Types of libertarians

Small-government libertarians hold libertarian positions on enough issues to score libertarian on The Quiz, but they are not as doctrinaire as other types of libertarians. People like Senator Rand Paul and former Colorado Governor Gary Johnson are examples.

  • Limited-state libertarians think The State should be limited to only its defensive functions of police, courts, and national defense. Former Congressman Ron Paul is a good example of this kind of libertarian. 
  • Voluntaryist libertarians think governance can be provided without a State or taxation. Some libertarians of this type also refer to themselves as anarcho-capitalists. 

It’s also important to distinguish “movement libertarians” and Libertarian Party (LP) members. All LP members are members of the libertarian movement, but not all participants in the libertarian movement are members of the LP. This distinction is often made by calling LP members “big L” and non-party libertarians “small l.”   

What it means to be a libertarian


According to Arnold Kling in his book Three Languages of Politics, a libertarian will communicate along the liberty/coercion axis…

“My heroes are the people who defend individual rights. The people I cannot stand are those who want the government to restrict people’s ability to make their own choices.”

Libertarians seek to increase individual liberty, personal responsibility, peaceful persuasion, and voluntary cooperation. They will do this by reducing state aggression as much as possible. They believe this will cause increased human flourishing. 

What would a libertarian world look like?

Libertarian Principles

Libertarianism is a moral philosophy with profound practical implications. Libertarians believe that good ends should be pursued using only good means. 

Libertarians believe legitimate governance must only use violence in defensive ways. It must never use coercion, or threats thereof, aggressively

Said differently, legitimate governance must never initiate force to impose things on peaceful people against their will.  

Libertarians enshrine this idea in what some call the Non-aggression Principle (NAP), or the Zero Aggression Principle (ZAP). Both terms mean the same thing…

Don’t aggress/initiate force against others, personally or politically. 

An associated libertarian idea is the Self-ownership Principle: People own their own lives, and have a right to live as they see fit, provided they don’t violate another person’s right to do the same. 

The Homesteading Principle is another libertarian concept. It extends the Self-ownership Principle to include the wealth individuals create. When you mix your time, intelligence, and energy with raw materials to create something new and useful, you own the result. In other words…

Your right to own property is an extension of your self-ownership. 

These are all moral principles, but they have profound practical consequences. Libertarians argue strongly that…

Voluntary cooperation is more pragmatic than state aggression

Tax-funded state programs are inherently inefficient. They have little incentive to perform well. The people who manage them get paid no matter what the results are, and the programs themselves get funded even if they fail. Indeed, politicians often give programs increased funding precisely because they do fail. 

We hardly ever (or never) hear politicians argue that a failed program ought to be canceled or become more efficient. Politicians almost always claim that programs fail because they are underfunded. Larger budgets soon follow. This approach rewards failure and inefficiency, guaranteeing that we will have more of both. But it gets worse…

A tax-funded system creates concentrated benefits with dispersed costs. 

This means that anyone who receives state benefits has a concentrated incentive to protect and expand those benefits. But the cost of any given handout is spread among all taxpayers. This creates little incentive for voters to oppose any given program’s failures and inefficiencies. In other words…

Taxation creates huge incentives for The State to grow ever larger, ever more expensive, and constantly less efficient. There are quite literally hundreds of examples of this, but six of them are especially powerful. Here are the first five…

Food, childcare, healthcare, housing, and higher education

Politicians have spent trillions of dollars subsidizing food, childcare, healthcare, housing, and higher education with the aim of making them more affordable. The result has been the exact opposite. 

Nearly every other area of life has become less costly as a function of the hours worked to buy them. But food, childcare, healthcare, housing, and higher education have grown more expensive, despite (or because of) all the tax dollars lavished on them. Look at this chart…

But these examples aren’t even the worst of it. Please consider…

The Social Safety Net

We’re told taxation is required to guarantee a social safety net. This “net” is supposed to catch people when they fall economically. Politicians claim we would have people starving in the streets if not for the taxes that fund these programs, But look around…

There is no social safety net. Instead, there are beggars on every street corner, and tent cities that extend for miles in hundreds of American cities. Shoplifting is rampant and thousands of stores have been forced to close their doors. Vast sections of once-vibrant cities have been abandoned to decay and ruin. But it gets worse…

Social Security, the supposed cornerstone of the safety net, actually increases poverty and economic inequality. 

