Libertarianism – The Advocates for Self-Government

What is Libertarianism?

Libertarians see the individual as the basic, most essential element of society. The word roughly means believer in liberty. Libertarians believe that each individual owns his or her own life and property and has the right to make his own choices about how to live his life as long as he respects the rights of others to do the same.

Liberty is one of the central lessons of world history. Virtually all the progress the human race has enjoyed during the past few centuries is due to the increasing acceptance of free markets, civil liberties and self-ownership.

Libertarianism is thus the combination of liberty (the freedom to live your life in any peaceful way you choose), responsibility (the prohibition against the use of force against others, except in defense) and tolerance (honoring and respecting the peaceful choices of others).

Click here to view some definitions of libertarianism.

Libertarians are not left or right or a combination of the two. Libertarians believe that on every issue you have the right to decide for yourself whats best for you and to act on that belief, so long as you simply respect the right of other people to do the same.

How does this compare with the left and right? Todays liberals tend to value personal liberty, but want significant government control of the economy. Todays conservatives tend to favor economic freedom, but want to use the government to uphold traditional values. Libertarians, in contrast, support both personal and economic liberty.

Libertarianism is the only political movement that consistently advocates a high degree of both personal and economic liberty.

Thomas Jefferson

Modern libertarianism has multiple roots, but perhaps the most important one is the minimal-government republicanism of Americas founding revolutionaries like Thomas Jefferson and the Anti-Federalists. The core ideals of libertarianism that all men are created equal and are endowed with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness can be seen in the Declaration of Independence and in the limited government established in the Constitution.

Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill are among the most famous of the 18th and 19th centuries classical liberals that developed theories on the invisible hand of free markets. More recently, libertarian philosophy has been explored and defined through Ayn Rands ethical egoism and the Austrian School of free-market economics.

Libertarians want to unleash the positive creative powers of the individual and to create a peaceful, prosperous world. Libertarians understand that static, monolithic bureaucracies generally serve to enrich the current elite structures, damages individuals with unintended consequences and fails to live up to their grand promises more often than not.

History has shown that tyrannical governments ultimately result in suffering and poverty. Libertarians want to empower individuals to take control over their own lives not simply because it is the moral thing to do, but additionally because it results in the most dynamic, prosperous, peaceful societies possible.

Libertarians use a caring, people-centered approach to politics. Politicians too frequently forget that their laws and regulations affect real human beings. Libertarians never lose sight of the fact that each individual is unique and has great potential. Libertarians want a system which encourages us all to discover the best within ourselves, and to make the most of it.

In dealing with political issues, libertarians ask, Is anyone violating anothers rights? If the answer is yes if someone is committing murder, rape, robbery, theft, fraud, arson, trespass, etc. then it is proper to call on the government. If no one is being harmed, the government should not get involved.

Libertarians want to replace as much government as they practically can with private, voluntary alternatives. Some libertarians are minarchists who favor stripping government of most of its accumulated power to meddle, leaving only structures like the police, courts and military to defend our rights and borders. Others are anarcho-capitalists who believe limited government is a contradiction and the free market can provide better law, order and security than any government monopoly.

Libertarians want to break the chains of poverty

As the level of government spending in this country has risen, so has poverty. Government bureaucracies have no incentive to lift people from dependency and every incentive to increase their budgets and power. Libertarians want to break the chains of poverty and help the disabled. By allowing people to keep what they earn, wealth goes directly into the private sector, businesses create more jobs and charitable giving increases.

The current system allows the rich to collude with the government to take your property through eminent domain and taxation. A strong government always becomes an instrument of privilege. The rich can exploit their resources to influence the government to squash competition and receive special favors. Regulations, permits, licensing, zoning and labor laws make it nearly impossible to pull yourself up by the bootstraps.

Stronger property rights and a weaker government would weaken the elite and benefit minorities, small businesses and the poor.

National defense is one of the few legitimate roles of the government, but that defense should be limited to protecting Americans in America. A military force focused on defending America, rather than policing the globe, would reduce the manpower and resource needs that currently stretch and endanger our defense. A non-interventionist military would, over time, acquire fewer enemies and further reduce the need for a massive defense industry and budget.

Absolutely not. You dont have to believe that everyone will be good for freedom to work. Americas Founding Fathers understood that most people were guided by greed, ambition, and the pursuit of their own happiness. That is why they built structures with limited powers, checks and balances, and other limiting factors on the darker sides of human nature. If people are generally not good, the last thing you should want is a powerful government staffed by those evil folks.

Most people, most of the time, deal with each other on the libertarian premise of respect for the rights of others. The absolute majority of people do not steal, or cheat or murder others. A strong respect for property rights and civil liberties gives authority to limited government structures to punish those few who violate the law and provide restitution for those harmed.

The best way to act on liberty is to think about freedom and act on your thoughts. Read libertarian books and publications, and share them with your friends.

Start a libertarian student group. Identify and recruit new libertarians with Operation Politically Homeless. Give a speech or write a letter to the editor. Use the words libertarian and libertarianism in your daily life so more people are exposed to it.

Join a libertarian organization or campaign. Support them with your donations and time. Give to private charities. Run for office. Oppose government expansion at every opportunity. Start your own business, create wealth and support voluntary cooperation.

Join tens of thousands of readers by subscribing to our free biweekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. Each issue has information on libertarian ideas, the liberty movement, current events, useful resources, and the very best ways to help others understand and accept libertarianism.

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Take the Worlds Smallest Political Quiz. See where you fit on the new political map and how your beliefs compare to other political philosophies.

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Libertarianism – The Advocates for Self-Government


(NOTE: You must read only those linked materials that are preceded by the capitalized word READ.) Overview of The Problem of Freedom

On the definition of freedom and suggested links: READ:

For those of you who believe that you are free and have a free will and can make free decisions, here are some interesting definitions and presentations of the basic issues

FREE WILL -Definition


Human beings are free to choose amongst alternatives available and must be respected as such. This freedom is to be acknowledged and promoted. The believers in free will attempt to argue for their case against those that believe that all human actions are determined by previous events and the laws of the physical universe.

Below are several arguments in support of the Libertarian position.

The libertarians would ask that we consider the DATA of experience:

1. Experience of deliberation

a. I deliberate only about MY behavior

b. I deliberate only about future things

c. I cannot deliberate about what I shall do, if I already know what I am going to do.

d. I cannot deliberate unless I believe that it is “up to me.”

2. Experience that it is “up to me” what to do.

They hold that there is no necessity governing human behavior. There is no causal or logical necessity. (Logical Necessity, e.g. principle of non-contradiction) (Causal necessity – physical law, e.g. gravity)

Suggested Reading: John Hospers, The Meaning of Freedom

Richard Taylor is a modern American philosopher who has taught at the University of Rochester and at Hartwick College. Taylor proposes the following method for finding out whether or not determinism is true: We try to see whether it is consistent with certain data, that is, by seeing whether or not it squares with certain things that everyone knows, or believes himself to know, or with things everyone is at least more sure about than the answer to the question at issue. (Metaphysics, 4th ed., Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1992, p. 38)

The following is from 2001.

Taylors data

(1) I sometimes deliberate, with the view to making a decision; a decision, namely, to do this thing or that.

(2) Whether or not I deliberate about what to do, it is sometimes up to me what I do.

By deliberation Taylor means the experience of weighing something in ones mind, of trying out various options in ones mind. There are certain presuppositions of deliberation, namely,

(1) I can deliberate only about my own behavior and never about the behavior of another.

(2) I can deliberate only about future things, never about things past or present.

(3) I cant deliberate about what Im going to do if I already know what Im going to do.

(4) I cant deliberate about what to do, even though I may not know what Im going to do, unless I believe that it is up to me what Im going to do. (pp. 39-40)

These data are not consistent with the thesis of determinism. If determinism is true, then it is an illusion that I ever genuinely deliberate about anything or that anything is ever really up to me. If these data are true, then determinism is false. Taylor argues that it doesnt make any difference whether we are talking about a forthright, hard determinism, like that of Holbach, or a compatibilist, soft determinism, like that of Hume. According to soft determinism, an action is free just so long as it is caused by an internal state of the agent himself or herself. Against this, he proposes the counterexample of an ingenious physiologist who can induce in a subject any volition he pleases, so that, simply by pushing a button, he can cause the subject to have an internal state which the subject will experience as the desire to do a certain thing. If the subject then does that thing, unimpeded by any external obstacle, that action meets the criterion of being a free action, in accordance with the thesis of soft determinism. That is, the action is due to an internal state of the agent and is not opposed by any external factor. However, we see at once that this action is not free, because it was due to the subjects being in a certain internal state over which he or she had no control. Then Taylor points out that the supposition of the work of the ingenious physiologist isn’t necessary to reach the same conclusion. As long as there is any cause of the internal state that was not under the control of the person whose internal state it is, the resulting action is not free.

There is a real choice that is not to be evaded, then, between accepting determinism and rejecting the data with which we began, on the one hand, or holding fast to our data and rejecting the thesis which is inconsistent with them. Taylor points out, however, that simply rejecting determinism and embracing the thesis of simple indeterminism, which says that some events are uncaused, brings us no closer to a theory explaining free actions that is consistent with our data. He asks the reader to imagine a case in which his or her right arm is free, according to this conception. That is, it just moves one way or another, without any cause whatever. Plainly, if the agent is not the cause for the arm movements, then those movements are not free, voluntary actions of the agent.

Accordingly, Taylor develops a theory of agency with the following elements:

(1) An action that is free must be caused by the agent who performs it, and it must be such that no other set of antecedent conditions was sufficient for the occurrence of just that action.

(2) An agent is a self or person, and not merely a collection of things or events, but a self-moving being. (pp. 51-52)

Taylor recognizes that this involves a metaphysical commitment to a special kind of causation, and he suggests that perhaps causation is not the best language to use to describe it. He proposes that we might want to say instead that an agent originates, initiates, or simply, performs an action. All other cases of causation we conceive of as a relation between events. One event or set of events is a sufficient, or necessary, or sufficient and necessary condition for the occurrence of another. However, an agent is not an event, and we certainly wouldnt say the mere existence of the agent is ever a sufficient condition for the occurrence of one of his or her free actions. Rather, it is only the free action of the agent that is the cause or the origination of the action. Since Taylor can offer no further explanation of how it that this occurs, he admits that it is possible that the data that this theory was developed to explain might be an illusion after all, and his essay ends on an inconclusive note.


Richard Taylor: A Contemporary Defense of Free Will

The idea of freedom operative in this view is one in which there is no obstacle or impediment that prevents behavior, no constraints, for it is constraints that force behavior. Freedom of the human agent is free activity that is unimpeded and unconstrained. So, there is the Theory of Agency in which there exist self-determining beings: free and rational. There exists the self or person, a substance and self-moving being. The libertarians believe that this theory is consistent with the data of human consciousness. But that DATA may be illusion!!


Summary of Taylor’s view by Omonia Vinieris (QCC, 2002)

In his work, A Contemporary Defense of Free Will, Taylor refutes the theories held by compatibilism (soft determinism) and simple indeterminism to illustrate their implausibility. He further goes on to affirm his theory of agency to articulate his libertarian standpoint.

Taylor clarifies the concept of deliberation as it is fundamentally the act of considering or assessing something in ones mind. According to Taylor, deliberation encompasses the following premises: One can deliberate solely about ones own conduct and by no means about that of another due to the simple fact that each person makes up ones own mind and never the mind of a different person. There is only deliberation of future actions and never of precedent ones because one can not deliberate about or consider an action that has already transpired. Deliberation is a conditional state that is unconfirmed because it entails the action before it takes place and therefore if one knows or confirms a future action, deliberation is invalid. Altogether, deliberation itself does not exist or ensue if one does not even believe that it is ever ones own consideration that accounts for ones decision to do anything because that is essentially the principle that deliberation embraces.

In his critique of soft determinism, Taylor explains primarily what line of reasoning it maintains and then pinpoints its incongruity to negate its veracity. Compatibilism is a position whose advocates renounce hard determinist thought. Hard determinist position asserts that we are not morally responsible for our own actions because we are not liable for anything we do. Yet, soft determinists say that freedom and determinism are compatible. Determinism is plausibly coherent with freedom as an agent is a carrier of volition and acts appropriately to his or her desires and wishes. On occasion it may be that ones actions are the product of ones deliberation or conditional forethought. Still, if compatibilism holds true it must simultaneously maintain the determinist idea that ones choices are preordained by prenatal events. If this is so, then how can it be possibly up to anyone to do anything?

Simple indeterminism is the denial of determinism. These indeterminists affirm that free agents are morally responsible for their actions which are tamed and controlled. If actions originate from noncausal events as indeterminists claim, then they are chaotic and untamed. Thus, Taylor considers it a contradiction to suggest that ones actions originate from uncaused events because neither is one really a free agent nor morally responsible for his or her actions. These actions are uncontrollable and irresponsible.

Taylors theory of agency proclaims that all events are caused, but unlike determinist theory, some changes or actions have beginnings. A free action is triggered by the agent itself. An agent, in this case, is described as a human, a self-moving body, capable of being the first cause of motion in a causal sequence. It is important that no series of foregoing conditions is adequate for the actual happening of the action, otherwise it would not be free. He further specifies that we should not speak of causation in terms of his free agency. The agent, rather, initiates an action through its performance. An agent, he asserts, is not a set of events that executes causation and therefore it is the free action of the agent that is the cause of the action that occurred.

In the case of an action that is free, it must be such that it is caused by the agent who performs it, but such that no antecedent conditions were sufficient for his performing just that action.


The Freewill Problem:

Searles Solution to the Freewill Problem:


There are no greater defenders or representatives of the position that humans have free will than the existentialists.They may not offer strict philosophical proof but they do present some strong language in defense of freedom. The next section presents the existentialist view.

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Libertarian theory legal definition of Libertarian theory

A political philosophy that advocates free will, individual rights, and voluntary cooperation.

The core doctrine of libertarianism begins with the recognition that people have certain natural rights and that deprivation of these rights is immoral. Among these natural rights are the right to personal autonomy and property rights, and the right to the utilization of previously unused resources. These two basic assumptions form the foundation of all libertarian ideals.

