Definitions of Libertarianism - The Advocates for Self-Government

Definitions of Libertarianism

What is a Libertarian?

libertarian definition

There are many ways of saying the same thing, and libertarians often have unique ways of answering the question “What is libertarianism?” We’ve asked many libertarians that question, and below are some of our favorite definitions.

Libertarianism is, as the name implies, the belief in liberty. Libertarians believe that each person owns his own life and property and has the right to make his own choices as to how he lives his life and uses his property – as long as he simply respects the equal right of others to do the same.

Sharon Harris, President, Advocates for Self-Government

Libertarianism is what your mom taught you: behave yourself and don’t hit your sister.

Ken Bisson, board member, Advocates for Self-Government

Libertarianism is the view that each person has the right to live his life in any way he chooses so long as he respects the equal rights of others. Libertarians defend each person’s right to life, liberty, and property – rights that people possess naturally, before governments are created. In the libertarian view, all human relationships should voluntary; the only actions that should be forbidden by law are those that involve the initiation of force against those who have themselves used force – actions like murder, rape, robbery, kidnapping, and fraud.

David Boaz, Executive Vice President, Cato Institute

Libertarianism is a philosophy. The basic premise of libertarianism is that each individual should be free to do as he or she pleases so long as he or she does not harm others. In the libertarian view, societies and governments infringe on individual liberties whenever they tax wealth, create penalties for victimless crimes, or otherwise attempt to control or regulate individual conduct which harms or benefits no one except the individual who engages in it.

definition written by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, during the process of granting the Advocates for Self-Government status as a nonprofit educational organization

The core of libertarianism is respect for the life, liberty and property rights of each individual. This means that no one may initiate force against another, as that violates those natural rights. While many claim adherence to this principle, only libertarians apply the non-aggression axiom to the state.

Ron Paul

Libertarians believe in individual liberty, personal responsibility and freedom from government – on all issues at all times… A libertarian is someone who thinks you should be free to live your life as you want to live it, not as [the President of the United States] thinks you should – who believes you should raise your children by your values, not those of some far-off bureaucrat who’s using your child as a pawn to create some brave new world – who thinks that, because you’re the one who gets up every day and goes to work, you should be free to keep every dollar you earn, to spend it, save it, give it away as you think best.

Harry Browne (1933-2006);1996 and 2000 Libertarian Party Presidential Candidate and author of Liberty A-Z: 872 Libertarian Soundbites You Can Use Right Now!

In popular terminology, a libertarian is the opposite of an authoritarian. Strictly speaking, a libertarian is one who rejects the idea of using violence or the threat of violence – legal or illegal – to impose his will or viewpoint upon any peaceful person. Generally speaking, a libertarian is one who wants to be governed far less than he is today.

Dean Russell, author at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), 1955

We want government to largely leave us alone, protect our personal security, but then to butt-out, leave us free to pursue our hopes and dreams, as long as we don’t hurt anybody else.

John Stossel, host of “Stossel” on Fox Financial News Network and author of Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity

As Libertarians, we seek a world of liberty; a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives, and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others. We believe that respect for individual rights is the essential precondition for a free and prosperous world, that force and fraud must be banished from human relationships, and that only through freedom can peace and prosperity be realized. Consequently, we defend each person’s right to engage in any activity that is peaceful and honest, and welcome the diversity that freedom brings. The world we seek to build is one where individuals are free to follow their own dreams in their own ways, without interference from government or any authoritarian power.

from the Preamble to the Libertarian Party Platform

Applied to personal behavior, the libertarian ethic is simple but stark: Thou shalt not initiate the use of force. Thou shalt not deceive or defraud. Anyone who observes both these injunctions faithfully has gone a long way toward being an admirable human being as defined by any of the world’s great ethical systems.

Charles Murray, political scientist and author of What It Means To Be a Libertarian

Libertarians are self-governors in both personal and economic matters. They believe government’s only purpose is to protect people from coercion and violence. Libertarians value individual responsibility and tolerate economic and social diversity.

