
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.

Especially in the United States and Canada, libertarianism is often looked at as a right-wing philosophy, especially by non-libertarians, since in those two countries, libertarians tend to have more in common with conservatives than liberals, especially with regards to economic and gun control policies.

This is not necessarily an accurate description, since the philosophy really doesn't fall strictly into a left-right designation. Libertarians reject the categorisation of their political philosophy in term of right-wing and left-wing. Extreme forms of these two political spectra gravitate toward authoritarianism in guise of communism and facism because both group consider the state as a means to achieve their philosophical inclination. For example, libetarianism opposes the illegalisation of drugs and hate speech as seen in Europe.

Another way to understand where libertarians fit into the political spectrum would be to contrast the view with both liberalism, which favors government action to promote equality, and conservativism, which favors government action to promote order. Libertarianism favors freedom and opposes government action to promote either equality or order. For example, conservatives are likely to support a ban on same-sex marriage, in the interests of preserving the traditional order, liberals are likely to favor allowing same-sex marriage, in the interest of guaranteeing equality under the law, and libertarians are likely to attack the notion of government-sanctioned marriage itself. In specific, they might deny that the government deserves any role in marriage other than enforcing whatever legal contract people choose to bind themselves to, and to oppose the various additional rights currently granted to married people.

The related case of discrimination in the workplace is perhaps even more illuminating. Here, liberals would typically support laws to penalize employers for discrimination on a basis unrelated to the ability to do the job, conservatives would typically allow or even encourage such discrimination, but libertarians could be expected to oppose any laws on this matter because these would infringe on the property rights of the business owner. In other words, even if a particular libertarian feels strongly that various groups being discriminated against should have equality, he would say that intervening to establish this equality should not be the role of the government. If a business discriminates against you, you are "free" to work elsewhere, or possibly start your own business which follows your personal belief structure. By endorsing such things as the freedom to discriminate, libertarianism can support freedoms above human rights.

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, which is called the Nolan chart. Named after David Nolan, who designed the chart and also founded the United States Libertarian Party, the chart is similar to a socio-political test used to place individuals by the Advocates for Self Government.[{{fullurl:Template:FULLPAGENAME}}#endnote_Quiz] A first approximation of libertarian politics (derived from these charts) is that they agree with liberals on social issues and with conservatives on economic issues. Thus, the traditional linear scale of governmental philosophy could be represented inside the chart stretching from the upper left corner to the lower right, while the degree of state control is represented linearly from the lower left to the upper right. (See below for criticism of this chart and its use.)

Libertarians and their allies are not a homogeneous 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 Institute[{{fullurl:Template:FULLPAGENAME}}#endnote_lpnews] 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 and was once its presidential candidate.

Image:Movimiento Libertario Logo.gif
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 legislature.[{{fullurl:Template:FULLPAGENAME}}#endnote_Sanchez] The Movimiento Libertario is considered the first libertarian organization in history to achieve substantial electoral success at the national level.

The Hong Kong Liberal Party is another example of a political party with libertarian leanings on the economic level. It is the second largest political party in the Legislative Council, however the majority of the party's success are a result of Hong Kong's unique electoral system which allows business groups to elect half the legislature while the other half is directly elected.

There are other Libertarian parties that have had various amounts of success throughout the world. Libertarianism is emerging in France with the the inception of Liberté Chérie ("Cherished Liberty"), a thinktank and activist association that has 2000 members. Liberté Chérie gained significant publicity when it managed to draw 80,000 Parisians into the streets to demonstrate against government employees who were striking.

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.

Controversies among libertarians

These controversies are addressed in separate articles:

The Libertarian Party approach to these issues is to say the focus is misplaced. Under the "Dallas Accord" LP members agreed that party documents and officals must focus on voluntary solutions and not favor any particular mode, be it minarchism or anything else. On social issues the Platform focuses on voluntary alternatives and civil institutions, not coercive government, as the correct problems-solving entity. Those concerned about defense and immigration should look to the voluntary actions underway encouraged or performed by the Libertarian Party or allied movements. The correct solution to foreign woes is more Libertarian policies and presumably Libertarians in all countries.

