In English-speaking countries, libertarianism usually refers to a political philosophy maintaining that every person is the absolute owner of their own life and should be free to do whatever they wish with their person or property, as long as they respect the liberty of others.
Libertarianism can also be an ethical theory or stance that holds that the best—i.e., best ethically speaking, or what "ought to" or "should" exist or be upheld—political, social, economic, and/or governmental system is the one that governs least, that provides for the greatest individual liberty, initiative, entrepreneurship, etc. Libertarian theory advocates minimizing social and governmental power, action, control, and regulation, and maximizing individual liberty and freedom. Libertarians are suspicious of the ability of government and bureaucrats to make good, wise, and informed ethical, social, or economic choices for people. Libertarians believe, instead, that people are the best judges and masters of their own self-interest, and that they make the best choices when they choose freely for themselves.
Libertarianism can be contrasted with socialism—the two are more or less opposite in their political, social, and ethical stances.
Some libertarians (as explained below) are anarchists. But it is important not to assume that libertarianism implies or is synonymous with anarchism because most libertarians do believe in and accept some minimal government and governmental power—a view sometimes called the "night-watchman theory of the state."
There are broadly two types of libertarians: consequentialists and rights theorists. Rights theorists hold that it is morally imperative that all human interaction, including government interaction with private individuals, should be voluntary and consensual. They maintain that the initiation of force by any person or government, against another person or their property—with "force" meaning the use of physical force, the threat of it, or the commission of fraud against someone—who has not initiated physical force, threat, or fraud, is a violation of that principle. This form of libertarianism is associated with Objectivists, as well as with individualist anarchists who see this prohibition as requiring opposition to the state to be consistent.
Consequentialist libertarians do not have a moral prohibition against "initiation of force," but support those actions that they believe will result in the maximum well-being or efficiency for a society. Though they will allow some initiation of force by the state if they believe it necessary to bring about good consequences for society, they believe that allowing a very large scope of individual liberty is the most productive way toward this end. This type of libertarianism is associated with Milton Friedman, Ludwig von Mises, and Friedrich Hayek.
Libertarians generally do not oppose force used in response to initiatory aggressions such as violence, fraud, or trespassing. 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. Libertarians also strongly oppose conscription, because they oppose slavery and involuntary servitude.
Critics of libertarianism may point to its unrealistic view of human nature. Since human beings are fallen and prone to selfish behaviors, lacking in self-control and greedy to promote themselves at the expense of others, a condition of unfettered liberty will necessarily result in inequality and oppression of the many by a privileged few who are stronger and more ruthless. The state, in this view, has a positive role to regulate selfish and immoral behavior and to provide redress to those oppressed by economic or social circumstances. This is the essence of Jean-Jacque Rousseau's social contract, which founds the sovereign role of government on an implicit contract in which citizens surrender a measure of individual liberty for a measure of protection and greater social equality. On the other hand, elements of libertarian policy can succeed if non-governmental organizations in a society were to deliver widespread moral instruction to encourage citizens to practice self-control and embody divinity within themselves, support healthy families in which such virtues are most readily cultivated, and encourage voluntary charity to care for the less fortunate.
Note on terminology: Some writers who have been called libertarians have also been referred to as "classical liberals," by others or themselves. Also, some use the phrase "the freedom philosophy" to refer to libertarianism, classical liberalism, or both.
The central tenet of libertarianism is the principle of self-ownership. To libertarians, an individual human being is sovereign over his or her own body, extending to life, liberty, and property. As such, libertarians define liberty as being completely free in action, while not initiating force or fraud against the life, liberty, or property of another human being. This is otherwise known as the non-aggression principle.
Libertarians generally view constraints imposed by the state on persons or their property (if applicable), beyond the need to penalize infringement of one's rights by another, as a violation of liberty. Anarchist libertarians 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, minarchist libertarians—who could also be called night-watchman theory 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, 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…."
Some 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."
