Libertarianism in the United States

Libertarianism in the United States is a political movement promoting individual liberty in opposition to government.[1][2] As a political philosophy, it has been described as upholding liberty, especially individual liberty, as a core principle and primary political value.[3]

According to common meanings of conservatism and liberalism in the United States, libertarianism has been described as conservative on economic issues (economic liberalism) and liberal on personal freedom (civil libertarianism),[4] often associated with a foreign policy of non-interventionism.[5][6] There are two principal traditions within libertarianism, namely the libertarianism developed by anarcho-capitalist author Murray Rothbard, who based it off out of 19th-century libertarianism and American individualist anarchists such as Benjamin Tucker and Lysander Spooner while rejecting their labor theory of value, substituting it with Austrian School economics and the subjective theory of value;[7][8] and the libertarianism that developed as a revival of classical liberalism in the United States after liberalism became associated with the New Deal,[9][10] including politicians like David Nolan[11] and Ron Paul.[12]

Although the word libertarian continues to be widely used to refer to anti-state socialists internationally,[13][14][15][16][17][18] its meaning in the United States has deviated from its political origins to the extent that the common meaning of libertarian in the United States is different from elsewhere.[19][20][21][22][23] As an example, the Libertarian Party asserts the following to be core beliefs of libertarianism:

Libertarians support maximum liberty in both personal and economic matters. They advocate a much smaller government; one that is limited to protecting individuals from coercion and violence. Libertarians tend to embrace individual responsibility, oppose government bureaucracy and taxes, promote private charity, tolerate diverse lifestyles, support the free market, and defend civil liberties.[24][25]

The right-libertarianism associated to people like Murray Rothbard and Robert Nozick,[20][26] whose book Anarchy, State, and Utopia gave significant recognition in academia,[27] is the dominant form of libertarianism in the United States,[28] compared to the left-libertarianism associated to the left-wing of the modern libertarian movement[29] and more recently to the political positions associated with academic philosophers Hillel Steiner, Philippe Van Parijs and Peter Vallentyne that combine self-ownership with an egalitarian approach to natural resources[30] as well as to anti-capitalist, free-market anarchist strands such as left-wing market anarchism,[31] also referred to as market-oriented left-libertarianism to distinguish itself from more mainstream libertarianism.[32]

Libertarianism in the United States also include anarchist and libertarian socialist tendencies, although they are not as widespread as in other countries. Murray Bookchin,[14] a libertarian within this anarchist and libertarian socialist tradition, argued that anarchists, libertarian socialists and the left should reclaim libertarian as a term, suggesting these other self-declared libertarians to rename themselves propertarians instead.[22][23] Although all libertarians oppose government intervention, there is a division between those who adhere to the anarchist position, who view the state as an unnecessary evil, including anarcho-capitalists such as Murray Rothbard and David Friedman; minarchists like Robert Nozick who recognize the necessary need for a minimal state, often referred to as a night-watchman state;[21] and classical liberals who support a small, minimized government[33][34][35] and a major reversal of the welfare state.[36]

Some libertarians are present within the Libertarian, Republican (see Libertarian Republicans) and Democratic (see Libertarian Democrats) parties while others are independent. Through twenty polls on this topic spanning thirteen years, Gallup found that voters who are libertarian on the political spectrum ranged from 17–23% of the American electorate.[37] However, a 2014 Pew Poll found that 23% of Americans who identify as libertarians have no idea what the word means.[38]

Yellow, a political color associated with liberalism worldwide, has also been used as a political color for modern libertarianism in the United States.[39][40] The Gadsden flag, a symbol first used by American revolutionaries, is a symbol frequently used by modern libertarians, including the libertarian-inspired Tea Party movement.[41][42][43]


19th and 20th centuries[edit]

Individualist anarchist Lysander Spooner, whose No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority book greately influenced libertarianism in the United States

In the 19th century, libertarian philosophies included libertarian socialism and anarchist schools of thought such as social and individualist anarchism. Key libertarian thinkers were based in the United States, most notably Benjamin Tucker,[44][45][46] Lysander Spooner,[47] Stephen Pearl Andrews and William Batchelder Greene, among others.[22][23][48][49] While most of these political thinkers were individualist anarchist thinkers who advocated for the abolition of the state, other key libertarian thinkers and writers such as Henry David Thoreau,[50][51][52] Ralph Waldo Emerson[53] and Spooner in No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority[54] argued that government should be kept to a minimum and that it is only legitimate to the extent that people voluntarily support, leaving a significant imprint on libertarianism in the United States. The use of the word libertarian to describe a left-wing position has been traced to the French cognate libertaire, coined in a letter French libertarian communist Joseph Déjacque wrote to anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in 1857.[19][21][22][23][55] While in New York, Déjacque was able to serialize his book L'Humanisphère, Utopie anarchique (The Humanisphere: Anarchic Utopia) in his periodical Le Libertaire, Journal du Mouvement Social (Libertarian: Journal of Social Movement), published in 27 issues from June 9, 1858 to February 4, 1861.[56][57] Le Libertaire was the first libertarian communist journal published in the United States as well as the first anarchist journal to use the term libertarian.[22][23]

Benjamin Tucker was an invidualist anarchist who contrapposed his anarchist socialism to state socialism

