Debates within libertarianism

Libertarianism is variously defined by sources. There is no general consensus among scholars on the definition nor on how one should use the term as a historical category. Scholars generally agree that libertarianism refers to the group of political philosophies which emphasize freedom, individual liberty, and voluntary association. Libertarians generally advocate a society with little or no government power.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines libertarianism as the moral view that agents initially fully own themselves and have certain moral powers to acquire property rights in external things.[1] Libertarian historian George Woodcock defines libertarianism as the philosophy that fundamentally doubts authority and advocates transforming society by reform or revolution.[2] Libertarian philosopher Roderick Long defines libertarianism as "any political position that advocates a radical redistribution of power from the coercive state to voluntary associations of free individuals", whether "voluntary association" takes the form of the free market or of communal co-operatives.[3] According to the U.S. Libertarian Party, libertarianism is the advocacy of a government that is funded voluntarily and limited to protecting individuals from coercion and violence.[4]

There are many philosophical disagreements among proponents of libertarianism concerning questions of ideology, values, and strategy.


Libertarian philosophies are generally divided on three principal questions: by ethical theory – whether actions are determined to be moral consequentially or in terms of natural rights (or deontologically), the legitimacy of private property, and the legitimacy of the state. Libertarian philosophy can therefore be broadly divided into eight groups based on these distinctions.


A number of libertarians believe women have abortion rights, though some do argue that abortion becomes homicidal at some stage of pregnancy and therefore should not remain legal beyond that point.[5] The Libertarian Party of the U.S. platform states that the federal government should have no role in abortion. Groups like the Association of Libertarian Feminists and Pro-Choice Libertarians support keeping the government out of the issue entirely. Libertarians For Life argues that human zygotes, embryos, and fetuses should have the same rights as neonates and calls for outlawing abortion. Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), a figurehead of American libertarianism, is a pro-life physician, as is his son Senator Rand Paul (R-KY). Most American libertarians, whether pro-choice or pro-life, agree the federal government should play no role in either prohibiting or protecting abortion, and thus oppose the Supreme Court conclusion in Roe v. Wade that abortion is a fundamental right if performed during the first trimester of pregnancy by virtue of an implicit Constitutional right to privacy.

Capital punishment

Libertarians are divided on capital punishment, also known as the death penalty. Those opposing it see it as an excessive abuse of state power which is by its very nature irreversible, as well as being in conflict with the Bill of Rights' ban on "cruel and unusual punishment." Those who support it do so on self-defense or retributive justice grounds.


There are broadly two different types of libertarianism which are based on ethical doctrines: "consequentialist libertarianism" and "natural rights libertarianism" (or "deontological libertarianism"). Deontological libertarians have the view that natural rights exist, and from there argue that initiation of force and fraud should never take place.[6] Natural rights libertarianism may include both right-libertarianism and left-libertarianism.[7] Consequentialist libertarians argue that a free market and strong private property rights bring about beneficial consequences, such as wealth creation or efficiency, rather than subscribing to a theory of rights or justice.[8] There are hybrid forms of libertarianism that combine deontological and consequentialist reasoning.[8]

Contractarian libertarianism holds that any legitimate authority of government derives not from the consent of the governed, but from contract or mutual agreement, though this can be seen as reducible to consequentialism or deontologism depending on what grounds contracts are justified.[9][10][11] Some libertarian socialists reject deontological and consequential approaches and use historical materialism to justify their political beliefs.[12]

Foreign affairs

Libertarians generally are against any foreign aid to other countries, and in most situations, any military intervention in other countries. The only wars that most libertarians support are in situations of self-defense.[13] Also, some (not all) libertarians are opposed to strategic alliances with foreign countries. Libertarians generally try to explain that they are not isolationists, but non-interventionists.[14] [15]


Libertarians generally support freedom of movement, including across national borders. Some right-libertarians, however, contend that a policy of open borders amounts to legalized trespassing.


