What is Libertarianism?

Libertarianism is a political theory that upholds individual liberty as the key to a good and proper society. Libertarianism seeks to highlight the importance of political freedom and autonomy, freedom of choice, and self-ownership. Libertarians share a skepticism of authority and state power. However, they diverge on the scope of their opposition to existing political and economic systems. Various schools of libertarian thought offer a range of views regarding the legitimate functions of state and private power, often calling to restrict or to entirely eliminate coercive social institutions.

Regarding political proposals, libertarians believe that most of the activities currently undertaken by the government should be either abandoned or shifted to private individuals. The most well-known version of this conclusion finds expression in the “minimal state” theories of Robert Nozick and Ayn Rand, who believed that the government should only manage law enforcement, legal systems, and the military. Any further actions on the part of the state such as regulating the use of drugs, conscripting individuals for military service, providing support to the poor, or building and maintaining infrastructure is itself a violation of individual rights.

The economist Murray Rothbard (1926-1995) is widely considered to be one of the major figures behind the development of right-libertarianism.

The economist Murray Rothbard (1926-1995) is widely considered to be one of the major figures behind the development of right-libertarianism.

Libertarian advocates of a strictly minimal state are known as Right Libertarian. As a philosophy, Right-libertarianism developed in the US during the mid-1950s in response to the increasing economic liberalism of both the Republican and Democratic parties and proponents of this theory are divided into two categories. On one side are the anarcho-capitalists, who believe that even a minimal state is too large and that respect for individual rights requires the abolition of government altogether and the provision of protective services by the private sector. On the other hand are those who identify themselves as supporters of classical liberalism, known as the minimalist. Minimalists value the social institutions that enforce and promote the capitalist economic system while rejecting institutions that limit the effectiveness of capitalism. Some of the major proponents of right-libertarianism included Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, John Hospers, and Robert Nozick.

The non-aggression principle is the foundation of right-libertarian philosophies. It is a moral stance which prohibits actions that are inconsistent with capitalist property rights. The non-aggression principle defines “aggression” and “initiation of force” as the violation of these rights. The non-aggression principle and property rights are closely linked, as what constitutes aggression depends on what libertarians consider to be one’s property.

The American philosopher and linguist Noam Chomsky is a major proponent of the ideas and principles surrounding left-libertarianism

The American philosopher and linguist Noam Chomsky is a major proponent of the ideas and principles surrounding left-libertarianism

Left-Libertarianism, on the contrary, takes a somewhat different approach. While maintaining full respect for personal property, Left- Libertarians are skeptical of the notion of private property, arguing that neither claiming nor mixing one’s labor with natural resources is enough to create full individual property rights and believe that any natural resources should be held in an egalitarian manner. Left-Libertarians who support private property only do so under the condition that repayment is offered to the community Many left-libertarian schools of thought align with contemporary socialist and Marxist political theory and support the eventual replacement of money with labor vouchers or some form of decentralized planning. On the other hand, left-wing market anarchism appeals to leftist concerns such as egalitarianism, gender equality, sexuality, social class, immigration and environmentalism within the paradigm of a socialist free market. Some of the main contributors to left-libertarian political thought include Noam Chomsky, Henry George, Peter Kropotkin, and Benjamin Tucker.


the author

Matt studies and analyzes politics at all levels. He is the creator of OurPolitics.net, a scholarly resource exploring political trends, political theory, political economy, philosophy, and more. He hopes that his articles can encourage more people to gain knowledge about politics and understand the impact that public policy decisions have on their lives. Matt is also involved in the preservation of recorded sound through IASA International Bibliography of Discographies, and is an avid record collector.

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