Moving into the 20th century, the Libertarian League was an anarchist and libertarian socialist organization. The first Libertarian League was founded in Los Angeles between the two World Wars.[58] It was established mainly by Cassius V. Cook, Charles T. Sprading, Clarence Lee Swartz, Henry Cohen, Hans F. Rossner and Thomas Bell.[58] In 1954, a second Libertarian League was founded in New York City as a political organization building on the Libertarian Book Club. Members included Sam Dolgoff, Russell Blackwell, Dave Van Ronk, Enrico Arrigoni and Murray Bookchin. This Libertarian League had a narrower political focus than the first, promoting anarchism and syndicalism. Its central principle, stated in its journal Views and Comments, was "equal freedom for all in a free socialist society".[59] Branches of the Libertarian League opened in a number of other American cities, including Detroit and San Francisco. It was dissolved at the end of the 1960s.[60][61]

The 1960s also saw an alliance between the nascent New Left and other radical libertarians who came from the Old Right tradition like Murray Rothbard,[62] Ronald Radosh[63] and Karl Hess[64] in opposition to imperialism and war, especially in relation to the Vietnam War and its opposition. These radicals had long embraced a reading of American history that emphasized the role of elite privilege in shaping legal and political institutions, one that was naturally agreeable to many on the left, increasingly seeking alliances with the left, especially with members of the New Left, in light of the Vietnam War,[65] the military draft and the emergence of the Black Power movement.[66] Rothbard argued that the consensus view of American economic history, according to which a beneficent government has used its power to counter corporate predation, is fundamentally flawed. Rather, he argued, government intervention in the economy has largely benefited established players at the expense of marginalized groups, to the detriment of both liberty and equality. Moreover, the robber baron period, hailed by the right and despised by the left as a heyday of laissez-faire, was not characterized by laissez-faire at all, but it was in fact a time of massive state privilege accorded to capital.[67] In tandem with his emphasis on the intimate connection between state and corporate power, he defended the seizure of corporations dependent on state largesse by workers and others.[68] This tradition would continue through the 20th and 21st centuries, being taken up by the left-libertarian, free-market anti-capitalism of Samuel Edward Konkin III and left-wing market anarchism.[29][32]

Mid-20th century[edit]

H. L. Mencken became one of the first people to privately call himself libertarian

During the mid-20th century, many with Old Right or classical liberal beliefs began to describe themselves as libertarians.[9] Important American writers such as Rose Wilder Lane, H. L. Mencken, Albert Jay Nock, Isabel Paterson, Leonard Read (the founder of the Foundation for Economic Education) and the European immigrants Ludwig von Mises and Ayn Rand carried on the intellectual libertarian tradition. In fiction, one can cite the work of the science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein, whose writing carried libertarian underpinnings. Mencken and Nock were the first prominent figures in the United States to privately call themselves libertarians.[69][70][71] They believed Franklin D. Roosevelt had co-opted the word liberal for his New Deal policies which they opposed and used libertarian to signify their allegiance to individualism. In 1923, Mencken wrote: "My literary theory, like my politics, is based chiefly upon one idea, to wit, the idea of freedom. I am, in belief, a libertarian of the most extreme variety".[72]

As of the mid-20th century, no word was used to describe the ideological outlook of this group of thinkers. Most of them would have described themselves as liberals before the New Deal, but by the mid-1930s that word had been widely used to mean social liberalism.[10] The term liberal had ceased to refer to the support of individual rights and minimal government and instead came to denote left-leaning ideas that would be seen elsewhere as social democratic. American advocates of freedom bemoaned the loss of the word and cast about for others to replace it.[10] The word conservative (later associated with libertarianism either through fiscal conservatism or through fusionism) had yet to emerge as Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind was not published until 1953 and this work hardly mentioned economics at all.[10]

Max Eastman, a former socialist who proposed the terms New Liberalism and liberal conservative

In August 1953, Max Eastman proposed the terms New Liberalism and liberal conservative which were not eventually accepted.[10][73] In May 1955, the term libertarian was first publicly used in the United States as a synonym for classical liberal when writer Dean Russell (1915–1998), a colleague of Leonard Read and a classical liberal himself, proposed the libertarian solution and justified the choice of the word as follows:

Murray Rothbard, who popularized the term libertarian in the 1950s

Subsequently, a growing number of Americans with classical liberal beliefs in the United States began to describe themselves as libertarian. The person most responsible for popularizing the term libertarian was Murray Rothbard, who started publishing libertarian works in the 1960s.[74] Before the 1950s, H. L. Mencken and Albert Jay Nock had been the first prominent figures in the United States to privately call themselves libertarians.[69][70][71] However, their non-public use of the term went largely unnoticed and the term lay dormant on the American scene for the following few decades.[10] In the 1950s, Russian-American novelist Ayn Rand developed a philosophical system called Objectivism, expressed in her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged as well as other works which influenced many libertarians.[75] However, she rejected the label libertarian and harshly denounced the libertarian movement as the "hippies of the right".[76][77] Philosopher John Hospers, a one-time member of Rand's inner circle, proposed a non-initiation of force principle to unite both groups—this statement later became a required pledge for candidates of the Libertarian Party and Hospers himself became its first presidential candidate in 1972.[78][79] Although influenced by the work of the 19th-century American individualist anarchists, themselves influenced by classical liberalism.[7] Rothbard thought they had a faulty understanding of economics because they accepted the labor theory of value as influenced by the classical economists while he was a student of neoclassical economics and supported the subjective theory of value. Rothbard sought to meld 19th-century American individualists' advocacy of free markets and private defense with the principles of Austrian economics, arguing that there is "a scientific explanation of the workings of the free market (and of the consequences of government intervention in that market) which individualist anarchists could easily incorporate into their political and social Weltanschauung".[8]

Barry Goldwater, whose libertarian-oriented challenge to authority had a major impact on the libertarian movement

Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater's libertarian-oriented challenge to authority had a major impact on the libertarian movement[80] through his book The Conscience of a Conservative and his 1964 run for President.[81] Goldwater's speech writer Karl Hess became a leading libertarian writer and activist.[82] The Vietnam War split the uneasy alliance between growing numbers of self-identified libertarians and traditionalist conservatives who believed in limiting liberty to uphold moral virtues. Libertarians opposed to the war joined the draft resistance and peace movements and organizations such as Students for a Democratic Society. They began founding their own publications like Rothbard's The Libertarian Forum[83][84] and organizations like the Radical Libertarian Alliance.[85] The split was aggravated at the 1969 Young Americans for Freedom convention when more than 300 libertarians coordinated to take control of the organization from conservatives. The burning of a draft card in protest to a conservative proposal against draft resistance sparked physical confrontations among convention attendees, a walkout by a large number of libertarians, the creation of libertarian organizations like the Society for Individual Liberty and efforts to recruit potential libertarians from conservative organizations.[86] The split was finalized in 1971 when conservative leader William F. Buckley Jr. attempted to divorce libertarianism from the movement, writing in a New York Times article as follows: "The ideological licentiousness that rages through America today makes anarchy attractive to the simple-minded. Even to the ingeniously simple-minded".[87]

As a result of the split, a small group of Americans led by David Nolan and a few friends formed the Libertarian Party in 1971.[88] Attracting former Democrats, Republicans and independents, it has run a presidential candidate every election year since 1972. Over the years, dozens of libertarian political parties have been formed worldwide. Educational organizations like the Center for Libertarian Studies and the Cato Institute were formed in the 1970s and others have been created since then.[89] Philosophical libertarianism gained a significant measure of recognition in academia with the publication in 1974 of Harvard University professor Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia, a response to John Rawls's A Theory of Justice (1971). The book proposed a minimal state on the grounds that it was an inevitable phenomenon which could arise without violating individual rights.[27] The book won a National Book Award in 1975.[90] According to libertarian essayist Roy Childs, "Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia single-handedly established the legitimacy of libertarianism as a political theory in the world of academia".[91] British historians Emily Robinson, Camilla Schofield, Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite and Natalie Thomlinson have argued that by the 1970s Britons were keen about defining and claiming their individual rights, identities and perspectives. They demanded greater personal autonomy and self-determination and less outside control. They angrily complained that the establishment was withholding it. They argue this shift in concerns helped cause Thatcherism and was incorporated into Thatcherism's appeal.[92] Since the resurgence of neoliberalism in the 1970s, this form of libertarianism has spread beyond North America and Europe, having been more successful at spreading worldwide than other conservative ideas.[93] For instance, it has been noted that "[m]ost parties of the Right [today] are run by economically liberal conservatives who, in varying degrees, have marginalized social, cultural, and national conservatives".[94]

Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia helped spread libertarian ideas worldwide in the 1970s

Academics as well as proponents of the capitalist free-market perspectives note that libertarianism has spread beyond the United States since the 1970s via think tanks and political parties[95][96] and that libertarianism is increasingly viewed as a capitalist free-market position.[97][98] However, libertarian intellectuals Noam Chomsky,[17] Colin Ward[18] and others argue that the term libertarianism is considered a synonym for anarchism and libertarian socialism by the international community and that the United States is unique in widely associating it with capitalist free-market ideology.[15][16][22][23] Modern libertarianism in the United States mainly refers to classical and economic liberalism. It supports capitalist free-market approaches as well as neoliberal policies and economic liberalization reforms such as austerity, deregulation, free trade, privatization and reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society.[33][34][35] This is unlike the common meaning[17][18][99] of libertarianism elsewhere,[15][16][19][21] with libertarianism being used to refer to the largely overlapping right-libertarianism, the most popular conception of libertarianism in the United States,[28][100] where the term itself was first coined and used by Joseph Déjacque to refer to a new political philosophy rejecting all authority and hierarchies, including the market and property.[22][23]

21st century[edit]

In the 21st century, libertarian groups have been successful in advocating tax cuts and regulatory reform. While some argue that the American public as a whole shifted away from libertarianism following the fall of the Soviet Union, citing the success of multinational organizations such as NAFTA and the increasingly interdependent global financial system,[101] others argue that libertarian ideas have moved so far into the mainstream that many Americans who do not identify as libertarian now hold libertarian views.[102] Circa 2006 polls find that the views and voting habits of between 10 and 20 percent (increasing) of voting age Americans may be classified as "fiscally conservative and socially liberal, or libertarian".[103][104] This is based on pollsters and researchers defining libertarian views as fiscally conservative and culturally liberal (based on the common United States meanings of the terms) and against government intervention in economic affairs and for expansion of personal freedoms.[103] Through 20 polls on this topic spanning 13 years, Gallup found that voters who are libertarian on the political spectrum ranged from 17–23% of the electorate.[37] While libertarians make up a larger portion of the electorate than the much-discussed "soccer moms" and "NASCAR dads", this is not widely recognized as most of these vote for Democratic and Republican party candidates, leading some libertarians to believe that dividing people's political leanings into "conservative", "liberal" and "confused" is not valid.[105]

In the United States, libertarians may emphasize economic and constitutional rather than religious and personal policies, or personal and international rather than economic policies[106] such as the Tea Party movement (founded in 2009) which has become a major outlet for libertarian Republican ideas,[107][108] especially rigorous adherence to the Constitution, lower taxes and an opposition to a growing role for the federal government in health care. However, polls show that many people who identify as Tea Party members do not hold traditional libertarian views on most social issues and tend to poll similarly to socially conservative Republicans.[109][110][111] During the 2016 presidential election, many Tea Party members eventually abandoned more libertarian-leaning views in favor of Donald Trump and his right-wing populism.[112] Additionally, the Tea Party was considered to be a key force in Republicans reclaiming control of the House of Representatives in 2010.[113]