Libertarians 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 intestate property should go to the living relatives of the deceased, and that none of the property should go to the government. Others say that if no will has been made, the property immediately enters the state of nature from which anyone (save the state) may homestead it.

Intellectual property

Libertarians hold a variety of views on intellectual property (IP) and patents. Some libertarian natural rights theorists justify property rights in ideas (and other intangibles) just as they do property rights in physical goods, saying whoever made it owns it; other libertarian natural rights theorists, especially since Kinsella, have held that only physical material can be owned, and that ownership of "intellectual property" amount to an illegitimate claim of ownership over that which enters another's mind, that which cannot be removed or controlled without violation of the non-aggression axiom. Pro-IP libertarians of the utilitarian tradition say that IP maximizes innovation, while anti-IP libertarians of the selfsame persuasion say that it causes shortages of innovation. This latter view holds that IP is a euphemism for intellectual protectionism and should be abolished altogether.


Main article: Geolibertarianism

Georgist libertarians (known alternatively as geolibertarians), such as Albert Jay Nock and Frank Chodorov, argue that because land was not created by humans, but is essential for life, the rental value of land should be shared. They interpret the Lockean proviso and the Law of equal liberty to mean that claiming exclusive use of land essentially always reduces the freedom of everyone else. In order to promote freedom and minimize waste, they argue that individuals should pay the rental value of the land that they use to the community. Though, since they wish to limit the influence of government, many wish this revenue to go towards a Citizen's Dividend. They also argue, based on David Ricardo's Law of rent that this would boost wages.

Limited government and anarchism

Main articles: Anarchism and State (polity)

Libertarians differ on whether government is desirable. Some favor the existence of states and see them as necessary while others favor stateless societies and view the state as being undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful.[16][17]

Supporters of government argue that having defense and courts controlled by the market is an inherent miscarriage of justice because it turns justice into a commodity, thereby conflating justice with economic power.[18] Anarchists argue that having defense and courts controlled by the state is both immoral and an inefficient means of achieving both justice and security.[19][20] Libertarian socialists hold that liberty is incompatible with state action based on a class struggle analysis of the state.[21]

Natural resources

Most libertarians (such as free market environmentalists and Objectivists) believe environmental damage is more often than not a result of state ownership and mismanagement of natural resources, for example by the military-industrial complex, and claim 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 the earth cannot be held in allodium, that usufructuary title with periodic land value capture and redistribution avoids both the tragedy of the commons and the tragedy of the anticommons, while respecting equal rights to natural resources.


Main article: Propertarianism

Propertarian libertarian philosophies define liberty as non-aggression, or the state in which no person or group aggresses against any other person or group, where aggression is defined as the violation of private property.[6] This philosophy implicitly recognizes private property as the sole source of legitimate authority. Propertarian libertarians hold that an order of private property is the only one that is both ethical and leads to the best possible outcomes.[19] They generally support the free-market, and are not opposed to any concentration of power (monopolies) provided it is brought about through non-coercive means.[22]

Non-propertarian libertarian philosophies hold that liberty is the absence of any form of authority and argue that a society based on freedom and equality can be achieved through abolishing authoritarian institutions that control certain means of production and subordinate the majority to an owning class or political and economic elite.[23] Implicitly, it rejects any authority of private property and thus holds that it is not legitimate for someone to claim private ownership of any production resources to the detriment of others.[24][25][26][27] Libertarian socialism is a group of political philosophies that promote a non-hierarchical, non-bureaucratic, stateless society without private property in the means of production. The term libertarian socialism is also used to differentiate this philosophy from state socialism.[28][29][30][31] Libertarian socialists generally place their hopes in decentralized means of direct democracy such as libertarian municipalism, citizens' assemblies, trade unions and workers' councils.[32]

Race and sex

Libertarians are against laws that favor or harm any race or either sex. These include Jim Crow laws, state segregation, interracial marriage bans, and laws that discriminate on the basis of sex; they likewise oppose state-enforced affirmative action, hate crime laws and anti-discrimination laws. They would not use the state to prevent voluntary affirmative action or voluntary discrimination.[33][34][35] Most believe that the drive for profit in the marketplace will diminish or eliminate the effects of racism, which they tend to consider to be inherently collectivist. This causes a degree of dissonance among libertarians in federal systems such as in the U.S., where there is debate among libertarians about whether the federal government has the right to coerce states to change their democratically created laws.


