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This article is about libertarianism, a liberal individualist philosophy favoring private property (the most common meaning of the term today in most English-speaking countries). For libertarianism as a political philosophy favouring socialism, see libertarian socialism. The article "Libertarianism (metaphysics)" deals with the concept of libertarian free will. A civil libertarian is one who seeks to advance civil liberties, regardless of his or her stance on other issues.

Libertarianism is a modern political philosophy[1] that strongly advocates the maximization of individual rights, private property rights, and free market capitalism. Specifically, libertarian politics holds that a person's freedom to dispose of his body and private property as he sees fit should be unlimited as long as that person does not initiate coercion on others. Libertarians define "coercion" as the use of physical force, the threat of such, or deception (fraud), that alters, or is intended to alter, the way individuals would use their body or property. The libertarian political principle prohibiting coercion is known as the non-aggression principle, and many libertarians consider it a defining tenet from which spring all their political views. Libertarians see themselves as consistent supporters of maximum freedom and minimum state intervention in all human activities (where "freedom" is defined as negative liberty).

Libertarians hold that no one should be restrained by initiatory coercion. Thus, they oppose the idea of government intervening in private affairs to forcibly prevent peaceful "victimless crimes." In the modern libertarian political view, if one consents then there is no victim and no crime. As such, libertarians support the legalization of drugs, gambling, euthanasia, and prostitution, among others. They believe that individuals should have the liberty to make their own moral choices as long as they do not use coercion to prevent others from having that same liberty. They believe government should not only refrain from preventing individual moral choice but also refrain from imposing any supposed moral obligation on individuals. For libertarians, government should only intervene to prevent coercion.

In the economic realm, libertarians uphold strong private property rights. Some oppose taxation entirely (e.g. anarcho-capitalists), but most support taxation as long as its use is limited to protecting individuals from coercion (minarchism). Libertarians maintain that protecting individuals from coercion is the only, or one of the few, legitimate political functions of government. Thus, they generally oppose the tax-funded provision of public services such as universal health care, welfare, social security, and public education, preferring that all or most of these functions be left to the private sector. Libertarians oppose governmental regulation of business other than regulations against coercion and fraud. To the extent that libertarians advocate any government at all, its functions tend to be limited to protecting civil liberties and the free market through a police force, a military (with no conscription), and the courts.

Historically, libertarianism has grown out of classical liberalism; although the two philosophies are not exactly the same, they overlap in many areas - and a significant number of libertarians refer to themselves as classical liberals.

Criticism of libertarianism from the left tends to focus on its economic aspects, claiming that capitalism of a radical laissez-faire (free market) character undermines individual liberty, or creates poverty and harms society and the economy. Both left- and right-wing critics claim that libertarian ideas about individual economic and social freedom are contradictory, untenable or undesirable. Libertarianism's proponents claim it to be a sound rethinking of classical ideologies and a rejection of harmful statist policies. They further claim that personal responsibility, private charity, and liberal economic policies (laissez-faire) are more effective, and/or more ethical, in eliminating poverty than government intervention and tax-funded programs.


The term "libertarianism" in the above political sense has been in widespread use since the 1950s. Originally, in the 18th century, it referred to the philosophical doctrine of free will, as opposed to that of determinism. In that meaning libertarianism is opposed to necessitarianism (see Libertarian free will). Later, in the 19th century, the word was applied to political usage.

The term's political meaning is a result of some French anarchists adopting libertaire as an alternative term for their ideas after the French government banned anarchism. It was first used in print in 1857 by French communist-anarchist Joseph Dejacque in a letter to individualist-anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon from New Orleans criticizing him for supporting private property in the product of labor and exchange markets. Dejacque also published a periodical in New York called "Le Libertaire" (The Libertarian) from 1858 to 1861.[2] The English term "libertarian" was used in the 19th century and early 20th century in America to refer to one who espoused that country's native form of individualist anarchism --a type of anarchism that opposed communist and syndicalist anarchism, and supported private property and a market economy. But, for the most part, English-speaking anarchists choose to call themselves anarchists, individualist anarchists, anarchist-communists, or anarchist-syndicalists. Often, when distinguishing between the different uses of the term, the word libertarian is qualified as in "left-libertarian" or "right-libertarian" to distinguish between collectivist and individualist forms, respectively.

