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One of the more pretentious political self-descriptions is “Libertarian.” People think it puts them above the fray. It sounds fashionable, and to the uninitiated, faintly dangerous. Actually, it’s just one more bullshit political philosophy.
George Carlin[1]

Libertarianism is, at its simplest, the antonym of authoritarianism.[2] The term has been around since the beginning of the 20th century or earlier and was primarily used for self-identification with anarcho-syndicalism and labor movements. In the USA, the term was adopted by the Foundation for Economic Education think tank in the 1950's[3] to describe a political and social philosophy that advocates laissez-faire capitalism as a panacea for virtually everything. Non-libertarians view this as synonymous with oligarchic plutocracy after the fashion of the American Gilded Age, while the reality-based community tends to realize that one cannot just yank economic theories out of the air and magically expect them to work.

This anti-government phenomenon is found primarily in the United States, likely due to Americans' extensive experience with dysfunctional government, coupled with their unawareness of the existence of other countries. Historically, and almost everywhere other than America still today, the term has been associated with libertarian socialism and anarchism. The adoption of the libertarian label by advocates of free market economics is an ironic example of their tendency to take credit for other people's ideas.

The US political party most aligned with libertarianism is the Libertarian Party, "America's Third Largest Party,"[4] whose candidate obtained 4.5 million, or 3.27 percent, of the vote in the 2016 Presidential election.[5] This total was greater than their 1 million vote (0.99%) of the popular vote in the 2012 Presidential election.[6] and 0.32% of the popular vote[7] in the 2004 Presidential election.

There is also an "Objectivist Party," formed as a spin-off from the Libertarian Party by those who thought that the party's 2008 presidential candidate, Bob Barr, was too left-wing,[8] and a Boston Tea Party (no connection other than ideological to that other tea party) formed as a spin-off by those who thought the Libertarian Party had become too right-wing on foreign policy and civil liberties after the LP deleted much of its platform in 2006.

Critical definition[edit]

The Nolan chart. Libertarians are, naturally, at the top; the exact opposite of Hitler.[9][10]
Basically everyone agrees with libertarians on something, but they tend to get freaked out just as quickly by the ideology’s other stances.
—Seth Masket[11]

The dominant form of libertarianism (as found in the US) is an ideology based largely on Austrian school economics, which relies on axioms, rather than empirical analysis to inform economic and social policy. That said, the branch of libertarianism that has had the most success in influencing public policy is primarily informed by the Chicago school.

Proponents of libertarianism frequently cite the "Non-Aggression Principle" (NAP) as the moral basis of their ideology. The NAP states that everyone is free to do whatever they want with their lives and property, so long as it does not directly interfere with the freedom of others to do the same. Under this rule, you may only use "force" in response to prior inappropriate force against the life and/or property of yourself or others. Compare and contrast with John Stuart Mill's "The Harm Principle." The critical difference between the two is that libertarians completely oppose the preemptive use of force. By contrast, Mill and other classical liberals believe that the preemptive use of force to prevent likely future harm can be justified.

Under any logical scrutiny it becomes evident that the precise definition of aggression is highly subjective and supposes a strict libertarian definition of property.[12] The NAP can therefore be used in almost any way its user intends, by changing the definition of aggression to suit their particular opinion/agenda. For example, throwing someone in prison for massive tax evasion is seen as an act of aggression by the state, whereas selling someone cigarettes knowing they will kill that person is not seen as aggression.

View of Government[edit]

Libertarians secretly worry that ultimately someone will figure out that the whole of their political philosophy boils down to "get off my property". News flash: This is not really a big secret to the rest of us.
—John Scalzi[13]

Libertarians believe that government is the largest, and perhaps the only, threat to the freedom of an individual. For this reason, they are closely associated with opposition to gun control, government surveillance, entitlements, and prohibitory drug policy.

The primary functions of government that most (emphasis most) libertarians allow are:

  • Civil courts to handle contract disputes (including fraud) and to handle suits of harm (such as dumping of hazardous chemicals on your land; as opposed to dumping hazardous chemicals on public land, which isn't an issue for libertarians).
  • Criminal courts and (sometimes) a prison system.
  • A police force.
  • An army.

As one moves down the spectrum towards the extremes, more and more things normally handled by the police and criminal courts are instead handled by civil courts, and eventually even the civil courts are privatized.[14]

Libertarians oppose most forms of taxation (as taxes are "theft of property by force"), and any function of government outside of a small wish list of things they like. Additionally, they are against the use of taxes to deal with externalities, commons, or free rider problems. Their most common remedy for these problems involve the use of civil suits to deal with (negative) externalities, and the privatization of all commons, which allows for civil suits to handle harms to this "private" property. Of course, these answers are woefully inadequate in practice.[15]

Libertarians advocate extensive individual rights - a logical consequence of their core beliefs. Libertarians advocate a society where "anything that's peaceful and voluntary" is allowed so long as it does not infringe on anyone else's life, liberty, or property, or engender force or fraud. However, the exact nature of a right as "positive" or "negative" differs among libertarians. For example, one might say smoking in public is a personal liberty that affects nobody, whereas another would say it forces second-hand smoke upon those around them, interfering with their own right to not inhale smoke (note that most libertarians who are fed their talking points from think tanks fall into the former category thanks to second-hand smoke denialism).

