Debates within libertarianism

Debates within libertarianism

Libertarianism is the political philosophy that holds individual liberty as the organizing principle of society. Libertarianism includes diverse beliefs, all advocating minimization of the state and sharing the goal of maximizing individual liberty and political freedom. However, there are many disagreements among proponents of the libertarian ideology.




Most libertarians support women's rights to choose abortion, though some argue abortion becomes homicide at some point during pregnancy and therefore should be outlawed at that point.[1] The Libertarian Party of the U.S. platform supports keeping abortion legal. Groups like the Association of Libertarian Feminists, Capitalism Magazine, and Pro-Choice Libertarians support keeping the government out of the issue. Libertarians For Life argues that zygotes and fetuses should have the same rights as children and calls for outlawing abortion.

Capital punishment

Libertarians are divided on capital punishment, also known as the death penalty. Those opposing it see it as an excessive abuse of state power which is by its very nature irreversible, as well as being in conflict with the Bill of Rights' ban on "cruel and unusual punishment." Those who support it do so on self-defense or retributive justice grounds.


Libertarians who support property rights, deregulation and free trade tend to call themselves capitalists or free marketeers. Libertarian models of socialism oppose capitalism and have various views on freedom of trade and property rights. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says that "left-libertarianism" is a variation on libertarianism which "differs on unappropriated natural resources (land, air, water, etc.)."[2]

Classical liberalism and libertarianism

Many libertarians generally use classical liberalism interchangeably with libertarianism. However, major historical and connotational differences exist over the major terms. Generally, libertarianism means a radicalized form of liberalism. Difficulties may, however, sometimes prevail in terminology when dealing with other libertarian schools of thought.[citation needed]

Consequences vs. rights

Milton Friedman defined consequentialist libertarianism as a philosophy that advocates "the least intrusive government consistent with the maximum freedom for each individual as long as he does not interfere with individuals pursuing their own freedom."[3] Where rights-theorist libertarians oppose all intrusion by government, if they support the existence of a state at all, consequentialists libertarians accept limited government interventions that they consider needed to maximize liberty. Another view, contractarian libertarianism, holds that any legitimate authority of government derives not from the consent of the governed, but from contract or mutual agreement. Robert Nozick holds a variation on this view, as does Jan Narveson, economist James M. Buchanan, Canadian philosopher David Gauthier and Hungarian-French philosopher Anthony de Jasay.[4][5][6]

Foreign military intervention

Libertarians oppose and are suspicious of government intervention in the affairs of other countries, especially violent intervention. Deontological libertarians like Murray Rothbard consider modern warfare, for whatever reason, to be illegitimate. Many Objectivists and libertarian conservatives 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 generally support freedom of movement, including over borders. A minority argue that open borders amount to legalized trespassing.[citation needed]


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. Others would say that if no will has been made, the property immediately enters the state of nature from which anyone (save the state) can homestead it.

Intellectual property

Libertarians hold a variety of views on intellectual property and patents. Some libertarian natural rights theorists justify property rights in ideas (and other intangibles) just like they do property rights in physical goods, saying she who made it owns it; other libertarian natural rights theorists, especially since Kinsella, have held that only physical material can be owned, and that ownership of "intellectual property" (IP) amount to an illegitimate claim of ownership over that which enters another's mind, that which cannot be removed or controlled without violation of the non-aggression axiom. Pro-IP libertarians of the utilitarian tradition say that IP maximizes innovation, while anti-IP libertarians of the selfsame persuasion say that it causes shortages of innovation. This latter view holds that IP is a euphemism for intellectual protectionism and should be abolished altogether.

LGBT rights

Libertarians believe that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender/transsexual (LGBT) adults have a right to 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 voluntary associations. They support eliminating any role for government in marriage and propose all marriage contracts between two or more adults of any sex be accepted as legal contracts.

Natural resources

Most libertarians (such as free market environmentalists and objectivists) believe that environmental damage is a result of state ownership and mismanagement of natural resources and believe that private ownership of all natural resources will result in a better environment, as a private owner of property will have more incentive to ensure the longer term value of the property. Others, such as geolibertarians, believe that such resources (especially land) cannot be considered allodial property.

Race and sex

Libertarians are against laws that favor or harm any race or either sex. These include Jim Crow laws, state segregation, interracial marriage bans, and laws restricting women's rights; they likewise oppose state-enforced affirmative action, hate crime laws and anti-discrimination laws. They would not use the state to prevent voluntary affirmative action or voluntary discrimination.[7][8][9] Most believe that the drive for profit in the marketplace will diminish or eliminate the effects of racism, which they tend to consider to be inherently collectivist. This causes a degree of dissonance among libertarians in federal systems such as in the U.S., where there is debate among libertarians about whether the federal government has the right to coerce states to change their democratically created laws.


Some libertarians believe that logical consistency to fundamental libertarian principles such as the non-aggression principle includes opposing taxation.[10] They would fund all services through contributions, user fees and lotteries. Some proponents of limited government support low taxes, arguing that a society with no taxation would have difficulty providing public goods such as crime prevention. Geolibertarians support a land value tax.



Various libertarians use non-voting as a strategy. Some consider voting as impractical and some consider voting as immoral. Voluntaryists and Agorists oppose voting.

Political alliances

Libertarians ally politically with modern conservatives over economic issues and gun laws, while they are more prone to ally with liberals on other civil liberties issues and non-interventionism. They may choose to vote for candidates of other parties depending on the individual and the issues they promote.


Libertarians generally agree on the desirability of rapid and fundamental changes in power or organizational structures, but may disagree on the means by which such changes might be achieved.

See also

External links


  1. ^ Ask Dr. Ruwart, Advocates for Self-Government.
  2. ^ "Libertarianism", Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University, 
  3. ^ Take It To The Limit: Milton Friedman on Libertarianism. Transcript from an interview
  4. ^ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on "Contractarianism", revised April 4, 2007.
  5. ^ Anthony de Jasay, Hayek: Some Missing Pieces, The Review of Austrian Economics Vol. 9,NO.1 (1996): 107-18, ISSN0889-3047
  6. ^ Hardy Bouillon, Hartmut Kliemt, Ordered Anarchy Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2007, foreword, ISBN 0-7546-6113-X, 9780754661139
  7. ^ Murray Rothbard, Big Government Libertarians, November, 1994
  8. ^ Review of Charles Murary, What it means to be a Libertarian, Cato Institute Journal, 1997.
  9. ^ Libertarian Party 2008 platform
  10. ^ "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

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