In contrast, the Libertarian International Organization points out the term has usage to pre-Roman times as a class of self-governing person, surviving in Common Law as the concept of 'Freeman' immune from government question, regulation, draft or taxation and whose "Home is His Castle" substantially detroyed by the British Parliament's Corporation Acts of the 19th century, (Britannica, 10h Edition) which also influenced jurists in many countries. Libertarians were understood in Iberian usage to mean such freemen, as was the term "Liberal," especially those living in self-governing or anarchist communes; and groups in the 1600's in Western Europe such as the Levellers used the term.

A typographical convention

When the "L" in Libertarian is capitalized, the word often refers specifically to a member of a Libertarian Party, as distinct from someone who simply favors the philosophy of libertarianism. This distinction between Big-L Libertarianism and small-l libertarianism is important because many libertarians do not align themselves with a Libertarian Party for a variety of reasons. For example, their interpretation of libertarianism may not accord with the Libertarian Party's. Or, they may oppose party politics altogether. Some libertarians may even be members of other parties. Anyone who believes in the libertarian principle is a libertarian (lowercase), but a Libertarian (capitalized) is one who is aligned with a Libertarian Party and/or its platform. For example, Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, author of the influential book Free to Choose, is a self-labeled "libertarian" who says he is a member of the United States Republican Party for the sake of "expediency".[3]

Libertarianism in the political spectrum

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

Most libertarians do not consider their political philosophy to be right-wing, left-wing, or centrist. In the U.S. some conservatives regard themselves as both conservative and libertarian, but other libertarians argue that the two conflict and that libertarianism is really a form of liberalism. One example of this position is Friedrich Hayek's Why I am Not a Conservative.[4]

Instead of a "left-right" spectrum, some libertarians use a two-dimensional space, with "personal freedom" on one axis and "economic freedom" on the other, which is called the Nolan chart. Named after David Nolan, who designed the chart and also founded the United States Libertarian Party, the chart is similar to a socio-political test used to place individuals by the Advocates for Self Government.[5] 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.

Classical liberalism

Main article: Libertarianism and Classical Liberalism

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

Liberal philosophical ideas, centered around liberty, evolved from many thinkers, in particular John Locke. The historical usage of the term "Classical Liberals" refers to people such as Locke, Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson (among many others) who were opposed to restrictions on individual liberty. Thomas Jefferson is credited as saying that "the government that governs best, governs least," which shares a common flavor with libertarianism, though Jefferson was not a libertarian in the modern sense. The original framers of the U.S. Constitution were aware of what they perceived as a danger of majority rule in oppressing freedom of the individual. For example, in Federalist No. 10 and elsewhere, James Madison advocates a republic as opposed to a democracy (where the latter refers to "absolute majority rule" rather than liberal democracy) because he feared that the majority would inevitably violate individual rights if it had the power to do so.[6]. Libertarians, believing in the sovereignty of the individual, maintain that members of a majority group should not have any rights that an individual in the minority does not also have (and vice versa).

However, mainstream thought in America, and other locales, moved away from negative liberty and free market ideas and instead began to advocate Keynesian economic ideas. Rather then relegating government to a mere agent of defense, they began to recommend government intervention as a way to promote positive liberty. While the classic philosophy is called liberalism, the latter has also come to be called "liberalism". It is sometimes called Welfare Liberalism or New Liberalism to distinguish it from classical liberalism. As the term "liberal" began taking on this new meaning in several English-speaking countries, many of those who espoused the classical minimal-state philosophy began referring to themselves as "libertarians" to distinguish their doctrine.

Some, such as David Boaz, executive vice president of the libertarian U.S think tank the Cato Institute, [7] 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.

Libertarian politics and philosophy

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 tend to call themselves "individualists" and claim to oppose anything that they see as paternalistic or collectivist. Many libertarians hold that all liberties they support (such as privacy, freedom of speech, the right to own property, and the freedom to trade) are justifiable on the same philosophical or ethical foundations. Some libertarians have elaborate philosophies to support their positions while others express an instinctive politics.