The libertarian belief against the prior use of force also extends into foreign policy. This is sometimes referred to as a "non-interventionist" foreign policy. Most of them are not pacifists, however; they strongly promote the concept of self-defense, and usually accept national defense as one of the few legitimate functions of government.

Political Outlook[edit]

Despite (or maybe because of) their extreme reverence for the United States Constitution (particularly an originalist reading of the Bill of Rights), libertarians are rarely elected to office. Cynics have suggested that refusal to provide adequate pork for their district hurts their chances in congressional elections. Other cynics point out that if they don't win an election in the first place, how can their "porcine provision" skills be tested?

The narrow usage of "libertarian" as a label is also a cause, as some who take "moderate libertarian" positions are frequently called a "free-market liberal/Democrat" or a "pro-____ rights conservative/Republican" - or even derisive epithets like "libt kiddies."


Ayn Rand, Rand Paul and Paul Ryan walk into a bar. The bartender serves them tainted alcohol because there are no regulations. They die.
—Miss O'Kistic[16]

Many libertarians found the political philosophy through one of a small number of influential fiction books. The works of novelist Ayn Rand (The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged) and Robert Heinlein (The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress) are often cited. For example, many libertarians in the United States might quote Rand's Atlas Shrugged when they speak of government:

The only proper functions of a government are: the police, to protect you from criminals; the army, to protect you from foreign invaders; and the courts, to protect your property and contracts from breach or fraud by others, to settle disputes by rational rules, according to objective law.
—Galt Speech,[17] Atlas Shrugged

Not that confusing, right?

Other libertarians may point to such works of non-fiction as Libertarianism in One Lesson by David Bergland, which posit a clear set of axioms and then delineate how society might follow them and how it would be best for everyone.

Many libertarians claim to be descendants of "classical liberals" (hence their irritating line about "Who are the real liberals?") though many "classical liberals" were decidedly more moderate than the current U.S. libertarian movement in that they were willing to accept more government regulations and taxes.[18] In light of this, modern libertarianism can be better described as a radical offshoot of classical liberalism.

Internet libertarians have been compared to teenagers through the use of the argumentum ad cellarium fallacy. As an anonymous commenter on Charlie Stross's Bitcoin rant put it, their concerns precisely mirror those of privileged teenagers:[19]

And if you grow up in your parent's [sic] basement, then you are shaped by an environment where the fundamental constraints on what you want to do are shaped neither by scarcity nor malignance, but by genuine good intent. Your relatives probably don't want you to spend all day smoking pot and playing video games; in some cases they will over-estimate just how much of a bad thing that is. And even if they are right, it's not like anyone facing such hectoring is going to admit it.

Pretty much every libertarian position can be understood in that frame of restrictive but benevolent authority being the root of all 'real' problems. It's a rare parent who literally tortures their kids, so torture is, at best, not a 'real' issue, not a priority. But many make them do stuff for their health, so mandatory health insurance is a big deal. Pretty much no parents kill their child with drones, many read their diaries. And so on.

So to libertarians, Bitcoin is like wages from a fast food job as opposed to an allowance; lets you buy what you want without someone else having a veto. Only money that doesn't judge you can be considered entirely yours...

Arguments against strict libertarianism[edit]

While a preference for maximum personal freedom is pretty much universal throughout most of the political spectrum (though less so on the fringes), libertarianism presents several difficulties:

Philosophical problems[edit]

  • Strict libertarianism relies on the distinction between positive and negative liberties, a distinction which is not universally accepted by philosophers.[20]
  • Libertarians generally split into those who hold their views on utilitarian grounds and those who base their philosophy on natural rights. Those rights usually include John Locke's "life, liberty, and property." This group is just as accurately called propertarians. While these rights are in principle also affirmed by many non-libertarians, raising "property" to the same inviolable status as "life" causes some problems: a sweeping interpretation would denounce all taxation as illegitimate expropriation, making it impossible to finance even the most essential public services.
  • For similar reasons, libertarianism is a circular argument. Libertarians speak of "property" and "contract," as if these legal ideas somehow had meaning in the absence of law. Law is what matures mere possession or occupancy into "property". It's what allows your right to your dwelling to persist even when you leave it. These rights must be recognized by the consensus of local society to exist. The process that creates that consensus is a government, whether it's arrived at formally with pomp and circumstance by legislators and kings, or the result of an ad hoc discussion around the campfire. That consensus may be expressed more or less formally, but it necessarily includes definitions and limits.
  • In fact, ignoring the existence of national sovereignty and international trade (property and contracts outside the rule of an overarching government), property has always been the creation of a lawmaker, and therefore some sort of a government. Much valuable wealth in civilized countries takes the form of such things as publicly traded stock and "intellectual property." The more important property rights are, the likelier they are to be embodied in legal documents like deeds, title documents, and statements of account. The market for real estate would be much less efficient without deeds registered at a government office that showed who owned what. Law called all of these things into being. The same holds true of contracts.
  • The aforementioned "Non-Aggression Principle" isn't quite as clear as many libertarians make it sound. Libertarians support force to hold up a system of property, a system which required force to be created (ask any indigenous person in a European-colonized country) and requires force to be maintained. Take fraud, for example. If a man is found to have lied to his health insurance company about a pre-existing condition, the police (in libertarian parlance, "Men with Guns") will use force against him. Libertarians call this "retaliatory force" and frame the acts by the sick man as initiating force which makes for a nice game of mental gymnastics.[21] Note that you may not use the same rationalizations to frame racism, or sexism, or union-smashing as force, (and their solutions as retaliatory force) since those are things libertarians are okay with.