Libertarianism can be traced back to ancient China, where philosopher Lao-tzu advocated the recognition of individual liberties. The modern libertarian theory emerged in the sixteenth century through the writings of Etienne de La Boetie (15301563), an eminent French theorist. In the seventeenth century, John Locke and a group of British reformers known as the Levellers fashioned the classical basis for libertarianism with well-received philosophies on human nature and economics. Since the days of Locke, libertarianism has attracted pacifists, utopianists, utilitarianists, anarchists, and fascists. This wide array of support demonstrates the accessibility and elasticity of the libertarian promotion of natural rights.

Essential to the notion of natural rights is respect for the natural rights of others. Without a dignified population, voluntary cooperation is impossible. According to the libertarian, the means to achieving a dignified population and voluntary cooperation is inextricably tied to the promotion of natural rights.

Libertarianism holds that people lose their dignity as government gains control of their body and their life. The Abdication of natural rights to government prevents people from living in their own way and working and producing at their own pace. The result is a decrease in self-reliance and independence, which results in a decrease in personal dignity, which in turn depresses society and necessitates more government interference.

Thus, the libertarian views government as both the cause and the effect of societal ills. Government is the cause of crime and prejudice because it robs people of their independence and frustrates initiative and creativity. Then, having created the sources of crime and prejudice by depriving individuals of their natural rights, government attempts to exorcise the evils with more controls over natural rights.

Libertarians believe that government should be limited to the defense of its citizens. Actions such as murder, rape, Robbery, theft, Embezzlement, Fraud, Arson, Kidnapping, Battery, Trespass, and Pollution violate the rights of others, so government control of these actions is legitimate. Libertarians acknowledge human imperfection and the resulting need for some government deterrence and punishment of violence, Nuisance, and harassment. However, government control of human activity should be limited to these functions.

Boaz, David. 1997. Libertarianism: A Primer. New York: Free Press.

Otsuka, Michael. 2003. Libertarianism Without Inequality. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Anarchism; Independent Parties; Natural Law; Utilitarianism.

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Libertarian theory legal definition of Libertarian theory

Libertarianism legal definition of Libertarianism

A political philosophy that advocates free will, individual rights, and voluntary cooperation.

The core doctrine of libertarianism begins with the recognition that people have certain natural rights and that deprivation of these rights is immoral. Among these natural rights are the right to personal autonomy and property rights, and the right to the utilization of previously unused resources. These two basic assumptions form the foundation of all libertarian ideals.

Libertarianism can be traced back to ancient China, where philosopher Lao-tzu advocated the recognition of individual liberties. The modern libertarian theory emerged in the sixteenth century through the writings of Etienne de La Boetie (15301563), an eminent French theorist. In the seventeenth century, John Locke and a group of British reformers known as the Levellers fashioned the classical basis for libertarianism with well-received philosophies on human nature and economics. Since the days of Locke, libertarianism has attracted pacifists, utopianists, utilitarianists, anarchists, and fascists. This wide array of support demonstrates the accessibility and elasticity of the libertarian promotion of natural rights.

Essential to the notion of natural rights is respect for the natural rights of others. Without a dignified population, voluntary cooperation is impossible. According to the libertarian, the means to achieving a dignified population and voluntary cooperation is inextricably tied to the promotion of natural rights.

Libertarianism holds that people lose their dignity as government gains control of their body and their life. The Abdication of natural rights to government prevents people from living in their own way and working and producing at their own pace. The result is a decrease in self-reliance and independence, which results in a decrease in personal dignity, which in turn depresses society and necessitates more government interference.

Thus, the libertarian views government as both the cause and the effect of societal ills. Government is the cause of crime and prejudice because it robs people of their independence and frustrates initiative and creativity. Then, having created the sources of crime and prejudice by depriving individuals of their natural rights, government attempts to exorcise the evils with more controls over natural rights.

Libertarians believe that government should be limited to the defense of its citizens. Actions such as murder, rape, Robbery, theft, Embezzlement, Fraud, Arson, Kidnapping, Battery, Trespass, and Pollution violate the rights of others, so government control of these actions is legitimate. Libertarians acknowledge human imperfection and the resulting need for some government deterrence and punishment of violence, Nuisance, and harassment. However, government control of human activity should be limited to these functions.

Boaz, David. 1997. Libertarianism: A Primer. New York: Free Press.

Otsuka, Michael. 2003. Libertarianism Without Inequality. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Anarchism; Independent Parties; Natural Law; Utilitarianism.

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Libertarianism legal definition of Libertarianism

libertarianism (moral philosophy) – Agnosticism/Atheism

libertarianism (moral philosophy)

In philosophy, libertarianism is a position which stands opposite of determinism. According to libertarianism, humans have free will and their actions are not determined by prior physical states. According to libertarians, human freedom is not possible if the universe is wholly deterministic – some amount of indeterminism in human choices and actions must exist, otherwise human freedom is an illusion.

A range of beliefs exists under the label “libertarianism.” The most extreme viewpoint holds that human actions aren’t determined by anything at all, not even by a person’s character, beliefs, or values. Even some libertarians reject this position, arguing that without some strong connection to a person’s character and values, it would be difficult to conclude that a person is responsible for their actions.

If indeterministic chance were the complete and sole explanation for all our actions, then we would be free but we would not be responsible – which, ironically, is exactly what libertarians typically fight against. According to them, if our decisions have been determined, then we cannot be held responsible for them – our actions are just the product of physical forces beyond our control.

This means that some amount of determinism must exist so that we can take responsibility and be responsible – especially when it comes to ethical and moral issues.

In moral philosophy, the concept of libertarianism refers to the idea that human free will is a necessary precondition of moral responsibility and, in fact, humans do have this free will. According to the standard libertarian position, human acts cannot be wholly determined by prior states or natural laws.

It is granted that such states and laws may have an influence upon human decisions, but nevertheless those decisions are, in principle, not predictable by reference to those states and laws. Thus, determinism (or at least “hard” determinism) is not true and humans have moral responsibility for their actions.

Traditionally, most forms of libertarianism have been promoted by theists who advocate mind/body dualism. Renee Descartes is a famous advocate of this position.

First, the existence of a non-physical mind means that the locus of decision-making is removed from the realm of physical causality and determinism. Second, they argue that the free will which the mind or spirit possessed is a gift from God. At the same time, though, these theists have also often believed that their god has sufficient knowledge of the future to know what everyone’s “free will” decisions will be – so, somehow, human decisions are entirely free yet unalterable.

Non-religious and non-theistic advocates of libertarianism have offered different explanations for how free will and free choice can exist in the context of a physical, causal universe. One common explanation is that not all events are completely determined, or at least completely pre-determined. They are still caused, but causation and determinism are not the same thing. A particular event might, for example, only be statistically likely.

Such a situation is often referred to as “soft causality” and if the brain is a system which can be described in such a way, then brain states are not pre-determined. If the mind is simply the overall state of the brain when it is alive, then the mind is also not pre-determined and, therefore, some degree of free will exists because our choices, decisions, and actions are not pre-determined. There is no need for any god or soul to provide any explanations here.

A third position that is sometimes adopted is to claim that causality simply doesn’t apply to human decisions. According to advocates of this position, our decisions may be influenced by “reasons” and “values” and “desires,” but none of these things are causes of our actions or decisions. A reason or desire can only influence, not cause, which means that our actions are not determined.

Granted, our reasons and desires might themselves be caused and perhaps even determined, depending on what one thinks of the relationship between the physical brain and the mind, but the final decisions which we make have been removed from that problem. Once again, there is no need for any god or soul to explain anything here – it’s a completely naturalistic explanation which does not necessarily exclude belief in any gods or disprove any gods, but gods just aren’t relevant.

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What are Ethics and Morality? Ethics is the formal study of moral standards and conduct. For this reason, the study of ethics is also often called “moral philosophy.” What is good? What is evil? How should I behave – and why? How should I balance my needs against the needs of others?

What is Philosophy? What is philosophy? Is there any point in studying philosophy, or is it a useless subject? What are the different branches of philosophy – what’s the difference between aestheitcs and ethics? What’s the difference between metaphysics and epistemology?

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libertarianism (moral philosophy) – Agnosticism/Atheism

Urban Dictionary: libertarianism

The political philosophy that…

1. …says no one has the right to initate force against another. Period. Even if it’s for their own good.

2. …says government in a free society exists only to (A)protect its citizens from having force initated on them, and to (B)punish those who have initiated force on others.

3. …IS NOT ANARCHISM, a belief that everything government provides, society can provide more effectively.

4. …was derived from classical liberalism, the very philosophy that the United States was founded apon and roughly operated under up until the end of the 1800s.

5. …is the most logical, humane, and ethical political system ever thought of.

For insight on the *practical* benefits of such a system, interested bodies should read “Healing Our World” by Dr. Mary J. Ruwart, just to get started. (Freely available on the Net.)

“(Left-)Liberals want the government to be your Mommy. Conservatives want government to be your Daddy. Libertarians want it to treat you like an adult.”

A political philosophy based on the Non-Aggression Principle, which holds that people should be allowed to live as they choose and make their own choices without interference from government or others, so long as those choices do not involve the initiation of force or fraud against others.

Libertarianism is the opposite of authoritarianism or statism, which is the idea that governments should largely control people, allocate their resources, and make decisions for them, allegedly for their own good or the good of society (in practice usually for the good of those running the government).

The main problem with this delusional notion of co-existence is that it runs afoul of an annoying immutable natural law – roughly translated as “nature abhors a vacuum” – that’s understood and exploited by every drug pusher, credit card issuer, Las Vegas casino, and Madison Avenue marketer and even the bailout-happy U.S. Federal Reserve and which was summed up by Edmund Burke:

“Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; in proportion as they are disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good in preference to the flattery of knaves.

“Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.

“It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”

-or as John Adams said:

(The U.S.) constitution was made for a moral and religious people; it is wholly inadequate for any other.

“We favor the repeal of all laws creating ‘crimes’ without victims, such as the use of drugs for medicinal or recreational purposes.”

“The only legitimate use of force is in defense of individual rights life, liberty, and justly acquired property against aggression”

Noun. The belief that pursuing one’s own self-interest, while shirking larger social responsibilities, is still somehow humanitarian.

Libertarianism is how the advantaged describe their neglect of the les-advantage: they’re “protecting everyone’s freedom” by respecting the impoverished’s right to be poor.

Also known as Libertarian Capitalism, not to be confused with Libertarian Socialism, which can lay a true claim to the term.

How would you like to pay for air?

To put it bluntly, a political theory for people who don’t have the balls to admit they are anarchists.

Random libertarian: No, I’m no anarchist. I just don’t believe government should interfere with my live at all. That’s all… honest…

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Urban Dictionary: libertarianism

Quotes About Libertarianism (63 quotes)

Praxeology is a theoretical and systematic, not a historical, science. Its scope is human action as such, irrespective of all environmental, accidental, and individual circumstances of the concrete acts. Its cognition is purely formal and general without reference to the material content and the particular features of the actual case. It aims at knowledge valid for all instances in which the conditions exactly correspond to those implied in its assumptions and inferences. Its statements and propositions are not derived from experience. They are, like those of logic and mathematics, a priori. They are not subject to verification or falsification on the ground of experience and facts. Ludwig von Mises, Human Action: A Treatise on Economics

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Quotes About Libertarianism (63 quotes)

What’s wrong with libertarianism –

“That perfect liberty they sigh for– the liberty of making slaves of other people– Jefferson never thought of; their own father never thought of; they never thought of themselves, a year ago.” — Abraham Lincoln

Apparently someone’s curse worked: we live in interesting times, and among other consequences, for no good reason we have a surplus of libertarians. With this article I hope to help keep the demand low, or at least to explain to libertarian correspondents why they don’t impress me with comments like “You sure love letting people steal your money!”

This article has been rewritten, for two reasons. First, the original article had sidebars to address common objections. From several people’s reactions, it seems that they never read these. They’re now incorporated into the text.

Second, and more importantly, many people who call themselves libertarians didn’t recognize themselves in the description. There are libertarians and libertarians, and sometimes different camps despise each other– or don’t seem to be aware of each other.

If you–

…then this page isn’t really addressed to you. You’re probably more of what I’d call a small-government conservative; and if you voted against Bush, we can probably get along just fine.

On the other hand, you might want to stick around to see what your more fundamentalist colleagues are saying.

Libertarianism strikes me as if someone (let’s call her “Ayn Rand”) sat down to create the Un-Communism. Thus:

Does this sound exaggerated? Let’s listen to Murray Rothbard:

Or here’s Lew Rockwell on Rothbard (emphasis mine):

Thomas DiLorenzo on worker activism: “[L]abor unions [pursue] policies which impede the very institutions of capitalism that are the cause of their own prosperity.” Or Ludwig von Mises: “What is today euphemistically called the right to strike is in fact the right of striking workers, by recourse to violence, to prevent people who want to work from working.” (Employer violence is apparently acceptable.) The Libertarian Party platform explains that workers have no right to protest drug tests, and supports the return of child labor.

On Nietzsche, as one of my correspondents puts it, some libertarians love Nietzsche; others have read him. (Though I would respond that some people idolize executives; others have worked for them.) Nonetheless, I think the Nietzschean atmosphere of burning rejection of conventional morality, exaltation of the will to power, and scorn for womanish Christian compassion for the masses, is part of the roots of libertarianism. It’s unmistakable in Ayn Rand.

The more important point, however, is that the capitalist is the ber-villain for communists, and a glorious hero for libertarians; that property is “theft” for the communists, and a “natural right” for libertarians. These dovetail a little too closely for coincidence. It’s natural enough, when a basic element of society is attacked as an evil, for its defenders to counter-attack by elevating it into a principle.

As we should have learned from the history of communism and fascism, however, contradiction is no guarantee of truth; it can lead one into an opposite error instead. And many who rejected communism nonetheless remained zealots. People who leave one ideological extreme usually end up at the other, either quickly (David Horowitz) or slowly (Mario Vargas Llosa). If you’re the sort of person who likes absolutes, you want them even if all your other convictions change.

The methodology isn’t much different either: oppose the obvious evils of the world with a fairy tale. The communist of 1910 couldn’t point to a single real-world instance of his utopia; neither can the present-day libertarian. Yet they’re unshakeable in their conviction that it can and must happen.