Rights and the law

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

According to Walter Block, a U.S. Austrian School economist, the "non-aggression axiom is the linchpin" of libertarianism.[8] Individuals may not violate the rights of others by initiating the use of force, though force is not considered immoral when it is used in response to an initiation of force, threat, or fraud (as in self-defense).

Libertarians argue that only individuals have rights. Thus, the government has no original rights but only those duties with which it has been lawfully entrusted by individual citizens. Furthermore, libertarians do not consider majority rule to be sufficient justification for government coercion. To protect individual rights, libertarians tend to favor a system of law based on a constitution (which may be supplemented by a bill of rights) that limits the range of government actions against individuals and protects them from the "tyranny of the majority." Many libertarians favor common law, which they see as less arbitrary, more consistent, and more adaptable over time. Friedrich Hayek had some of the most developed ideas on what libertarian law would be like, while Richard Epstein, Robert Nozick, and Randy Barnett are three of the most influential modern thinkers in this area.

Most rights-focused libertarians would argue that the only "rights" are variants of "the right to be left alone" (also called negative rights).[9] Currently, however, many "rights" that must be provided by the actions of others ("positive rights") are now the status quo especially in politically thorny areas like Affirmative Action and health care. Libertarians believe that providing for others, and the decision of whom to provide for, should be a matter of voluntary decision and that no-one should forcefully overrule individual choice on the matter.

A popular perception of libertarians is that they would allow pollution of the environment. However, libertarians oppose environmental damage as an act of initiatory coercion and would impose civil or criminal penalties against it. For example, Russell Means, a Native American activist who competed for the 1988 presidential nomination for the Libertarian Party of the United States says: "A libertarian society would not allow anyone to injure others by pollution because it insists on individual responsibility."[10] The U.S. Libertarian Party opposes pollution as "a violation of individual rights" in its platform. Pointing out that legal lack of accountability by government and government favored corporations or groups is the real weak spot, the LP led a campaign to document the cause of pollution, leading the GAO to the humiliating admisson that over 95% of environmental problems were the result of government misconduct, including revelations that EPA buildings weren't following their own regulations, poisoning workers. In response, some leading leftist writers such as Ernest Partridge, reverting to older progressive views promoting forced development, then criticize Libertarianism as being too strict, suggesting that such adherence to personal rights and freedoms would have prevented use of the steam engines and derailed the industrial revolution, and government pollution as a natural result of progress. Meanwhile, protests against government pollution continue.

Private property

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

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

Libertarian economic views

Main Article: Libertarian economic views

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

Libertarians oppose initiatives that would seek to forcibly "redistribute" resources in an egalitarian manner. One reason is the belief of many libertarians that welfare programs serve as a perverse incentive to keep individuals from working to earn a living and that they tend to perpetuate unemployment and poverty.[11] The maximization of economic freedom, they assert, would reduce poverty by making the economy more efficient, obviating the perceived need for tax-funded programs. Moreover, they believe that any temporary equality of outcome gained by redistribution would quickly collapse without continuous coercion, reasoning that people's differing economic decisions would allow those that were more productive or served others more effectively to quickly gain disproportionate wealth again. They see economic inequality as an outcome of people's freedom to choose their own actions, which may or may not be profitable.

Libertarians oppose forcing individuals to subsidize unprofitable businesses through taxation (see corporate welfare). Likewise, they oppose trade barriers to maintain businesses who would otherwise fail in the face of international competition, as well as oppose tax-funded programs such as The National Endowment for the Arts to support unprofitable artists. Libertarians believe government spending and government programs should be eliminated unless they are directly involved in protecting liberty and that private institutions should replace them wherever possible. When dismantling government services is impossible, many libertarians (like Milton Friedman) prefer market reforms like school vouchers to the status quo while others (like Lew Rockwell) see such programs as a threat to private industry and as a covert means of expanding government.[12]

Libertarian philosophy in the academy

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

The work of Jan Narveson aimed to meet this challenge. Based on the work of David Gauthier, Narveson developed contractarian libertarianism, outlined in his 1988 work The Libertarian Idea. In this work, Narveson argued with Hobbes that individuals would lay down their ability to kill and steal from each other in order to leave the state of nature, but he broke with Hobbes in that he argued that only a minimal state, not an absolute state, was necessary to enforce this agreement. In other words, property rights, including self-ownership, may be produced by contract rather than existing naturally.