Hidden and uncountable costs[edit]

  • In a strict libertarian world with no welfare programs, people with disabilities that rendered them unable to work or unemployable who did not have families or a benefactor willing to support them financially would essentially be doomed to starve to death, become a prostitute, or turn to theft and drug dealing for survival. As automation, globalization and artificial intelligence continue to make more people unemployable and labor less valuable, entire swaths of the population will essentially have to choose between death and debt slavery. Unemployed parents would not be able to keep their children and would have to allow wealthy people to e̶n̶s̶l̶a̶v̶e̶ adopt them if they couldn't make a livable wage.
  • No matter how many whine about it, governmental regulation often corrects problems that an unregulated free market could not. One example is health care regulations, such as enforcing credentialing for physicians to ensure they're not some self-certified nut in a lab coat; making sure pharmaceuticals have the ingredients they say they do and are relatively safe, AND that they work as intended; and ERs being required to treat people regardless of their ability to pay. Another is related to public health: how would consumers be able to determine which food vendors would be safe (and therefore, want to exchange capital with) in a festival experiencing bacterial contamination?[22] And why should businesses take on the risk of preventing epidemics?[23] Many libertarians don't have a coherent answer for what to do to correct these problems in a free market; they simply insist that "competition" will solve the problems, or at least make them inconsequential.
  • To many libertarians, environmental damage is just a cost of doing business.[24][25] Regulations to stop or correct for negative externalities caused by private companies are seen as "anti-business." Environmentalists are the new socialists.[26] Apparently, not even disastrous economic catastrophes that affect the lives of millions are reason enough to hold the corporations that caused them accountable. For example, Rand Paul (a professed ardent libertarian) criticized government regulation and enforcement to clean up the millions of gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico as an un-American boot heel on the throat of British Petroleum.[27]
  • Like many other political positions, libertarianism is also subject to fundamentalist thinking. In libertarianism this can lead to both figurative and literal arms races, as well as an attraction to fringe groups such as the tax protester movement, and calling for the dismantling of central banks and a resumption of the gold standard.
  • International organisations enforcing universal standards on machinery and telecommunication (such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers) would not exist anymore. This means that all corporations of these sectors have to come together to form any sort of coherent universal standard and even then you would be lucky if all corporations abide and agreed by it. That basically means that you can't phone some of your friends because the telephone they own is different from the one you are using and that you have to entirely re-learn your job because the machine you are using has notably different architecture from the one you have learned to work with. Such a move would make the life of literally everyone even more complicated and annoying, force many people in these sectors to become jobless and would prevent the formation of many corporate start-ups. Not to mention that the very internet you are viewing this article on probably wouldn't exist, although things such as a Small Office Home Network or a corporate network probably would.

What difference would it make?[edit]

  • Libertarian business structures greatly resemble government hierarchies, even military hierarchies in the case of Taylorism. It seems contradictory to opine that citizens do not need rulers while maintaining that workers need managers; libertarians claim this is fine because joining a business is voluntary, although some critics of libertarianism would point out that changing jobs is not always possible, and that this argument would only be applicable if there actually were an abundance of businesses without such hierarchies who are hiring,[28] and that resigning is not an option because (especially when there is no welfare state) it may result in them being unable to afford food, water, housing, etc. In other words, this type of "freedom" means "the freedom to choose one's own masters or to starve under a bridge."
  • What, exactly, is the goal? The selling point of libertarianism is its offer of expanded individual liberties to do as you please. The offer is illusory if it in fact means that your freedom of action is hindered at every turn by bosses, owners, and other toll collectors. They all can demand money, or that you contract away your libertarian freedoms, for the privilege of stepping on their lawns. These new gatekeepers of "liberty" can still do stuff like fire you for testing positive for now-legal drugs. If maximizing individual freedom is what you're after, or even securing maximal protection for enumerated freedoms, you should realize that your boss is a bigger threat to your freedom of speech, or freedom to practice your religious faith, than the local police or your local government, don't you? In a democratic republic, the result of property-rights libertarianism would be to diminish the sorts of social control that at times have to answer to voters, and replace them with social control with no such accountability.
  • You are reading this page using something originally created by the big, bad gummint. And not only was ARPANET (the predecessor for the Internet) developed by and for the US military, but the first non-DOD Internet services were in two colleges, including the public UCLA. The HTTP protocol that makes the Web work? Yeah, that was developed by workers at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), which is almost entirely funded by various governments. HTML, the language that most websites are scripted in (including this one) was also developed by CERN researchers. And that doesn't even get into the various other government-funded technologies that form the foundation of the Information Age, from a nationwide network linking dozens of mainframe computers in a real-time, redundant system (the USAF Semi-Automatic Ground Environment), to NASA's development of the geosynchronous communications satellite, and even the plastic parts of their computers, made with molds cut using Computer Numerical Control machines directly descended from those developed by the Air Force funding in the 1950s.