Academic libertarians love abstract, fact-free arguments– often, justifications for why property is an absolute right. As a random example, from one James Craig Green:

Examples of natural property in land and water resources have already been given, but deserve more detail. An illustration of how this would be accomplished is a farm with irrigation ditches to grow crops in dry western states. To appropriate unowned natural resources, a settler used his labor to clear the land and dug ditches to carry water from a river for irrigation. Crops were planted, buildings were constructed, and the property thus created was protected by the owner from aggression or the later claims of others. This process was a legitimate creation of property.

The first paragraph is pure fantasy, and is simply untrue as a portrait of “primitive tribes”, which are generally extremely collectivist by American standards. The second sounds good precisely because it leaves out all the actual facts of American history: the settlers’ land was not “unowned” but stolen from the Indians by state conquest (and much of it stolen from the Mexicans as well); the lands were granted to the settlers by government; the communities were linked to the national economy by railroads founded by government grant; the crops were adapted to local conditions by land grant colleges.

Thanks to my essay on taxes, I routinely get mail featuring impassioned harangues which never once mention a real-world fact– or which simply make up the statistics they want.

This sort of balls-out aggressivity probably wins points at parties, where no one is going to take down an almanac and check their figures; but to me it’s a cardinal sin. If someone has an answer for everything, advocates changes which have never been tried, and presents dishonest evidence, he’s a crackpot. If a man has no doubts, it’s because his hypothesis is unfalsifiable.

Distaste for facts isn’t merely a habit of a few Internet cranks; it’s actually libertarian doctrine, the foundation of the ‘Austrian school’. Here’s Ludwig von Mises in Epistemological Problems of Economics:

The ‘other sources’ turn out to be armchair ruminations on how things must be. It’s true enough that economics is not physics; but that’s not warrant to turn our backs on the methods of science and return to scholastic speculation. Economics should always move in the direction of science, experiment, and falsifiability. If it were really true that it cannot, then no one, including the libertarians, would be entitled to strong belief in any economic program.

Some people aren’t much bothered by libertarianism’s lack of real-world success. After all, they argue, if no one tried anything new, nothing would ever change.

In fact, I’m all for experimentation; that’s how we learn. Create a libertarian state. But run it as a proper experiment. Start small-scale. Establish exactly how your claims will be tested: per capita income? median income? life expectancy? property value? surveys on happiness? Set up a control: e.g. begin with two communities as close as we can get them in size, initial wealth, resources, and culture, one following liberalism, one following libertarianism. Abide by the results– no changing the goalposts if the liberals happen to “win”.

I’m even willing to look at partial tests. If an ideology is really better than others at producing general prosperity, then following it partially should produce partially better results. Jonathan Kwitny suggested comparing a partly socialist system (e.g. Tanzania) to a partly capitalist one (e.g. Kenya). (Kenya looked a lot better.) If the tests are partial, of course, we’ll want more of them; but human experience is pretty broad.

It’s the libertarians, not me, who stand in the way of such accountability. If I point out examples of nations partially following libertarian views– we’ll get to this below– I’m told that they don’t count: only Pure Real Libertarianism Of My Own Camp can be tested.

Again, all-or-nothing thinking generally goes with intellectual fraud. If a system is untestable, it’s because its proponents fear testing. By contrast, I’m confident enough in liberal and scientific values that I’m happy to see even partial adoption. Even a little freedom is better than dictatorship. Even a little science is better than ideology.

An untested political system unfortunately has great rhetorical appeal. Since we can’t see it in action, we can’t point out its obvious faults, while the ideologue can be caustic about everything that has actually been tried, and which has inevitably fallen short of perfection. Perhaps that’s why Dave Barry and Trey Parker are libertarians. But I’d rather vote for a politician who’s shown that his programs work in the real world than for a humorist, however amusing.

At this point some libertarian readers are pumping their hands in the air like a piston, anxious to explain that their ideal isn’t Rothbard or von Mises or Hayek, but the Founding Fathers.

Nice try. Everybody wants the Founders on their side; but it was a different country back then– 95% agricultural, low density, highly homogenous, primitive in technology– and modern libertarianism simply doesn’t apply. (The OED’s citations of the word for the time are all theological.)

All American political movements have their roots in the 1700s– indeed, in the winning side, since Loyalist opinion essentially disappeared. We are all– liberals, conservatives, libertarians– against the Georgian monarchy and for the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. You can certainly find places where one Founder or another rants against government; you can find other places where one Founder or another rants against rebellion, anarchy, and the opponents of federalism. Sometimes the same Founder can be quoted on both sides. They were a mixed bunch, and lived long enough lives to encounter different situations.

The Constitution is above all a definition of a strengthened government, and the Federalist Papers are an extended argument for it. The Founders negotiated a balance between a government that was arbitrary and coercive (their experience as British colonial subjects) and one that was powerless and divided (the failed Articles of Confederation).

The Founders didn’t anticipate the New Deal– there was no need for them to– but they were as quick to resort to the resources of the state as any modern liberal. Ben Franklin, for instance, played the Pennsylvania legislature like a violin– using it to fund a hospital he wanted to establish, for instance. Obviously he had no qualms about using state power to do good social works.

It’s also worth pointing out that the Founders’ words were nobler than their deeds. Most were quite comfortable with slave-owning, for instance. No one worried about women’s consent to be governed. Washington’s own administration made it a crime to criticize the government. And as Robert Allen Rutland reminds us,

The process of giving life to our constitutional rights has largely been the work of liberals. On the greatest fight of all, to treat blacks as human beings, libertarians supported the other side.

Crackpots are usually harmless; how about the Libertarian Party?

In itself, I’m afraid, it’s nothing but a footnote. It gets no more than 1% of the vote– a showing that’s been surpassed historically by the Anti-Masonic Party, the Greenbacks, the Prohibition Party, the Socialists, the Greens, and whatever John Anderson was. If that was all it was, I wouldn’t bother to devote pages and rants to it. I’m all for the expression of pure eccentricity in politics; I like the Brits’ Monster Raving Looney Party even better.

Why are libertarian ideas important? Because of their influence on the Republican Party. They form the ideological basis for the Reagan/Gingrich/Bush revolution. The Republicans have taken the libertarian “Government is Bad” horse and ridden far with it:

Maybe this use of their ideas is appalling to ‘Real Libertarians’… well, it’s an appalling world sometimes. Is it fair to communism that everyone thinks its Leninist manifestation is the only possible one? Do you think I’m happy to have national representatives like Dukakis, Gore, and Kerry?

At least some libertarians have understood the connection. Rothbard again, writing in 1994:

Can you smell the compromise here? Hold your nose and vote for the Repubs, boys. But then don’t pretend to be uninvolved when the Republicans start making a mockery of limited government.

There’s a deeper lesson here, and it’s part of why I don’t buy libertarian portraits of the future utopia. Movements out of power are always anti-authoritarian; it’s no guarantee that they’ll stay that way. Communists before 1917 promised the withering away of the state. Fascists out of power sounded something like socialists. The Republicans were big on term limits when they could be used to unseat Democrats; they say nothing about them today. If you don’t think it can happen to you, you’re not being honest about human nature and human history.

The Libertarian Party has a cute little test that purports to divide American politics into four quadrants. There’s the economic dimension (where libertarians ally with conservatives) and the social dimension (where libertarians ally with liberals).

I think the diagram is seriously misleading, because visually it gives equal importance to both dimensions. And when the rubber hits the road, libertarians almost always go with the economic dimension.

The libertarian philosopher always starts with property rights. Libertarianism arose in opposition to the New Deal, not to Prohibition. The libertarian voter is chiefly exercised over taxes, regulation, and social programs; the libertarian wing of the Republican party has, for forty years, gone along with the war on drugs, corporate welfare, establishment of dictatorships abroad, and an alliance with theocrats. Christian libertarians like Ron Paul want God in the public schools and are happy to have the government forbid abortion and gay marriage. I never saw the libertarians objecting to Bush Sr. mocking the protection of civil rights, or to Ken Starr’s government inquiry into politicians’ sex lives. On the Cato Institute’s list of recent books, I count 1 of 19 dealing with an issue on which libertarians and liberals tend to agree, and that was on foreign policy (specifically, the Iraq war).

If this is changing, as Bush’s never-ending “War on Terror” expands the powers of government, demonizes dissent, and enmeshes the country in military crusades and nation-building, as the Republicans push to remove the checks and balances that remain in our government system– if libertarians come to realize that Republicans and not Democrats are the greater threat to liberty– I’d be delighted.

But for that, you know, you have to vote against Bush. A belief in social liberties means little if you vote for a party that clearly intends to restrict them.

For the purposes of my critique, however, the social side of libertarianism is irrelevant. A libertarian and I might actually agree to legalize drugs, let people marry whoever they like, and repeal the Patriot Act. But this has nothing to do with whether robber baron capitalism is a good thing.

The libertarianism that has any effect in the world, then, has nothing to do with social liberty, and everything to do with removing all restrictions on business. So what’s wrong with that?

Let’s look at some cases that came within spitting distance of the libertarian ideal. Some libertarians won’t like these, because they are not Spotless Instances of the Free Utopia; but as I’ve said, nothing is proved by science fiction. If complete economic freedom and absence of government is a cure-all, partial economic freedom and limited government should be a cure-some.

At the turn of the 20th century, business could do what it wanted– and it did. The result was robber barons, monopolistic gouging, management thugs attacking union organizers, filth in our food, a punishing business cycle, slavery and racial oppression, starvation among the elderly, gunboat diplomacy in support of business interests.

The New Deal itself was a response to crisis (though by no means an unprecedented one; it wasn’t much worse than the Gilded Age depressions). A quarter of the population was out of work. Five thousand banks failed, destroying the savings of 9 million families. Steel plants were operating at 12% capacity. Banks foreclosed on a quarter of Mississippi’s land. Wall Street was discredited by insider trading and collusion with banks at the expense of investors. Farmers were breaking out into open revolt; miners and jobless city workers were rioting.

Don’t think, by the way, that if governments don’t provide gunboats, no one else will. Corporations will build their own military if necessary: the East Indies Company did; Leopold did in the Congo; management did when fighting with labor.

Or take Russia in the decade after the fall of Communism, as advised by free-market absolutists like Jeffrey Sachs. Russian GDP declined 50% in five years. The elite grabbed the assets they could and shuffled them out of Russia so fast that IMF loans couldn’t compensate. In 1994 alone, 600 businessmen, journalists, and politicians were murdered by gangsters. Russia lacked a working road system, a banking system, anti-monopoly regulation, effective law enforcement, or any sort of safety net for the elderly and the jobless. Inflation reached 2250% in 1992. Central government authority effectively disappeared in many regions.

By the way, Russia is the answer to those testosterone-poisoned folks who think that guns will prevent oppression. The mafia will always outgun you.

Today’s Russia is moving back toward authoritarianism under Putin. Again, this should dismay libertarians: apparently, given a little freedom, many people will demand less. You’d better be careful about setting up that utopia; ten years further on it may be taken over by authoritarians.

Or consider the darling of many an ’80s conservative: Pinochet’s Chile, installed by Nixon, praised by Jeanne Kirkpatrick, George Bush, and Paul Johnson. In twenty years, foreign debt quadrupled, natural resources were wasted, universal health care was abandoned (leading to epidemics of typhoid fever and hepatitis), unions were outlawed, military spending rose (for what? who the hell is going to attack Chile?), social security was “privatized” (with predictable results: ever-increasing government bailouts) and the poverty rate doubled, from 20% to 41%. Chile’s growth rate from 1974 to 1982 was 1.5%; the Latin American average was 4.3%.

Pinochet was a dicator, of course, which makes some libertarians feel that they have nothing to learn here. Somehow Chile’s experience (say) privatizing social security can tell us nothing about privatizing social security here, because Pinochet was a dictator. Presumably if you set up a business in Chile, the laws of supply and demand and perhaps those of gravity wouldn’t apply, because Pinochet was a dictator.

When it’s convenient, libertarians even trumpet their association with Chile’s “free market” policies; (originators of that cute quiz) includes a page celebrating Milton Friedman, self-proclaimed libertarian, who helped form and advise the group of University of Chicago professors and graduates who implemented Pinochet’s policies. The Cato Institute even named a prize for “Advancing Liberty” after this benefactor of the Chilean dictatorship.

The newest testing ground for laissez-faire is present-day America, from Ronald Reagan on.

Remove the New Deal, and the pre-New Deal evils clamor to return. Reagan removed the right to strike; companies now fire strikers, outsource high-wage jobs and replace them with dead-end near-minimum-wage service jobs. Middle-class wages are stagnating– or plummeting, if you consider that working hours are rising. Companies are rushing to reestablish child labor in the Third World.

Under liberalism, productivity increases benefited all classes– poverty rates declined from over 30% to under 10% in the thirty years after World War II, while the economy more than quadrupled in size.

In the current libertarian climate, productivity gains only go to the already well-off. Here’s the percentage of US national income received by certain percentiles of the population, as reported by the IRS:

This should put some perspective on libertarian whining about high taxes and how we’re destroying incentives for the oppressed businessman. The wealthiest 1% of the population doubled their share of the pie in just 15 years. In 1973, CEOs earned 45 times the pay of an average employee (about twice the multipler in Japan); today it’s 500 times.

Thirty years ago, managers accepted that they operated as much for their workers, consumers, and neighbors as for themselves. Some economists (notably Michael Jensen and William Meckling) decided that the only stakeholders that mattered were the stock owners– and that management would be more accountable if they were given massive amounts of stock. Not surprisingly, CEOs managed to get the stock without the accountability– they’re obscenely well paid whether the company does well or it tanks– and the obsession with stock price led to mass layoffs, short-term thinking, and the financial dishonesty at WorldCom, Enron, Adelphia, HealthSouth, and elsewhere.

The nature of our economic system has changed in the last quarter-century, and people haven’t understood it yet. People over 30 or so grew up in an environment where the rich got more, but everyone prospered. When productivity went up, the rich got richer– we’re not goddamn communists, after all– but everybody’s income increased.

If you were part of the World War II generation, the reality was that you had access to subsidized education and housing, you lived better every year, and you were almost unimaginably better off than your parents.

We were a middle-class nation, perhaps the first nation in history where the majority of the people were comfortable. This infuriated the communists (this wasn’t supposed to happen). The primeval libertarians who cranky about it as well, but the rich had little reason to complain– they were better off than ever before, too.