Other advocates of contractarian libertarianism include Nobel Laureate, and founder of the public choice school of economics, James M. Buchanan and Hungarian-French philosopher Anthony de Jasay.

The libertarian movement

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[13] to support an independent libertarian movement, and joined David Nolan in founding the United States Libertarian Party in 1971. (Rothbard ceased activity with the Libertarian Party in 1985 and some of his followers like Lew Rockwell are hostile to the group.) In the U.S. today, some libertarians support the Libertarian Party, some support no party, and some attempt to work within more powerful parties despite their differences. The Republican Liberty Caucus (a wing of the Republican Party) promotes libertarian views. A similar organization, the Democratic Freedom Caucus, exists within the Democratic Party, but is less organized. Republican Congressman Ron Paul is also a member of the Libertarian Party and was once its presidential candidate.

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The Movimiento Libertario is one of the most successful libertarian political parties in the world.

Costa Rica's Movimiento Libertario (Libertarian Movement) is a prominent non-U.S. libertarian party that occupies roughly 10% of Costa Rica's national legislature.[14] The Movimiento Libertario is considered the first Libertarian organization in history to achieve substantial electoral success at the national level.

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

There are other Libertarian parties that have had various amounts of success throughout the world.

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

Disputes among libertarians

Not all Libertarians agree on every topic. Many Libertarians share a common tradition of thought emerging from classical British liberalism. This tradition does not have a single representative: no thinker is considered a common authority whose opinions are universally accepted. Instead, libertarians make reference to a variety of past opinions when advancing contemporary arguments. Jacob Levy, writing for the weblog The Volokh Conspiracy, writes that "there hasn't been any one libertarian organization that has the semi-authoritative position that National Review had for a couple of generations of conservatism — or that, say, the Leonard Peikoff group [the Ayn Rand Institute] has among orthodox Objectivists."[15]

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

There is also a camp of libertarians in Anglo-American Political Philosophy who hold egalitarian priniciples 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, Phillipe Van Parijs, and Michael Otsuka, whose book Libertarianism Without Inequality is one of the most egalitarian leaning libertarian texts currently in publication.

Criticisms of left-libertarianism have come from both the right and left alike. Right-libertarians like Robert Nozick hold that self-ownership and property acquisition need not meet egalitarian standards, they must merely follow the Lockean idea of not worsening the situation of others. G.A. Cohen, an Analytical Marxist philosopher, has extensively criticized left-libertarianism's virtues of self-ownership and equality. In his Self-ownership, Freedom, and Equality, Cohen claims that any system that takes equality and its enforcement seriously is not consistent with the robust freedom and full self-ownership of libertarian thought. (Tom G. Palmer of the Cato Institute has responded to Cohen's critique in 'Critical Review'[16] and has provided a guide to the literature criticizing libertarianism in his bibliographical review essay on "The Literature of Liberty" in The Libertarian Reader, ed. by David Boaz [17].)

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

Anarcho-capitalists and minarchists

File:Download la gold.jpg
The Libertatis Æquilibritas is a symbol of anarcho-capitalism. Some libertarians and Objectivists also use the dollar sign as a symbol.

Main articles: Minarchism and Anarcho-capitalism

There is a debate among libertarians about how much government is necessary. Libertarians debate if a government monopoly of protection can be legitimate. Minarchists believe that the government should be limited exclusively (or almost exclusively) to protecting property rights. For them, the legitimate functions of government might include the maintenance of the courts, the police, the military, and perhaps a few other functions (e.g., roads or schools), while imposing no or minimal taxation. Those who consider themselves classical liberals with libertarianism simply a convenient label (and place to find allies) generally fall into this category.

