What is libertarianism?

A libertarian is a person who believes that no one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being, or to advocate or delegate its initiation. Those who act consistently with this principle are libertarians, whether they realize it or not. Those who fail to act consistently with it are not libertarians, regardless of what they may claim. ~ L. Neil Smith

Libertarianism is the belief in liberty. Darn, that was easy! Oh, how much liberty? How to protect that liberty? What size should the government be? Should there be a government? This may not be as easy as it looks!

I have heard it said that libertarians strive for a free, peaceful, abundant world where each individual has the maximum opportunity to pursue his or her dreams and to realize his full potential. That is fine, and we libertarians can get into some knock-down fights over how best to achieve that goal. The core idea is simple really and is profound and far-reaching in its implications.

Libertarians run the gambit from Classic Liberals to market anarchists. But one unifying theme has to be that libertarians believe in the non-aggression principle. You may not use force, threat of force, or other intimidation on someone who has not done anything to you. You many not attack an innocent man. No system of morality in the history of mankind allows one to morally launch an unprovoked attack.

Libertarians believe that each person owns his own body, life, and property. This means that a person has the right to make his own choices as to how he lives his life as long as he obeys the non-aggression principle and gives everyone else the same respect to live their lives. You should be free to do as you choose with your own life and property, as long as you don’t harm the person or property of others.

Libertarianism in the form of Classic Liberalism set in motion the greatest increase in human wealth and knowledge in the history of the world. This is one of the central lessons of world history: that virtually all the progress the human race has enjoyed during the past few centuries is due to the increasing acceptance of free markets, civil liberties, and self-ownership.

Why do some libertarians believe in a State while others do not? Some, like myself, think that no government can be constrained and that means that sooner or later it will become a tyranny to its citizens. Others believe that the non-aggression principle demands no state even if one could be designed in such a way that it would not grow in power until it became a tyranny. A few believe that government is so inherently inefficient that mankind will be wealthier without a government.  Many of us believe some combination of all the above. But some folks think that a small “night watchman government” is needed to protect the liberties of the masses and to provide for the common defence. Libertarianism is a spectrum of beliefs on how best to achieve personal liberty.

Libertarianism has been summed up by some people as “live and let live”.


3 thoughts on “What is libertarianism?

  1. Excellent summary of libertarian principles and the spectrum of their application. I think far too often we allow these minor differences to divide us and divert us from our goals of achieving personal liberty.

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