Politicians have saved ZERO money to pay for future Social Security benefits. Instead…

Social Security is a pay-as-you-go program, funded by taxes on CURRENT workers. It’s not a real retirement system based on savings and investments. This means…

All the benefits being paid today are funded by taxes on poor young workers who are just getting started in life. And most of that money goes to benefit more affluent elders who have finished paying their mortgages and who have a lifetime of earnings and savings behind them. This results in a huge transfer of wealth from those who have less to those who have more. But that’s not the end of the problem…

Those people who were poor during their working life also get the lowest Social Security benefits, while those who were affluent during their careers get larger benefits. This locks poverty in place for millions of old people. It also fosters economic inequality in spite of the Left constantly telling us that their programs are designed to correct income inequality. 

Social Security taxes also rob poor people of money they could otherwise save. Those savings could have generated vastly larger benefits than Social Security pays, while also giving people capital they could leave to their heirs. This would end multi-generational poverty. Plus…

The absence of such savings forces many low-income people to incur expensive credit card debt to pay for emergencies like car repairs and dental work. Still, others are unable to buy cars at all and must instead use time-consuming and inconvenient mass transportation.

It’s a simple fact, Social Security makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. 

To libertarians, the verdict is clear. Aggression-based taxation makes life worse not better. But it doesn’t have to be that way. 

The Libertarian Alternative

A libertarian world would be low-tax or no-tax. 

The low-tax approach favored by small-government and limited-state libertarians would restrict the amount of money politicians can waste. This could compel increases in government efficiency, leading to better results. It would also leave citizens with more money to pursue their own dreams and charitable preferences. But…

The no-tax approach favored by voluntaryist libertarians might be even better because it would remove all the bad incentives that currently lead to so much social harm. Voluntaryist governance would be funded through voluntary payments, donations, and user fees, and NOT through taxation. This would completely eliminate the politicians’ ability to reward failure or benefit their cronies. 

Many people immediately balk at this idea. They assume voluntary funding could not possibly provide enough resources to do all the things The State currently does. Of course, this begs the question of how much governance society actually needs. We can certainly dispense with all the waste and cronyism that taxes currently support, but what about the rest?

Voluntaryist libertarians make a powerful but startling observation: the amount of governance we have should be determined by what people are willing to fund, and not by what politicians want to impose. Better yet…

A world of voluntary payments would create consumer sovereignty over government. As a consumer, you can hire or fire major companies all day long. You should be able to do the same thing with government programs, accepting some and rejecting others. You should also be able to increase or reduce the funding you give to specific programs, based on how well you think they use your money. The next point is crucial…

You would have far more power over government as a voluntary funder than you do as a voter. There’s little chance your vote will ever decide any election. Even worse, you must persuade 50+% of all the voters to agree with you. That’s a lot of work and expense. In reality, it will never happen. You will never get what you really want. By comparison…

You get to make all your own choices as a voluntary funder of government, without having to ask for the permission or agreement of anyone else. So let’s see what a low-tax or no-tax world would look like in terms of…

Libertarian institutions of governance

The dimensions of a small-government libertarian world

Small-government libertarians would be content to have a government that’s simply a lot smaller than what we have now. 

At the federal level, they would probably allow for courts and a small national defense establishment with a non-interventionist foreign policy. 

Most would probably settle for a tax-funded social safety net at the state level, with police and criminal courts at the local level. 

There would be no federal involvement in education, and parental choice would rule at the state and local levels. 

Small government libertarians would reject all corporate subsidies. They would probably also prefer to leave most regulations to free market forces so as to prevent large special interests from using government regulations to crush small competitors (this problem is known as regulatory capture). 