Conservatives– nurtured by libertarian ideas– have managed to change all that. When productivity rises, the rich now keep the gains; the middle class barely stays where it is; the poor get poorer. We have a ways to go before we become a Third World country, but the model is clear. The goal is an impoverished majority, and a super-rich minority with no effective limitations on its power or earnings. We’ll exchange the prosperity of 1950s America for that of 1980s Brazil.

Despite the intelligence of many of its supporters, libertarianism is an instance of the simplest (and therefore silliest) type of politics: the single-villain ideology. Everything is blamed on the government. (One libertarian, for instance, reading my list of the evils of laissez-faire above, ignored everything but “gunboats”. It’s like Gary Larson’s cartoon of “What dogs understand”, with the dog’s name replaced with “government”.)

The advantage of single-villain ideologies is obvious: in any given situation you never have to think hard to find out the culprit. The disadvantages, however, are worse: you can’t see your primary target clearly– hatred is a pair of dark glasses– and you can’t see the problems with anything else.

It’s a habit of mind that renders libertarianism unfalsifiable, and thus irrelevant to the world. Everything gets blamed on one institution; and because we have no real-world example where that agency is absent, the claims can’t be tested.

Not being a libertarian doesn’t mean loving the state; it means accepting complexity. The real world is a monstrously complicated place; there’s not just one thing wrong with it, nor just one thing that can be changed to fix it. Things like prosperity and freedom don’t have one cause; they’re a balancing act.

Here’s an alternative theory for you: original sin. People will mess things up, whether by stupidity or by active malice. There is no magical class of people (e.g. “government”) who can be removed to produce utopia. Any institution is liable to failure, or active criminality. Put anyone in power– whether it’s communists or engineers or businessmen– and they will abuse it.

Does this mean things are hopeless? Of course not; it just means that we have to let all institutions balance each other. Government, opposition parties, business, the media, unions, churches, universities, non-government organizations, all watch over each other. Power is distributed as widely as possible to prevent any one institution from monopolizing and abusing it. It’s not always a pretty solution, and it can be frustratingly slow and inefficient, but it works better than any alternative I know of.

Markets are very good at some things, like deciding what to produce and distributing it. But unrestricted markets don’t produce general prosperity, and lawless business can and will abuse its power. Examples can be multiplied ad nauseam: read some history– or the newspaper.

Libertarian responses to such lists are beyond amazing.

Slavery is another example: though some hoped that the market would eventually make it unprofitable, it sure was taking its time, and neither the slave nor the abolitionist had any non-governmental leverage over the slaveowners.

(Libertarians usually claim to oppose slavery… but that’s awfully easy to say on this side of Civil War and the civil rights movement. The slaveowners thought they were defending their sacred rights to property and self-government.)

And those are the better responses. Often enough the only response is explain how nothing bad can happen in the libertarian utopia. But libertarian dogma can’t be buttressed by libertarian doctrine– that’s begging the question.

Or it’s simply denied that these things are problems. One correspondent suggested that the poor shouldn’t “complain” about not getting loans– “I wouldn’t make a loan if I didn’t think I’d get paid back.” This is not only hard-hearted but ignorant. Who says the poor are bad credit risks? It often takes prodding from community organizations, but banks can serve low-income areas well– both making money and fostering home ownership. Institutions like the Grameen Bank have found that micro-loans work very well, and are profitable, in the poorest countries on Earth, such as Bangladesh.

A proven solution to most of these ills is liberalism. For fifty years liberals governed this country, generating unprecedented prosperity, and making this the first solidly middle-class nation.

If you want prosperity for the many– and why should the many support any other goal?– you need a balance between government and business. For this you need several things:

Perhaps the most communicable libertarian meme– and one of the most mischievous– is the attempt to paint taxation as theft.

First, it’s dishonest. Most libertarians theoretically accept government for defense and law enforcement. (There are some absolutists who don’t even believe in national defense; I guess they want to have a libertarian utopia for awhile, then hand it over to foreign invaders.)

Now, national defense and law enforcement cost money: about 22% of the 2002 budget– 33% of the non-social-security budget. You can’t swallow that and maintain that all taxes are bad. At least the cost of those functions is not “your money”; it’s a legitimate charge for necessary services.

Americans enjoy the fruits of public scientific research, a well-educated job force, highways and airports, clean food, honest labelling, Social Security, unemployment insurance, trustworthy banks, national parks. Libertarianism has encouraged the peculiarly American delusion that these things come for free. It makes a philosophy out of biting the hand that feeds you.

Second, it leads directly to George Bush’s financial irresponsibility. Would a libertarian urge his family or his software company or his gun club to spend twice what it takes in? When libertarians maintain that irresponsibility among the poor is such a bad thing, why is it OK in the government?

It’s no excuse to claim that libertarians didn’t want the government to increase spending, as Bush has done. As you judge others, so shall you be judged. Libertarians want to judge liberalism not by its goals (e.g. helping poor children) but by its alleged effects (e.g. teen pregnancy). The easiest things in the world for a politician to do are to lower taxes and raise spending. By attacking the very concept of taxation, libertarians help politicians– and the public– to indulge their worst impulses.

Finally, it hides dependence on the government. The economic powerhouse of the US is still the Midwest, the Northeast, and California– largely liberal Democratic areas. As Dean Lacy has pointed out, over the last decade, the blue states of 2004 paid $1.4 trillion more in federal taxes than they received, while red states received $800 billion more than they paid.

Red state morality isn’t just to be irresponsible with the money they pay as taxes; it’s to be irresponsible with other people’s money. It’s protesting the concept of getting an allowance by stealing the other kids’ money.

Ultimately, my objection to libertarianism is moral. Arguing across moral gulfs is usually ineffective; but we should at least be clear about what our moral differences are.

First, the worship of the already successful and the disdain for the powerless is essentially the morality of a thug. Money and property should not be privileged above everything else– love, humanity, justice.

(And let’s not forget that lurid fascination with firepower– seen in ESR, Ron Paul, Heinlein and Van Vogt, Advocates for Self-Government’s president Sharon Harris, the Cato Institute, Lew Rockwell’s site, and the Mises Institute.)

I wish I could convince libertarians that the extremely wealthy don’t need them as their unpaid advocates. Power and wealth don’t need a cheering section; they are– by definition– not an oppressed class which needs our help. Power and wealth can take care of themselves. It’s the poor and the defenseless who need aid and advocates.

The libertarians reminds me of G.K. Chesterton’s description of people who are so eager to attack a hated ideology that they will destroy their own furniture to make sticks to beat it with. James Craig Green again:

Here’s a very different moral point of view: Jimmy Carter describing why he builds houses with Habitat for Humanity:

Is this “confused hysteria”? No, it’s common human decency. It’s sad when people have to twist themselves into knots to malign the human desire (and the Biblical command) to help one’s neighbor.

Second, it’s the philosophy of a snotty teen, someone who’s read too much Heinlein, absorbed the sordid notion that an intellectual elite should rule the subhuman masses, and convinced himself that reading a few bad novels qualifies him as a member of the elite.

Third, and perhaps most common, it’s the worldview of a provincial narcissist. As I’ve observed in my overview of the 20th century, liberalism won its battles so thoroughly that people have forgotten why those battles were fought.


What’s wrong with libertarianism –

10 Different Types of Libertarianism

By Tom Head


Anarcho-capitalists believe that governments monopolize services that would be better left to corporations, and should be abolished entirely in favor of a system in which corporations provide services we associate with the government. The popular sci-fi novel Jennifer Government describes a system that is very close to anarcho-capitalist.

Civil Libertarianism:

Civil libertarians believe that the government should not pass laws that restrict, oppress, or selectively fail to protect people in their day-to-day lives.

Their position can best be summed up by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ statement that “a man’s right to swing his fist ends where my nose begins.” In the United States, the American Civil Liberties Union represents the interests of civil libertarians. Civil libertarians may or may not also be fiscal libertarians.

Classical Liberalism:

Classical liberals agree with the words of the Declaration of Independence: That all people have basic human rights, and that the sole legitimate function of government is to protect those rights. Most of the Founding Fathers, and most of the European philosophers who influenced them, were classical liberals.

Fiscal Libertarianism:

Fiscal libertarians (also referred to as laissez-faire capitalists) believe in free trade, low (or nonexistent) taxes, and minimal (or nonexistent) corporate regulation. Most traditional Republicans are moderate fiscal libertarians.


Geolibertarians (also called “one-taxers”) are fiscal libertarians who believe that land can never be owned, but may be rented. They generally propose the abolition of all income and sales taxes in favor of a single land rental tax, with the revenue used to support collective interests (such as military defense) as determined through a democratic process.

Libertarian Socialism:

Libertarian socialists agree with anarcho-capitalists that government is a monopoly and should be abolished, but they believe that nations should be ruled instead by work-share cooperatives or labor unions instead of corporations. The philosopher Noam Chomsky is the best known American libertarian socialist.


Like anarcho-capitalists and libertarian socialists, minarchists believe that most functions currently served by the government should be served by smaller, non-government groups–but they believe that a government is still needed to serve a few collective needs, such as military defense.


Neolibertarians are fiscal libertarians who support a strong military, and believe that the U.S. government should use that military to overthrow dangerous and oppressive regimes. It is their emphasis on military intervention that distinguishes them from paleolibertarians (see below), and gives them reason to make common cause with neoconservatives.


The Objectivist movement was founded by the Russian-American novelist Ayn Rand (1905-1982), author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, who incorporated fiscal libertarianism into a broader philosophy emphasizing rugged individualism and what she called “the virtue of selfishness.”


Paleolibertarians differ from neolibertarians (see above) in that they are isolationists who do not believe that the United States should become entangled in international affairs. They also tend to be suspicious of international coalitions such as the United Nations, liberal immigration policies, and other potential threats to cultural stability.

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10 Different Types of Libertarianism

Introducing Libertarianism: A Reading List …

November 3, 2011 essays

The eight books on this list offer a thorough but accessible introduction to libertarianism.

Libertarianismits theory, its practiceis an awfully big topic. This reading list gives you a place to start. A combination of newcomers and established classics, these books offer accessible introductions to variety of libertarian thought, from philosophy to history to economics.

Libertarianism: A Primer by David Boaz

Boazs book provides exactly what its title promises.Libertarianism: A Primer is a quick and easy read, but its also a remarkably thorough introduction to libertarianism. It covers the historical roots of libertarianism and the basics of libertarian political philosophy and economic thinking. Boaz then applies these ideas to major policy areas, showing how free association and free markets, not government coercion and bureaucracy, can solve our most pressing social issues.

The Law by Frdric Bastiat

Everything this 19th century Frenchman wrote is worth readingand The Law is a great place to start. Bastiats knack is tackling head-on, with great wit and clarity, the fundamental errors and hidden interests behind much economic and political thinking. With The Law, published in 1850, his target is legal plunder or state-authorized confiscation of property. The law exists to protect our basic rights, Bastiat argues. When it instead becomes a means of coerced redistribution, the law has been used to destroy its own objective: It has been applied to annihilating the justice that it was supposed to maintain; to limiting and destroying rights which its real purpose was to respect. The law has placed the collective force at the disposal of the unscrupulous who wish, without risk, to exploit the person, liberty, and property of others.

The Machinery of Freedom: Guide to a Radical Capitalism by David Friedman

Libertarianism represents a spectrum of political philosophies, all sharing a general presumption of liberty. These philosophies vary in how much of a role they grant the state. Classical liberals, for instance, allow government to tax for the provision of many services, including education and social safety nets. Minarchists see governments only legitimate role as providing rights protection in the form of police, courts, and national defense. At the extreme are the anarcho-capitalists, who would abolish the state altogether and replace it with purely private and voluntary provision of services, including for the law itself. David Friedmans The Machinery of Freedom offers an introduction to anarcho-capitalism, arguing from a consequentialist perspective that the state is both unnecessary for achieving a desirable society and that it in fact makes the world worse through its actions. The questions Friedman raises and the analysis he offers will benefit any student of liberty.

Free to Choose: A Personal Statement by Milton Friedman and Rose Friedman

Published as the companion volume to the 10-hour documentary of the same name, Free to Choose was one of the bestselling books of 1980. Here Nobel laureate Milton Friedman and his wife, Rose, give a spirited and readable critique of the interventionist state, focusing on concrete examples and explanations. Free to Choose is an excellent introduction to the productive power unleashed by freedomand also a primer on the economic analysis of public policy. The Friedmans examine the workings of markets, look at how well-meaning policies like the minimum wage hurt the poor, and explain the causes of the Great Depression. Covering much the same ground as the documentary series, though in more depth, Free to Choose is a perfect introduction not only to the thought of Milton Friedman, one of the 20th centurys foremost champions of liberty, but also to the under-appreciated and often misunderstood benefits of laissez faire.

Eat the Rich: A Treatise on Economics by P. J. ORourke

Proving that economics need not be a dry, textbook affair, P. J. ORourkes Eat the Rich sets out to answer the critical question, Why do some places prosper and thrive while others just suck? ORourke, one of Americas premier humorists, travels the world, visiting Wall Street, Albania, Sweden, Cuba, Russia, Tanzania, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, and uses his experiences to untangle the relationship between markets, political institutions, and culture. While Eat the Rich is a breezy and hilarious read, it is far from facile. ORourkes explorations and the insights he draws from them make the book live up to its subtitle, A Treatise on Economics. If youve never taken Econ 101 and the thought of supply and demand curves makes you want to nod off, Eat the Richis a perfect book.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

A perennial bestseller since its publication in 1957, Ayn Rands mammoth novel Atlas Shrugged has probably turned more people on to libertarianism than any other book. Atlas Shrugged explores a dystopian future, where the government has enthusiastically embraced collectivism in the name of fairness and equality and leading innovators, industrialists, and artists have begun disappearing. The book served as Rands platform for promoting Objectivism, her comprehensive philosophy of rational selfishness. While Rands philosophy remains deeply divisive to this day, it is impossible to deny the enormous impact shes had on promoting the benefits of free markets and dynamic capitalism.

