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See also Brief Summary of Libertarian Stances on Issues

Libertarianism is a political philosophy advocating that individuals should be free to do whatever they wish with their person or property, as long as they do not infringe on the same liberty of others. Libertarians hold as a fundamental maxim that all human interaction should be voluntary and consensual. They maintain that the initiation (or threat) of physical force against another person or his property, or the commission of fraud, is a violation of that principle. Some libertarians regard all initiation of force as immoral, whereas others support a limited government that engages in the minimum amount of initiatory force (such as minimal taxation and regulation) that they believe necessary to ensure maximum individual freedom. Force is not opposed when used in retaliation for initiatory aggressions such as trespassing or violence. Libertarians favor an ethic of self-responsibility and strongly oppose the welfare state, because they believe forcing someone to provide aid to others is ethically wrong, ultimately counter-productive, or both.

Note on terminology: Some writers who have been called libertarians have also been referred to as classical liberals, by others or themselves. And, some use the phrase "the freedom philosophy" to refer to libertarianism, classical liberalism, or both.


Libertarians generally define liberty as the freedom to do whatever one wishes up to the point that one's behavior begins to interfere with or endanger another's person or property. At the point of interference, each party would become subject to certain principled rules for adjudicating disputes, which emphasize compensation to the victim rather than punishment or retribution alone. Most libertarians allow that such sanctions are properly imposed by the state in the form of criminal or civil penalties, though many dispute the degree to which such punishment is necessarily a state function.

Libertarians generally view constraints imposed by the state on persons or their property, beyond the need to penalize infringement of one's rights by another, as a violation of liberty. Anarchists favor no governmental constraints at all, based on the assumption that rulers and laws are unnecessary because in the absence of government individuals will naturally form self-governing social bonds and rules. In contrast, Big-L-Libertarians consider government necessary for the sole purpose of protecting the rights of the people. This includes protecting people and their property from the criminal acts of others, as well as providing for national defense.

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

Many libertarians view life, liberty, and property as the ultimate rights possessed by individuals, and that compromising one necessarily endangers the rest. In democracies, they consider compromise of these individual rights by political action to be "tyranny by the majority", a term first coined by Alexis de Tocqueville, and made famous by John Stuart Mill, which emphasizes the threat of the majority to impose majority norms on minorities, and violating their rights in the process. "...there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling, against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them..."

Many libertarians favor common law, which they see as less arbitrary and more adaptable than statutory law. The relative benefits of common law evolving toward ever finer definitions of property rights were articulated by thinkers such as Friedrich Hayek, Richard Epstein, Robert Nozick, and Randy Barnett. Some libertarian thinkers believe that this evolution can define away various "commons" such as pollution or other interactions viewed by some as externalities. "A libertarian society would not allow anyone to injure others by pollution because it insists on individual responsibility."[1] "Public" ownership of property makes accountability difficult.

Rights and Consequentialism

Some libertarians such as Robert Nozick and Murray Rothbard view the rights to life, liberty, and property as natural rights, i.e., worthy of protection as an end in themselves. Their view of natural rights is derived, directly or indirectly, from the writings of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Ayn Rand, another powerful influence on libertarianism, despite rejecting the label, also viewed these rights as based on natural law.

Other libertarians such as Milton Friedman, Ludwig von Mises, and Friedrich Hayek justified these rights on pragmatic or consequentialist, as well as moral grounds. They argued that libertarianism was consistent with economic efficiency, and thus, the most effective means of promoting or enhancing social welfare. They may also justify some initiation of force in some situations, such as in emergency situations. Their opposition to initiation of force is simply a general rule which may not apply in all cases. Some libertarians such as Jan Narveson take the contractarian point of view that rights are a sort of agreement rational people would make before interacting. A further approach is to dispense entirely with any attempt to justify rights, and instead adopt critical rationalism. Libertarian rights are simply conjectured to be desirable and then that conjecture is subjected to criticism of all kinds.

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.

Libertarians strongly oppose infringement of civil liberties 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 (i.e., claims of offensive speech), 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, as well as laws on victimless crimes. As such, they believe that individual choices for products or services should not be limited by government licensing requirements or state-granted monopolies, or in the form of trade barriers that restrict choices for products and services from other nations (see Free Trade). They also tend to oppose legal prohibitions on recreational drug use, 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 United States Food and Drug Administration (and other similar bodies in other countries like Health Canada in Canada) 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.