Some libertarians believe that consistent adherence to libertarian principles such as the non-aggression principle implies opposition to any form of taxation.[36] They would fund all services through contributions, user fees, and lotteries. Some libertarians support low taxes, arguing that a society with no taxation would have difficulty providing public goods such as crime prevention and a consistent, unified legal system to punish rights violators. Geolibertarians argue that only a single tax on the rental value of land is non-aggressive and non-distortionary.

Voluntary slavery

Some libertarians believe that "voluntary slavery" is a self-contradictory term.[37] Others believe that voluntary slavery is possible.[38]



Further information: Non-voting

Some libertarian anarchists, such as Agorists, employ non-voting as a tactic, considering voting as immoral or impractical. Other, more moderate libertarians, abstain from voting to voice their feeling that the current system is broken or out of touch.

Political alliances

Libertarians ally politically with modern conservatives over economic issues and gun laws, while they are more prone to ally with liberals on other civil liberties issues and non-interventionism. They may choose to vote for candidates of other parties depending on the individual and the issues they promote. Libertarians had an alliance with the paleoconservatives in opposing US interventions and promoting decentralization and cultural conservatism.


Libertarians generally agree on the desirability of rapid and fundamental changes in power or organizational structures, but may disagree on the means by which such changes might be achieved. In general libertarians strongly oppose violent revolution, although others, especially free-market anarchists such as Agorists, advocate nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience.