Anarcho-capitalists wish to keep the government out of matters of justice and protection, preferring to delegate these issues to private groups. Anarcho-capitalists argue that the minarchist belief that a state monopoly on coercion can be contained within any reasonable limits is unrealistic.The *Libertarian International Organization holds this isn't classical anarchism at all but is effectively limited government without a territorial base, as opposed to competing territorial governments with which Americans are familiar; and is sometimes called poly-archy or pan-archy. It also points to a less discussed form, minimal government, where officials play symbolic and essentially conflict prevention roles as in early Republics, all programs being voluntarily provided. This is in fact the classical Libertarian view in line with XIXth century Libertarians such as Pi y Margall.

With the exception of a few groups, including some anarcho-capitalists and those influenced by an orthodox interpretation of Objectivist philosophy, the minarchist/anarcho-capitalist division is generally friendly. Since both minarchists and anarcho-capitalists believe that existing governments are far too intrusive, the two factions desire change in the same direction, at least in the short term. Some libertarian philosophers such as Tibor R. Machan argue that, properly understood, minarchism and anarcho-capitalism are not in contradiction. [18]

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

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

Rights and consequentialism

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

Representatives of utilitarianism, such as Milton Friedman, Ludwig von Mises, and F.A. Hayek, instead emphasize arguments that libertarianism is the most effective means of promoting social good. This is a more pragmatic, consequentialist line of reasoning. Consequentialist libertarians favor protection of rights not because they consider rights to be sacred, but because, in their view, protecting rights produces a better society with increased wealth, safety, happiness, and fairness.

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

Ayn Rand's "Objectivism"

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

Main article: Libertarianism and Objectivism

Libertarianism and Objectivism have a complex relationship. Though they share many of the same political goals, some Objectivists see libertarians as plagiaristic. These Objectivists claim that libertarians use Objectivist ideas "with the teeth pulled out of them".[19] Some libertarians see Objectivists as dogmatic, unrealistic, and uncompromising. According to Reason editor Nick Gillespie in the magazine's March 2005 issue focusing on Objectivism's influence, Ayn Rand is "one of the most important figures in the libertarian movement... Rand remains one of the best-selling and most widely influential figures in American thought and culture" in general and in libertarianism in particular. Still, he confesses that he is embarrassed by his magazine's association with her ideas.[20] 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."[21] Though they reject what they see as Randian dogmas, libertarians like Young still believe that "Rand's message of reason and liberty... could be a rallying point" for libertarianism. Objectivists often disagree with the isolationism of many libertarians. They argue that when it is in a nation's self-interest to do so, the state can and should act militarilly abroad, even proactively. Many also would like to see the state more aggressively protect the rights of US individuals and corporations abroad - that would include military action in response to nationalization.

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

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

Other controversies among libertarians

These controversies are addressed in separate articles:

  • Libertarian perspectives on political alliances: Most libertarians ally politically with modern liberals over noneconomic issues. Others ally with isolationist, religious paleoconservatives, despite sharp disagreement on economic and social issues.
  • 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 more nationalistic libertarians argue that open borders amount to legalized trespassing. The debate centers on self-ownership of our bodies and whether we have the freedom to hire anyone without the federal government's permission. Consequentialist libertarians may decide the issue in terms of what is best for the economy.
  • Libertarian perspectives on abortion: The abortion debate among libertarians centers around whether the fetus is a person (and thus has its own rights) or a part of the mother's body (in which case it is subject to her wishes). A secondary controversy is the role of the state in regulating abortion, if it is in fact immoral. Most on both sides of this debate agree that this should be settled by the states instead of the federal government, thereby invalidating Roe v. Wade on grounds that the federal government violates traditional state self-police powers. Libertarians who are not states-rights advocates, on the other hand, prefer for the issue to be settled at whatever level of government (or no level of government, if they are anarcho-capitalists) will reach the best 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.
  • Libertarian perspectives on foreign intervention: Most libertarians 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.
  • 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 of gay marriage and homosexuality in armed forces.
  • 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.
  • Libertarian perspectives on natural resources: Some libertarians (such as free market environmentalists) want to avoid mismanagement of public resources through private ownership of all natural resources, while others (such as geolibertarians) believe that such resources (especially land) cannot be considered property.
  • Libertarian perspectives on animal rights: Some libertarians grant basic rights to animals (they count as individuals and 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 officals must focus on voluntary solutions and not favor any particular mode, be it minarchism or anything else. On social issues the Platform focuses on voluntary alternatives and civil institutions, not coercive government, as the correct problems-solving entity. Those concerned about defense and immigration should look to the voluntary actions underway encouraged or performed by the Libertarian Party or allied movements. The correct solution to foreign woes is more Libertarian policies and presumably Libertarians in all countries.

