Libertarianism, in the strictest sense, is the political philosophy that holds individual liberty as the basic moral principle of society. In the broadest sense, it is any political philosophy which approximates this view. Libertarianism includes diverse beliefs, all advocating strict limits to government activity and sharing the goal of maximizing individual liberty and political freedom.[1][Full citation needed][page needed]

Philosopher Roderick T. Long defines libertarianism as "any political position that advocates a radical redistribution of power from the coercive state to voluntary associations of free individuals", whether "voluntary association" takes the form of the free market or of communal co-operatives.[2] According to the The U.S. Libertarian party, libertarianism is the advocacy of a government that is funded voluntarily and limited to protecting individuals from coercion and violence.[3]



Libertarian schools of thought differ over the degree to which the state should be reduced. Anarchists advocate complete elimination of the state. Minarchists advocate a state which is limited to protecting its citizens from aggression, theft, breach of contract, and fraud. Some libertarians go further, such as by supporting minimal public assistance for the poor.[4][Full citation needed] Additionally, some schools are supportive of private property rights in the ownership of unappropriated land and natural resources while others reject such private ownership and often support common ownership instead.[5][6][page needed][Full citation needed][7] Another distinction can be made among libertarians who support private ownership and those that support common ownership of the means of production; the former generally supporting a capitalist economy, the latter a libertarian socialist economic system. In some parts of the world, the term "libertarianism" is synonymous with Left anarchism. [8][Full citation needed][page needed][9][10]

Libertarians can broadly be characterized as holding four ethical views: consequentialism, deontological theories, contractarianism, and class-struggle normative beliefs. The main divide is between consequentialist libertarianism—which is support for a large degree of "liberty" because it leads to favorable consequences, such as prosperity or efficiency—and deontological libertarianism (also known as "rights-theorist libertarianism," "natural rights libertarianism," or "libertarian moralism"), which is a philosophy based on belief in moral self-ownership and opposition to "initiation of force" and fraud.[citation needed] Others combine a hybrid of consequentialist and deontologist thinking.[11][Full citation needed] 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,[12][Full citation needed][13][14][Full citation needed][page needed] though this can be seen as reductible to consequentialism or deontologism depending on what grounds contracts are justified. Some Libertarian Socialists with backgrounds influenced by Marxism reject deontological and consequential approaches and use normative class-struggle methodologies rooted in Hegelian thought to justify direct action in pursuit of liberty.[15]

In the United States, the term libertarian is commonly associated with those who have conservative positions on economic issues and left-wing positions on social issues. [16]


The use of the word "libertarian" to describe a set of political positions can be tracked to the French cognate, libertaire, which was coined in 1857 by French anarchist Joseph Déjacque who used the term to distinguish his libertarian communist approach from the mutualism advocated by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.[17][18][page needed][Full citation needed][19][page needed][Full citation needed] Hence libertarian has been used by some as a synonym for left-wing anarchism since the 1890s.[20] Libertarian socialists, such as Noam Chomsky and Colin Ward, assert that many still consider the term libertarianism a synonym of anarchism in countries other than the US.[8][9][10]



During the 18th century Age of Enlightenment, "liberal" ideas flourished in Europe and North America. Libertarians of various schools were influenced by classical liberal ideas.[21][Full citation needed] The term libertarian in a metaphysical or philosophical sense was first used by late-Enlightenment free-thinkers to refer to those who believed in free will, as opposed to determinism.[22] The first recorded use was in 1789 by William Belsham in a discussion of free will and in opposition to "necessitarian" (or determinist) views.[23][Full citation needed][24]

The first anarchist journal to use the term “libertarian” was La Libertaire, Journal du Mouvement Socialand it was published in New York City between 1858 and 1861 by French anarcho-communist Joseph Déjacque. "The next recorded use of the term was in Europe, when “libertarian communism” was used at a French regional anarchist Congress at Le Havre (16-22 November, 1880). January the following year saw a French manifesto issued on “Libertarian or Anarchist Communism.” Finally, 1895 saw leading anarchists Sébastien Faure and Louise Michel publish La Libertaire in France." The word stems from the French word libertaire, and was used to evade the French ban on anarchist publications. In this tradition, the term "libertarianism" in "libertarian socialism" is generally used as a synonym for anarchism, which some say is the original meaning of the term; hence "libertarian socialism" is equivalent to "socialist anarchism" to these scholars.[25] In the context of the European socialist movement, libertarian has conventionally been used to describe those who opposed state socialism, such as Mikhail Bakunin. However, the association of socialism with libertarianism predates that of capitalism, and many anti-authoritarians still decry what they see as a mistaken association of capitalism with libertarianism in the United States.[26][Full citation needed]