The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley

The newest book on this list, Matt Ridleys The Rational Optimistemploys the grand sweep of human history and pre-history to argue for the incredible significance of free tradeand against those who would seek to restrict it. In so doing, Ridley offers what amounts to a book-length answer to the question, Why are people rich? Most humans who have ever lived did so in unimaginable poverty. It was only recently that standards of living began their remarkableand acceleratingclimb. What happened? Free exchange. Just as sex made biological evolution cumulative, Ridley writes, so exchange made cultural evolution cumulative and intelligence collective, and that there is therefore an inexorable tide in the affairs of men and women discernible beneath the chaos of their actions.

Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy by Thomas Sowell

While the libertarian vision is much more than just free markets, economic thinking greatly informs the libertarian approach to public policy. When youre ready to move beyond the brief introduction provided by P. J. ORourkes Eat the Rich, Thomas Sowells Basic Economics is the ideal place to turn. Sowell presents the fundamentals of economic reasoning in clear, jargon-free prose. He addresses everything from incentives and the role of prices, to international trade, monetary policy, and the banking system. Sowell shows how so many government programs, enacted with the best of intentions, run afoul of simple economic truths and, as a result, often do far more harm than good.

Aaron Ross Powell is a research fellow and editor of, a project of the Cato Institute. presents introductory material as well as new scholarship related to libertarian philosophy, theory, and history. Powells writing has appeared in Liberty and The Cato Journal. He earned a JD from the University of Denver.

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Introducing Libertarianism: A Reading List …

The Libertarianism FAQ –

There are a number of standard questions about libertarianism that have been periodically resurfacing in the politics groups for years. This posting attempts to answer some of them. I make no claim that the answers are complete, nor that they reflect a (nonexistent) unanimity among libertarians; the issues touched on here are tremendously complex. This posting will be useful, however, if it successfully conveys the flavor of libertarian thought and gives some indication of what most libertarians believe.

The word means approximately “believer in liberty”. Libertarians believe in individual conscience and individual choice, and reject the use of force or fraud to compel others except in response to force or fraud. (This latter is called the “Non-Coercion Principle” and is the one thing all libertarians agree on.)

Help individuals take more control over their own lives. Take the state (and other self-appointed representatives of “society”) out of private decisions. Abolish both halves of the welfare/warfare bureaucracy (privatizing real services) and liberate the 7/8ths of our wealth that’s now soaked up by the costs of a bloated and ineffective government, to make us all richer and freer. Oppose tyranny everywhere, whether it’s the obvious variety driven by greed and power-lust or the subtler, well-intentioned kinds that coerce people “for their own good” but against their wills.

Modern libertarianism has multiple roots. Perhaps the oldest is the minimal-government republicanism of the U.S.’s founding revolutionaries, especially Thomas Jefferson and the Anti-Federalists. Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill and the “classical liberals” of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were another key influence. More recently, Ayn Rand’s philosophy of “ethical egoism” and the Austrian School of free-market capitalist economics have both contributed important ideas. Libertarianism is alone among 20th-century secular radicalisms in owing virtually nothing to Marxism.

Once upon a time (in the 1800s), “liberal” and “libertarian” meant the same thing; “liberals” were individualist, distrustful of state power, pro-free- market, and opposed to the entrenched privilege of the feudal and mercantilist system. After 1870, the “liberals” were gradually seduced (primarily by the Fabian socialists) into believing that the state could and should be used to guarantee “social justice”. They largely forgot about individual freedom, especially economic freedom, and nowadays spend most of their time justifying higher taxes, bigger government, and more regulation. Libertarians call this socialism without the brand label and want no part of it.

For starters, by not being conservative. Most libertarians have no interest in returning to an idealized past. More generally, libertarians hold no brief for the right wing’s rather overt militarist, racist, sexist, and authoritarian tendencies and reject conservative attempts to “legislate morality” with censorship, drug laws, and obnoxious Bible-thumping. Though libertarians believe in free-enterprise capitalism, we also refuse to stooge for the military-industrial complex as conservatives are wont to do.

Libertarians want to abolish as much government as they practically can. About 3/4 are “minarchists” who favor stripping government of most of its accumulated power to meddle, leaving only the police and courts for law enforcement and a sharply reduced military for national defense (nowadays some might also leave special powers for environmental enforcement). The other 1/4 (including the author of this FAQ) are out-and-out anarchists who believe that “limited government” is a delusion and the free market can provide better law, order, and security than any goverment monopoly.

Also, current libertarian political candidates recognize that you can’t demolish a government as large as ours overnight, and that great care must be taken in dismantling it carefully. For example, libertarians believe in open borders, but unrestricted immigration now would attract in a huge mass of welfare clients, so most libertarians would start by abolishing welfare programs before opening the borders. Libertarians don’t believe in tax-funded education, but most favor the current “parental choice” laws and voucher systems as a step in the right direction.

Progress in freedom and prosperity is made in steps. The Magna Carta, which for the first time put limits on a monarchy, was a great step forward in human rights. The parliamentary system was another great step. The U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, which affirmed that even a democratically-elected government couldn’t take away certain inalienable rights of individuals, was probably the single most important advance so far. But the journey isn’t over.

All Libertarians are libertarians, but not the reverse. A libertarian is a person who believes in the Non-Coercion Principle and the libertarian program. A Libertarian is a person who believes the existing political system is a proper and effective means of implementing those principles; specifically, “Libertarian” usually means a member of the Libertarian Party, the U.S.’s largest and most successful third party. Small-ell libertarians are those who consider the Libertarian Party tactically ineffective, or who reject the political system generally and view democracy as “the tyranny of the majority”.

By privatizing them. Taxation is theft — if we must have a government, it should live on user fees, lotteries, and endowments. A government that’s too big to function without resorting to extortion is a government that’s too big, period. Insurance companies (stripped of the state-conferred immunities that make them arrogant) could use the free market to spread most of the risks we now “socialize” through government, and make a profit doing so.

Enforce contracts. Anarcho-libertarians believe the “government” in this sense can be a loose network of rent-a-cops, insurance companies, and for-profit arbitration boards operating under a shared legal code; minarchists believe more centralization would be necessary and envision something much like a Jeffersonian constitional government. All libertarians want to live in a society based (far more than ours now is) on free trade and mutual voluntary contract; the government’s job would be strictly to referee, and use the absolute minimum of force necessary to keep the peace.

Most libertarians are strongly in favor of abortion rights (the Libertarian Party often shows up at pro-rights rallies with banners that say “We’re Pro-Choice on Everything!”). Many libertarians are personally opposed to abortion, but reject governmental meddling in a decision that should be private between a woman and her physician. Most libertarians also oppose government funding of abortions, on the grounds that “pro-lifers” should not have to subsidize with their money behavior they consider to be murder.

Libertarians believe that every human being is entitled to equality before the law and fair treatment as an individual responsible for his or her own actions. We oppose racism, sexism, and sexual-preference bigotry, whether perpetrated by private individuals or (especially) by government. We reject racial discrimination, whether in its ugly traditional forms or in its newer guises as Affirmative Action quotas and “diversity” rules.

We recognize that there will always be bigotry and hatred in the world, just as there will always be fear and stupidity; but one cannot use laws to force understanding any more than one can use laws to force courage or intelligence. The only fair laws are those that never mention the words “black” or “white”; “man” or “woman”; “gay” or “straight”. When people use bigotry as an excuse to commit force or fraud, it is the act itself which is the crime, and deserves punishment, not the motive behind it.

Consistently opposed. The revolutionaries who kicked out King George based their call for insurrection on the idea that Americans have not only the right but the duty to oppose a tyrannical government with force — and that duty implies readiness to use force. This is why Thomas Jefferson said that “Firearms are the American yeoman’s liberty teeth” and, in common with many of the Founding Fathers, asserted that an armed citizenry is the securest guarantee of freedom. Libertarians assert that “gun control” is a propagandist’s lie for “people control”, and even if it worked for reducing crime and violence (which it does not; when it’s a crime to own guns, only criminals own them) it would be a fatally bad bargain.

Libertarians are opposed to any government-enforced limits on free expression whatsoever; we take an absolutist line on the First Amendment. On the other hand, we reject the “liberal” idea that refusing to subsidize a controversial artist is censorship. Thus, we would strike down all anti-pornography laws as unwarranted interference with private and voluntary acts (leaving in place laws punishing, for example, coercion of minors for the production of pornography). We would also end all government funding of art; the label of “artist” confers no special right to a living at public expense.

We believe the draft is slavery, pure and simple, and ought to be prohibited as “involuntary servitude” by the 13th Amendment. Any nation that cannot find enough volunteers to defend it among its citizenry does not deserve to survive.

That all drugs should be legalized. Drug-related crime (which is over 85% of all crime) is caused not by drugs but by drug laws that make the stuff expensive and a monopoly of criminals. This stance isn’t “approving” of drugs any more than defending free speech is “approving” of Nazi propaganda; it’s just realism — prohibition doesn’t work. And the very worst hazard of the drug war may be the expansion of police powers through confiscation laws, “no-knock” warrants and other “anti-drug” measures. These tactics can’t stop the drug trade, but they are making a mockery of our supposed Constitutional freedoms.

Libertarians would leave in place laws against actions which directly endanger the physical safety of others, like driving under the influence of drugs, or carrying a firearm under the influence.

First of all, stop creating them as our government does with military contractors and government-subsidized industries. Second, create a more fluid economic environment in which they’d break up. This happens naturally in a free market; even in ours, with taxes and regulatory policies that encourage gigantism, it’s quite rare for a company to stay in the biggest 500 for longer than twenty years. We’d abolish the limited-liability shield laws to make corporate officers and stockholders fully responsible for a corporation’s actions. We’d make it impossible for corporations to grow fat on “sweetheart deals” paid for with taxpayers’ money; we’d lower the cost of capital (by cutting taxes) and regulatory compliance (by repealing regulations that presume guilt until you prove your innocence), encouraging entrepreneurship and letting economic conditions (rather than government favoritism) determine the optimum size of the business unit.

Who owns the trees? The disastrous state of the environment in what was formerly the Soviet Union illustrates the truism that a resource theoretically “owned” by everyone is valued by no one. Ecological awareness is a fine thing, but without strong private-property rights no one can afford to care enough to conserve. Libertarians believe that the only effective way to save the Earth is to give everyone economic incentives to save their little bit of it.

No. What favors the rich is the system we have now — a fiction of strong property rights covering a reality of property by government fiat; the government can take away your “rights” by eminent domain, condemnation, taxation, regulation and a thousand other means. Because the rich have more money and time to spend on influencing and subverting government, such a system inevitably means they gain at others’ expense. A strong government always becomes the tool of privilege. Stronger property rights and a smaller government would weaken the power elite that inevitably seeks to seduce government and bend it to their own self-serving purposes — an elite far more dangerous than any ordinary criminal class.

No, though abandoning the poor might be merciful compared to what government has done to them. As the level of “anti-poverty” spending in this country has risen, so has poverty. Government bureaucracies have no incentive to lift people out of dependency and every incentive to keep them in it; after all, more poverty means a bigger budget and more power for the bureaucrats. Libertarians want to break this cycle by abolishing all income-transfer programs and allowing people to keep what they earn instead of taxing it away from them. The wealth freed up would go directly to the private sector, creating jobs for the poor, decreasing the demand on private charity, and increasing charitable giving. The results might diminish poverty or they might leave it at today’s levels — but it’s hard to see how they could be any less effective than the present wretched system.

This issue makes minarchists out of a lot of would-be anarchists. One view is that in a libertarian society everyone would be heavily armed, making invasion or usurpation by a domestic tyrant excessively risky. This is what the Founding Fathers clearly intended for the U.S. (the Constitution made no provision for a standing army, entrusting defense primarily to a militia consisting of the entirety of the armed citizenry). It works today in Switzerland (also furnishing one of the strongest anti-gun-control arguments). The key elements in libertarian-anarchist defense against an invader would be: a widespread ideology (libertarianism) that encourages resistance; ready availability of deadly weapons; and no structures of government that an invader can take over and use to rule indirectly. Think about the Afghans, the Viet Cong, the Minutemen — would you want to invade a country full of dedicated, heavily armed libertarians? 🙂

Minarchist libertarians are less radical, observe that U.S. territory could certainly be protected effectively with a military costing less than half of the bloated U.S. military budget.

Voluntary cooperation is a wonderful thing, and we encourage it whenever we can. Despite the tired old tag line about “dog-eat-dog competition” and the presence of government intervention, the relatively free market of today’s capitalism is the most spectacular argument for voluntary cooperation in history; millions, even billions of people coordinating with each other every day to satisfy each others’ needs and create untold wealth.

What we oppose is the mockeries politicians and other criminals call cooperation but impose by force; there is no “cooperation” in taxation or the draft or censorship any more than you and I are “cooperating” when I put a gun to your head and steal your wallet.

Think about freedom, and act on your thoughts. Spend your dollars wisely. Oppose the expansion of state power. Promote “bottom-up” solutions to public problems, solutions that empower individuals rather than demanding intervention by force of government. Give to private charity. Join a libertarian organization; the Libertarian Party, or the Advocates for Self-Government, or the Reason Foundation. Start your own business; create wealth and celebrate others who create wealth. Support voluntary cooperation.

No one knows. Your author thinks libertarianism is about where constitutional republicanism was in 1750 — a solution waiting for its moment, a toy of political theorists and a few visionaries waiting for the people and leaders who can actualize it. The collapse of Communism and the triumph of capitalist economics will certainly help, by throwing central planning and the “nanny state” into a disrepute that may be permanent. Some libertarians believe we are headed for technological and economic changes so shattering that no statist ideology can possibly survive them (in particular, most of the nanotechnology “underground” is hard-core libertarian). Only time will tell.

There’s an excellent FAQ on anarchist theory and history at with links to many other Web documents.

Peter McWilliams’s wise and funny book Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do is worth a read.

Friedman, Milton and Friedman, Rose, Free to Choose: A Personal Statement (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980).

Hayek, Friedrich A. The Constitution of Liberty (Henry Regnery Company, 1960).

Hayek, Friedrich A. The Road to Serfdom (University of Chicago Press, 1944).

Lomasky, Loren, Persons, Rights, and the Moral Community (Oxford University Press, 1987).

Machan, Tibor, Individuals and Their Rights (Open Court, 1989).

Murray, Charles A. In Pursuit of Happiness and Good Government (Simon and Schuster, 1988).

Rasmussen, Douglas B. and Den Uyl, Douglas J., Liberty and Nature (Open Court, 1991).