Criticism of libertarianism

See main article: Criticism of libertarianism

Conservatives often argue that the state is needed to maintain social order and morality. They may argue that excessive personal freedoms encourage dangerous and irresponsible behavior. Some of the most commonly debated issues here are sexual norms, the drug war, and public education. Some, such as the conservative Jonah Goldberg of National Review, consider libertarianism "a form of arrogant nihilism" that is both overly tolerant of nontraditional lifestyles (like 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."[22] (Note: Libertarians do not advocate "absolute freedom," but insist that the freedom of action of each individual should be limited at the point where it would infringe on the freedom of others; also, it is very unusual for libertarians to advocate that children have the same liberty as adults).

Some liberals, such as John Rawls and Ernest Partridge, argue that implied social contracts and democracy justify government actions that harm some individuals so long as they are beneficial overall. They may further argue that rights and markets can function only among "a well-knit community of citizens" that rests on social obligations that libertarians reject. These critics argue that without this foundation, the libertarian form of government will either fail or be expanded beyond recognition.[23]

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

Other criticism focuses on economics. Critics argue that where libertarian economic theory (laissez-faire capitalism) has been implemented (as in Chile, 19th-century Britain, and 19th- and 20th-century U.S.), the results show that libertarian economic ideas threaten freedom, democracy, human rights, and economic growth.[24] In addition, some critics claim that libertarianism's anti-statism would eliminate necessary government services. A frequently cited example is health care; critics argue that a lack of medical knowledge among consumers, and what they believe to be a moral requirement of society to provide service for those who cannot pay, make sufficient health care impossible in a free market. These critics claim that a nationalized health care system provides better outcomes than does the market, and that health care, contrary to libertarian positions, is a public good justifying coercion.[25]

Such critics may argue that the libertarian definition of "freedom" (as visualized in the Nolan Chart) is flawed because it ignores the effects powerlessness and poverty have on liberty. Others argue that the associated political quiz is biased towards libertarianism or that the chart dismisses non-libertarian values.[26]

Others critics, such as Jeffrey Friedman, editor of the journal Critical Review, argue that libertarians oversimplify issues such as the efficacy of state intervention, shifting the burden of proof to their opponents without justification.[27] Friedman also argues that libertarian views on human nature consist more of "ideology and political crusading" than "scholarship," as when he claims that libertarians assume that people act to maximize their own utility or that their self-interested actions will always serve human needs better than government.

Some criticize the motives of libertarians, saying that they support libertarian ideas only because they serve as a means of justifying and maintaining what these critics perceive to be their position near the top of existing social hierarchies. For instance, Wired columnist Brooke Shelbey Biggs stated that "Libertarianism is uninformed capitalist greed in civil-rights clothing" and that there are "a few issues libertarians tend to ignore when talking about the promise of a future without government interference: inherent cultural disadvantage and affirmative action; public-works projects like freeways for all those new-money Jags around Silicon Valley; funding for the arts; child-abuse prevention and intervention; medical care for the elderly; and too many more to list. They are also not likely to complain loudly about capital-gains tax cuts or other tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy".[28] They claim that libertarians view the very wealthy as having earned their place, while the classical liberals were often skeptical of the rich, businesses, and corporations, which they saw as aristocratic. Thomas Jefferson in particular was critical of the growth of corporations, which such critics claim would form an important part of a libertarian society. Though many libertarians 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.[29]