Twentieth century

During the early 20th century modern liberalism in the United States began to take a more state-oriented approach to economic regulation. While conservatism in Europe continued to mean conserving hierarchical class structures through state control of society and the economy, some conservatives in the United States began to refer to conserving traditions of liberty. This was especially true of the Old Right, who opposed the New Deal and U.S. military interventions in World War I and World War II. Those who held to the earlier liberal views began to call themselves market liberals, classic liberals or libertarians to distinguish themselves. The Austrian School of economics, influenced by Frédéric Bastiat and later by Ludwig von Mises, also had an impact on what is now right-libertarianism.[peacock term]

In the 1950s many with "Old Right" or classical liberal beliefs in the United States began to describe themselves as "libertarian." Arizona United States Senator Barry Goldwater's right-libertarian leaning challenge to authority also influenced the US libertarian movement.[27][Full citation needed]

During the 1960s, the Vietnam War divided right-libertarians, anarchist libertarians, and conservatives.[citation needed] Right-libertarians and left-libertarians opposed to the war, joined the draft resistance and peace movements and began founding their own publications, like Murray Rothbard's The Libertarian Forum[28][Full citation needed][29][Full citation needed] and organizations like the Radical Libertarian Alliance[30] and the Society for Individual Liberty.[31]

In 1971, a small group of Americans led by David Nolan formed the U.S. Libertarian Party. Attracting former Democrats, Republicans and independents, the party has run a presidential candidate every election year since 1972. Over the years, dozens of capitalism-supporting libertarian political parties have been formed worldwide.[peacock term] Educational organizations like the Center for Libertarian Studies and the Cato Institute were formed in the 1970s, and others have been created since then.[peacock term]

Right-libertarianism gained a significant measure of recognition in academia with the publication of Harvard University professor Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia in 1974. The book won a National Book Award in 1975.[32][better reference needed] Nozick disavowed much of the theory late in life. [33] Academics as well as proponents of the free market perspectives note that free-market capitalist libertarianism has been successfully propagated beyond the United States since the 1970s via think tanks and political parties[34] and that libertarianism is increasingly viewed worldwide as a free market position.[35]

Libertarian philosophies

See also Category:Libertarianism by form.

Libertarian philosophies are divided among three main distinctions.[citation needed] First, whether the morality of actions are determined consequentially or deontologically. Second, whether or not private property is legitimate. And third, whether or not the state is legitimate.

Consequentialist / deontological distinction

Consequentialist libertarians defend liberty on the grounds its consequences are better than those of the lack of it.[36][page needed][Full citation needed][dubious ] Deontological libertarians, hold that libertarians must defend liberty on principle because aggression is never legitimate, no matter how beneficial its consequences are.[37][non-primary source needed][Full citation needed][page needed]

Proprietarian / non-proprietarian distinction

Central to libertarianism is the concept of liberty. One distinction among libertarian philosophies has its origin in two different definitions of liberty.

Non-proprietarian libertarian philosophies, like libertarian socialism, hold that liberty is the absence of any form authority and assert that a society based on freedom and equality can be achieved through abolishing authoritarian institutions that control certain means of production and subordinate the majority to an owning class or political and economic elite.[38][Full citation needed][page needed] Implicitly, it rejects any authority of private property and thus holds that it is not legitimate for someone to claim private ownership of any resources to the detriment of others.[39][page needed][40][page needed][41][42] Libertarian socialism is a group of political philosophies that promote a non-hierarchical, non-bureaucratic, stateless society without private property in the means of production. The two terms[which?] are often used interchangeably.[43][44] The term libertarian socialism is also used to differentiate this philosophy from state socialism[45][46][Full citation needed][page needed] or as a synonym for left anarchism.[43][Full citation needed][44] Libertarian socialists generally place their hopes in decentralized means of direct democracy such as libertarian municipalism, citizens' assemblies, trade unions and workers' councils.[47]

Proprietarian libertarian philosophies define liberty as non-aggression, or the state in which no person or group aggresses against any other person or group, where aggression is defined as the violation of private property.[48][not in citation given][page needed][non-primary source needed] This philosophy, implicitly, recognizes as the sole source of legitimate authority private property. Proprietarian libertarians hold that an order of private property is the only one that is both ethical and leads to the best possible outcomes.[49][not in citation given][page needed] They generally support the free-market, and are not opposed to any concentration of power (monopolies) provided it is brought about through non-coercive means.[50][not in citation given][page needed] They argue that the state is aggressive by its nature and that it hampers the natural adapting price system through which the economy regulates itself. Rothbard also argued that a state could not sustain itself without taxation.[51][Full citation needed][page needed]

