Definitions of Libertarianism
What is a Libertarian?
What does libertarian mean to you? Unsurprisingly, libertarians often have their own unique ways of answering that question. See if your definition matches with one below.
Libertarianism is the only political philosophy that recognizes the following principle: Coercive actions diminish happiness, harmony, and prosperity. Test that statement. Other ideologies claim to deliver on it, only libertarianism does.
Mike Sertic, 5th and current President, Advocates for Self-Government
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, 2nd President, Advocates for Self-Government
Libertarianism is a model for human social behavior to maximize well-being. It’s based on a principle found in nature:
Human happiness, harmony, and prosperity decrease as persons experience violence or theft initiated against them.
A libertarian is one who understands the gravitational force of this natural principle and acts on it. They don’t maliciously initiate violence against others; they don’t steal the property of others (through physical force or fraud) to achieve their personal or social goals; a libertarian does not utilize agents, including politicians and government functionaries, to initiate physical force or commit fraud on their behalf, through voting systems or otherwise; they act with virtue—living in accordance with this natural principle, actively persuading others to choose persuasion over force in all their social dealings.
Chris Rufer, Founder and President of The Morning Star Company
Libertarianism is about removing arbitrary barriers between people who want to peacefully engage with one another.
Justin Amash, Former U.S. Congressman
Other people are not your property.
Roderick Long, philosopher, Auburn University professor, and author of Reason and Value: Aristotle vs. Rand
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.
Dr. Ron Paul, Former U.S. Congressman and Republican presidential candidate, author of End the Fed
Libertarianism is what your mom taught you: behave yourself and don’t hit your sister.
Ken Bisson, former board member, Advocates for Self-Government
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 (1915-1998), author at the Foundation for Economic Education, 1955
We want the 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, network TV reporter 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
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, 3rd President of Advocates for Self-Government, author of How to Be a Super Communicator for Liberty
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
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, (1935-2019) 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.
L. Neil Smith, Prometheus Award-winning science fiction novelist
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, inventor of the World’s Smallest Political Quiz
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
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), Nobel 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, past president, Foundation for Economic Education
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 [some politician] 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 & 2000 Libertarian Party Presidential Candidate, NY Times bestselling author, and creator of the Permanent Portfolio.