- This article uses content from the Wikipedia article on Libertarianism (edition) under the terms of the CC-by-SA 3.0 license.
Libertarianism is a political philosophy that views respect for individual choice and individual liberty as the foundation of the ideal society, and therefore seeks to minimize or abolish the coercive actions of the State as that is the entity that is generally identified as the most powerful coercive force in society. Broadly speaking, libertarianism focuses on the rights of the individual to act in complete accordance with his or her own subjective values, and argues that the coercive actions of the State are often (or even always) an impediment to the efficient realization of one's desires and values. Libertarians also maintain that what is immoral for the individual must necessarily be immoral for all state agents, and that the state should not be above the natural law. The extent to which government is necessary is evaluated by libertarian moral philosophers from a variety of perspectives.
- 1 Origins
- 2 Libertarian principles
- 3 Libertarian viewpoints
- 4 Current libertarian movements
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 Bibliography
- 8 Links
The term libertarian was originally used by late Enlightenment free-thinkers to refer to those who believed in free will, as opposed to determinism. Libertarianism in this sense is still encountered in metaphysics in discussions of free will. The first recorded use of the term was in 1789, by William Belsham, son of a dissenting clergyman. Murrary Rothbard identified mysterious Chinese philospher Lao-Tzu who lived in the sixth century BC as one of the first libertarian-minded philosphers and another philosopher Chuang-tzu as the first thinker to describe the benefits of "spontaneous order".
The term libertarian was first popularized in France in the 1890s in order to counter and evade the anti-anarchist laws known as the lois scélérates. According to anarchist historian Max Nettlau, the first use of the term libertarian communism was in November 1880, when a French anarchist congress employed it to more clearly identify its doctrines. The French anarchist journalist Sébastien Faure, later founder and editor of the four-volume Anarchist Encyclopedia, started the weekly paper Le Libertaire (The Libertarian) in 1895.
In the meantime, in the United States, libertarianism as a synonym for anarchism had begun to take hold. The anarchist communist geographer and social theorist Peter Kropotkin wrote in his seminal 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica article Anarchism that:
It would be impossible to represent here, in a short sketch, the penetration, on the one hand, of anarchist ideas into modern literature, and the influence, on the other hand, which the libertarian ideas of the best contemporary writers have exercised upon the development of anarchism.
Today, worldwide, anarchist communist, libertarian socialist, and other left-libertarian movements continue to describe themselves as libertarian, although their continued appropriation of the phrase is open to controversy, with right libertarians maintaining that left-libertarianism is internally inconsistent and should not be associated with modern libertarianism in any way. These "leftist" styles of libertarianism are opposed to most or all forms of private property.
Usages of "Libertarian"
Age of Enlightenment ideas of individual liberty, constitutionally limited government, peace, and reliance on the institutions of civil society and the free market for social order and economic prosperity were the basis of what became known as liberalism in the 19th century. While it kept that meaning in most of the world, modern liberalism in the United States began to mean a more statist viewpoint. Over time, those who held to the earlier liberal views began to call themselves market liberals, classical liberals or libertarians. While conservatism in Europe continued to mean conserving hierarchical class structures through state control of society and the economy, some conservatives in the United States began to refer to conserving traditions of liberty. This was especially true of the Old Right, who opposed The New Deal and U.S. military interventions in World War I and World War II.
Later, the Austrian School of economics also had a powerful impact on both economic teaching and classical liberal and libertarian principles. It influenced economists and political philosophers and theorists including Henry Hazlitt, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Israel Kirzner, Murray Rothbard, Walter Block and Richard M. Ebeling. The Austrian School was in turn influenced by Frederic Bastiat.
Starting in the 1930s and continuing until today, a group of central European economists lead by Austrians Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek identified the collectivist underpinnings to the various new socialist and fascist doctrines of government power as being different brands of totalitarianism.
In the 1940s, Leonard Read began calling himself libertarian. In 1955, Dean Russell wrote an article in the Foundation for Economic Education magazine pondering what to call those, such as himself, who subscribed to the classical liberal philosophy. He suggested: "Let those of us who love liberty trademark and reserve for our own use the good and honorable word "libertarian.""
Ayn Rand's international best sellers The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957) and her books about her philosophy of objectivism influenced modern libertarianism. For a number of years after the publication of her books, people promoting a libertarian philosophy continued to call it individualism. Two other women also published influential pro-freedom books in 1943, Rose Wilder Lane’s The Discovery of Freedom and Isabel Paterson’s The God of the Machine.
According to libertarian publisher Robert W. Poole, Arizona United States Senator Barry Goldwater's message of individual liberty, economic freedom, and anti-communism also had a major impact on the libertarian movement, both with the publication of his book The Conscience of a Conservative and with his run for president in 1964. Goldwater's speech writer, Karl Hess, became a leading libertarian writer and activist.