Former Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, a self-described libertarian, is one of the most popular contemporary libertarians

Texas Congressman Ron Paul's 2008 and 2012 campaigns for the Republican Party presidential nomination were largely libertarian.[12] Along with Goldwater and others, Paul popularized laissez-faire economics and libertarian rhetoric in opposition to interventionism and worked to pass some reforms. Likewise, California Governor and future President of the United States Ronald Reagan appealed to cultural conservative libertarians due its social conservatism and in a 1975 interview with Reason stated: "I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism".[114] However, many libertarians are ambivalent about Reagan's legacy as President due its social conservatism and how the Reagan administration turned the United States' big trade deficit into debt, making the United States a debtor nation for the first time since World War I.[115][116] Ron Paul was affiliated with the libertarian-leaning Republican Liberty Caucus[117] and founded the Campaign for Liberty, a libertarian-leaning membership and lobbying organization.[118] Rand Paul is a Senator who continues the tradition of his father Ron Paul, albeit more moderately as he has described himself as a constitutional conservative[119] and has both embraced[120] and rejected libertarianism.[121]

Gary Johnson, 2012 and 2016 Libertarian Party presidential candidate

Since 2012, former New Mexico Governor and two-time Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson has been one of the public faces of the libertarian movement. The 2016 Libertarian National Convention saw Johnson and Bill Weld nominated as the 2016 presidential ticket and resulted in the most successful result for a third-party presidential candidacy since 1996 and the best in the Libertarian Party's history by vote number. Johnson received 3% of the popular vote, amounting to more than 4.3 million votes.[122] Johnson expressed a desire to win at least 5% of the vote so that the Libertarian Party candidates could get equal ballot access and federal funding, ending the two-party system.[123][124][125] While some political commentators have described Senator Rand Paul and Congressman Thomas Massie of Kentucky as Republican libertarians or libertarian-leaning,[120][126] they prefer to identify as constitutional conservatives.[119][121] One federal officeholder openly professing some form of libertarianism is Congressman Justin Amash, who represents Michigan's 3rd congressional district since January 2011.[127][128][129][130] Initially elected to Congress as a Republican,[131] Amash left the party and became an independent in July 2019.[132]

Schools of thought[edit]

Libertarian schools of thought and tendencies in the United States include left-libertarian tendecies[30][29][133] such as agorism,[134][135][136][137] geolibertarianism,[138][139][140] left-wing laissez-faire,[141][142][143][144][145] left-wing market anarchism,[146] mutualism,[147][148] neoclassical liberalism,[149][150][151][149][152][153] neo-libertarianism[154][155][156] and Steiner–Vallentyne left-libertarianism[157][158][159][160][161] and right-libertarian tendencies such as anarcho-capitalism,[162][163][164][165][166][167] classical liberalism,[168][169][170][171] conservative libertarianism,[172][173][174] fusionism,[175][176] neoliberalism,[177][178] Objectivism,[179][180] neolibertarianism,[181][182] paleolibertarianism[183][184] and propertarianism.[185][186] Other tendencies include Austro-libertarianism,[187][188][189] autarchism,[190] Christian libertarianism,[191] consequentialist libertarianism,[192][193][194][195][196][197][198] constitutionalism,[199] green libertarianism,[200] libertarian feminism,[201][202] libertarian paternalism,[203][204][205] libertarian transhumanism,[206][207][208][209][210] minarchism,[211][212][213][214][215][216] natural-rights libertarianism,[193][217][218][219] panarchism[220][221][222][223] and voluntaryism.[224]

Classical libertarian schools of thought are mainly related to libertarian socialism and anarchist schools of thought such as social anarchism and individualist anarchism, including American individualist anarchists such as Benjamin Tucker,[225][226][227] Lysander Spooner,[228] Stephen Pearl Andrews and William Batchelder Greene, among others.[22][23][229][230] Although the word libertarian was first used in the United States by the French libertarian communist Joseph Déjacque,[22] who also coined the word in the political sense as well,[19][21][55] the United States is unique in that in the rest of the world[15][16][17][18][26] it is mainly used to refer to anarchism and libertarian socialism.[19][21][22] As a result, classical libertarians and critics such as Murray Bookchin[14] argue that this should be resisted and that anarchists, libertarian socialists and the left should reclaim libertarianism as a term, suggesting these other self-declared libertarians rename themselves propertarians instead.[22][23]


Alliance of the Libertarian Left[edit]

The Alliance of the Libertarian Left is a left-libertarian organization that includes a multi-tendency coalition of agorists, geolibertarians, green libertarians, left-Rothbardians, minarchists, mutualists and voluntaryists.[231]

Cato Institute[edit]

Cato Institute building in Washington, D.C.

The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C. It was founded as the Charles Koch Foundation in 1974 by Ed Crane, Murray Rothbard and Charles Koch,[232] chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the conglomerate Koch Industries, the second largest privately held company by revenue in the United States.[233] In July 1976, the name was changed to the Cato Institute.[232][234]

The Cato Institute was established to have a focus on public advocacy, media exposure and societal influence.[235] According to the 2014 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report (Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, University of Pennsylvania), the Cato Institute is number 16 in the "Top Think Tanks Worldwide" and number 8 in the "Top Think Tanks in the United States".[236] The Cato Institute also topped the 2014 list of the budget-adjusted ranking of international development think tanks.[237]

Center for Libertarian Studies[edit]

The Center for Libertarian Studies was a libertarian educational organization founded in 1976 by Murray Rothbard and Burton Blumert which grew out of the Libertarian Scholars Conferences. It published the Journal of Libertarian Studies from 1977 to 2000 (now published by the Mises Institute), a newsletter (In Pursuit of Liberty), several monographs and sponsors conferences, seminars and symposia. Originally headquartered in New York, it later moved to Burlingame, California. Until 2007, it supported, web publication of vice president Lew Rockwell. It also had previously supported, a project of the Randolph Bourne Institute.[238]