Systems that attempt to boil themselves down to "a few simple rules" are seldom actually simple; for example, ancient Judaism's Deuteronomic reforms started out as just about half of the modern book of Deuteronomy, but eventually grew to encompass the whole Torah, large swaths of the rest of the Jewish Bible,[32] and ultimately to the vast body of commentary known as the Talmud. Esperanto, though defined in only sixteen grammatical rules, is actually quite a complex language, since its rules are defined in direct relation to established rules in Indo-European linguistics. Even some sports — particularly golf — have a strong element of common law in their rule systems.

There is essentially no guarantee that a society built on a libertarian legal structure would remain that way without redeveloping some sort of common law structure, or even a statutory structure that codifies all precedents. Given that most societies governed by rule of law already have this, it's hard to see what would be accomplished other than a massive reinvention of the wheel.[33]

The United States, for instance, is technically almost a truly libertarian country, even today, since the only laws it has are to "adjudicate between free men." Starting with a base, at least at the federal level (after the collapse of the Articles of Confederation) of a fairly simple Constitution, and some Roman and English common law, the country's government has evolved as a balance between virtually total liberty, and adjudicating the inevitable conflicts that arise between free men (or, in the case of drug laws, sodomy laws, etc., between the government and one somewhat unfree man). This adjudication has taken the form both of legislation to deal with issues that arose, and judicial analysis of the application of such legislation. Of course, 240 years offers a lot of opportunity for "free men" to need adjudication, so now, to self-styled "libertarians," the results look needlessly complicated. Such is life in the real world.

Typically libertarians argue that people should be free to do whatever they like as long as it doesn't hurt others. While this idea may seem very simple at first glance, the problem is that what "hurts" people and what doesn't is very nuanced. For instance, it is common for libertarians to oppose laws which reduce air pollution even though the latter can have a severe impact on the health of others, even if it is assumed that global warming is a gummint conspiracy to justify raising our taxes; more so than many direct acts of violence. It is also common for them to oppose laws mandating car drivers to wear seatbelts, even though seeing a person die as the result of not wearing one can have a major psychological effect on onlookers. Similarly, they may oppose anti-smoking campaigns as an unwarranted intrusion on personal liberty, while ignoring the financial burden imposed by smoking-related illnesses on both private insurance and taxpayer-funded health care. [34]

Branches and disputes within libertarianism[edit]

Pretty much.

While libertarians all generally agree on the premise of the Non-Aggression Axiom, there are internal rifts and disagreement over what extent the Non-Aggression Axiom applies to. On the one hand, there are the Libertarian Party types (colloquially called "minarchists") who take a position of advocating minimal government, and on the other there are the market anarchists who believe that all the services the government provides are unjust monopolies, which the free market can handle better if let go of by the state. Market anarchists can be split into two groups, "anarcho-mutualists" who believe in a free market but not in capitalism or class, and anarcho-capitalists who believe in completely unregulated capitalism.

There is usually little room in between these two, but even then, there are still different branches within these umbrella terms. On the Minarchist side of the libertarian ideology, there are paleolibertarians, who advocate a strong return to the Constitution and are somewhat conservative in their arguments to preserve moral law, much like the Old Right paleoconservatives. Ron Paul, who is often viewed as a libertarian, would more fit the paleoconservative/libertarian framework. Additionally, there exist the geo-libertarians (who advocate simply a tax on all land),[35] neo-libertarians (often regarded not in any sense as libertarians, as their political views conflict with the very principles of the Non-Aggression Axiom - they defend a mixture of traditional libertarian ideas with views more commonly grounded in neoconservatism, such as American exceptionalism and military interventionism and action to promote America's superiority in the international community), and other branches with their own nuances. On the anarchist side of the spectrum, things tend to be more homogeneous, with the major disagreements usually only amounting to how to achieve a libertarian society and solutions to ethical dilemmas.

This ideological division occurs not only externally in political theory, but philosophically as well. On the one side, there are the deontological natural rights theorists (Murray Rothbard being the most prominent advocate), and on the other are the utilitarian libertarians (David D. Friedman is often the most associated with this view). A few minority nihilists and radical subjectivists exist within these circles, but these views are often seen to be in conflict with the general premises laid out by the Non-Aggression Axiom.


The word "libertarianism" was used before the current usage came about to refer to anarchists, who are against hierarchies brought about by stratified classes and a state controlled by the wealthy elites, and thus oppose capitalism. Many call themselves 'libertarian socialists' a philosophy championed by Noam Chomsky. The use of "libertarianism" to describe anarchy dates back to the late 1850s, with Le Libertaire, Journal du Mouvement Social being the name of a journal published by anarchist Joseph Dejacque. The term 'libertarian communism' originated in the 1880s, when the French anarchist congress adopted it. As late as 1954, a largely anarcho-syndicalist movement named The Libertarian League was set up in the US.