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. They see economic inequality as an outcome of people's freedom to choose their own actions, which may or may not be profitable.

Minarchism and Anarcho-capitalism

Some who self-identify as libertarians are minarchists, i.e., supportive of minimal taxation as a "necessary evil" for the limited purpose of funding public institutions that would protect civil liberties and property rights, including police, volunteer armed forces without conscription, and judicial courts. Anarcho-capitalists, by contrast, oppose all taxation, rejecting any government claim for a monopoly of protection as unnecessary. They 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 any monopoly on coercion can be contained within any reasonable limits is unrealistic, and that institutionalized coercion on any scale is counterproductive.

The policy positions of minarchists and anarcho-capitalists on mainstream issues tend to be indistinguishable as both sets of libertarians believe that existing governments are too intrusive. Some libertarian philosophers such as Tibor R. Machan argue that, properly understood, minarchism and anarcho-capitalism are not in contradiction.

There are also many people who identify as libertarian who advocate for more than a “night watchman” state. These people are sometimes referred to as moderate, or “lessarchist” for their desire to reduce or limit only particular aspects of government, or for a more limited reduction of state power as an end goal.


The first known use of a term that has been translated as "libertarian," in a political sense, was by anarcho-communist Joseph Déjacque, who used the French term "libertaire" in a letter to Proudhon in 1857.[2] While many left-anarchists still use the term (e.g., terms translatable as "libertarian" are used as a synonym for anarchism in some non-English languages, like French, Italian and so on), its most common usage in the United States has nothing to do with socialism.

Instead, libertarianism as a political ideal is viewed as a form of classical liberalism, a modern term often used interchangeably with libertarianism. This concept, originally referred to simply as "liberalism," arose from Enlightenment ideas in Europe and America, including the political philosophies of John Locke and the Baron de Montesquieu, and the moral and economic philosophy of Adam Smith. By the late 18th century, these ideas quickly spread with the Industrial Revolution throughout the Western world.

Locke developed a version of the social contract as rule with "the consent of the governed" derived from natural rights. The role of the legislature was to protect natural rights in the legal form of civil rights. Locke built on the idea of natural rights to propose a labor theory of property; each individual in the state of nature "owns" himself and, by virtue of their labor, owns the fruits of his efforts. From this conception of natural rights, an economy emerges based on private property and trade, with money as the medium of exchange.

At around the same period, the French philosopher Montesquieu developed a distinction between sovereign and administrative powers, and proposed a separation of powers among the latter as a counterweight to the natural tendency of administrative power to grow at the expense of individual rights. He allowed as to how this separation of powers could work just as well in a republic as for a limited monarchy, though he personally preferred the latter. Nevertheless, his ideas fed the imaginations of America's Founding Fathers, and would become the basis upon which political power would be exercised by most governments, both constitutional monarchies and republics, beginning with the United States.

Adam Smith's moral philosophy stressed government non-intervention so that individuals could achieve whatever their "God-given talents" would allow without interference from arbitrary forces. His economic analysis suggested that anything interfering with the ability of individuals to contribute their best talents to any enterprise--a reference to mercantilist policies and monopolistic guilds--would lead to an inefficient division of labor, and hamstring progress generally. Smith stated that "a voluntary, informed transaction always benefits both parties," such that "voluntary" and "informed" meant the absence of force or fraud.

During the American Revolution, the Founding Fathers of the United States who enshrined the protection of liberty as the primary purpose of government were Thomas Paine, Patrick Henry, Elbridge Gerry, Thomas Jefferson, and Daniel Shays. Jefferson said that "rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others."

The Marquis de La Fayette imported American ideas of liberty, although some might say re-imported, in drafting the French Declaration of the Rights of Man of 1789, which states:

Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights.

John Stuart Mill, in a reformulation of Jeremy Bentham's notion of utilitarianism, stated that, "Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign." Mill contrasts this with what he calls the "tyranny of the majority," declaring that utilitarianism requires that political arrangements satisfy the "liberty principle", whereby 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. This ideal would be echoed later by English philosopher Herbert Spencer when he espoused the "law of equal liberty," stating that "every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man."