Rothbard, Murray N. For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, 2nd ed (Macmillan, 1978).

Reason. Editorial contact: 3415 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Suite 400, Los Angeles, CA 90034. Subscriptions: PO Box 526, Mt. Morris, IL 61054

Liberty. PO Box 1167, Port Townsend, WA 98368.

1202 N. Tenn. St., Suite 202 Cartersville, GA 30120

3415 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Suite 400, Los Angeles, CA 90034

1000 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20001-5403

938 Howard St. San Francisco, Suite 202, CA 94103

818 S. Grand Ave., Suite 202, Los Angeles, CA 90017

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The Libertarianism FAQ –

Universal Basic Income from a libertarian perspective – A …

In this article I’m going to consider Universal Basic Income (UBI) from a libertarian perspective, focusing mainly on analysis of the labour market, rather than the much more common libertarian “small state” argument in favour of UBI.

The crux of the article

The current labour market is terribly unfree as it is because it relies on coercion, workfare, sanctions, draconian anti-labour legislation etc.

The introduction of Universal Basic Income would would create a much freer labour market (no more threat of destitution, sanctions or forced labour schemes, and much freer labour contracts between employers and employees), but this increased freedom for the majority would come at the expense of necessary measures in order to control inflation (which would rapidly destroy the project if left unchecked).

The reduction in aggression against the majority of workers would outweigh the infringements on the current rights that rentiers have to exploit access to basic commodities in order to extract profit for themselves (which it can be argued is another form of aggression against the majority anyway).

What is libertarianism?

The origins of libertarianism can be traced to the 18th and 19th Century anarchist and and socialist movements in Europe, however it was quickly embraced and integrated into

One of the most famous left-libertarians was the American Henry George (1839-1897), who opposed rentierism, and argued in favour of Land Value Tax. Many Georgists have argued that the proceeds from Land Value Tax should be used to fund a citizens income, or Universal Basic Income.

Left-Libertarianism is not as famous as its rabid Ayn Rand inspired American cousin, but it is an increasingly popular political stance, and one which I personally embrace.

What is Universal Basic Income [Main article]

If you’re not fully versed on what Universal Basic Income (UBI) is, I suggest that you read my introductory article before coming back to finish this one. If you haven’t got time for that, or you are reasonably clued up about what UBI is, I’ll just provide a short summary.

UBI is an unconditional payment that is made to every qualifying individual within an economy. There is no means testing at all, other than determination that the individual is eligible (a citizen in the economy for example). Ideally the UBI is set at a rate which is sufficient to ensure that all recipients have access to basic human necessities (a home, sufficient food and water, basic energy needs …).

This concept is generally appealing to libertarians on a basic level because it dispenses with almost all forms of state means testing, meaning a smaller, and less obtrusive state. In this article I’m not going to focus on this compelling “smaller state” argument for UBI, in favour of considering the libertarian case for UBI from a labour market perspective.

What makes the current labour market so unfree?

Labour is a fundamentally important factor in any economy. Orthodox economic theories tends to treat labour as if it is just some other kind of basic commodity, however, if it is to be referred to as a commodity at all, it must be recognised as a very special and distinct form of commodity, one that can be created at will, and which takes myriad potential forms.

The neoclassical orthodoxy fails to treat the labour market as utterly different to other commodities markets and it also fails to recognise the unequal nature of the market in labour, where the employer at a huge advantage over the employee. There are innumerable factors that put the buyer at an advantage of the seller in the labour market, but perhaps the most significant is the creation of false abundance via political policies aimed at retaining a constant pool of unemployment, the “reserve army of unemployment” as Marx defined it in the 19th century, or the “price worth paying” as it was described by former Tory Chancellor Norman Lamont in 1991.

In 1918 Bertrand Russell argued against this inequality in the labour market, proposing a kind of basic income so “the dread of unemployment and loss of livelihood will no longer haunt men like a nightmare”.

The constant threat of destitution is a powerful means by which employers can drive down wages and working conditions, putting them at an unfair price advantage over the worker. If the scale of unemployment has been brought about via deliberate economic policies based on the equilibrium rate of unemployment, this is a clear case of the state trampling all over the libertarian non-aggression principle. If government policies result in your labour being coerced from you at a lower rate than you would be willing to sell it, solely because you fear destitution if you don’t work for low wages, you’re suffering aggression at the hands of the state. The spectre of unemployment and impoverishment created by economic policies aimed at maintaining “extra capacity” in the labour market is not the only current example of aggressive coercion in the labour market.

Workfare blatantly violates the libertarian non-aggression principle [Main article]

One of the starkest examples of a labour policy which violate the libertarian non-aggression principle is the kind of mandatory unpaid labour schemes for the unemployed collectively termed “Workfare”.

These schemes coerce the unemployed, under threat of absolute destitution, into giving up their labour for free, often to highly profitable corporations.

It’s bad enough that the state uses the threat of destitution (via welfare sanctions) to undermine the aggregate value of labour, but that ministers of the government openly declare that they believe that the state has “a right” to extract the labour of the individual for no wage at all, demonstrates an extremely illiberal attitude towards the labour rights of the individual.

These mandatory unpaid “Workfare” labour schemes demonstrate beyond doubt that the ministers involved in administering these schemes believe that the labour of the individual actually belongs to the state. If your government acts as if it believes that your labour is a commodity which belongs to the state, and which can be extracted and distributed for free to favoured corporations, the labour market isn’t just unfree, it is grotesquely authoritarian. How would UBI make the labour market freer?

If every individual received an unconditional basic income sufficient to meet their fundamental human needs (housing, food and water, energy, health care …) the threat of destitution would cease to necessitate people into accepting wages and working conditions they deem unfair.

An unconditional basic income would also render totally unworkable the draconian regime of “Workfare” labour extraction schemes enforced via draconian welfare sanctions regimes. If the individual has a right to an unconditional subsistence income, the state loses the power to coerce and intimidate the individual into giving up their labour for free with threats of destitution, starvation and homelessness.

Even if we accept the wrong-headed idea that labour is a basic commodity with a defined value (the national minimum wage for example), we have to accept that coerced unpaid labour represents theft, and a clear violation of the libertarian non-aggression principle. Universal Basic Income would render this form of theft by the state totally unworkable, because the state would have no right to revoke the unconditional incomes of those that won’t comply with their unpaid labour extraction schemes.

How a freer labour market could benefit society and the economy

I’ve explained a how UBI could benefit society and the economy in the primer article on the subject, so I’ll try to be concise here.

The free labour market that UBI would create if administered correctly, would benefit society by alleviating extreme poverty, which would lead to a fall in poverty related social problems such as crime and poverty related ill-health.

Another benefit to society would be that the existence of UBI would push up the cost of employing people to do undesirable jobs (disgusting, dangerous or debilitating work), meaning that in turn there would be much greater financial incentives for companies to invest in technology to automate such work. The development of technology to eliminate undesirable jobs would benefit society and the economy (fewer people working in undesirable jobs, greater demand for high-tech solutions).

UBI trials have shown that people generally don’t stop working and laze about once their basic necessities are provided, in fact UBI works as an economic stimulus, because people have more time to invest in starting their own businesses, and the public has more money to spend on consumption. The only demographics to substantially reduce the hours they work are mothers with young children and young people in education, it is arguable that these reductions are actually beneficial in socio-economic terms.

Why is controlling inflation so important?

Controlling price inflation would be absolutely crucial to the success of any Universal Basic Income project because without measures to stop the inflation of basic necessities (rent, utilities, food …) the gains that UBI would provide would soon be eroded away as price rises diminish the value of the basic income payment so that it is no longer sufficient to cover the basic costs of subsistence.

If inflation is allowed to run rampant, the benefits of Universal Basic Income would soon be transferred from the ordinary citizen that receives it, to the rentiers that take advantage by hiking the prices they charge for the provision of basic commodities and services.

Controlling Rentierism

If the rentiers are allowed free rein to profiteer from basic income provision, they will simply inflate their prices in order to soak up the entire value of basic income to cover the cost of some necessity of life (rent, transport, childcare, energy consumption). If the parasitic behaviour of rentiers is not controlled, all of the socio-economic benefits would soon be siphoned off as into the bank accounts of the most ruthlessly self-interested rent seekers. Essentially Universal Basic Income would turn into a government subsidisation scheme for the most ruthlessly self-interested, which is precisely the kind of system we have now, which is one of the main reasons people have been proposing the introduction of UBI in the first place.

The only practical way to stop this kind of rent seeking behaviour from destroying UBI would be to introduce some form of market regulation to prevent landlords, utilities companies, childcare providers and the like from massively inflating their prices in order to soak up the economic benefit of UBI for themselves.

There’s no such thing as a perfectly free-market economy

Anyone that believes that there is such a thing as a perfectly free market is living in the same cloud-cuckoo land as those that believe a totally state controlled economy is a possibility.

What is up for debate is how more market freedom can be created. The orthodox neoliberal would argue that greater market freedom is produced through deregulation, but the huge growth in inequality, the ever increasing size of economic crises and the rise of vast “too big to fail” oligopolies since the neoliberal craze of privatisation and deregulation became the economic orthodoxy in 1980s, suggests that they are wrong. Deregulation and privatisation have increased the freedoms of corporations and the super-rich at the expense of the majority, who have seen their share of national incomes eroded away dramatically since the late 1970s despite rising productivity.

Others might argue that the best way to stimulate market freedom is through the creation of a “fair market”, through carefully planned market regulation. Rules to prevent (and properly punish) anti-competitive practices such as price rigging, formation of oligopolies, monopolies and cartels, financial doping, insider trading, political patronage, front running, information asymmetry, dividing territories, corruption and outright fraud, would create a freer and safer market for individuals and small businesses, which would increase competition and efficiency, but at the cost of the freedoms of those that currently profit from the use of anti-competitive practices.

The same kind of debate can be had over the introduction of rules (rent caps, inflation controls on basic commodities and services … ) to prevent the rentier class form extracting the benefit of Universal Basic Income for themselves. The infringement of their “right” to gouge as much profit as possible out of basic commodities and services, would have to be weighed against the greater economic freedoms afforded to the majority.

Essentially it boils down to the question of which is the most important; freeing up the currently unfree labour market or the continuation of free market in the provision of fundamental commodities and services?

Providing more freedom in which of these markets would create the biggest increase in aggregate freedom, and which would be most compliant with the libertarian non-aggression principle? In my view the answer is obvious. The freedom of the majority outweighs the freedom of the minority.

Other libertarian arguments for UBI aside from the labour market analysis

Before I conclude I’d like to state that this labour market analysis is far from the only libertarian argument for the introduction of Universal Basic Income.

Other arguments include the most common “small state” argument because universal welfare would reduce the size of the state by reducing the number of functions of the state. Another argument can be made that since there would be no means testing, UBI would provide greater freedom from intrusion by the state into the private lives of the individual.

Perhaps the most compelling libertarian argument in favour of Universal Basic Income is that perhaps freedom from destitution in itself is the most important liberty, because without freedom from destitution the individual is often left facing either the suffering of destitution, or the suffering of wage slavery.


Labour is a fundamental element of any economy (be it capitalist, state socialist or anywhere in between). and an unfree market in labour is fundamentally incompatible with libertarianism.

If the deliberate economic policies of the political establishment in your country mean that your labour can be coerced from you at a lower rate than you would be willing to sell, simply because of the threat of absolute destitution, this is clearly an act of aggression on the part of the establishment.

If your government acts as if it believes that your labour is a commodity which actually belongs to the state, and can be extracted from you for no recompense at all, this is an even more vile example of state aggression.

The introduction of Universal Basic Income would put an end to both of these forms of labour market aggression, but in order for it to work measures to prevent rentiers from profiteering by inflating the prices they charge for basic human necessities would need to be introduced. Thus the debate is not over whether UBI is compatible with libertarianism (it clearly is) but whether the benefits from the greater freedoms in the labour market would outweigh the necessary losses in freedom of rentiers to profiteer from the provision of basic human needs, which would be necessary in order to prevent the whole project collapsing into inflationary chaos.

In my view the freedoms of the majority should outweigh the freedoms of the minority, and in any case, the current freedom to profiteer from the provision of basic human necessities that the rentier class enjoy can actually be viewed as a form of aggression in its own right. Why should the profits of the minority take precedence over the basic human needs of the majority?

Read more here:

Universal Basic Income from a libertarian perspective – A …

The Condition of Transgender Women … –

May 12, 2015 columns

Libertarians should oppose the states victimization of transgender people and help build a society safe for a diverse range of gender identities, argues Novak.

On all reasonable accounts, libertarianism should greatly appeal to transgender women.

Most fundamentally, libertarianism represents a set of philosophical dispositions firmly grounded in affirming the primacy of individual liberties. In his recent book, The Libertarian Mind, David Boaz powerfully describes the broad parameters of libertarian adherence to the freedom of the individual human being in the following way:

the basic unit of social analysis is the individual. Its hard to imagine how it could be anything else. Individuals are, in all cases, the source and foundation of creativity, activity, and society. Only individuals can think, love, pursue projects, act. Groups dont have plans or intentions. Only individuals are capable of choice, in the sense of anticipating the outcomes of alternative courses of action and weighing the consequences. Individuals, of course, often create and deliberate in groups, but it is the individual mind that ultimately makes choices. Most important, only individuals can take responsibility for their actions.

Irrespective of whether the key argumentative basis for individualism stresses selfownership of body, mind, and soul (Locke), or the virtues of diversity and flourishing associated with the development of the person (von Humboldt and Mill), libertarian philosophy should easily accommodate the aspirations and prerogatives of transgender women, and all other people subscribing to diverse gender identities, in seeking to live their lives as they see fit.

Further, libertarian acceptance for transwomen, transmen, and genderqueer people and, indeed, cisgender people (readers unfamiliar with the meaning of these, and similar, terms depicting gender diversities may wish to read this glossary) is not contingent upon whether there are biological or nonbiological bases of gender identity.

Respect for transwomen, and for others who wish to self identify and express diverse gender identities in numerous ways, should also not be contingent upon the numerical strength of varied groupings within society. Given the stigma attached to gender diversity, there remain limitations in our understandings of the exact numbers of transgender people; however, some surveys suggest that less than one per cent of the American adult population identify as transgender.