The current Libertarian Party in the US only came into being in early 1970s, well over 100 years after anarchists had begun using the term to describe themselves. In the US, to quote Murray Bookchin:

[The] term 'libertarian' itself, to be sure, raises a problem, notably, the specious identification of an anti-authoritarian ideology with a straggling movement for 'pure capitalism' and 'free trade.' This movement never created the word: it appropriated it from the anarchist movement of the [19th] century. And it should be recovered by those anti-authoritarians... who try to speak for dominated people as a whole, not for personal egotists who identify freedom with entrepreneurship and profit." Many left-libertarians of this school favor equality as much as liberty and argue for fraternal health societies, civil disobedience through the black market, non-capitalist free trade and competitive worker co-ops.

As late as the 1990s, the Libertarian Labor Review newspaper promoted anarcho-syndicalism while still using the libertarian label. Samuel Edward Konkin III labeled his underground-economy based "agorism" as left-libertarianism, while claiming influence from right-libertarians like Rothbard. The term may also accurately describe Karl Hess, the former Goldwater Republican and Cold Warrior who aligned himself with Murray Rothbard for a few years, then swung to the hard left during the late 1960s and 1970s and joined the New Left.[36]

There are a number of areas where the more "rational" libertarians and liberals have overlapping concerns, notably, opposition to corporate welfare and the military-industrial complex, and valuing personal liberty and freedom of speech.

A brief attempt at (right-)libertarian taxonomy in the US[edit]

There is a good deal of overlap between these groups, but the hardliners tend to lavish hate on each other:


See the main article on this topic: Anarcho-capitalism

Deontological anarchists that adhere to the teachings of Murray Rothbard. Most anarcho-capitalists adhere to the Austrian School, though David D. Friedman opts for the utilitarian Chicago School. A few others follow the pure pacifism of Robert LeFevre. Modern examples include Adam Kokesh, who claims the only real anarchists are anarcho-capitalists, and Walter Block of the LvMI.

Samuel Edward Konkin III's philosophy of agorism was described by Konkin himself as a particularly concentrated strain of Rothbardianism, but Konkin and adherents consider(ed) themselves part of the libertarian left. This may be fair, since Konkin coinages like Kochtopus have entered the general leftist lexicon.

"Beltway libertarians"[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Very Serious People

The more utilitarian of the bunch and usually associated more with the Chicago school than the Austrian school. The term "Beltway" is used as a pejorative by the hardline anarchists and deontological types to paint them as sell-outs because they've gotten some traction in DC. Prominent Beltway types include Thomas Sowell, Nick Gillespie and the late Milton Friedman.

Crank magnets[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Crank magnetism

Usually conspiracy nuts, survivalists, sovereign citizen types, or gold bugs who think the gummint is out to get them. There are white supremacists who want to bring back "states' rights" to resurrect segregation, and dominionists who want to resurrect official state religions. Also includes fans of the seasteading, micronation, and vonu movements, "life extension," Galambosianism, Liberty Dollars, and pretty much anything from the Loompanics book catalog. May suffer from an excess of colloidal silver in the bloodstream. Alex Jones is the epitome of the crank magnet libertarian.

Single-issue wonks[edit]

There are those who take up the mantle of libertarianism because it aligns with their opposition to some federal law they don't like. On the more benign end, this includes activists for sex workers and cannabis legalization, who typically overlap with the below-mentioned civil libertarians, while on the crankier end, one may find polygamists, woo-meisters, pedophiles, and peddlers of some form of illegal quackery, who can more often be found with the crank magnets.


See the main article on this topic: Paleolibertarianism

A term coined by Lew Rockwell. Their policies are mostly the same as the "Taft Republicans" of the Old Right. They are advocates of the Austrian school, originalism, states' rights, and strict Constitutionalism, and are generally socially conservative despite opposing the drug war and "bedroom laws." Ron Paul falls into this camp. Many conspiracy nuts are also paleolibertarians, such as the almighty Alex Jones mentioned above, Texe Marrs, and Mark Dice.

Deontological minarchists[edit]

Largely the venerable predecessors of the modern libertarian movement, who were an influence on Rothbard but rejected anarchism, influenced Rand but rejected orthodox Objectivism, etc.


See the main article on this topic: Ayn Rand

Usually generic deontological minarchist libertarians, the only difference being that they identify themselves with the tenets of Objectivism. Rand herself hated the Libertarian Party and denounced them as poseurs.[37] Alan Greenspan is probably the most famous Randroid, and we all know what happened there.


Generally Silicon Valley inhabitants who attempt to apply hacker culture to politics. Lots of overlap with techno-utopian movements like transhumanism and Singularitarianism. Also overlaps with the seasteading, life extension, and digital-currency crank magnets. The most likely of any of these groups to oppose intellectual property rights, traditionally supported by other types of libertarians. See also Eric S. Raymond, Bitcoin, and Anonymous. Ironically, technological leaps have made surveillance of citizens easier than ever before in human history.