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 labor is the only legitimate form of property, stating "property is freedom", rejecting both private and collective ownership of property "property is theft!". However, he later abandoned his rejection of property, and endorsed private property "as a counterweight to the power of the State, and by so doing to insure the liberty of the individual."

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 markets to a more positive assertion of rights promoted by the Progressive movement in the United States and the socialist movement 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, namely restricting governments from infringing "freedom of speech" and "freedom of worship," and two of which were positive, declaring a "freedom from want", i.e., government delivery of domestic and foreign aid, and a "freedom from fear", i.e., an internationalist policy for imposing peace between nations.

As "liberal" came to be identified with Progressive policies in several English-speaking countries during the 1920s and 1930s, many of those who espoused the original, minimal-state philosophy began to distinguish their doctrine by calling themselves "classical liberals."

In the early 20th century, the rise of Nazism in Germany and communism in Russia were generally seen as distinct movements, with the latter bearing more resemblance to the Progressive movement in the West, and gaining much sympathy from many of its advocates. A group of central European economists called the Austrian school challenged that distinction between various brands of totalitarianism by identifying the common collectivist underpinning to their doctrines, and claiming that collectivism in all its forms is inherently antithetical to liberty as traditionally understood in the West. These thinkers included Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, and Walter Block, the latter describing the "non-aggression axiom as the linchpin" of libertarianism. The Austrian School had a powerful impact on both economic teaching and libertarian principles. In the latter half of the 20th century, the term "libertarian," which had earlier been associated with anarchism, came to be adopted by those whose attitudes bore closer resemblance to "classical liberals."

In 1955, Dean Russell wrote an article pondering what to call those, such as himself, who subscribed to the classical liberal philosophy of individualism and self-responsibility. He said,

Many of us call ourselves "liberals," And it is true that the word "liberal" once described persons who respected the individual and feared the use of mass compulsions. But the leftists have now corrupted that once-proud term to identify themselves and their program of more government ownership of property and more controls over persons. As a result, those of us who believe in freedom must explain that when we call ourselves liberals, we mean liberals in the uncorrupted classical sense. At best, this is awkward, subject to misunderstanding. Here is a suggestion: Let those of us who love liberty trademark and reserve for our own use the good and honorable word "libertarian."[3]

Libertarian Philosophy in the Academy

Seminars in libertarianism were being taught in the U.S. starting in the 1960's, including a personal studies seminar at SUNY Geneseo starting in 1972. The Freedom School, later renamed Rampart College, was operated by Robert LeFevre during the 1960s and became a significant influence in spreading libertarian ideas.

Philosophical libertarianism gained a significant measure of recognition in the academy with the publication of Harvard professor Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia in 1974. 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.

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, and then extended in his 2002 work Respecting Persons in Theory and Practice. In these works, Narveson agreed 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 arguing that an absolute state was not necessary to enforce this agreement. Narveson argues that no state at all is required. Other advocates of contractarian libertarianism include the Nobel Laureate and founder of the public choice school of economics James M. Buchanan, and Hungarian-French philosopher Anthony de Jasay.

By contrast, J. C. Lester aimed to undermine the challenge by defending libertarianism without foundations in the form of critical rationalist libertarianism, most notably in his 2000 work Escape from Leviathan. In particular, that work applies critical rationalism to defend the thesis that there are no systematic practical clashes among instrumental rationality, interpersonal liberty, social welfare and private-property anarchy.


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. Gerald 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. David Boaz. [2]

"Left-libertarianism" also refers to a radical, anti-corporate tendency within libertarianism that often takes the "left" side of issues such as immigration and intellectual property, allies itself more with the traditional left than the traditional right, and emphasizes the revolutionary and socially equalizing potential of the free market. Left-libertarianism, in this sense, is almost uniformly anarchist and often incorporates less absolutist conceptions of property such as mutualism and geoism (also known as Georgism).

Ayn Rand's Objectivist Philosophy

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

Libertarianism's status is in dispute among those who style themselves Objectivists (Objectivism is the name novelist Ayn Rand gave her philosophy). Though elements of Rand's philosophy have been adopted by libertarianism, Objectivists (including Rand herself) have condemned libertarianism as a threat to freedom and capitalism. In particular, it has been claimed that libertarians use Objectivist ideas "with the teeth pulled out of them".[citation requested]

Conversely, 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, 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. 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." 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.