Criticism of libertarianism

See main article: Criticism of libertarianism

Critics of libertarianism from both the Left and the Right claim that libertarian ideas about individual economic and social freedom are contradictory, untenable or undesirable. Critics from the Left tend to focus on the economic consequences, claiming that perfectly free markets, or laissez-faire capitalism, undermines individual freedom for many people by creating social inequality, poverty, and lack of accountability for the most powerful. Criticism of libertarianism from the Right tends to focus on issues of tradition and personal morality, claiming that the extensive personal freedoms promoted by libertarians encourage unhealthy and immoral behavior and undermine religion. Libertarians mindful of such criticisms claim that personal responsibility, private charity, and the voluntary exchange of goods and ideas are all consistent manifestations of an individualistic approach to liberty, and provide both a more effective and more ethical way to prosperity and peaceful coexistence. They often argue that in a truly capitalistic society, even the poorest would end up better off as a result of faster overall economic growth - which they believe likely to occur with lower taxes and less regulation.

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 resulting in externalities indirectly paid for by the collective society. If negative behaviors adversely effect society, then taxation can help to relieve this market failure with a new allocation of resources. 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 heroin 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."[{{fullurl:Template:FULLPAGENAME}}#endnote_goldberg2] (Note: Libertarians do not advocate "absolute freedom," but insist that the freedom of action of each individual should be limited at the point where it would infringe on the freedom of others; also, it is very unusual for libertarians to advocate that children have the same liberty as adults).

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 function only among "a well-knit community of citizens" that rests on social obligations that libertarians reject. These critics argue that without this foundation, the libertarian form of government will either fail or be expanded beyond recognition.[{{fullurl:Template:FULLPAGENAME}}#endnote_Partridge]

The argument that property itself is theft, promoted by many anarchists, would undermine almost all libertarian capitalist theory if successfully argued. Some also argue that current property owners obtained their property unfairly, and therefore lack rightful or complete claim. In the Americas, 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. More deeply, it suggests that the distinction between "initiating" and reacting with force lacks a principled basis.

Other criticism focuses on economics. Critics argue that where libertarian economic theory (neo-classical and 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 growth.[{{fullurl:Template:FULLPAGENAME}}#endnote_Kangas]It ignores real market failures such as the human propensity for opportunistic behavior. In addition, some critics claim that libertarianism's anti-statism would eliminate some essential 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 completely 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 coercion.[{{fullurl:Template:FULLPAGENAME}}#endnote_Yglesias]

Such critics may argue that the libertarian definition of "freedom" (as visualized in the Nolan Chart) is flawed because it ignores the effects that 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.[{{fullurl:Template:FULLPAGENAME}}#endnote_Huben2] In particular, it portrays Libertarianism as being the greatest supporter for freedoms while failing to point out that only negative freedoms are endorsed.

Others critics, such as Jeffrey Friedman, editor of the journal Critical Review, argue that libertarians oversimplify issues such as the efficacy of state intervention, shifting the burden of proof to their opponents without justification.[{{fullurl:Template:FULLPAGENAME}}#endnote_Friedman] 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 support libertarian ideas only 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. For instance, Wired columnist Brooke Shelbey Biggs stated that "Libertarianism is uninformed capitalist greed in civil-rights clothing" and that there are "a few issues libertarians tend to ignore when talking about the promise of a future without government interference: inherent cultural disadvantage and affirmative action; public-works projects like freeways for all those new-money Jags around Silicon Valley; funding for the arts; child-abuse prevention and intervention; medical care for the elderly; and too many more to list. They are also not likely to complain loudly about capital-gains tax cuts or other tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy".

These critics contend that the support of WTO efforts by libertarians demonstrates that libertarians are satisfied with the global status quo and would like to "lock-in" the hegemonic advantages.[{{fullurl:Template:FULLPAGENAME}}#endnote_BrookeShelbeyBiggs] Likewise, they say 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. Some libertarians, however, deny the legitimacy of corporations as being government constructs.

Most economists agree that decentralized decision-making is an important part of efficient markets, but many 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", arguing that government intervention leads to government failure, a cure worse than the disease.[3]

Some critics see the libertarian view of property rights as a threat to the environment, rather than a cure.[{{fullurl:Template:FULLPAGENAME}}#endnote_Partridge] They also claim that many aspects of the environment, such as scenic beauty, are extremely hard to valuate.

