Types of libertarians

We live in a world where people label everything. If ten different people say they are “libertarian” we don’t really know if they are all talking about the same thing. More than likely no one is on the same page. We need to define the terms so that we know what we are really talking about if we say “libertarian” or whatever.

The great economist and Rothbardian professor Walter Block once summed up the attributes of various labels:

  1. Anarcho-capitalism. This is earmarked by strict adherence to the non-aggression principle (NAP) and property rights, based on homesteading. All government is rejected as illicit, since it necessarily violates the NAP (for one thing, no one agreed to pay it taxes). The foremost exemplar of this viewpoint is Murray N. Rothbard.
  1. Minarchism, or (very) limited government: Here, the state apparatus is limited to an army, courts and police. All three institutions have but one role: to protect the persons and property rights of domestic residents. The most famous adherents of this philosophy are Ayn Rand and Robert Nozick (well, at least for a while, in the latter case.)
  1. Constitutionalism. These are strict constructionists of the U.S. constitution. Dr. Ron Paul is the foremost exponent of this libertarian perspective.
  1. Classical liberals. They favor free enterprise and the marketplace, but accept numerous exceptions to the system of laissez faire capitalism. The highest profile examples are Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek.

I think that if everyone would adhere to the labels above, many arguments and misunderstandings would be avoided. Unfortunately, the list does not include the “anarchists” who are really communists, but that is alright as I don’t have enough space in this short essay to cover those crazy people.

It should be obvious that number one above is the best of all possible worlds here on earth and that succeeding label is a drop in freedom. Those who expose the viewpoint of Anarcho-capitalism are telling us how we should live. Unfortunately, mankind has been dominated for centuries by the State and all its evil. Hence, getting from the totalitarian present to a free future is going to be a difficult task. The road is full of danger and errors will be made.

Some readers will disagree that the Anarcho-capitalism is “better” or “more free” than, say, “Classical Libertarianism”. Let us start with Classical Libertarianism and see how each level is better that the one below it. The idea of this exercise is that I want to take a look at tactics that libertarians should use to help the world (USA in particular) reach freedom and so a clear understanding of the problems of each ideology would be most useful.

Classical Liberals

Classical liberalism, which was just called liberalism in those days, once dominated the west. The idea of laissez-faire capitalism (even with the exceptions they favored) along with property rights brought us the industrial revolution and our modern industrial society.  Classical liberalism brought the downfall of feudalism and the stagnation that system gave humanity.

So what was so bad about classical liberalism? The ideology supported the state and thought the state could be contained and controlled. History proves that idea was a mistake. Classical liberalism gave us the United States and the history of just the USA shows that the state will continually amass power and will come to dominate the citizens. The tyranny of today’s USA came from the classically liberal beginning. That shows us that the Classical Liberals made a serious mistake thinking the State could be contained and controlled.


The problem with those who think that the piece of paper called the Constitution will constrain the State is that the State itself interprets the words in the constitution. Naturally the State always finds for itself increasing “constitutional powers” that no one saw before. Essentially the constitutionalists make the same error as the Classical Liberals made.

Minarchism, or (very) limited government

Those who propose a government so limited that one can barely tell it is there have an advantage in that they claim to provide honest and impartial legal services to the people. They claim to provide national defense. The problem is that the state will grow in size and become exactly what we have today. Besides that, even a very limited state will reward its friends and become a bastion of crony-capitalism. It is true that a very limited government would beat the tyranny we have today but the ultimate goal must be for more than this.


The idea of no State at all and how people would craft a society blows the mind of most people. I recall thinking that Murray Rothbard was good on most things but just went too far when he said that we could have a society without a State. Then I realized that society is not the State and that the State is the enemy of society. Protection of the weak does not mean there must be a monopoly sate.

People will find ways to govern themselves and there will be “bad guys” that must be dealt with. But competing police services, courts, and legal services beat the monopoly that the State enjoys today.

I think the example of Ireland for at least a 1,000 years without a state and perhaps as much as 9,000 years cured me of any doubt about a stateless society.



5 thoughts on “Types of libertarians

  1. I believe that once this idea is planted, the idea that someone who has the power to grant himself power, (with practically no one to stop them) is a threat. That person (the State, ruling class, what ever you want to call it) is not fit to have authority over any population because of the inevitable abuse. It is a very important idea to plant. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” is a cliche that is true. I advocate no one into such a position, I see it as a curse, not a blessing.

    • I agree completely. Another cliche is that we think people are so evil they need the state to control them, so we elect evil men to control us. Not smart.

      I am hoping that as the US Empire implodes, there will be enough people who realize that the state is the problem and we figure out that we need freedom and not control.

      • It would be nice if it happened in our lifetime but I have a cool “what if” scenario. What if when we colonize Mars (sometime in the next 30 years) the colony goes without any central power or governing unit? That might be the most prime example that a form of anarchy works, in fact it might spark all kinds of revolutions on Earth. If the brave people of Mars can do it, well so can we. That is only a hope anyway, I personally would volunteer to go to Mars if my wife and family would come with. So exciting!

        • That reminds me of Bob Heinlein’s “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress” from the ’60s.

          The story was set in 2075. It could still happen. 🙂

  2. I find it absurd that people who oppose libertarianism utilize disingenuous and ill-informed objections to back up their positions. Some people can call themselves libertarians without agreeing with all of the positions of the Libertarian Party. You can have people who identify as libertarians who would disagree with the Libertarian Party platform on some issues, however, they probably agree with them on the majority of the issues.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s