Center for a Stateless Society[edit]

The Center for a Stateless Society is a left-libertarian organization and free-market anarchist think thank.[239] Kevin Carson's Studies in Mutualist Political Economy aims to revive interest in mutualism in an effort to synthesize Austrian economics with the labor theory of value by attempting to incorporate both subjectivism and time preference.[240][241]

Foundation for Economic Education[edit]

The Foundation for Economic Education is a libertarian think tank dedicated to the "economic, ethical and legal principles of a free society". It publishes books and daily articles as well as hosting seminars and lectures.[242]

Free State Project[edit]

The Free State Project is an activist libertarian movement formed in 2001. It is working to bring libertarians to the state of New Hampshire to protect and advance liberty. Less successful similar projects include the Free West Alliance and Free State Wyoming. As of July 2018, the project website showed that 23,778 people have pledged to move within five years and 4,352 people identified as Free Staters in New Hampshire.[243]

Libertarian Party[edit]

The Libertarian Party is a political party that promotes civil liberties, non-interventionism, laissez-faire capitalism and limiting the size and scope of government. The first-world such libertarian party, it was conceived in August 1971 at meetings in the home of David Nolan in Westminster, Colorado,[11] in part prompted due to concerns about the Nixon administration, the Vietnam War, conscription and the introduction of fiat money. It was officially formed on December 11, 1971 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.[244]

Liberty International[edit]

The Liberty International is a non-profit, libertarian educational organization based in San Francisco. It encourages activism in libertarian and individual rights areas by the freely chosen strategies of its members. Its history dates back to 1969[245] as the Society for Individual Liberty founded by Don Ernsberger and Dave Walter.[246]

The previous name of the Liberty International as the International Society for Individual Liberty[247] was adopted in 1989 after a merger with the Libertarian International was coordinated by Vince Miller, who became president of the new organization.[248][249]

Mises Institute[edit]

The Mises Institute is a tax-exempt, libertarian educative organization located in Auburn, Alabama.[250] Named after Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises, its website states that it exists to promote "teaching and research in the Austrian school of economics, and individual freedom, honest history, and international peace, in the tradition of Ludwig von Mises and Murray N. Rothbard".[251] According to the Mises Institute, Nobel Prize winner Friedrich Hayek served on their founding board.[252]

The Mises Institute was founded in 1982 by Lew Rockwell, Burton Blumert and Murray Rothbard following a split between the Cato Institute and Rothbard, who had been one of the founders of the Cato Institute.[253] Additional backing came from Mises's wife Margit von Mises, Henry Hazlitt, Lawrence Fertig and Nobel Economics Laureate Friedrich Hayek.[254]

Through its publications, the Mises Institute promotes libertarian political theories and a form of heterodox economics known as praxeology ("the logic of action").[255][256]

Molinari Institute[edit]

The Molinari Institute is a left-libertarian, free-market anarchist organization directed by philosopher Roderick T. Long. It is named after Gustave de Molinari, whom Long terms the "originator of the theory of Market Anarchism".[257]

Reason Foundation[edit]

The Reason Foundation is a libertarian think thank and non-profit and tax-exempt organization that was founded in 1978.[258][259] It publishes the magazine Reason and is committed to advancing "the values of individual freedom and choice, limited government, and market-friendly policies". In the 2014 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report (Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, University of Pennsylvania), the Reason Foundation was number 41 (of 60) in the "Top Think Tanks in the United States".[260]


Intellectual sources[edit]


Political commentators[edit]


Political spectrum[edit]

The Nolan Chart, a political spectrum diagram created by libertarian activist David Nolan

Corey Robin describes libertarianism as fundamentally a conservative ideology united with more traditionalist conservative thought and goals by a desire to retain hierarchies and traditional social relations.[261] Others also describe libertarianism as a reactionary ideology for its support of laissez-faire capitalism and a major reversal of the modern welfare state.[36]

In the 1960s, Rothbard started the publication Left and Right: A Journal of Libertarian Thought, believing that the left–right political spectrum had gone "entirely askew" since conservatives were sometimes more statist than liberals. Rothbard tried to reach out to leftists.[262] In 1971, Rothbard wrote about his view of libertarianism which he described as supporting self-ownership, property rights and free trade.[263] He would later describe his brand of libertarianism as anarcho-capitalism.[264][265]

Anthony Gregory points out that within the libertarian movement "just as the general concepts 'left' and 'right' are riddled with obfuscation and imprecision, left- and right-libertarianism can refer to any number of varying and at times mutually exclusive political orientations". He writes that one of several ways to look at right-libertarianism is its interest in economic freedom, preference for a conservative lifestyle, view that private business is "a great victim of the state", favoring a non-interventionist foreign policy sharing the Old Right's "opposition to empire". Some libertarians reject association with either the right or the left. Leonard E. Read wrote an article titled "Neither Left Nor Right: Libertarians Are Above Authoritarian Degradation".[266] Harry Browne wrote: "We should never define Libertarian positions in terms coined by liberals or conservatives—nor as some variant of their positions. We are not fiscally conservative and socially liberal. We are Libertarians, who believe in individual liberty and personal responsibility on all issues at all times".[267]

Tibor R. Machan titled a book of his collected columns Neither Left Nor Right.[268] Walter Block's article "Libertarianism Is Unique and Belongs Neither to the Right Nor the Left" critiques libertarians he described as left and right, the latter including Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Edward Feser and Ron Paul. Block wrote that these left and right individuals agreed with certain libertarian premises, but "where we differ is in terms of the logical implications of these founding axioms".[269]