The Cold War mentality of military interventionism, which had supplanted Old Right non-interventionism, was promoted by conservatives like William F. Buckley and accepted by many libertarians, with Murray Rothbard being a notable dissenter. However, the Vietnam War split the uneasy alliance between growing numbers of self-identified libertarians, anarcho-libertarians, and more traditional conservatives who believed in limiting liberty to uphold moral virtues. Some libertarians joined the draft dodger, peace movements and Students for a Democratic Society. They began founding their own publications, like Murray Rothbard's The Libertarian Forum and organizations like the Radical Libertarian Alliance. The split was aggravated at the 1969 Young Americans for Freedom convention, when more than 300 libertarians organized to take control of the organization from conservatives. The burning of a draft card in protest to a conservative proposal against draft resistance sparked physical confrontations among convention attendees, a walkout by a large number of libertarians, the creation of new purely libertarian organizations like the Society for Individual Liberty, and efforts to recruit potential libertarians from conservative organizations. The split was finalized in 1971 when conservative leader William F. Buckley, in a 1971 New York Times article, attempted to weed libertarians out of the freedom movement. He wrote: "The ideological licentiousness that rages through America today makes anarchy attractive to the simple-minded. Even to the ingeniously simple-minded."
In 1971, David Nolan and a few friends formed the Libertarian Party. Attracting former Democrats, Republicans and independents, it has run a presidential candidate every election year since 1972, including Ed Clark (1980), Ron Paul (1988), Harry Browne (1996 and 2000) and Bob Barr (2008). By 2006, polls showed that 15 percent of American voters identified themselves as libertarian. Over the years, dozens of libertarian political parties have been formed worldwide. Educational organizations like the Center for Libertarian Studies and the Cato Institute were formed in the 1970s, and others have been created since then.
Philosophical libertarianism gained a significant measure of recognition in academia with the publication of Harvard University professor Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia in 1974. The book won a National Book Award in 1975. According to libertarian essayist Roy Childs, "Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia single-handedly established the legitimacy of libertarianism as a political theory in the world of academia."
According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Libertarians are committed to the belief that individuals, and not states or groups of any other kind, are both ontologically and normatively primary; that individuals have rights against certain kinds of forcible interference on the part of others; that liberty, understood as non-interference, is the only thing that can be legitimately demanded of others as a matter of legal or political right; that robust property rights and the economic liberty that follows from their consistent recognition are of central importance in respecting individual liberty; that social order is not at odds with but develops out of individual liberty; that the only proper use of coercion is defensive or to rectify an error; that governments are bound by essentially the same moral principles as individuals; and that most existing and historical governments have acted improperly insofar as they have utilized coercion for plunder, aggression, redistribution, and other purposes beyond the protection of individual liberty.
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states "libertarianism holds that agents initially fully own themselves and have moral powers to acquire property rights in external things under certain conditions." It notes that libertarianism is not a “right-wing” doctrine because of its opposition to laws restricting adult consensual sexual relationships and drug use, and its opposition to imposing religious views or practices and compulsory military service. However, it notes that there is a version known as “left-libertarianism” which also endorses full self-ownership, but "differs on unappropriated natural resources (land, air, water, etc.)." "Right-libertarianism" holds that such resources may be appropriated by individuals. "Left-libertarianism" holds that they belong to everyone and must be distributed in some egalitarian manner.
Like many libertarians, Leonard Read rejected the concepts of "left" and "right" libertarianism, calling them "authoritarian." Libertarian author and politician Harry Browne wrote: "We should never define Libertarian positions in terms coined by liberals or conservatives – nor as some variant of their positions. We are not fiscally conservative and socially liberal. We are Libertarians, who believe in individual liberty and personal responsibility on all issues at all times. You can depend on us to treat government as the problem, not the solution."
Isaiah Berlin's 1958 essay "Two Concepts of Liberty" described a difference between negative liberty which limits the power of the state to interfere and positive liberty in which a paternalistic state helps individuals achieve self-realization and self-determination. He believed these were rival and incompatible interpretations of liberty and held that demands for positive liberty lead to authoritarianism. This view has been adopted by many libertarians including Robert Nozick and Murray Rothbard.
Libertarians contrast two ethical views: consequentialist libertarianism, which is the support for liberty because it leads to favorable consequences, such as prosperity or efficiency and deontological libertarianism (also known as "rights-theorist libertarianism," "natural rights libertarianism," or "libertarian moralism") which consider moral tenets to be the basis of libertarian philosophy. Others combine a hybrid of consequentialist and deontologist thinking.