Vulgar libertarians[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Vulgar libertarianism

Their true ideological motivations are unknown, but they use the language of the "free market" to shill for corporations that don't want to deal with regulations or taxes. They can usually be found at some DC think tank cranking out bogus research while being bankrolled by Koch Industries or Exxon. Steve Milloy is a prime example.

South Park Republicans[edit]

See the main article on this topic: South Park Republicans

People who say they are libertarians, but dutifully pull the lever for most anyone with an "R" after their name (not, however, for Ron Paul) every election. In between elections they shill for military interventionism, and attack liberals, but never conservatives, for being enemies of liberty. And lot of Al Gore bashing. Their idea of a "libertarian Republican" is Rudy Giuliani. Their only real claim to being libertarians is their irreverent attitude, but this really just boils down to being a jerk for the sake of being a jerk. Glenn Reynolds and Matt Drudge have made a lucrative career pushing their buttons.

Civil libertarians[edit]

Those whose main attraction to libertarianism is civil liberties of the ACLU sort, anti-war issues, gay rights, marijuana, privacy, police abuses, women's lib, conscription, and so forth. They may view liberals as unreliable on these issues, or they may hold conservative economic views, and prefer to align with libertarians. The Cato Institute used to emphasize outreach to them in its early years via Inquiry magazine and The Libertarian Review. Today, Radley Balko and Carol Moore might be prominent examples, as was (until his recent death) American Indian Movement activist Russell Means. Arguably the most reasonable out of the bunch.


Those for whom the Libertarian Party and the libertarian movement are one and the same thing. Ideologically suspect to the more hard-core, they differ from Beltway libertarians primarily in that they prefer to throw all their effort into building the Libertarian Party instead of trying to get cred inside the Beltway. They typically want to trim and gut the party platform to attract more people, and/or disseminate an oversimplified version of the libertarian message in the name of "effective communication." Fond of using the World's Smallest Political Quiz and other materials from the Advocates for Self-Government. See Michael Cloud, Carla Howell, former Alaska state representative Dick Randolph, 1980 LP presidential nominee Ed Clark, and 2013 Virginia gubernatorial candidate Robert Sarvis.


See the main article on this topic: Ron Paul

Usually refers to fans of Ron Paul, who express their rabid support for him through the Internet. More recently, it has come to refer to irritating "Internet libertarians" in general who find a home for themselves on certain Internet sites, especially YouTube, and proceed to "upvote" everything that agrees with their worldview while "downvoting" anyone who disagrees with it en masse. Any site with an upvote/downvote system (i.e. Urban Dictionary, ABC News… hell, it's easier to list sites they haven't taken over at this point) is up for grabs for these people, and there tends to be heavy overlap with the crank magnets, Austrian schoolers, and, oddly, the online MRA movement. When not shilling for Ron Paul, being conspiracy nuts, or just being unbelievably self-righteous in general their favorite pastimes usually include rambling about Barack Obama, excessive quote mining of Paul Krugman (and it's always Krugman), and using snarl words such as "fascist," "sheeple," "statist," etc.

Fake libertarians[edit]

Refers to conservatives, neocons, Christian rightists, etc., who have no clue what libertarianism is, but simply identify as "libertarian" because it "sounds more hip," or to avoid association with the Republican Party. Many of these fake libertarians think that anti-federalism and libertarianism are the same thing (e.g. a Christian fundamentalist "libertarian" who complains about the Nanny state and cries for smaller federal government — so that Alabama can criminalize homosexuality, pornography, and abortion on the state level). Another example would be right-wing talk radio host Neal Boortz who identifies as a libertarian, but supported the federal government spying on anti-Iraq war protesters.

Libertarianism and racism[edit]

While not all libertarians profess racist views, there are a disproportionately large number who do.[38] Libertarians frequently profess belief in individualism, which would seem (on paper) to preclude racism. However, that doesn't always happen in reality.

Murray Rothbard,[39] although of Jewish origin himself, also sympathized with white nationalism and supported building a coalition of white nationalists, paleoconservatives, and libertarians.[40]

Another notable example is the case of the so-called "Ron Paul newsletters", many of which were actually written by Lew Rockwell, and expressed blatantly racist views during the 1990s. They resurfaced as a topic of controversy during Paul's 2008 campaign for president.

There is a strong overlap between libertarianism and social Darwinism given that both tend to reject the welfare state. Social Darwinism, of course, also correlates with racism, so this could be another reason why a libertarian might be racist. Libertarians who espouse scientific racism often argue that only white people are biologically capable of true individualist thinking, or of living in a libertarian society, and so libertarian societies need to be whites-only (or at the very least, to have closed borders).

Other libertarians argue for racial segregation on the basis of the right of free association, and the belief that all people would "naturally" self-segregate along racial lines were it not for affirmative action, government policies and pernicious cultural influences.


Libertarianism would seem to be even less compatible with fascism or Nazism, given that fascism teaches that individuals only have worth if they serve the State, while libertarianism is opposed to the state. However, there have been those who seem to espouse both. Certain segments of the alt-right identify as libertarian yet also express sympathy for Nazism or neo-Nazism; the website "The Right Stuff" (which prominently features pictures of Hitler and broadcasts a radio show called The Daily Shoah, whose guests have included Christopher Cantwell) is one notable example.