Objectivism is a philosophical system developed by Russian-American writer Ayn Rand. Rand first expressed Objectivism in her fiction, most notably We the Living (1936), The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957), but also in later non-fiction essays and books such as The Virtue of Selfishness (1964) and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1966), among others.[270] Leonard Peikoff, a professional philosopher and Rand's designated intellectual heir,[271][272] later gave it a more formal structure. Rand described Objectivism as "the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute".[273] Peikoff characterizes Objectivism as a "closed system" that is not subject to change.[274]

Objectivism's central tenets are that reality exists independently of consciousness, that human beings have direct contact with reality through sense perception, that one can attain objective knowledge from perception through the process of concept formation and inductive logic, that the proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness, that the only social system consistent with this morality is one that displays full respect for individual rights embodied in laissez-faire capitalism and that the role of art in human life is to transform humans' metaphysical ideas by selective reproduction of reality into a physical form—a work of art—that one can comprehend and to which one can respond emotionally. The Objectivist movement founded by Rand attempts to spread her ideas to the public and in academic settings.[275] As a result, Objectivism has been and continues to be a major influence on the libertarian movement. Many libertarians justify their political views using aspects of Objectivism.[276][277]

However, the views of Rand and her philosophy among prominent libertarians are mixed and many Objectivists are hostile to libertarians in general.[278] Nonetheless, Objectivists such as David Kelley and his Atlas Society have argued that Objectivism is an "open system" and are more open to libertarians.[279][280] Although academic philosophers have mostly ignored or rejected Rand's philosophy, Objectivism has been a significant influence among conservatives and libertarians in the United States.[281][282]


Criticism of libertarianism includes ethical, economic, environmental, pragmatic and philosophical concerns, although they are mainly related to right-libertarianism, including the view that it has no explicit theory of liberty.[100] For instance, it has been argued that laissez-faire capitalism does not necessarily produce the best or most efficient outcome,[283] nor does its philosophy of individualism and policies of deregulation prevent the abuse of natural resources.[284]

Michael Lind has observed that of the 195 countries in the world today, none have fully actualized a society as advocated by libertarians, arguing: "If libertarianism was a good idea, wouldn't at least one country have tried it? Wouldn't there be at least one country, out of nearly two hundred, with minimal government, free trade, open borders, decriminalized drugs, no welfare state and no public education system?"[285] Lind has criticized libertarianism for being incompatible with democracy and apologetic towards autocracy.[286] In response, libertarian Warren Redlich argues that the United States "was extremely libertarian from the founding until 1860, and still very libertarian until roughly 1930".[287]