The statism / anarchism distinction

Libertarians differ on the degree up to which the state can be reduced. Two groups can be distinguished, statists, who support states and Anarchists, who favor a stateless society and view the state as being undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful,[52][Full citation needed][53][page needed] while others have defined anarchism as opposing authority in the conduct of human relations.[54][Full citation needed]

Supporters of government,[who?] disagree on exactly how small government should be, however argue that having defense and courts controlled by the market is an inherent miscarriage of justice because it turns justice into a commodity, thereby conflating justice with economic power.[citation needed] Many libertarians who support the non-aggression principle[who?] argue that having defence and courts controlled by the market is immoral because it implies that the non-aggression principle is optional.[citation needed] Another argument is that private defense and court firms would tend to represent the interests of those who pay them enough. [55] Anarchists agree[who?] with this argument, however add that it is self-defeating to fight potential concentration of power by concentrating power in the hands of the state.[citation needed] Furthermore they claim that a market system is the best Checks and balances system known to man.[56][page needed][Full citation needed]

Anarchists are divided according to their proprietarian or non-proprietarian definition of liberty. The proprietarian libertarian philosophy of anarchism is called Anarcho-capitalism.[57][Full citation needed][page needed] The non-proprietarian libertarian philosophy of anarchism is called anarcho-syndicalism (other names include anarchist collectivism, anarchist communism, and social anarchism).

Anarcho-capitalists generally argue[who?] government is aggressive by its nature because governments use force against those who have not stolen private property, vandalized private property, assaulted anyone, or committed fraud.[citation needed] Many also argue[who?] that monopolies tend to be corrupt and inefficient.[citation needed] Murray Rothbard argued that all government services, including defense, are inefficient because they lack a market-based pricing mechanism regulated by the voluntary decisions of consumers purchasing services that fulfill their highest-priority needs and by investors seeking the most profitable enterprises to invest in.[58][Full citation needed] Many anarchists[which?] also argue that private defense and court agencies would have to have a good reputation in order to stay in business.[citation needed] Furthermore, Linda & Morris Tannehill argue that no coercive monopoly of force can arise on a truly free market[59][not notable?][Full citation needed] and that a government's citizenry can’t desert them in favor of a competent protection and defense agency. Some anarchists concede[which?] this point and respond that one cannot justify a concentration of power out of a fear of a concentration of power, and that a market system is the best checks and balances system.[60][page needed][Full citation needed]

Philosophers influential to libertarianism

See also Category:Libertarian theorists

Libertarian groups and movements

Since the 1950s, many American libertarian organizations have adopted a free market, capitalist stance; these include the Center for Libertarian Studies, the Cato Institute, the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), the International Society for Individual Liberty (ISIL) and the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Libertarians are prominent in the Tea Party. The activist Free State Project, formed in 2001, works to bring 20,000 libertarians to the state of New Hampshire to influence state policy. Less successful similar projects include the Free West Alliance and Free State Wyoming.

Numerous socialist and anarchist libertarian groups existed during the twentieth century, like Libertarian League in America, Libertarian Youth in Spain or the Libertarian Socialist Organisation in Australia.[65][Full citation needed][66][not in citation given][67] Contemporary examples include the CIB Unicobas union in Italy, Alternative libertaire in France, The Emancipatory Left caucus in The Left party in Germany, Libertarian Communist Organization in France and Argentine Libertarian Federation in Argentine. Scholars have also typified the European "new social movements" as that "'family' of left-libertarian movements in...France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland."[68]

Libertarian political parties

See: Category:Libertarian parties

A number of countries have libertarian parties that run candidates for political office. In the United States, the Libertarian Party of the United States was formed in 1972. The Libertarian Party is the third largest[69][page needed][70] American political party, with over 225,000 registered voters in the 35 states that allow registration as a libertarian[71] and has hundreds of party candidates elected or appointed to public office, and has run thousands for office.[72] In the Netherlands there is the Libertarische Partij. The Danish Socialist People's Party is one of the political parties considered to be left-libertarian.[73] The Turkish Freedom and Solidarity Party also has used the term "libertarian socialist" to describe its politics.[citation needed]


See main article: Criticism of libertarianism

Criticisms of libertarianism include deontological criticisms and consequentialist criticisms, including criticisms of libertarian positions on economics, education, the environment, and government decentralization.