Carole Ann Rand, former president, Advocates for Self-Government

Libertarianism is what you probably already believe… Libertarian values are American values. Libertarianism is America’s heritage of liberty, patriotism and honest work to build a future for your family. It’s the idea that being free and independent is a great way to live. That each of us is a unique individual with great potential. That you own yourself, and that you have the right to decide what’s best for you. Americans of all races and creeds built a great and prosperous country with these libertarian ideals. Let’s use them to build America’s future.

David Bergland, 1984 Libertarian Party Presidential Candidate and author of Libertarianism in One Lesson

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.

author L. Neil Smith

Libertarianism is self-government. It combines the best of both worlds: The left leg of self-government is tolerance of others; the right leg is responsible economic behavior. The combination of both legs leads to social harmony and material abundance.

Marshall Fritz (1943-2008), Founder of the Advocates for Self-Government and of the Alliance for the Separation of School and State, inventor of the World’s Smallest Political Quiz

Free minds and free markets.

slogan of Reason magazine

Individual liberty, free markets and peace.

slogan of Cato Institute

Central to libertarianism is its non-aggression principle. Each of us has the obligation under justice not to aggress against anyone else for any reason – personal, social or political.

Doris Gordon, Libertarians for Life

Small government: one that stays out of people’s wallets and out of their bedrooms.

Jeffrey Miron, Harvard Professor and author of Libertarianism from A to Z

True and impartial liberty is therefore the right of every man to pursue the natural, reasonable and religious dictates of his own mind; to think what he will, and act as he thinks, provided he acts not to the prejudice of another; to spend his own money himself and lay out the produce of his labor his own way; and to labor for his own pleasure and profit, and not for others who are idle, and would live and riot by pillaging and oppressing him and those that are like him.

Thomas Gordon, 1722, submitted by David Nalle, Republican Liberty Caucus

The political and legal philosophy rooted in natural law of individual liberty and personal responsibility under a rule of law.

David J. Theroux, Founder and President, Independent Institute

Libertarianism is a political philosophy. It is concerned solely with the proper use of force. Its core premise is that it should be illegal to threaten or initiate violence against a person or his property without his permission; force is justified only in defense or retaliation.That is it, in a nutshell. The rest is mere explanation, elaboration, and qualification.

Walter Block, Loyola University Professor and author of Defending the Undefendable

Libertarianism is the simple morality we learned as children: don’t strike first, don’t steal or cheat, keep your promises. If you inadvertently fail to live up to these standards, make it up to the person you’ve harmed. If someone harms you, you may defend yourself as needed to stop the aggressor and obtain reparations. This simple morality works group-to-group just as it works one-to-one to bring about a peaceful and prosperous world.

Mary Ruwart, author of Healing Our World in an Age of Aggression

A political system guided by the basic principles of natural individual human rights (to one’s life, liberty, property, etc.).

Tibor Machan, philosopher, Chapman University Professor and author of The Promise of Liberty

The political philosophy in which individual and economic liberty constitute the highest societal value.

Robert Poole, Founder, Reason Foundation

The freedom to live your life as you see fit as long as you do not harm or infringe upon the rights of others.

Jeff Frazee, Executive Director, Young Americans for Liberty

Other people are not your property.

Roderick Long, philosopher, Auburn University Professor and author of Reason and Value: Aristotle Vs. Rand

Libertarians want the smallest, least-intrusive government consistent with maximum freedom for each individual to follow his own ways, his own values, as long as he doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s doing the same

Milton Friedman (1912-2006), Noble Prize-winning economist

Libertarianism is a political philosophy that advocates little or no initiation of force in society. That view is derived from the philosophy’s core premise, namely, that each and every person is born into this world as a distinct and precious individual, possessing the right to do anything that is peaceful.

Lawrence Reed, President, Foundation for Economic Education