Quite a few libertarians hold to a paranoid or conspiracist worldview, which in some cases may include Holocaust denial. This, as well as the relationship between libertarianism and the gun culture, may partly explain the appeal of Nazi or Nazi-like ideas to some libertarians.

Much like Marxism (which holds that a "dictatorship of the proletariat" is a necessary transitional stage between the capitalist status quo and true, stateless communism), it's also possible that some people might see libertarianism as the desired end state but believe that fascism (and the genocide of "undesirables") is necessary as a transitional stage.


  • Milton Friedman, prominent economist and Nobel laureate. Although often regarded as a libertarian, he departed from the laissez-faire principles in his support of the Chicago School's economic ideology of Monetarism, instead of the Austrian school. Controversially advised the Pinochet regime in Chile to follow a course suggested by his economic theories, his reasoning being that a healthy and free market would bring a healthy and free political system.
  • Ron Paul, candidate in the Republican Party presidential primaries in 2008 and 2012, managed in that capacity to be included for the first time in televised debates (outside of C-SPAN). He was able to get much more TV airtime than any previous libertarian, yet many differ from his views on immigration and religious faith, and think that his federalism (not to mention his refusal to address allegations of racist connections) is a cop out.
  • John Stossel, of ABC and Fox News fame, produced hour-long special programs that contrasted the libertarian approach to issues against a statist approach. One of them, "Sick in America," disastrously attempted to rebut Michael Moore's Sicko film, and can still be seen on YouTube.
  • John Locke, hero in name only. He was not a libertarian by any of today's standards, but his work is often cited by modern libertarians. His work had a profound effect on Thomas Jefferson. Perhaps his most influential work was his theories of value and property.
  • Adam Smith, another hero in name only. He opposed mercantilism and his work promoted relatively free markets, which is why libertarians try to claim him as one of their own, but his views were far more moderate than they are often made out to have been. His coining of the term the "invisible hand" is also often invoked by libertarians, rarely in a way Smith probably would have approved of.
  • Neil Boortz, talk radio host who calls himself a libertarian. No one else does.
  • Mikhail Bakunin, an influential libertarian socialist and strong rival of Marx, though it is suspected that this rivalry could be more personal than ideological.
  • Penn and Teller, stage magicians and skeptics who for eight seasons in the noughties hosted Bullshit, about evenly split between attacking woo of one kind or another and advancing libertarian causes. The gift shop at the Rio in Las Vegas, where their long-running nightly act is performed, sells wallet-size copies of the Bill of Rights engraved on stainless steel, which they state are intended to alternately annoy or educate the security personnel at McCarran Airport by deliberately setting off metal detectors. Penn Jillette is also the inventor of the JillJet, a patented female masturbation aid.

Associated organizations[edit]

The following institutions and groups are closely or loosely associated with modern libertarianism:

Quotes on libertarianism[edit]


  • If the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good? Do not the legislators and their appointed agents also belong to the human race? Or do they believe that they themselves are made of a finer clay than the rest of mankind?- Frederic Bastiat[42]
  • Legalize Freedom: Vote Libertarian!- Slogan of the US Libertarian Party[43]
  • This country is a one-party country. Half of it is called Republican and half is called Democrat. It doesn't make any difference. All the really good ideas belong to the Libertarians.- Hugh Downs, on 20/20 in 1997
  • I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.- Grover Norquist[44]
  • You speak as if you were fighting for some sort of principle, Mr. Rearden, but what you're actually fighting for is only your property, isn't it?" — "Yes, of course. I am fighting for my property. Do you know the kind of principle that represents?- Ayn Rand[45]
  • However, it is important to remember that the true purpose of regulation is to limit competition, not protect the public.- "Health freedom" supporter DayOwl[46]


  • A Libertarian is just a Republican who takes drugs.- Anarchist essayist Bob Black[47]
  • He always pictured himself a libertarian, which to my way of thinking means "I want the liberty to grow rich and you can have the liberty to starve." It's easy to believe that no one should depend on society for help when you yourself happen not to need such help.- Isaac Asimov on Robert A. Heinlein and libertarian ethics[48]
  • That's libertarians for you — anarchists who want police protection from their slaves.- Kim Stanley Robinson
  • I’d rather vote for Bob Hope, the Marx Brothers, or Jerry Lewis. I don’t think they’re as funny as Professor Hospers and the Libertarian Party.- Ayn Rand[37]
  • A simple-minded right-wing ideology ideally suited to those unable or unwilling to see past their own sociopathic self-regard.- Iain Banks
  • I tend to take the stance that Libertarianism is like Leninism: a fascinating, internally consistent political theory with some good underlying points that, regrettably, makes prescriptions about how to run human society that can only work if we replace real messy human beings with frictionless spherical humanoids of uniform density (because it relies on simplifying assumptions about human behaviour which are unfortunately wrong).- Charles Stross[49]
  • It cannot be said too often – at any rate, it is not being said nearly often enough – that collectivism is not inherently democratic, but, on the contrary, gives to a tyrannical minority such powers as the Spanish Inquisitors never dreamed of [... But] a return to ‘free’ competition means for the great mass of people a tyranny probably worse, because more irresponsible, than that of the State. The trouble with competitions is that somebody wins them. Professor Hayek denies that free capitalism necessarily leads to monopoly, but in practice that is where it has led, and since the vast majority of people would far rather have State regimentation than slumps and unemployment, the drift towards collectivism is bound to continue if popular opinion has any say in the matter.- George Orwell[50]

Not to be confused with[edit]

  • Librarianism, also a philosophy, but more about cataloging books and helping people find them, no matter what the book is about. Librarians also hate totalitarian regimes, as they tend to be real jerks when it comes to stocking unpopular or controversial books. Just don't talk in their libraries.