US military operations in Iraq have highlighted the tensions between Objectivism and the views of many libertarians. Objectivists have often disagreed with the non-interventionism (often misleadingly called "isolationism") of many libertarians. They have argued that it is right for the state to take pre-emptive military action when the evidence suggests a genuine risk that another state will initiate coercive use of physical force. Many also would like to see the state more aggressively protect the rights of US individuals and corporations abroad - including military action in response to nationalization.

Objectivists reject the oft-heard libertarian refrain that state and government are "necessary evils": for Objectivists, a government limited to protection of its citizens' rights is absolutely necessary and moral. Objectivists are opposed to all anarchist currents and are suspicious of libertarians' lineage with individualist anarchism.

Politics of Libertarian Parties

Libertarianism is often viewed as a right-wing movement, especially by non-libertarians in the United States, where libertarians tend to have more in common with traditional conservatives than American liberals, especially with regards to economic and gun control policies. However, many describe libertarians as being "conservative" on economic issues and "liberal" on social issues. Most libertarians also consider a "Constitutional Republic" (a Republic limited sharply by the United States' Constitution) to be a better form of government than an "unrestricted" Democracy, which they see as "the tyranny of the majority". (For example, as constitutionalist republicans, most libertarians view Texas congressman and former Libertarian U.S. Presidential candidate Ron Paul (R-14) to be a philosophical libertarian, even though he is technically affiliated with the "Republican" Party.)

But describing libertarians as right-wing (or left-wing for that matter) is misleading, since the central tenets of their philosophy do not fall strictly into a left-right designation. Libertarians reject the categorization of their principles in terms of right-wing and left-wing. For example, libertarians oppose the War on Drugs, conscription, any war that is not in self-defense or to aid another nation in their defense, while supporting the expansion of free trade and minimizing taxation, clearly bridging the classic left-right political divide.

Another way to understand where libertarians fit into the political spectrum would be to contrast the view with both social democracy, 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, in the understanding that order is emergent from a state of justice. 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. Specifically, they deny that the government deserves any role in marriage other than enforcing whatever legal contract people choose to enter, and to oppose the various additional rights currently granted to married people.

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

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 such discrimination, but libertarians could be expected to oppose any laws on this matter because these would infringe on the property rights of both the business owner and the justly-hired employees. 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, but that of society. If a business discriminates against you, you are free to work elsewhere, or possibly start your own business which follows your personal belief structure, or lead a boycott or publicity campaign against the business. The libertarian's ability to distinguish between equality and freedom in this instance demonstrates their belief that equality of position is not a necessary condition of freedom, especially the freedom to enter into agreements in an un-coerced manner. By endorsing such things as the freedom to discriminate, libertarianism supports freedom of association which is the foundation of 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 Libertarian Party, the chart is similar to a socio-political test used to place individuals by the Advocates for Self Government. 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.)

The Libertarian Movement

The Libertarian Program is 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, 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.

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 to support an independent libertarian movement, and joined David Nolan in founding the 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.

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 which holds roughly 10% of the seats in Costa Rica's national assembly (legislature). The Movimiento Libertario is considered the first libertarian organization to achieve substantial electoral success at the national level, though not without controversy. For example, Rigoberto Stewart, co-founder of the party and founder of "The Limón REAL Project" [3] for autonomy in a province in Costa Rica, and director of INLAP[4], a libertarian think tank, lost his influence within Movimiento Libertario and support for "The Limón REAL Project". As perhaps explained by Public Choice Theory, while accepting money from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, a German liberal foundation, the party compromised on their libertarian principles in return for more power, turning to anti-libertarian positions. [5]

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 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, and North to the Future, a project for a Free Alaskan Nation, to concentrate activism in a different state or region. There is also a European Free State Project.