See also


  1. Vallentyne, Peter. "Libertarianism". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Metaphysics Research Lab, CSLI, Stanford University. Retrieved November 20, 2011.
  2. Woodcock, George. Anarchism: a history of libertarian ideas and movements. Petersborough, Ontario: Broadview press. pp. 11–31, especially p. 18. ISBN 1-55111-629-4.
  3. Roderick T. Long (1998). "Towards a Libertarian Theory of Class" (PDF). Social Philosophy and Policy. 15 (2): 303–49, at p. 304. doi:10.1017/S0265052500002028.
  4. Watts, Duncan (2002). Understanding American government and politics: a guide for A2 politics students. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press. p. 246.
  5. Ask Dr. Ruwart, Advocates for Self-Government Archived December 12, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  6. 1 2 Rothbard, Murray N. (1989). For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto. New York: Collier Books. ISBN 0-02-074690-3.
  7. Bevir, Mark. Encyclopedia of Political Theory. SAGE, 2010. p. 811
  8. 1 2 Wolff, Jonathan. "Libertarianism, Utility, and Economic Competition" (PDF). Virginia Law Review.
  9. [unknown] (2007-04-04). "Contractarianism". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford, California.
  10. Anthony de Jasay (1996). "Hayek: Some Missing Pieces" (PDF). The Review of Austrian Economics. 9 (1): 107–18. doi:10.1007/bf01101884. ISSN 0889-3047.
  11. Hardy Bouillon, Harmut Kliemt (2007). "Foreword". In Hardy Bouillon, Hartmut Kliemt. Ordered Anarchy: Jasay and his surroundings. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Publishing. p. xiii. ISBN 0-7546-6113-X.
  12. B.Franks (2003). "Direct action ethic" (PDF). Anarchist Studies. 11 (1): 13–41, especially pp. 24–25.
  16. Malatesta, Errico. "Towards Anarchism". MAN!. Los Angeles: International Group of San Francisco. OCLC 3930443."Anarchism". The Shorter Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2005. p. 14. Anarchism is the view that a society without the state, or government, is both possible and desirable. The following sources cite anarchism as a political philosophy: Mclaughlin, Paul (2007). Anarchism and Authority. Aldershot: Ashgate. p. 59. ISBN 0-7546-6196-2. Johnston, R. (2000). The Dictionary of Human Geography. Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers. p. 24. ISBN 0-631-20561-6.
  17. Slevin, Carl. "Anarchism." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics. Ed. Iain McLean and Alistair McMillan. Oxford University Press, 2003.
  18. Holcombe, Randall G. "Government: Unnecessary but Inevitable" (PDF). The Independent Review. 8 (3): 325–42 at pp. 326–28 (armed forces); 330–31 (market failure in protective services); 332–33 (police).
  19. 1 2 Rothbard, Murray (1998). The Ethics of Liberty. New York: NYU Press. ISBN 978-0814775066.
  20. Friedman, David (1989). The Machinery of Freedom: Guide to a Radical Capitalism. La Salle: Open Court Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0812690699.
  21. Lewis Call (2002) Postmodern anarchism Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, pp. 66–68.
  22. Ludwig, von Mises (2007). Human Action: A Treatise on Economics. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund. ISBN 978-0865976313.
  23. Mendes, Manuel da Silva (2011). Socialismo libertario ou Anarchismo. Historia e doutrina (in Portuguese). Adegi Graphics LLC. ASIN B004IKWRH2.
  24. Vallentyne, Peter (September 5, 2002). "Libertarianism". In Edward N. Zalta. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2009 ed.). Stanford, CA: Stanford University. Retrieved March 5, 2010.
  25. Will Kymlicka (1995). "libertarianism, left-". In Ted Honderich. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-866132-0.
  26. Peter Vallentyne, Hillel Steiner, ed. (2000). Left-libertarianism and its critics: the contemporary debate. New York: Palgrave (St. Martin's Press). p. 393. ISBN 0-312-23699-9.
  27. Eric Mack and Gerald F Gaus (2004). "Classical Liberalism and Libertarianism: The Liberty Tradition". In Gerald F. Gaus, Chandran Kukathas. Handbook of Political Theory. Sage Publications Inc. pp. 115–31, at p. 128. ISBN 978-0-7619-6787-3.
  28. Paul Zarembka. Transitions in Latin America and in Poland and Syria. Emerald Group Publishing, 2007. p. 25
  29. Guerin, Daniel, (2011) [1970] Anarchism: from theory to practice [originally published as French: Anarchisme, de la doctrine à l'action] reprinted online: [first published in English: New York: Monthly Review Press], §1 sub-§"A Matter of Words." "At the end of the century in France, Sebastien Faure took up a word originated in 1858 by one Joseph Dejacque to make it the title of a journal, Le Libertaire. Today the terms "anarchist" and "libertarian" have become interchangeable. Some contemporary anarchists have tried to clear up the misunderstanding by adopting a more explicit term: they align themselves with libertarian socialism or communism or as a synonym for anarchism.
  30. Ostergaard, Geoffrey. "Anarchism". Limited A Dictionary of Marxist Thought. Blackwell Publishing, 1991. p. 21.
  31. Chomsky, Noam and Carlos Peregrín Otero. Language and Politics. AK Press, 2004, p. 739
  32. Rocker, Rudolf (2004). Anarcho-Syndicalism: Theory and Practice. Oakland, California: AK Press. p. 65. ISBN 978-1-902593-92-0.
  33. Murray Rothbard, "Big Government Libertarians", November, 1994
  34. Review of Charles Murary, "What it means to be a Libertarian", Cato Institute Journal, 1997.
  35. Libertarian Party 2008 platform
  36. "The libertarian, if he is to be logically consistent, must urge zero crime, not a small amount of it. Any crime is anathema for the libertarian. Any government, no matter how 'nice,' must therefore also be rejected by the libertarian." Walter Block, Governmental Inevitability: Reply to Holcombe, Journal of Libertarian Studies Volume 19, No. 3 (Summer 2005): 71–93
  37. Murray N. Rothbard, A Crusoe Social Philosophy

Further reading

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