Some critics claim that libertarianism would enable slavery per the self-ownership property right, repeal of labor laws, via contractual labor agreements, outright sale of future labor rights, and/or as a punishment for a person with unpaid debts as an indentured servant. There are even internal debates within libertarian camps as to the libertarian justification for contractual slavery [4] and indentured labor [5][6]Rothbard. The new libertarian rejoinder is that one's body, as Thomas Jefferson said of ideas, is not the subject of property, so slavery is de facto illegal, as is false imprisonment. This view parallels the long-standing common law principle that rights are unalienable, a condition that could not be satisfied if rights were treated as personal property (in the legal sense) and tradable commodities, even though this is not in any official libertarian platform, and the issue of voluntary servitude contracts are still debated within the libertarian ranks.

Some critics point out that libertarianism is untried, and that the benefits it claims it would produce have not been put to the test. Others would maintain that libertarianism is inherently unworkable in the real world, because, human nature being what it is, whatever organization was strong enough to enforce contracts and prohibit fraud would sieze power and become a de facto government.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^  Don Franzen, Los Angeles Times Book Review Desk, review of "Neither Left Nor Right". January 19, 1997. Franzen states that "Murray and Boaz share the political philosophy of libertarianism, which upholds individual liberty--both economic and personal--and advocates a government limited, with few exceptions, to protecting individual rights and restraining the use of force and fraud." (Review on MSN Encarta's entry on Libertarianism defines it as a "political philosophy" (Both references retrieved June 24, 2005). The Encyclopedia Britannica defines Libertarianism as "Political philosophy that stresses personal liberty." (link, accessed 29 June, 2005)
  2. ^  Nettlau, Max. A Short History of Anarchism, 2000. p. 75
  3. ^  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. ^  Cubeddu, Raimondo. Preface of Prospettive del Libertarismo Etica & Politica Vol. V, No. 2, 2003.
  5. ^  Hayek, F.A. Why I am not a Conservative, University of Chicago Press, 1960link
  6. ^  Advocates for Self Government website. "The World's Smallest Political Quiz".link
  7. ^  Madison, James. Federalist Papers #10. Daily Advertiser, November 22, 1787 link
  8. ^  David Boaz, "A Note on Labels: Why "Libertarian"?", accessed June 21, 2005 link
  9. ^  Walter Block, "The Non-Aggression Axiom of Libertarianism". February 17, 2003. Accessed 30 June, 2005.
  10. ^  The Capitalism Tour. Capitalism Magazine. link
  11. ^  Advocates for Self Government website. "Russell Means—Libertarian" link
  12. ^  Cleveland, Paul and Stevenson, Brian. Individual Responsibility and Economic Well-Being. The Freeman, August
  13. ^  Rockwell, Lew and Friedman, Milton. "Friedman v. Rockwell." Chronicles, December 1998. link
  14. ^  Libertarian Party News. Murray Rothbard: 1926-1995, February
  15. ^  Sanchez, Julian. "The Other Guevara." Reason magazine, August 12,
  16. ^  Levy, Jacob. SELF-CRITICISM, The Volokh Conspiracy, March 19, 2003 link
  17. ^  Machan, Tibor R. Revisiting Anarchism and Government, link.
  18. ^  Rand, Ayn. Ayn Rand’s Q&A on Libertarians from a 1971 interview link
  19. ^  Gillespie, Nick. Rand Redux, Reason magazine, March 2005 link
  20. ^  Young, Cathy. Ayn Rand at 100, Reason magazine. March 2005 link
  21. ^  Goldberg, Jonah. Freedom Kills. National Review Online, December 12,
  22. ^  Partridge, Ernest. "With Liberty and Justice for Some." Environmental Philosophy edited by Michael Zimmerman, Baird Callicott, Karen Warren, Irene Klaver, and John Clark,
  23. ^  Kangas, Steve. Chile: the Laboratory Test. Liberalism Resurgent, link
  24. ^  Yglesias, Matthew. "Health is Forever". April 15, 2005. link
  25. ^  Huben, Michael, A Non-Libertarian FAQ, March 15, 2005 link
  26. ^  Friedman, Jeffrey. What's Wrong With Libertarianism, Critical Review Vol. 11, No. 3. Summer 1997PDF (large PDF file)
  27. ^  Brooke Shelbey Biggs, "You're Not the Boss of Me!", Wired, 21 July 1997.

External links

Libertarian political parties around the world

Libertarian think tanks

Other libertarian political projects

Publications and Websites about Libertarianism

Sites about libertarianism

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