Natural rights and consequentialism
Some libertarians such as Robert Nozick and Murray Rothbard view the rights to life, liberty, and property as natural rights, that is, 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 individual liberty leads to economic efficiency and other benefits, and is thus the most effective means of promoting or enhancing social welfare. They accept the use of some initiation of force, such as a state that violates the non-aggression principle by taxing to provide some public goods and some minimal regulation. Some libertarians such as Jan Narveson take the contractarian point of view that rights are a sort of agreement rational people make before interacting.
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. Some make an exception when the infringement is 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 (as is commonly seen in drug crime proceedings). 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 oppose 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) should not ban unproven medical treatments, that any decisions on treatment should be left between patient and doctor, and that the government should, at most, be limited to passing non-binding judgments about efficacy or safety.
Some Libertarians believe 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. As Robert Nozick put it in one of his trenchant and colorful phrases, the only way that economic inequality could be prevented is if a heavy socialistic governmental hand were to "forbid capitalist acts between consenting adults." (Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia)
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. Any justification for the coercive state or alliance between business and the state, is said to result in a more efficient and thus more dangerous state—or "crony capitalism."
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.
The first known use of a term that has been translated as "libertarian," in a political sense, was by anarcho-communist Joseph Déjacque. While many 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 Montesquieu, and the moral and economic philosophy of Adam Smith. By the late eighteenth 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. John Locke built on the idea of natural rights to propose a labor theory of property; each individual in the state of nature "owns" himself or herself and, by virtue of their labor, owns the fruits of his or her efforts. From this conception of natural rights, an economy emerges based on private property and trade, with money as the medium of exchange.
Around the same time, 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 substantially enshrined the protection of liberty as the primary purpose of government. Thomas 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. 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 twentieth 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 twentieth 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 twentieth 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."
Libertarian philosophy in the academy
Seminars in libertarianism were being taught in the U.S. starting in the 1960s, 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 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, and has provided a guide to the literature criticizing libertarianism in his bibliographical review essay on "The Literature of Liberty" in The Libertarian Reader.
Libertarianism's status is in dispute among those who style themselves Objectivists (Objectivism is the name philosopher-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".
Conversely, some libertarians see Objectivists as dogmatic, unrealistic, and uncompromising (this last, Objectivists do not see as a negative attribute). 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.
U.S. 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 preemptive 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 U.S. 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. Under the concept of fusionism, American libertarians tend to have more in common with traditional conservatives than American liberals, especially with regard to economic and gun control policies. However, many describe libertarians as being "conservative" on economic issues and "liberal" on social issues. (For example, 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.)
A historical example of libertarian politics would be discrimination in the workplace. Liberals typically support laws to penalize employers for discrimination on a basis unrelated to the ability to do the job while conservatives historically favored laws that enforced such discrimination (as in the pre-civil rights South). Libertarians could be expected to oppose any laws on this matter because these would infringe on the property rights or freedoms of either the business owner or the just-hired employee. In other words, one should be free to discriminate against others in their personal or business dealings (within the constraints of principal/agency agreements); one should be free to choose where they accept work, or to start one's own business in accordance with their personal beliefs and prejudices; and one should be free to lead a boycott or publicity campaign against businesses with whose policies they disagree.
In a more current example, conservatives are likely to support a ban on same-sex marriage in the interests of preserving traditional order, while liberals are likely to favor allowing same-sex marriage in the interest of guaranteeing equality under the law. Libertarians are likely to disagree with the notion of government-sanctioned marriage itself. Specifically, they would deny that the government warrants any role in marriage—other than enforcing whatever legal contract people choose to enter—and oppose the various additional rights currently granted to married people.
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. 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.
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 (where 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 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.
Costa Rica's Movimiento Libertario (Libertarian Movement) is a prominent, non-U.S. libertarian party which holds roughly 10 percent 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" for autonomy in a province in Costa Rica, and director of INLAP, 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.