Controversies Among Libertarians

Template:Cleanup-section These controversies are addressed in separate articles:

  • Libertarian perspectives on capitalism: Most libertarians support deregulation and free trade because they believe that people should be able to start and grow businesses, manufacture, transport, trade, buy, and sell with little to no interference from the government. Some may support efforts to limit private monopolies. Some 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, and instead would abolish tax-funded schools altogether.[4] There is also opposition by many libertarians to antitrust laws and laws and regulations against insider trading, "price gouging".
  • Libertarian perspectives on redistribution: Most libertarians oppose forced economic "redistribution" and any other form of government welfare because they consider forced redistribution a form of "legalized theft." However, some may support minimal, temporary public support.
  • Libertarian perspectives on taxes: Some libertarians believe that logical consistency to fundamental libertarian maxims (non aggression, individual rights)[5] allows no taxation at all,[6] while proponents of limited government might support low taxes, arguing that a society with no taxation would have difficulty providing public goods such as crime prevention. See also: Minarchism.
  • Libertarian perspectives on political alliances: Most libertarians ally politically with modern conservatives over economic issues and gun laws (but for a libertarian defense of gun control, see here [6]). On many social issues, libertarians ally with modern left-wing politics. Foreign policy is a hotly debated issue among libertarians, because most libertarians oppose wars, against conservative wishes, but also oppose the United Nations, against liberal wishes. Others ally with isolationist, religious paleoconservatives, despite sharp disagreement on economic and social issues. Others refuse to ally with any political party other than their own and will never vote for a mainstream candidate. Most voting libertarians typically will only vote for a candidate that is philosopically libertarian, a good example of which in the U.S. is congressman Ron Paul (TX-R-14). Those that choose to vote for whichever main party matches their goals and ideals are called small-l libertarians (l) or "philosophical libertarians" because they are more willing to compromise to advance individual liberty. In the 2004 U.S. Presidential election, a few "small-l libertarians" advocated Howard Dean for President in the primaries because of his belief in gun rights and his moderate approval of free trade, and their fear of John Kerry and George Bush as even worse political choices. Several philosophical libertarians voted for George W. Bush fearing John Kerry would be even less in favor of free trade than Bush; and others voted for Bush because of the Republican party's claim to be the party of smaller government. A smaller minority of philosophical libertarians voted for John Kerry, mostly as a protest vote against Bush, because of Bush's failure to restrain federal spending. A greater number of philosophical libertarians either abstained from voting entirely (typically in their belief that the Libertarian Candidate for 2004 was poorly-chosen), or voted for the 2004 Libertarian Presidential Candidate, Michael Badnarik, anyway, believing both major party choices in 2004 were opposed to fundamental Libertarian tenets.
  • Libertarian perspectives on intellectual property: Some libertarians believe that property rights in ideas (and other intangibles) should be identical to property rights in physical goods, as they see both justified by natural rights. Others justify intellectual property for utilitarian reasons. They argue that intellectual property rights are required to maximize innovation. Still others believe that "intellectual property" is a euphemism for intellectual protectionism and should be abolished altogether.
  • Libertarian perspectives on immigration: Libertarians of the Natural Law variety generally support freedom of movement, but other libertarians argue that open borders amount to legalized trespassing. The debate often centers on self-ownership of bodies and whether we have the freedom to hire anyone without the federal government's permission. Other times, the debate centers on immigrants abusing tax-funded government resources. "Consequentialist libertarians" may decide the issue in terms of what is best for the economy. Ideally for a libertarian, there would be minimal government involvement in various social programs, thus virtually no increased tax burden of immigration.