Nancy MacLean has criticized libertarianism, arguing that it is a radical right ideology that has stood against democracy. According to MacLean, libertarian-leaning Charles and David Koch have used anonymous, dark money campaign contributions, a network of libertarian institutes and lobbying for the appointment of libertarian, pro-business judges to United States federal and state courts to oppose taxes, public education, employee protection laws, environmental protection laws and the New Deal Social Security program.[288]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Libertarianism". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved November 16, 2019.
  2. ^ For philosophical literature describing the variations of libertarianism, see the following sorces:
    • Bevir, Mark (2010). Encyclopedia of Political Theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE; Cato Institute. page 811;
    • Vallentyne, Peter (March 3, 2009). "Libertarianism". In Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2009 ed.). Stanford, CA: Stanford University. Retrieved March 5, 2010. in addition to the better-known version of libertarianism—right-libertarianism—there is also a version known as 'left-libertarianism';
    • Christiano, Thomas; John P. Christman. Contemporary Debates in Political Philosophy. Contemporary debates in philosophy, 11. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. p. 121;
    • Becker, Lawrence C.; Becker, Charlotte B. Encyclopedia of ethics, Volume 3. p. 1562;
    • Paul, Ellen F. 82007). Liberalism: Old and New. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 187; and
    • Sapon, Vladimir; Robino, Sam (2010). "Right and Left Wings in Libertarianism". Canadian Social Science. 5 (6).
    • Long, Roderick T. (1998). "Towards a Libertarian Theory of Class". Social Philosophy and Policy. 15 (2): 303–349 (online: "Part 1", "Part 2").
  3. ^ Boaz, David (January 30, 2009). "Libertarianism". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved February 21, 2017. [L]ibertarianism, political philosophy that takes individual liberty to be the primary political value.
  4. ^ Boaz, David; Kirby, David (October 18, 2006). The Libertarian Vote. Cato Institute.
  5. ^ Carpenter, Ted Galen; Innocent, Malen (2008). "Foreign Policy". In Hamowy, Ronald (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE; Cato Institute. pp. 177–180. doi:10.4135/9781412965811.n109. ISBN 978-1-4129-6580-4. LCCN 2008009151. OCLC 750831024.
  6. ^ Olsen, Edward A. (2002). US National Defense for the Twenty-First Century: The Grand Exit Strategy. Taylor & Francis. p. 182. ISBN 0714681407. ISBN 9780714681405.
  7. ^ a b DeLeon 1978, p. 127. "[O]nly a few individuals like Murray Rothbard, in Power and Market, and some article writers were influenced by [past anarchists like Spooner and Tucker]. Most had not evolved consciously from this tradition; they had been a rather automatic product of the American environment".
  8. ^ a b Rothbard, Murray (1965) [2000]. "The Spooner-Tucker Doctrine: An Economist's View". Journal of Libertarian Studies. 20 (1): 7.
  9. ^ a b c Russell, Dean (May 1955). "Who Is A Libertarian?". The Freeman. The Foundation for Economic Education. 5 (5). Archived from the original on June 26, 2010. Retrieved March 6, 2010.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Jeffrey Tucker. "Where Does the Term "Libertarian" Come From Anyway?".
  11. ^ a b Martin, Douglas (November 22, 2010). "David Nolan, 66, Is Dead; Started Libertarian Party". New York Times. Retrieved November 17, 2019.
  12. ^ a b Caldwell, Christopher (July 22, 2007). "The Antiwar, Anti-Abortion, Anti-Drug-Enforcement-Administration, Anti-Medicare Candidacy of Dr. Ron Paul". The New York Times. Archived from the original on September 22, 2012. Retrieved September 22, 2012.
  13. ^ Rothbard, Murray (2009) [1970s]. The Betrayal of the American Right (PDF). Mises Institute. ISBN 978-1610165013. One gratifying aspect of our rise to some prominence is that, for the first time in my memory, we, 'our side,' had captured a crucial word from the enemy. 'Libertarians' had long been simply a polite word for left-wing anarchists, that is for anti-private property anarchists, either of the communist or syndicalist variety. But now we had taken it over.
  14. ^ a b c Bookchin, Murray (January 1986). "The Greening of Politics: Toward a New Kind of Political Practice". Green Perspectives: Newsletter of the Green Program Project (1). "We have permitted cynical political reactionaries and the spokesmen of large corporations to pre-empt these basic libertarian American ideals. We have permitted them not only to become the specious voice of these ideals such that individualism has been used to justify egotism; the pursuit of happiness to justify greed, and even our emphasis on local and regional autonomy has been used to justify parochialism, insularism, and exclusivity – often against ethnic minorities and so-called deviant individuals. We have even permitted these reactionaries to stake out a claim to the word libertarian, a word, in fact, that was literally devised in the 1890s in France by Elisée Reclus as a substitute for the word anarchist, which the government had rendered an illegal expression for identifying one's views. The propertarians, in effect – acolytes of Ayn Rand, the earth mother of greed, egotism, and the virtues of property – have appropriated expressions and traditions that should have been expressed by radicals but were willfully neglected because of the lure of European and Asian traditions of socialism, socialisms that are now entering into decline in the very countries in which they originated".
  15. ^ a b c d Nettlau, Max (1996). A Short History of Anarchism. London: Freedom Press. p. 162. ISBN 978-0-900384-89-9. OCLC 37529250.
  16. ^ a b c d Fernandez, Frank (2001). Cuban Anarchism. The History of a Movement. Sharp Press. p. 9. "Thus, in the United States, the once exceedingly useful term "libertarian" has been hijacked by egotists who are in fact enemies of liberty in the full sense of the word."
  17. ^ a b c d "The Week Online Interviews Chomsky". Z Magazine. February 23, 2002. "The term libertarian as used in the US means something quite different from what it meant historically and still means in the rest of the world. Historically, the libertarian movement has been the anti-statist wing of the socialist movement. In the US, which is a society much more dominated by business, the term has a different meaning. It means eliminating or reducing state controls, mainly controls over private tyrannies. Libertarians in the US don't say let's get rid of corporations. It is a sort of ultra-rightism."
  18. ^ a b c d Ward, Colin (2004). Anarchism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. p. 62. "For a century, anarchists have used the word 'libertarian' as a synonym for 'anarchist', both as a noun and an adjective. The celebrated anarchist journal Le Libertaire was founded in 1896. However, much more recently the word has been appropriated by various American free-market philosophers."
  19. ^ a b c d e Robert Graham, ed. (2005). Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. Volume One: From Anarchy to Anarchism (300 CE–1939). Montreal: Black Rose Books. §17.
  20. ^ a b Goodway, David (2006). Anarchist Seeds Beneath the Snow: Left-Libertarian Thought and British Writers from William Morris to Colin Ward. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. p. 4. "'Libertarian' and 'libertarianism' are frequently employed by anarchists as synonyms for 'anarchist' and 'anarchism', largely as an attempt to distance themselves from the negative connotations of 'anarchy' and its derivatives. The situation has been vastly complicated in recent decades with the rise of anarcho-capitalism, 'minimal statism' and an extreme right-wing laissez-faire philosophy advocated by such theorists as Rothbard and Nozick and their adoption of the words 'libertarian' and 'libertarianism'. It has therefore now become necessary to distinguish between their right libertarianism and the left libertarianism of the anarchist tradition".