See also

  • Categories:
    • Libertarian theorists
    • Libertarian economists
    • Libertarianism by country
    • Libertarians by nationality
    • American libertarians
    • Left-libertarians


  2. ^ Roderick T. Long (1998). "Towards a Libertarian Theory of Class" (PDF). Social Philosophy and Policy 15 (2): 303–349: at p. 304. doi:10.1017/S0265052500002028. 
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  4. ^ Hamowy, Ronald. "Sociology and Libertarianism." ?Editor The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. Sage 2008. p. 480.
  5. ^ Vallentyne, Peter (September 5, 2002). "Libertarianism". In Edward N. Zalta. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2009 ed.). Stanford, CA: Stanford University. Retrieved March 5, 2010. "Both endorse full self-ownership, but they differ with respect to the powers agents have to appropriate unappropriated natural resources (land, air, water, etc.). Right-libertarianism holds that typically such resources may be appropriated by the first person who discovers them, mixes her labor with them, or merely claims them—without the consent of others, and with little or no payment to them. Left-libertarianism, by contrast, holds that unappropriated natural resources belong to everyone in some egalitarian manner. It can, for example, require those who claim rights over natural resources to make a payment to others for the value of those rights. This can provide the basis for a kind of egalitarian redistribution" 
  6. ^ Carlos Peregrín Otero. ISBN 978-1902593692. 
  7. ^ Vallentyne, Peter (September 5, 2002). "Libertarianism". In Edward N. Zalta. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2009 ed.). Stanford, CA: Stanford University. Retrieved March 5, 2010. "Libertarianism is committed to full self-ownership. A distinction can be made, however, between right-libertarianism and left-libertarianism, depending on the stance taken on how natural resources can be owned" 
  8. ^ a b The Week Online Interviews Chomsky, Z Magazine, February 23, 2002. "The term libertarian as used in the US means something quite different from what it meant historically and still means in the rest of the world. Historically, the libertarian movement has been the anti-statist wing of the socialist movement. Socialist anarchism was libertarian socialism. In the US, which is a society much more dominated by business, the term has a different meaning. It means eliminating or reducing state controls, mainly controls over private tyrannies. Libertarians in the US don't say let's get rid of corporations. It is a sort of ultra-rightism."
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  10. ^ a b Fernandez, Frank. Cuban Anarchism. The History of a Movement, Sharp Press, 2001, p. 9. "Thus, in the United States, the once exceedingly useful term "libertarian" has been hijacked by egotists who are in fact enemies of liberty in the full sense of the word."
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  54. ^ Anarchist historian George Woodcock report of Mikhail Bakunin's anti-authoritarianism and shows opposition to both state and non-state forms of authority as follows: "All anarchists deny authority; many of them fight against it." (pg. 9)...Bakunin did not convert the League's central committee to his full program, but he did persuade them to accept a remarkably radical recommendation to the Berne Congress of September 1868, demanding economic equality and implicitly attacking authority in both Church and State."
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  58. ^ Murray Rothbard -. [ - Power and Market: Defense services on the Free Market -]. p. 1051 -. -. "It is all the more curious, incidentally, that while laissez-faireists should by the logic of their position, be ardent believers in a single, unified world government, so that no one will live in - a state of “anarchy” in relation to anyone else, they almost never are. -" 
  59. ^ Linda & Morris Tannehill. The Market for Liberty, p. 81.
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  62. ^ "...probably, the individualist who unfolds in the most detailed form stirnerist ideas and who has the capacity of having an specific domination, above all between the two world wars, in the milieu of individualist discourse." Xavier Diez. El anarquismo individualista en España (1923-1939). Virus Editorial. Barcelona. 2007
  63. ^ Janet Biehl, Short Biography of Murray Bookchin
  64. ^ Miller, David, Janet Coleman, William Connolly, Alan Ryan, ed (1991). Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Political Thought. Blackwell Publishing. pp. [not given]. ISBN 0-631-17944-5. [author, Chapter title, page, publisher location verification needed][Full citation needed]
  65. ^ Alexandre Skirda (2002). Facing the Enemy: A History of Anarchist Organization from Proudhon to May 1968. Publisher Location??: AK Press. p. 183. 
  66. ^ Charles Bufe (1992). The Heretic's Handbook of Quotations. ??!See Sharp Press. p. iv. 
  67. ^ Kathyln Gay, ed (2006). Encyclopedia of Political Anarchy. ABC-CLIO / University of Michigan. pp. 126–127. 
  68. ^ David S. Meyer and Lindsey Lupo (2009). "Assessing the Politics of Protest: political science and the study of social movements". In Klandermans, Bert, and Conny Roggeband. Handbook of Social Movements Across Disciplines. Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research. New York: Springer. p. 130. ISBN 9780387765808. 
  69. ^ Elizabeth Hovde (2009-05-11). "Americans mixed on Obama's big government gamble". The Oregonian. 
  70. ^ Gairdner, William D. (2007) [1990]. The Trouble with Canada: A Citizen Speaks Out. Toronto, Canada: BPS Books. pp. 101–102. ISBN 9780978440220. "The first, we would call "libertarianism" today. Libertarians wanted to get all government out of people's lives. This movement is still very much alive today. In fact, in the United States, it is the third largest political party, and ran 125 candidates during the U.S. election of 1988." 
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