  • Libertarian perspectives on abortion: A controversy is the role of the state in regulating abortion, if it is in fact unethical. In the United States, some on both sides of this debate agree that this should be settled by the several states instead of the national central government, thereby invalidating Roe v. Wade on grounds that it was a centralizing decision by the national government violating traditional state self-police powers. American libertarians who are not states-rights advocates, on the other hand, prefer for the issue to be settled at whatever level of government will reach the best decision. Although considered to be a minority of libertarians, a significant number of libertarians (including many in the Mises Institute) view abortion to be an initiation of force against the fetus and therefore wrong, while other libertarians view the fetus's early stages of development to be under the control of the female or individual(s) bearing responsibility for its development. Some anarcho-capitalists, including Lew Rockwell and Joe Sobran oppose abortion and the centralizing Roe v. Wade decision.
  • Libertarian perspectives on the death penalty: Some libertarians support the death penalty on self-defense or retributive justice grounds. Others see it as an excessive abuse of state power. Many consitutionalist libertarians disavow the death penalty for its irreversible nature, as well as its perceived conflict with the Bill of Rights' ban on "cruel and unusual punishment".
  • Libertarian perspectives on foreign intervention: Most libertarians oppose and are suspicious of government intervention in the affairs of other countries, especially violent intervention. Others (such as those influenced by Objectivism) argue that intervention is not unethical when a foreign government is abusing the rights of its citizens but whether a nation should intervene depends on its own self-interest. Libertarians advocating foreign intervention are typically known as "Liberventionists".
  • Libertarian perspectives on gay rights: Most libertarians feel that adults have a right to choose their own lifestyle or sexual preference, provided that such expression does not trample on the same freedom of other people to choose their own sexual preference or religious freedom. Yet, there has been some debate among libertarians as to how to respond to the issue homosexuality in armed forces and gay marriage. The controversy arises virtually entirely from the current involvement of the State in heterosexual marriage. The philosophically pure libertarian answer is to treat all marriage contracts as legal contracts only, and to require that the terms of the marriage are spelled out clearly in the contract, allowing any number of legal adults to marry under any conditions that are legally enforceable, thus ending the implicit government-endorsement of all marriage contracts, including heterosexual ones. If the state no longer endorses only certain marriages as legitimate, there is no inequality, and gays, lesbians, polygamists, etc... can all draw up their own private legal contracts, just the same as heterosexuals could. The controversy arises from the fact that the State assumes that heterosexuals who did not draw up pre-nuptual agreements entered into a commonly recognized Christian ritual union that entitles the united parties to the use of the State's legal system as a means of filing a record of their marriage and of resolving disputes. This system is widely used by heterosexuals who have not prepared for the likelihood of divorce and later contractual dispute. Although the system is currently thus flawed, many gays who wish to marry want the same ability to turn to the state in hopes that the same government assumptions of tax-funded contract protection that occasionally benefits heterosexuals. The dilemma for most libertarians arises from the fact that a currently unjust situation is popular. Heterosexuals currently have tax-funded protection and the assumption of enforceable contract resolution for their marriage contracts. Homosexuals often desire inclusion in this flawed system. Libertarians then, are caught in the situation of trying to expand an unjust system to grant incorrectly-perceived benefits, or to deny certain parties membership within that unjust system. Many libertarians advocate the concept that there can be no such thing as a just separation of people into differing status groups under the law, so the current definition of marriage must include all those who wish to marry, with the later goal of eliminating this increased role of government in marriage entirely. It is thus the consistent view amongst all libertarians that the best resolution of inequalities under the law for gays would best be resolved by eliminating all state involvement in marriage (for heterosexuals, gays, polygamists, etc...), rendering every living human exactly equal under the law.
  • Libertarian perspectives on inheritance: Libertarians may disagree over what to do in absence of a will or contract in the event of death, and over posthumous property rights. In the event of a contract, the contract is enforced according to the property owner's wishes. Typically, libertarians believe that any unwilled property goes to remaining living relatives, and ideally, none of the property goes to the government in such a case. Many libertarians advocate the establishments of trusts to avoid taxation of property at the time of death.
  • Libertarian perspectives on animal rights: A small number of libertarians grant basic rights to animals (considering them sovereign individuals which therefore have the right not to be subjected to coercion), while others see animals as property, and think their owners are free to treat them as they wish.