To put it simply, each and every individual should be free to choose, to act, and to be, regardless of reason or of numbers, for as long as the equal freedom of others to do the same is respected.

Aside from celebrating individual liberties, libertarianism ought to be more appealing to transwomen, and everyone for that matter, because of its principled antipathy, both in historical and contemporary terms, toward the exhaustion of individual freedoms by the state. Indeed, for a very long time, and certainly to this day, governments have demonstrated overt hostility towards transgender people, seeking to undermine their interests in pursuing their own lives in a dignified manner.

Attention has been increasingly drawn to the often highly detrimental effects of the policeprison industrial complex upon minority groupings, including transgender and other gender diverse people. In a recent contribution, Nathan Goodman noted the elevated levels of violence against incarcerated transgender people, particularly transwomen, arising from prison policies that house transwomen with cisgender men, a harmful practice compounded by instances of sexual abuse and physical violence perpetrated against inmates by corrections staff.

The treatment of transwoman Chelsea Manning, sentenced to be held captive by the state for 35 years on account of whistleblowing about US war crimes, is a case in point. Although her statecaptors recently afforded Manning hormonal treatment, they had denied her the appropriate medications for years in an obvious act of psychological torment. Chelsea Manning still remains incarcerated, in the presence of male prisoners, in spite of her selfidentification as a woman.

A disproportionate lack of access to formal labour markets, often as a result of discriminatory treatment by employers, can often lead transgender people into the forced situation (rather than heroic, antistatist choice lauded by some libertarians) of attaining incomes through the shadow economy. Ongoing state detection of activities, such as the provision of prostitution services and the sale of illicit drugs, where these are not legalised, can fairly readily bring forth instances in which transwomen come into contact with police and other lawenforcement agents, with the harassment, intimidation, and violence this all too often entails.

Transwomen have even been victimised by police profiling, as was the case for sex worker advocate Monica Jones, who was charged and found guilty of manifesting prostitution, or as it has infamously become known walking while trans, during an antiprostitution sting in Phoenix, Arizona. Incidentally, Ms Jones was deported from Australia, and subjected to sensationalist media coverage, on account of her Phoenix conviction which was later overturned on appeal.

In many countries around the world, including the United States, political institutions continue to suppress diverse gender identities by refusing to enable individuals to easily alter gender markers on identity documents. Altering gender markers (that is, conventionally, male or female) on official documentation is, for the largest part, entirely conditional on people having undertaken invasive, typically irreversible and almost always expensive gender affirmation surgical processes, or at least hormone therapies with equally significant physiological implications.

The reality is that for many transwomen, at least at a given point in their lifetimes, gender markers on government identification documents are inconsistent with the lived gender under which they undertake their daily routines and responsibilities, and this can give rise to unwarranted economic and social discrimination and exclusion. For example, employers usually require job applicants to furnish governmentprovided documents as proof of identity, and there is much anecdotal evidence suggesting they are likely to turn away prospective transgender employees when identity documents display gender markers appear not to accord with the everyday lived experiences (including presentation) of the applicant. As discussed by Dean Spade, the refusal of governments to enable individuals to easily alter gender markers on identity documents rests on the myth that transgender people do not exist. When ID issuing agencies refuse to change the gender marker on an ID, they are operating on the idea that birth-assigned gender should be permanent and no accommodation is necessary for those for whom such an assignment does not match their lived experience of gender.

These and other policies enacted, and enforced, by governments malevolently fit together to violate the liberties and rights of transwomen and other genderdiverse individuals, just like many other regulatory, and fiscal, policies are prone to do. And it is naive to conceive that certain legislative edicts purportedly designed to defend the interests of transgender people, and gays, lesbians, bisexuals, or intersex people, for that matter, such as antidiscriminationor hate crime laws, do much to greatly foster greater acceptance, respect, and tolerance for minorities.

Statist prejudice against transwomen in particular reinforces, and is reinforced by, complex and widespread forms of nonstate discrimination, harassment, and violence. Decentralised efforts to maintain gender conformism, perpetrated by vigilante acts by individuals or groups, underlined by derogatory stereotypes of gender variance in popular film, literature, and music, induce among transwomen and genderdiverse people limitations of movement, social isolation, the delaying or deterrence of gender selfexpression, and, at its worst, can lead to vulnerable, often young, people ending their own lives.

From a philosophical standpoint which behoves interactions among individuals imbibing the spirit of anything thats peaceful, libertarians can, and indeed ought to, play a very important role in rebuking the misguided and highly damaging acts by cisgender supremacists attempting to prevent individuals identifying and expressing their diverse gender identities. Redressing nonstate sources of transphobia through instances of bottomup social activism, including appealing to the common humanity that transwomen share with other people, would represent a befitting way to respond to the Leelah Alcorns plea in her suicide note to fix society.

Indeed, we should fervently celebrate the emergent social order which arises when transwomen, transmen, genderqueer, and other genderdiverse people free themselves from conventions and norms most amenable to cisgender existences, as Nick Cowen explained:

Polycentric orders offer choice: whether identifying as straight, gay, male, female or anything else. In this context, queer individuals take the role of social entrepreneurs, combining ways of living in new ways. The more successful or aesthetically-engaging lifestyles are further developed by others. Popular identities remain common but are not enforced through violence or legislation. Alternatives to existing sexualities are allowed to flourish. People are not bound by one abstract order, statutorily enforced, but are allowed to develop new orders that use and display our personalities in different ways.

As amply illustrated through its long and distinguished history, the philosophy of libertarianism represents a broader cast of mind seeking to enhance the life of each individual person, and to extend to them maximum respect for their dignity, freedom, and individuality. Clearly, this must incorporate the dignity, freedom, and individuality inherent in the ways in which people identity with, and express, their gender identity, if libertarianism is to maintain relevance and meaning to the lives of each and every human being.

Mikayla Novak contributes to a group column on libertarian feminism along with Sharon Presley, Elizabeth Nolan Brown, and Helen Dale.

Novak is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs, an Australian freemarket think tank, and has a PhD in economics. She is interested in how libertarian feminism concerns relate to how market processes and civil societal actions satisfactorily accommodate individual womens preferences, in a variety of ways.

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The Condition of Transgender Women … –

Libertarianism and Objectivism – Wikipedia, the free …

Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism has been and continues to be a major influence on the libertarian movement, particularly in the United States. Many libertarians justify their political views using aspects of Objectivism.[1] However, the views of Rand and her philosophy among prominent libertarians are mixed and many Objectivists are hostile to non-Objectivist libertarians in general.[2]

Some libertarians, including Murray Rothbard and Walter Block, hold the view that the non-aggression principle is an irreducible concept: it is not the logical result of any given ethical philosophy but, rather, is self-evident as any other axiom is. Rand, too, argued that liberty was a precondition of virtuous conduct,[3] but argued that her non-aggression principle itself derived from a complex set of previous knowledge and values. For this reason, Objectivists refer to the non-aggression principle as such, while libertarians who agree with Rothbard’s argument call it “the non-aggression axiom.” Rothbard and other anarcho-capitalists hold that government requires non-voluntary taxation to function and that in all known historical cases, the state was established by force rather than social contract.[4] They thus consider the establishment and maintenance of the night-watchman state supported by Objectivists to be in violation of the non-aggression principle. On the other hand, Rand believes that government can in principle be funded through voluntary means.[5]

Jennifer Burns in her biography Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, notes how Rand’s position that “Native Americans were savages”, and that as a result “European colonists had a right to seize their land because native tribes did not recognize individual rights”, was one of the views that “particularly outraged libertarians.”[6] Burns also notes how Rand’s position that “Palestinians had no rights and that it was moral to support Israel, the sole outpost of civilization in a region ruled by barbarism”, was also a controversial position amongst libertarians, who at the time were a large portion of Rand’s fan base.[6]

Libertarians and Objectivists often disagree about matters of foreign policy. Rand’s rejection of what she deemed to be “primitivism” extended to the Middle East peace process in the 1970s.[6][7] Following the Arab-Israeli War of 1973, Rand denounced Arabs as “primitive” and “one of the least developed cultures” who “are typically nomads.”[7] Consequently, Rand contended Arab resentment for Israel was a result of the Jewish state being “the sole beachhead of modern science and civilization on their (Arabs) continent”, while decreeing that “when you have civilized men fighting savages, you support the civilized men, no matter who they are.”[7] Many libertarians were highly critical of Israeli government at the time.[citation needed]

Most scholars of the libertarian Cato Institute have opposed military intervention against Iran,[8] while the Objectivist Ayn Rand Institute has supported forceful intervention in Iran.[9][10]

The United States Libertarian Party’s first candidate for president of the United States, John Hospers, credited Rand as a major force in shaping his own political beliefs.[11]David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, an American libertarian think tank, described Rand’s work as “squarely within the libertarian tradition” and that some libertarians are put off by “the starkness of her presentation and by her cult following.”[12]Milton Friedman described Rand as “an utterly intolerant and dogmatic person who did a great deal of good.”[13] One Rand biographer quoted Murray Rothbard as saying that he was “in agreement basically with all [Rand’s] philosophy,” and saying that it was Rand who had “convinced him of the theory of natural rights…”[14] Rothbard would later become a particularly harsh critic of Rand, writing in The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult that:

The major lesson of the history of the [objectivist] movement to libertarians is that It Can Happen Here, that libertarians, despite explicit devotion to reason and individuality, are not exempt from the mystical and totalitarian cultism that pervades other ideological as well as religious movements. Hopefully, libertarians, once bitten by the virus, may now prove immune.[15]

Some Objectivists have argued that Objectivism is not limited to Rand’s own positions on philosophical issues and are willing to work with and identify with the libertarian movement. This stance is most clearly identified with David Kelley (who separated from the Ayn Rand Institute because of disagreements over the relationship between Objectivists and libertarians), Chris Sciabarra, Barbara Branden (Nathaniel Branden’s former wife), and others. Kelley’s Atlas Society has focused on building a closer relationship between “open Objectivists” and the libertarian movement.[citation needed]

Rand condemned libertarianism as being a greater threat to freedom and capitalism than both modern liberalism and conservatism.[16] Rand regarded Objectivism as an integrated philosophical system. Libertarianism, in contrast, is a political philosophy which confines its attention to matters of public policy. For example, Objectivism argues positions in metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, whereas libertarianism does not address such questions. Rand believed that political advocacy could not succeed without addressing what she saw as its methodological prerequisites. Rand rejected any affiliation with the libertarian movement and many other Objectivists have done so as well.[17]

Rand said of libertarians that:

They’re not defenders of capitalism. They’re a group of publicity seekers…. Most of them are my enemies… I’ve read nothing by Libertarians (when I read them, in the early years) that wasn’t my ideas badly mishandledi.e., the teeth pulled out of themwith no credit given.”[16]

In a 1981 interview, Rand described libertarians as “a monstrous, disgusting bunch of people” who “plagiarize my ideas when that fits their purpose.”[16]

Responding to a question about the Libertarian Party in 1976, Rand said:

The trouble with the world today is philosophical: only the right philosophy can save us. But this party plagiarizes some of my ideas, mixes them with the exact oppositewith religionists, anarchists and every intellectual misfit and scum they can findand call themselves libertarians and run for office.”[18]

In 2011, Yaron Brook, president of the Ayn Rand Institute, spoke at the Foundation for Economic Education.[19] He was a keynote speaker at FreedomFest 2012.[20] He appeared on ReasonTV on July 26, 2012.[21]

Ayn Rand Institute board member John Allison spoke at the Cato Club 200 Retreat in September 2012,[22] contributed “The Real Causes of the Financial Crisis” to Cato’s Letter,[23] and spoke at Cato’s Monetary Conference in November, 2011.[24]

On June 25, 2012, the Cato Institute announced that John Allison would become its next president.[25] In Cato’s public announcement, Allison was described as a “revered libertarian.” In communication to Cato employees, he wrote, “I believe almost all the name calling between libertarians and objectivists is irrational. I have come to appreciate that all objectivists are libertarians, but not all libertarians are objectivists.”[26]

On October 15, 2012, Brook explained the changes to The American Conservative:

I dont think theres been a significant change in terms of our attitude towards libertarians. Two things have happened. Weve grown, and weve gotten to a size where we dont just do educational programs, we do a lot more outreach and a lot more policy and working with other organizations. I also believe the libertarian movement has changed. Its become less influenced by Rothbard, less influenced by the anarchist, crazy for lack of a better word, wing of libertarianism. As a consequence, because were bigger and doing more things and because libertarianism has become more reasonable, we are doing more work with them than we have in the past. But I dont think ideologically anything of substance has changed at the Institute.[27]

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Libertarianism and Objectivism – Wikipedia, the free …

What is Libertarianism? definition and meaning

Philosophical principle that suggests that a government’s involvement in civil economical and social matters should be limited, and that the issues should be settled amongst civilians. Libertarianism seeks to provide free-will participants the ability to make decisive decisions without the government determining or influencing the outcome, as long as it does not harm other individuals. Libertarianism is based off the belief that each individual owns every aspect of their lives and thus should have the ability to control it. Libertarians strongly believe that through these shared principles, they are able to establish a more fruitful and peaceful society. Libertarianism traces its roots back to the early 1890s as societies tried to escape anti-anarchist laws in France.

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What is Libertarianism? definition and meaning

Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know

Historically, Americans have seen libertarians as far outside the mainstream, but with the rise of the Tea Party movement, libertarian principles have risen to the forefront of Republican politics. But libertarianism is more than the philosophy of individual freedom and unfettered markets that Republicans have embraced. Indeed, as Jason Brennan points out, libertarianism is a quite different–and far richer–system of thought than most of us suspect.

In this timely new entry in Oxford’s acclaimed series What Everyone Needs to Know, Brennan offers a nuanced portrait of libertarianism, proceeding through a series of questions to illuminate the essential elements of libertarianism and the problems the philosophy addresses, including such topics as the Value of Liberty, Human Nature and Ethics, Economic Liberty, Civil Rights, Social Justice and the Poor, Government and Democracy, and Contemporary Politics. Brennan asks the most fundamental and challenging questions: What do Libertarians think liberty is? Do libertarians think everyone should be selfish? Are libertarians just out to protect the interests of big business? What do libertarians think we should do about racial injustice? What would libertarians do about pollution? Are Tea Party activists true libertarians? As he sheds light on libertarian beliefs, Brennan overturns numerous misconceptions. Libertarianism is not about simple-minded paranoia about government, he writes. Rather, it celebrates the ideal of peaceful cooperation among free and equal people. Libertarians believe that the rich always capture political power; they want to minimize the power available to them in order to protect the weak. Brennan argues that libertarians are, in fact, animated by benevolence and a deep concern for the poor.