  21. ^ a b c d e f Marshall, Peter (2009). Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism. p. 641. "The word 'libertarian' has long been associated with anarchism, and has been used repeatedly throughout this work. The term originally denoted a person who upheld the doctrine of the freedom of the will; in this sense, Godwin was not a 'libertarian', but a 'necessitarian'. It came however to be applied to anyone who approved of liberty in general. In anarchist circles, it was first used by Joseph Déjacque as the title of his anarchist journal Le Libertaire, Journal du Mouvement Social published in New York in 1858. At the end of the last century, the anarchist Sebastien Faure took up the word, to stress the difference between anarchists and authoritarian socialists".
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  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i "160 years of Libertarian".
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  26. ^ a b Marshall, Peter (2008). Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism. London: Harper Perennial. p. 565. "The problem with the term 'libertarian' is that it is now also used by the Right. [...] In its moderate form, right libertarianism embraces laissez-faire liberals like Robert Nozick who call for a minimal State, and in its extreme form, anarcho-capitalists like Murray Rothbard and David Friedman who entirely repudiate the role of the State and look to the market as a means of ensuring social order".
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  28. ^ a b Carlson, Jennifer D. (2012). "Libertarianism". In Miller, Wilburn R., ed. The Social History of Crime and Punishment in America. London: Sage Publications. p. 1006. ISBN 1412988764.
  29. ^ a b c "Anarchism". In Gaus, Gerald F.; D'Agostino, Fred, eds. (2012). The Routledge Companion to Social and Political Philosophy. p. 227.
  30. ^ a b Kymlicka, Will (2005). "libertarianism, left-". In Honderich, Ted. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. New York City: Oxford University Press. p. 516. ISBN 978-0199264797. "'Left-libertarianism' is a new term for an old conception of justice, dating back to Grotius. It combines the libertarian assumption that each person possesses a natural right of self-ownership over his person with the egalitarian premiss that natural resources should be shared equally. Right-wing libertarians argue that the right of self-ownership entails the right to appropriate unequal parts of the external world, such as unequal amounts of land. According to left-libertarians, however, the world's natural resources were initially unowned, or belonged equally to all, and it is illegitimate for anyone to claim exclusive private ownership of these resources to the detriment of others. Such private appropriation is legitimate only if everyone can appropriate an equal amount, or if those who appropriate more are taxed to compensate those who are thereby excluded from what was once common property. Historic proponents of this view include Thomas Paine, Herbert Spencer, and Henry George. Recent exponents include Philippe Van Parijs and Hillel Steiner."
  31. ^ Chartier, Gary; Johnson, Charles W. (2011). Markets Not Capitalism: Individualist Anarchism Against Bosses, Inequality, Corporate Power, and Structural Poverty. Brooklyn: Minor Compositions/Autonomedia. pp. 1–16.
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  142. ^ "It introduces an eye-opening approach to radical social thought, rooted equally in libertarian socialism and market anarchism." Chartier, Gary; Johnson, Charles W. (2011). Markets Not Capitalism: Individualist Anarchism Against Bosses, Inequality, Corporate Power, and Structural Poverty. Brooklyn, NY: Minor Compositions/Autonomedia. p. back cover.
  143. ^ "But there has always been a market-oriented strand of libertarian socialism that emphasizes voluntary cooperation between producers. And markets, properly understood, have always been about cooperation. As a commenter at Reason magazine's Hit&Run blog, remarking on Jesse Walker's link to the Kelly article, put it: "every trade is a cooperative act." In fact, it's a fairly common observation among market anarchists that genuinely free markets have the most legitimate claim to the label "socialism." "Socialism: A Perfectly Good Word Rehabilitated" by Kevin Carson at website of Center for a Stateless Society.
  144. ^ Nick Manley, "Brief Introduction To Left-Wing Laissez Faire Economic Theory: Part One".
  145. ^ Nick Manley, "Brief Introduction To Left-Wing Laissez Faire Economic Theory: Part Two".
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    • Chartier, Gary; Johnson, Charles W. (2011). Markets Not Capitalism: Individualist Anarchism Against Bosses, Inequality, Corporate Power, and Structural Poverty. Brooklyn, NY: Minor Compositions/Autonomedia.
    • "It introduces an eye-opening approach to radical social thought, rooted equally in libertarian socialism and market anarchism." Chartier, Gary; Johnson, Charles W. (2011). Markets Not Capitalism: Individualist Anarchism Against Bosses, Inequality, Corporate Power, and Structural Poverty. Brooklyn, NY: Minor Compositions/Autonomedia. p. back cover.
    • "But there has always been a market-oriented strand of libertarian socialism that emphasizes voluntary cooperation between producers. And markets, properly understood, have always been about cooperation. As a commenter at Reason magazine's Hit&Run blog, remarking on Jesse Walker's link to the Kelly article, put it: “every trade is a cooperative act.” In fact, it's a fairly common observation among market anarchists that genuinely free markets have the most legitimate claim to the label “socialism.”" "Socialism: A Perfectly Good Word Rehabilitated" by Kevin Carson at website of Center for a Stateless Society.
    • Carson, Kevin A. (2008). Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective. Charleston, SC: BookSurge.
    • Carson, Kevin A. (2010). The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto. Charleston, SC: BookSurge.
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    • Gillis, William (2011). "The Freed Market." In Chartier, Gary and Johnson, Charles. Markets Not Capitalism. Brooklyn, NY: Minor Compositions/Autonomedia. pp. 19–20.
    • Chartier, Gary; Johnson, Charles W. (2011). Markets Not Capitalism: Individualist Anarchism Against Bosses, Inequality, Corporate Power, and Structural Poverty. Brooklyn, NY: Minor Compositions/Autonomedia. pp. 1–16.
    • Gary Chartier and Charles W. Johnson (eds). Markets Not Capitalism: Individualist Anarchism Against Bosses, Inequality, Corporate Power, and Structural Poverty. Minor Compositions; 1st edition (November 5, 2011).
    • Gary Chartier has joined Kevin Carson, Charles W. Johnson and others in maintaining that because of its heritage and its emancipatory goals and potential radical market anarchism should be seen by its proponents and by others as part of the socialist tradition and that market anarchists can and should call themselves socialists. See Gary Chartier, "Advocates of Freed Markets Should Oppose Capitalism," "Free-Market Anti-Capitalism?" session, annual conference, Association of Private Enterprise Education (Cæsar's Palace, Las Vegas, NV, April 13, 2010); Gary Chartier, "Advocates of Freed Markets Should Embrace 'Anti-Capitalism'"; Gary Chartier, Socialist Ends, Market Means: Five Essays. Cp. Tucker, "Socialism."
    • Chris Sciabarra is the only scholar associated with this school of left-libertarianism who is skeptical about anarchism; see Sciabarra's Total Freedom.
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  288. ^ MacLean, Nancy (2017). Democracy in Chains, The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America. Penguin Books. ISBN 9781101980965.

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