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 officials 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

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 affect 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." However, 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. Furthermore, libertarians are strong critics of illegitimacy and welfare; and advocates a disciplined and value-based approached to raising children, centered largely around the necessity of a father-figure/male role model, in addition to a female role model, during a child's upbringing.

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.

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. 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.

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. In particular, it portrays Libertarianism as being the greatest supporter for freedoms while failing to point out that only negative rights are endorsed. Libertarians respond by asserting that positive rights are unnatural rights, or rights by fiat.

Other 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. 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. J. C. Lester has replied to Friedman arguing that Friedman is a justificationist who misunderstands the libertarian conception of liberty. He also embraces a priori anti-libertarianism with an anti-libertarian straddle: he wants to cite evidence against libertarianism but can always fall back on its lack of 'justification' and its supposed conceptual unclarity.[7] Lester also deals in more detail in his Escape from Leviathan with many of the issues Friedman raises.

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. 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.[8]

Some critics see the libertarian view of property rights as a threat to the environment, rather than a cure. 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 [9] and indentured labor [10][11]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 tradeable 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. However, Libertarians have continuously stated that the limits of individual freedom are reached when those freedoms interfere with another's right to the same freedoms. As such, ownership of property would not extend to ownership of slaves as this would be a clear example of one's rights (to property) interfering with another's rights.

Some critics point out that libertarianism is untried, and that the benefits it claims it would produce have not been put to the test. Libertarians make a similar point that criticisms of libertarianism fall into the same category as Libertarianism is untried. 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 seize power and become a de facto government. To counter this Libertarians would argue that a truly free market is always open to entry of entrepreneurs, creating a highly competitive economy making domination by a sole organization extremely difficult.

Critics of Libertarianism are also frequently seen as those who believe that circumstance, not the individual, are responsible for any actions an individual might take. Libertarians do not accept this viewpoint because an individual makes the final decision to act and is not 'forced' to act against his/her will by circumstance. This view also ignores the fact that an individual can make positive decisions to improve their lives (such as education and an increased awareness of the rights of others etc.) rather than 'negative' decisions which lead to continued poverty, despondent attitudes, and frequently vandalism, violence and other forms of crime. These positive decisions can, for example, free succeeding generations from the poverty trap as opposed to State support or 'handouts' which Libertarians hold as a major disincentive to self-improvement and fosters the so-called 'scab' culture or 'benefit fraud' prevalent in many Western social welfare systems, where individuals are supported comfortably by the State despite being in good health and of able mind. This then tends to create resentment among the general population who earn their own livings, and are given none of the State support the 'scabs' abuse.

Libertarians also point out that so-called 'liberal' systems frequently contradict their belief sets by selectively choosing acceptable behaviors or activities as their own (or public) opinion changes, for example advocating gun control laws to restrict ownership of firearms due to extremely rare (in relative terms) highly publicized individual actions, whilst ignoring the root causes of these actions such as mental illness, depression, bullying or victimization. Libertarians argue that if this were applied equally to everyday life, then the use of automobiles, alcohol, tobacco etc. by millions of responsible people would also be restricted due to the actions of a very small number of others acting irresponsibly. Libertarians propose that such decisions should made on the basis of rational arguments and debate rather than media hype or sensation. An often-cited example of this occurred in the UK in 1997 when a handgun ban was introduced following the the Dunblane school shooting by a suspected pedophile. The case was exploited by politicians and the media in subsequent. Over 65,000 law-abiding handgun owners and sportsmen/women were then required to surrender their handguns due to the actions of one individual. The core issues of inadequate police vetting of those owning firearms and social services detecting such an offender were never successfully addressed. This was highlighted when the number of incidents involving illegally imported weapons in violent crime skyrocketed in the following years. Thus despite the punishment of law-abiding citizens, nothing was done to tackle the issue of illegal weapons held by criminals. Libertarians add that if major decisions were made in this manner then severe abuses of human rights might occur due to temporary public fervor.

  1. "I'm for a free market. I only oppose the misuse of technology. A libertarian society would not allow anyone to injure others by pollution because it insists on individual responsibility. That's part of the beauty of libertarianism." -Russell Means
  2. Déjacque, Joseph. Letter to P. J. Proudhon
  3. Russell, Dean. Who is a Libertarian?, Ideas on Liberty, May 1955
  4. Rockwell, Llewellyn H. Jr. Vouchers: Another Name for Welfare
  5. The maxims are described in the introduction of this article. Tenet is a principle, belief, or doctrine generally held to be true.(Meraim Webster) I.e. it is generally held to be true that as a fundamental maxim all human interaction should be voluntary and consensual.
  6. "The libertarian, if he is to be logically consistent, must urge zero crime, not a small amount of it. Any crime is anathema for the libertarian. Any government, no matter how “nice,” must therefore also be rejected by the libertarian." Walter Block, GOVERNMENTAL INEVITABILITY: REPLY TO HOLCOMBE, JOURNAL OF LIBERTARIAN STUDIES VOLUME 19, NO. 3 (SUMMER 2005): 71–93