Clear, concise, and incisively written, this volume explains a vitally important philosophy in American history–and a potent force in contemporary politics.

What Everyone Needs to Know is a registered trademark of Oxford University Press.

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Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know

International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology: Libertarianism

This essay first appeared in the International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology, edited by Jens Beckert and Milan Zafirovski (London and New York: Routledge, 2006, pp. 403-407). It was posted as a Notablog entry on 5 January 2006. Comments welcome (post here).

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By Chris Matthew Sciabarra

Libertarianism is the political ideology ofvoluntarism, a commitment to voluntary action in a social context, where no individual or group of individuals can initiate the use of force against others. It is not a monolithic ideological paradigm; rather, it signifies a variety of approaches that celebrate therule of law and the free exchange of goods, services, and ideas a laissez-faire attitude towards what philosopher Robert Nozick (1974) once called capitalist acts between consenting adults.

Modern libertarians draw inspiration from writings attributed to the Chinese sage Lao Tzu, as well as the works of Aristotle, among the ancients; [seventeenth-,] eighteenth- and nineteenth-century classicalliberalism (e.g. John Locke, the Scottish Enlightenment, the American founders, Carl Menger, andHerbert Spencer); individualist anarchism (e.g. Benjamin Tucker and Lysander Spooner); Old Right opponents of Franklin D. Roosevelts New Deal (e.g. Albert Jay Nock, John T. Flynn, Isabel Paterson andH. L. Mencken); modern Austrian economics (e.g. Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek and Murray Rothbard), as well as the economics of the Chicago school(Milton Friedman) and Virginia school (James Buchanan); and the Objectivist philosopherAyn Rand.

Classical liberalism is the most immediatepredecessor of contemporary libertarianism. Locke and the American founders had an impact on those libertarians, such as Rothbard and Rand, who stress individual rights, while the Scottish Enlightenment and Spencer had a major impact on thinkerssuch as Hayek, who stress the evolutionary wisdom of customs and traditions in contradistinctionto the constructivist rationalism of state planners.

Among evolutionists, Spencer in particularmade important contributions to what would become known as general systems theory; some consider him to be the founder of modern sociology. Indeed, he authored Principles of Sociology and TheStudy of Sociology, which was the textbook used for the first sociology course offered in the United States, at Yale University. A contemporary of Charles Darwin, he focused on social evolution the development of societies and organizational structuresfrom simple to compound forms. In such works as The Man Versus the State, he presented a conception of society as a spontaneous, integrated growth and not amanufacture, an organically evolving context for the development of heterogeneity and differentiation among the individuals who compose it. Just as Spencer emphasized organic social evolution, so too did he focus on the organic evolution of the state with its mutually reinforcing reliance onbureaucracy and militarism, and how it might be overcome.

The Austrian-born Carl Menger, a founder along with W. S. Jevons and Lon Walras of the marginalist revolution in economics, held a similar view of social life as a dynamic, spontaneous, evolving process. Influenced by Aristotle in his methodological individualism, Menger wasfervently opposed to the historical relativism of the German historicists of the Methodenstreit. Menger focused on the purposeful actions of individuals in generating unintended sociologicalconsequences a host of institutions, such as language, religion, law, the state, markets, competition and money.

In the twentieth century, the Nobel laureate Austrian economist F. A. Hayek carried on Mengers evolutionist discussion and praised it for providing outstanding guidelines for general sociology. For Hayek (1991), Menger was among the Darwinians before Darwin those evolutionists,such as the conservative Edmund Burke and the liberals of the Scottish Enlightenment, who stressed the evolution of institutions as the product of unintended consequences, rather than deliberate design. Hayek drew a direct parallel between hisown concept of spontaneous order and Adam Smiths notion of the invisible hand. Hayek argued that, over time, there is a competition among various emergent traditions, each of which embodies rivalrules of action and perception. Through a process of natural selection, those rules and institutions that are more durable than others will tend to flourish, resulting in a relative increase in population and wealth. Though he didnt argue for a theory of inevitable progress, as Spencer had, heclearly assumed that liberalism was the social system most conducive to such flourishing.

Like Karl Marx, Hayek criticized utopiansfor their desire to construct social institutions as if from an Archimedean standpoint, external to history and culture. But Hayek turned this analysis on Marx; he developed a full-fledged critique of socialism and central planning as utopian requiring an unattainable synoptic knowledge of all the articulated and tacit dimensions of social life. Hayek argued that market prices were indispensable to rational entrepreneurial calculation. He also focused on the sociological and psychological ramifications of the movement away from markets. He maintains in The Road to Serfdom (1944), for example, that there is a structural connection between social psychology and politics: to the extent that the stateimposes collectivist arrangements on individuals, it is destructive of individualchoice, morals and responsibility, and this destruction of individualism reinforces the spread of statism. And the more the state comes to dominate social life, says Hayek, the more state power will be the only power worth having which is why theworst get on top.

The Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises was similarly opposed to statism and collectivism, and presented, in [1922], an influential book entitled Socialism, which was an economic and sociological analysis of all forms of state intervention from fascism to communism. Mises used the tools of praxeology, the science of humanaction, to demonstrate the calculational problems that all non-market systems face, due to their elimination of private property, entrepreneurialism and the price system. More important, perhaps, is Misess development of a non-Marxist, libertarian theoryof class. Like Charles Dunoyer, Charles Comte, James Mill and other classical liberals, Mises argued that traders on the market share a mutuality of benefit that is destroyed by political intervention. For Mises, the long-term interests of marketparticipants are not in fundamental conflict. It is only with government action that such conflict becomes possible, Mises claims,because it is only government that can create a caste system based on the bestowal of special privileges.

Mises located the central caste conflictin the financial sector of the economy. In such books as The Theory of Money and Credit, he contends that government control over money and banking led to the cycle of boom and bust. A systematicincrease in the money supply creates differentialeffects over time, redistributing wealth to those social groups, especially banks and debtor industries, which are the first beneficiaries of the inflation.

Mises student, Murray Rothbard, developed this theory of caste conflict into a full-fledged libertarian class analysis. Rothbard views central banking as a cartelizing device that has created a powerful structure of class privilege in modern political economy. These privileges growexponentially as government restricts market competition and free entry, thereby creating monopoly through various coercive means (e.g. compulsory cartelization, price controls, output quotas, licensing, tariffs, immigration restrictions, labourlaws, conscription, patents, franchises, etc.).

Rothbards view of the relationship between big business and government in the rise of American statism draws additionally from the work of New Left historical revisionists, such as Gabriel Kolko andJames Weinstein. These historians held that big business was at the forefront of the movement towards government regulation of the market. That movement, according to Rothbard, had both a domestic and foreigncomponent, since it often entailed both domestic regulation and foreign imperialism to secure global markets. The creation of a welfare-warfare state leads necessarily to economic inefficiencies and deep distortions in the structure of production. Like Marx, Rothbard views these internal contradictions as potentially fatal to the economic system; unlike Marx, Rothbard blames these contradictions not on the free market, but on the growth of statism.

Drawing inspiration from Franz Oppenheimers and Albert Jay Nocks distinction between state power and social power, or state and market, and from John C. Calhouns class theory, as presented in Disquisition on Government, Rothbard sawsociety fragmenting, ultimately, into two opposing classes: taxpayers and tax-consumers. In his book Power and Market, Rothbard identifies bureaucrats, politicians and the net beneficiaries of government privilege as among the tax-consumers. Unlike his Austrian predecessors Hayek andMises, however, Rothbard argues that it is only with the elimination of the state that a fully just and productive society can emerge. His anarcho-capitalist ideal society would end the states monopoly on the coercive use of force, as well as taxation and conscription, and allow for the emergence of contractual agencies for the protectionof fully delineated private property rights (thereby resolving the problems of externalities and public goods) and the adjudication of disputes. His scenario had a major impact on Nozick, whose Anarchy,State, and Utopia was written in response to the Rothbardian anarchist challenge.

Ayn Rand, the Russian-born novelist and philosopher, author of best-selling novels TheFountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, was one of those who eschewed the libertarian label, partially because of its association with anarchism. An epistemological realist, ethical egoist and advocate of laissez-faire capitalism, Rand maintained that libertarians had focused too much attention on politics to the exclusion of the philosophical and cultural factors upon which it depended. But even though she saw politics as hierarchically dependent on these factors, she often stressed the reciprocal relationships among disparate elements, from politicsand pedagogy to sex, economics and psychology. She sought to transcend the dualities of mind and body, reason and emotion, theory and practice, fact and value, morality and prudence, and theconventional philosophic dichotomies of materialism and idealism, rationalism and empiricism, subjectivism and classical objectivism (which she called intrinsicism). Yet, despite her protestations, Rand can be placed in the libertarian tradition, given her adherence to its voluntarist political credo.

From the perspective of social theory, Rand proposed a multi-level sociological analysis of human relations under statism. Echoing the Austrian critique of state intervention in her analysis of politics and economics, Rand extended her critique toencompass epistemology, psychology, ethics and culture. She argued that statism both nourished and depended upon an irrational altruist and collectivist ethos that demanded the sacrifice of the individual to the group. It required and perpetuated a psychology of dependence and a groupmentality that was destructive of individual authenticity, integrity, honesty and responsibility. Rand also focused on the cultural preconditions and effects of statism since coercive social relations required fundamental alterations in the nature of language, education, pedagogy, aesthetics and ideology. Just as relations of power operatethrough ethical, psychological, cultural, political and economic dimensions, so too, for Rand, the struggle for freedom and individualism depends upon a certain constellation of moral, psychological, cultural and structural factors that support it. Randadvocated capitalism, the unknown ideal, as the only system capable of generating just social conditions, conducive to the individuals survival and flourishing.

See also: inflation; laissez faire; monopolyand oligopoly.

References and further reading

Calhoun, John C. ([1853]1953) A Disquisition onGovernment and Selections from the Discourse on the Constitution and Government of the United States, Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill.

Hayek, F. A. (1944) The Road to Serfdom, Chicago:University of Chicago Press.

(1991) The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek,Volume 3: The Trend of Economic Thinking: Essays on Political Economists and Economic History, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mises, Ludwig von ([1912]1981) The Theory ofMoney and Credit, Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Classics.

(1936) Socialism: An Economic and SociologicalAnalysis, London: Jonathan Cape.

Nozick, Robert (1974) Anarchy, State, and Utopia,New York: Basic Books.

Rand, Ayn (1967) Capitalism: The UnknownIdeal, New York: New American Library.

Rothbard, Murray ([1970]1977) Power and Market:Government and the Economy, Kansas City, MO: Sheed Andrews and McMeel.

(1978) For a New Liberty: The LibertarianManifesto, revised edition, New York: Collier Books.

Sciabarra, Chris Matthew (1995) Ayn Rand: TheRussian Radical, University Park, PA: PennsylvaniaState University Press.

(1995) Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, Albany,NY: State University of New York Press.

(2000) Total Freedom: Toward a DialecticalLibertarianism, University Park, PA: PennsylvaniaState University Press.

Spencer, Herbert (1873) The Study of Sociology,New York: D. Appleton.

(188298) The Principles of Sociology, threevolumes, London: Williams and Norgate.

([1940]1981) The Man Versus the State, withSix Essays on Government, Society, and Freedom, Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Classics.


______ Note: [bracketed words] above are corrections to online version


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International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology: Libertarianism

LIBERTARIANISM 101 – The Advocates for Self-Government

Your Way to Freedom, Abundance, Peace, and Justice

Libertarianism is, as the name implies, the belief in liberty. Libertarians strive for the best of all worlds a free, peaceful, abundant world where each individual has the maximum opportunity to pursue his or her dreams and to realize his full potential.

The core idea is simply stated, but profound and far-reaching in its implications. Libertarians believe that each person owns his or her own life and property, and has the right to make his own choices as to how he lives his life and uses his property as long as he simply respects the equal right of others to do the same.

Another way of saying this is that libertarians believe you should be free to do as you choose with your own life and property, as long as you dont harm the person or property of others.

Libertarianism is thus the combination of liberty (the freedom to live your life in any peaceful way you choose), responsibility (the prohibition against the use of force against others, except in defense) and tolerance (honoring and respecting the peaceful choices of others).

Libertarians believe that this combination of personal and economic liberty produces abundance, peace, harmony, creativity, order and safety. Indeed, that is one of the central lessons of world history. Virtually all the progress the human race has enjoyed during the past few centuries is due to the increasing acceptance of these principles. But we are still far from a truly libertarian world. Libertarians believe we would see far more progress, abundance and happiness if the ideas of liberty were fully accepted and allowed to work their miracles.

Our goal as libertarians is to bring liberty to the world, so that these humane and proven ideas can be put into action. This will make our world a far better place for all people.

If this interests you, please explore the material at this site. Evaluate these ideas. Kick their tires and take them for an intellectual test drive.

We hope you will join us in embracing this ideal and in taking a stand to personally help bring about a world of liberty, abundance and peace.

Theres more than just left or right.

Libertarians offer you a better choice than just left or right. The libertarian way gives you more choices, in politics, in business, your personal life. Libertarians advocate both personal and economic liberty. Todays liberals like personal liberty but want government to control your economic affairs. Conservatives reverse that, advocating more economic freedom but wanting to clamp down on your private life.

Libertarian positions on the issues are neither left nor right, nor a combination of the two. Libertarians believe that, on every issue, you have the right to decide for yourself whats best for you and to act on that belief as long as you respect the right of other people to do the same and deal with them peacefully and honestly.

In a sense, true conservatives tend to be libertarian on most economic issues, and true liberals tend to be libertarian on most social issues. Libertarians call for freedom across the board, on both economics and social issues, coupled with a foreign policy of peace as described by Thomas Jefferson:Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations entangling alliances with none.

Libertarianism offers the opportunity to go beyond the stale left versus right debate and embrace liberty on every issue.

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LIBERTARIANISM 101 – The Advocates for Self-Government