See also[edit]

Icon fun.svg For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about Libertarianism.

External links[edit]


  • Radicals for Capitalism, by Brian Doherty
  • From Social State to Minimal State, Anders Fogh Rasmussen (Written by the former Prime Minister of Denmark eight years before he entered office, he later renounced it as full of crap. A good example of observing libertarian logic up close.)


  1. Napalm and Silly Putty by George Carlin
  2. According to, e.g., the Political Compass.
  3. https://www.nsfwcorp.com/dispatch/milton-friedman/
  4. Introduction: America's Third Largest Party
  5. Official 2016 Presidential General Election Results
  6. Official 2012 Presidential General Election Results
  7. Libertarian Party gets 0.32% of popular vote
  8. No, really
  9. But when the time comes to criticize actual fascists, oh well, fuck it.
  10. Also, two things to note on this version of the chart: a) they're listing communists as being less socially authoritarian than Nazis, and b) that the Nazis were "legislating equality."
  11. When Everyone's Libertarian, No One Is, Washington Monthly
  12. Fun game: identify the aggressor in this animated gif
  13. I Hate Your Politics, John Scalzi
  14. This is known as anarcho-capitalism)
  15. Notice how neither of those address free rider problems nor lack of incentives for positive externalities like vaccines, nor that there is no agent with sufficient power under their model to even identify commons and make it privately owned.
  16. https://twitter.com/missokistic/status/466416327666974722
  17. The Galt Speech is available at this hilariously named website
  18. Stein, Herbert (1994-04-06). "Board of Contributors: Remembering Adam Smith." The Wall Street Journal Asia: A14.
  19. http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2013/12/why-i-want-bitcoin-to-die-in-a.html#comment-1836175
  20. Positive and Negative Liberty, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  21. Ayn Rand blathering on about how force is okay sometimes but only if she likes it.
  22. Oh, it's not a market failure! Privatize for efficiency!
  23. How Libertarians Would Handle an Ebola Outbreak in Texas, Newsweek
  24. Why Libertarians Must Deny Climate Change, George Monbiot
  25. Jeffrey Friedman. Politics or Scholarship? Critical Review,6:2,429 — 445
  26. Oreskes, Naomi, and Erik M. Conway. Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth of Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. New York: Bloomsbury, 2010; p. 254.
  27. Rand Paul: Obama Sounds 'Un-American' For Criticizing BP Over Gulf Oil Spill (VIDEO), Huffington Post
  28. Of course, libertarians always counter with "the state is the sole creator of monopolies." (Good morning, Microsoft.)
  29. Here's a Nevada LP organizer complaining that he can't corral libertarians for five minutes.
  30. See his attack of constitutional economics for not being libertarian enoughWikipedia's W.svg (something which is already quite out there).
  31. Again, one must wonder how democracy or capitalism became a thing, then.
  32. Or at least the parts such as Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the bulk of Job, etc. that aren't prophecy, simple narrative, or worship music.
  33. And this, to a non-libertarian at least, is a best-case scenario. Libertarian theorists haven't successfully convinced their critics that a fully unregulated market won't lead to neo-feudalism, a scenario that already exists in some industrial areas and was famously lamented by Tennessee Ernie Ford in his hit protest song "Sixteen Tons."
  34. Again, let us point out that Ayn Rand gave herself lung cancer and then took Medicare payments without blinking an eye.
  35. [1]
  36. Boyd, James. "From Far Right to Far Left - and Farther - With Karl Hess", The New York Times Magazine, 12/6/1970
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 Ayn Rand's Q & A on Libertarianism, The Ayn Rand Institute
  38. http://www.businessinsider.com/exposing-the-racist-history-of-libertarianism-and-murray-rothbard-2011-10
  39. Not the bad guy from Swan Lake.
  40. And he got his wish, 30 years too late.
  41. BBC News on Stan Jones
  42. Frederic Bastiat: The Law.
  43. Well, according to the Internet, but the party website doesn't mention it. Their current slogan appears to be "Smaller Government * Lower Taxes * More Freedom."
  44. Morning Edition (NPR): May 25, 2001.
  45. Atlas Shrugged: The Trial of Hank Rearden.
  46. Commenting on the medical science blog Respectful Insolence
  47. [2]
  48. I. Asimov: A Memoir, 1994.
  49. http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2013/12/why-i-want-bitcoin-to-die-in-a.html
  50. https://thomasgwyndunbar.wordpress.com/2008/10/09/george-orwell-review/