Another view, contractarian libertarianism, holds that any legitimate authority of government derives not from the consent of the governed, but from contract or mutual agreement. Robert Nozick holds a variation on this view, as does Jan Narveson as outlined in his 1988 work The Libertarian Idea and his 2002 work Respecting Persons in Theory and Practice. Other advocates of contractarian libertarianism include the Nobel Laureate and founder of the public choice school of economics James M. Buchanan, Canadian philosopher David Gauthier and Hungarian-French philosopher Anthony de Jasay.
The main differences among libertarians relate to the ideal amount of freedom and the means to that freedom.
- Main article: Libertarian conservatism
Libertarian conservatism, also known as conservative libertarianism (and sometimes called right-libertarianism), describes certain political ideologies which attempt to meld libertarian and conservative ideas, often called "fusionism." Anthony Gregory writes that right, or conservative, "libertarianism can refer to any number of varying and at times mutually exclusive political orientations" such as being "interested mainly in 'economic freedoms'"; following the "conservative lifestyle of right-libertarians"; seeking "others to embrace their own conservative lifestyle"; considering big business "as a great victim of the state"; favoring a "strong national defense"; and having "an Old Right opposition to empire."
Conservatives hold that shared values, morals, standards, and traditions are necessary for social order while libertarians consider individual liberty as the highest value. Laurence M. Vance writes: "Some libertarians consider libertarianism to be a lifestyle rather than a political philosophy... They apparently don’t know the difference between libertarianism and libertinism." However, Edward Feser emphasizes that libertarianism does not require individuals to reject traditional conservative values.
- Main article: Libertarianism and Objectivism
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 (Objectivists do not see the last 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.
Objectivists reject the rigorous interpretation of the non-aggression principle which leads anarchist libertarians to reject the State. For Objectivists, a government limited to protection of its citizens' rights is absolutely necessary and moral or at least a "necessary evil". Objectivists are opposed to all anarchist currents and are suspicious of libertarians' lineage with individualist anarchism.
- Main article: Libertarian progressivism
Libertarian progressivism supports the civil libertarian aspect of freedom as well as supporting the kind of economic freedom that emphasizes removing corporate subsidies and other favoritism to special interests, and applying a responsible transition toward freedom - for example, some support a transition approach that includes certain trade restrictions on imports from countries that have very little freedom, and free trade with those countries would be phased in if they move toward more freedom. Libertarian progressives are sometimes libertarian Democrats.
- Main article: Minarchism
Minarchism is the belief that a state should exist but that its functions should be minimal because its sole purpose is protecting the rights of the people, including protecting people and their property from the criminal acts of others, as well as providing for national defense.
- Main article: Anarchism
Anarchism is a political philosophy encompassing many theories and traditions, all opposed to government. Although anarchism is usually considered to be a left-wing ideology, it always has included individualists and, more recently, anarcho-capitalists who support pro-property and market-oriented economic structures. Anarchists may support anything from extreme individualism to complete collectivism.
- Main article: Geolibertarianism
Geolibertarianism is a political movement that strives to reconcile libertarianism and Georgism (or geoism). Geolibertarians are advocates of geoism, which is the position that all land is a common asset to which all individuals have an equal right to access, and therefore if individuals claim the land as their property they must pay rent to the community for doing so. Rent need not be paid for the mere use of land, but only for the right to exclude others from that land, and for the protection of one's title by government. They simultaneously agree with the libertarian position that each individual has an exclusive right to the fruits of his or her labor as their private property, as opposed to this product being owned collectively by society or the community, and that "one's labor, wages, and the products of labor" should not be taxed. In agreement with traditional libertarians they advocate "full civil liberties, with no crimes unless there are victims who have been invaded." Geolibertarians generally advocate distributing the land rent to the community via a land value tax, as proposed by Henry George and others before him. For this reason, they are often called "single taxers". Fred E. Foldvary coined the word "geo-libertarianism" in an article so titled in Land and Liberty, May/June 1981, pp. 53-55. In the case of geoanarchism, the voluntary form of geolibertarianism as described by Foldvary, rent would be collected by private associations with the opportunity to secede from a geocommunity (and not receive the geocommunity's services) if desired.
- Main article: Left-libertarianism
Left-libertarianism is usually regarded as doctrine that has an egalitarian view concerning natural resources, believing that it is not legitimate for someone to claim private ownership of resources to the detriment of others. Most left libertarians support some form of income redistribution on the grounds of a claim by each individual to be entitled to an equal share of natural resources. Left libertarianism is defended by contemporary theorists such as Peter Vallentyne, Hillel Steiner, Michael Otsuka, and Noam Chomsky. The term is sometimes used as a synonym for libertarian socialism or simply socialism.