Some critics see the libertarian view of property rights as a threat to the environment, rather than a cure.[30] 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 [31] and indentured labor [32][33]Rothbard. The new libertarian rejoinder is that one's body, as Thomas Jefferson said of ideas, is not the subject of property, so slavery is de facto illegal, as is false imprisonment. This view parallels the long-standing common law principle that rights are unalienable, a condition that could not be satisfied if rights were treated as personal property (in the legal sense) and tradable commodities, even though this is not in any official libertarian platform, and the issue of voluntary servitude contracts are still debated within the libertarian ranks.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^  Huben, Michael. A Non-Libertarian FAQ, March 15, 2005
  2. ^  Who's Afraid of Noam Chomsky? Richard Wall, August 17, 2004.
  3. ^  Don Franzen, Los Angeles Times Book Review Desk, review of "Neither Left Nor Right". January 19, 1997. Franzen states that "Murray and Boaz share the political philosophy of libertarianism, which upholds individual liberty--both economic and personal--and advocates a government limited, with few exceptions, to protecting individual rights and restraining the use of force and fraud." (Review on MSN Encarta's entry on Libertarianism defines it as a "political philosophy" (Both references retrieved June 24, 2005). The Encyclopedia Britannica defines Libertarianism as "Political philosophy that stresses personal liberty." (link, accessed 29 June, 2005)
  4. ^  Nettlau, Max. A Short History of Anarchism, 2000. p. 75
  5. ^  Friedman, Milton. The Drug War as a Socialist Enterprise. From: Friedman & Szasz on Liberty and Drugs, edited and with a Preface by Arnold S. Trebach and Kevin B. Zeese. Washington, D.C.: The Drug Policy Foundation,
  6. ^  Hayek, F.A. Why I am not a Conservative, University of Chicago Press, 1960link
  7. ^  Advocates for Self Government website. "The World's Smallest Political Quiz".link
  8. ^  Madison, James. Federalist Papers #10. Daily Advertiser, November 22, 1787 link
  9. ^  David Boaz, "A Note on Labels: Why "Libertarian"?", accessed June 21, 2005 link
  10. ^  Walter Block, "The Non-Aggression Axiom of Libertarianism". February 17, 2003. Accessed 30 June, 2005.
  11. ^  The Capitalism Tour. Capitalism Magazine. link
  12. ^  Advocates for Self Government website. "Russell Means—Libertarian" link
  13. ^  Cleveland, Paul and Stevenson, Brian. Individual Responsibility and Economic Well-Being. The Freeman, August
  14. ^  Rockwell, Lew and Friedman, Milton. "Friedman v. Rockwell." Chronicles, December 1998. link
  15. ^  Libertarian Party News. Murray Rothbard: 1926-1995, February
  16. ^  Sanchez, Julian. "The Other Guevara." Reason magazine, August 12,
  17. ^  Levy, Jacob. SELF-CRITICISM, The Volokh Conspiracy, March 19, 2003 link
  18. ^  Machan, Tibor R. Revisiting Anarchism and Government, link.
  19. ^  Rand, Ayn. Ayn Rand’s Q&A on Libertarians from a 1971 interview link
  20. ^  Gillespie, Nick. Rand Redux, Reason magazine, March 2005 link
  21. ^  Young, Cathy. Ayn Rand at 100, Reason magazine. March 2005 link
  22. ^  Goldberg, Jonah. Freedom Kills. National Review Online, December 12,
  23. ^  Partridge, Ernest. "With Liberty and Justice for Some." Environmental Philosophy edited by Michael Zimmerman, Baird Callicott, Karen Warren, Irene Klaver, and John Clark,
  24. ^  Kangas, Steve. Chile: the Laboratory Test. Liberalism Resurgent, link
  25. ^  Yglesias, Matthew. "Health is Forever". April 15, 2005. link
  26. ^  Huben, Michael, A Non-Libertarian FAQ, March 15, 2005 link
  27. ^  Friedman, Jeffrey. What's Wrong With Libertarianism, Critical Review Vol. 11, No. 3. Summer 1997PDF (large PDF file)
  28. ^  Brooke Shelbey Biggs, "You're Not the Boss of Me!", Wired, 21 July 1997.

External links

Libertarian political parties around the world

Libertarian think tanks

Other libertarian political projects

Libertarian publications and websites

Sites about libertarianism

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