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 think tank 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 because of its friendliness to libertarian causes, limited government, citizen legislature (paid only $100 per year) and history of political activism. Despite the lower than expected rate of growth, the Free State Project has seen moderate success. They saw their first member elected to the New Hampshire legislature in 2006 and successfully completed the "First 1000" pledge in 2005, which signed up 1033 people to move to New Hampshire by 2008. Some of the original Free Staters (about 1,000) were discontented with the choice of New Hampshire. Some have started rival projects, including the Free West Alliance, Free State Wyoming, 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
- Consequences vs. rights "Perhaps the most persistent fundamental argument among libertarians has been between those who believe that freedom is a good thing because of its consequences—because it creates a more prosperous or a happier society—and those who believe that freedom is a good thing because it is entailed by objective morality, which instructs us that it is always wrong to initiate physical force or to engage in fraud. Generally, libertarian thinkers who hold the moralist view are led to anarchism because no government can exist without taxation, which violates the non-aggression imperative. Those libertarian thinkers who hold the consequentialist view are not boxed in quite so tightly, and some see justification for a state with minimal power." 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." 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. They support the levying of a limited amount of involuntary taxes to provide some public goods such as defense, law, and roads, as well as some minimal positive regulation (these are also sometimes called classical liberals). Anarcho-capitalist libertarians, on the other hand, believe that a free market can adequately provide these functions via private defense agencies, arbitration agencies, and toll roads.
- 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.. Many left-libertarians define "capitalism" in the Marxian sense of state capitalism, and therefore oppose it.
- Taxes: Some libertarians believe that logical consistency to fundamental libertarian maxims (non aggression, individual rights) allows no taxation at all, or tax resistance, while proponents of limited government might support low taxes, arguing that a society with no taxation would have difficulty providing public services such as crime prevention.
- Political alliances: Most libertarians ally politically with modern conservatives over economic issues and gun laws. 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. Many voting libertarians typically will only vote for a candidate that is philosophically 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 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. Libertarians who voted for George W. Bush liked his views on free trade and the Republican Party's claim to be the party of smaller government. Libertarians who voted for John Kerry may have been protesting Bush's failure to restrain federal spending. A greater number of philosophical libertarians either abstained from voting entirely or voted for the 2004 Libertarian presidential candidate, Michael Badnarik, believing both major party choices in 2004 were opposed to fundamental Libertarian tenets.
- 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.
- 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 one has 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.
- Abortion: 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.
- 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."
- 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."
- Gay rights: All libertarians believe 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 issues of homosexuality in the 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.
- 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.
- Natural resources: Some 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 property.
The United States Libertarian Party approach to these issues is to say the focus is misplaced. Under the 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 problem 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. Their 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.
- ↑ Norman P. Barry, Review Article: "The New Liberalism." B.J. Pol. S. 13: 93
- ↑ Tom Palmer, "G.A. Cohen on Self-ownership, Property, and Equality," Critical Review Retrieved March 7, 2007
- ↑ Ayn Rand Institute. Ayn Rand’s Q & A on Libertarianism. Retrieved March 7, 2007.
- ↑ The Limón REAL Project, Homepage. Retrieved March 7, 2007.
- ↑ Charles Murray, David Friedman, David Boaz, and R.W. Bradford. What's Right vs. What Works Liberty 15 (1)(January 2005). Retrieved March 7, 2007.
- ↑ Take It To The Limit: Milton Friedman on Libertarianism. Transcript from an interview, Retrieved March 7, 2007
- ↑ Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. Vouchers: Another Name for Welfare, Retrieved March 7, 2007
- ↑ Copyright law as corporate welfare, Official campaign website of Al Barger, 2004. Indiana Libertarian Party candidate for U.S. Senate. Retrieved March 22, 2007.
- ↑ Washington State Libertarian Party Retrieved September 24, 2008.
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- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entries:
- Advocates for Self-Government Libertarian FAQ
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General Philosophy Sources
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
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- Project Gutenberg
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