Some members of the U.S. libertarian movement, including the late Samuel Edward Konkin III and Roderick T. Long, employ a differing definition of left libertarianism. These individuals depart from other forms of libertarianism by advocating strong alliances with the Left on issues such as the anti-war movement, and by supporting labor unions. Some wish to revive voluntary cooperative ideas such as mutualism.
Current libertarian movements
In France, Liberté chérie ("Cherished Liberty") is a pro-liberty think tank and activist association formed in 2003. Liberté chérie gained significant publicity when it managed to draw 30,000 Parisians into the streets to demonstrate against government employees who were striking.
In Germany, a "Libertäre Plattform in der FDP" ("Liberty Caucus within the Free Democratic Party") was founded in 2005.
The Russian Libertarian Movement (Rossiyskoye Libertarianskoye Dvizhenie, RLD; 2003-2006) was a short-lived political party in the Russian Federation, formed by members of the Institute of Natiology (Moscow), a libertarian think-tank. After electoral failure and government failure, it disbanded.
Commonwealth of Nations
The Libertarian Alliance was an early libertarian educational group. It was followed by British think tanks such as the Adam Smith Institute. A British Libertarian Party was founded on January 1, 2008.
Well known libertarian organizations include the Global Free Enterprise Center, the Cato Institute, the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), and the Ludwig von Mises Institute. The Libertarian Party of the United States is the world's first such party.
The activist Free State Project, formed in 2001, works to bring 20,000 libertarians to the state of New Hampshire to influence state policy. They had signed up 1,033 people by 2008. Similar, but less successful, projects include the Free West Alliance and Free State Wyoming. (There is also a European Free State Project.)
The Tea Party Movement is arguably a recent revival of mainstream libertarianism in the United States. Ron Paul and his son Rand Paul's increasing visibility and popularity with the electorate could also be signs of a revival of libertarianism in mainstream political consciousness in the United States.
Costa Rica's Movimiento Libertario ("Libertarian Movement") is libertarian party which holds roughly 10% of the seats in Costa Rica's national assembly (legislature). The Limón REAL Project seeks for autonomy in a province in Costa Rica.
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- Rand, Ayn. "Ayn Rand’s Q&A on Libertarians", from a 1971 interview.
- Rockwell, Lew; Friedman, Milton (December 1998). "Friedman v. Rockwell". Chronicles. http://www.mises.org/fullstory.aspx?control=92&id=79. Retrieved 2006-07-10.
- Sanchez, Julian (August 12 2003). "The Other Guevara". Reason. Retrieved 2006-07-10.
- Yglesias, Matthew (April 15 2005). "Health is Forever". http://yglesias.typepad.com/matthew/2005/04/health_is_forev.html. Retrieved 2006-07-10.
- Young, Cathy (March 2005). "Ayn Rand at 100". Reason. Retrieved 2006-07-10.
- Zwolinski, Matt (December 2007). "Libertarianism". The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://www.iep.utm.edu/l/libertar.htm. Retrieved 2008-03-28.
- "The World's Smallest Political Quiz". Advocates for Self Government. http://www.self-gov.org/. Retrieved 2006-07-10.
- "The Capitalism Tour". Capitalism Magazine. http://capitalism.org/tour/preamble5b.htm. Retrieved 2006-07-10.
- "Russell Means—Libertarian". Advocates for Self Government. http://www.self-gov.org/means.html. Retrieved 2006-07-10.
- "Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement". http://www.city-journal.org/html/rev2007-04-20pb.html. Retrieved 2006-07-10.
- Ludwig von Mises Institute
- Cato Institute
- Reason Foundation
- The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism
- Libertarianism: Philosophy of Freedom
- Global Free Enterprise Center
- "What Libertarianism Is" by Stephan Kinsella (adapted from a contribution to Property, Freedom, and Society)
- "What Libertarianism is Not" by Jonathan M.F. Catalán, July 2011
- Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty by Murray Rothbard
- Are Libertarians "Anarchists"? - Article by Murray N. Rothbard
- "The Philosophy of Liberty" (Flash) at the International Society for Individual Liberty
- Mises Review: Libertarianism Today by David Gordon, 2010 (republished as "What Is Libertarianism?" here)
- What Are We For? by Michael Munger, December 2013
- Related courses
- Libertarianism and Modern Philosophers Mises Academy course by David Gordon
- Libertarian Ethics Mises Academy course by David Gordon
- Libertarian Controversies Mises Academy course by Stephan Kinsella
- "Libertarian Controversies" by Stephan Kinsella, August 2011
- Anarcho-Capitalism Mises Academy course by Robert P. Murphy