Small government libertarians would oppose all forms of prohibition, including alcohol, drug, and gun prohibition. They would probably also support liberalized immigration. They would strongly defend the civil rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights, and many others that are not enumerated, but that should still enjoy protection under the 9th Amendment. 

Small government libertarians would probably prefer a low level of flat taxation with no federal borrowing except perhaps in the case of a formally declared war. 

The dimensions of a limited-state libertarian world

Liimited-state libertarians would restrict The State to defensive functions only – police, courts, and national defense. They would permit no tax-funded programs of any other kind. That means no subsidies, no victimless crime laws, and no aggressive prior restraint regulations. 

Laissez-faire would hold sway in the economy, while free trade and military non-intervention would govern foreign policy. 

Limited-state libertarians would close the CIA because it is incompatible with a free society, and the FBI because the 10th Amendment assigns the responsibility for criminal law and law enforcement to the states. 

Limited-state libertarians would favor complete separation of SCHOOL and state at all levels, for the same reason that we have separation of CHURCH and state. If we should not have a monopoly provider of ideas about religion, then we should also avoid having a monopoly provider of ideas about history, economics, and philosophy. 

Limited-state libertarians would oppose all forms of prohibition, just as all other libertarians do, while also favoring liberalized immigration. It should be obvious that the DEA and ATF would be closed while ICE would be downsized. 

Most limited-state libertarians would prefer to use voluntary payments and user fees to fund government, but many would probably accept a small level of taxation, as long as there was no borrowing. 

The goal of the limited-state libertarian would be to depoliticize as much of life as possible, while boosting civil society as the best source of solutions to social problems. 

The dimensions of a voluntaryist world

Voluntaryist libertarians would end all state aggression by enacting two sweeping policies…

  1. There would be no taxation – all funding for governance would be voluntary
  2. There would be no laws or regulations that impose things on peaceful people against their will. 

Voluntary funding would probably provide less revenue than taxation, but voluntaryists see this as a benefit, not a flaw. The amount of governance we have should be defined by what people want to pay, and not by what politicians want to impose.

Law and law enforcement

Basic law would ONLY restrict acts of aggression and fraud. There would be no laws or regulations to control peaceful human behavior. 

Public juries would decide when aggressive or fraudulent acts have occurred and what the punishment should be. Neither the definition of aggression nor the correction to be applied would be decided by politicians, bureaucrats, or judges. The law would be completely depoliticized. 

Compensation to the victim would likely be the first priority of criminal justice in a voluntaryist jury-driven system. Punishment would probably be secondary. 

There would be no public prosecutors. The victims or their heirs would manage the prosecution. 


Police would no longer enforce victimless crimes or engage in asset seizures. They would instead focus on preventing violent crimes against citizens.

Police would probably be funded on a subscription basis instead of through taxes. People who refuse to subscribe to a police service would probably have to pay a premium price if they call for assistance. Police protection would be provided to the indigent on a pro bono basis. 

Existing municipal police departments would continue to exist so long as they can find willing customers, but they would have to compete for subscribers with other security firms. This competition would compel them to truly protect and serve. Police companies that abuse people would lose customers and go out of business. 

The absence of prohibition laws would reduce violent crime while increasing the time police devote to actual prevention. These two factors dictate that crime would decrease to almost nothing. 


The freedom of association and the right to move freely through public spaces would be held inviolate in a voluntaryist libertarian world. As such, there would be no immigration controls. 

No American has the moral right to tell any other American, or any foreigner for that matter, whom he or she can or cannot associate with. Immigration controls are inherently immoral and impractical. In the voluntaryist view…

  • Efforts to enforce immigration restrictions amount to the crime of kidnapping. 
  • Wrong actions don’t become right just because voters or people with uniforms and badges say so. 
  • Arrests for normal peaceful behavior (such as moving through public spaces) are acts of aggression that would not be permitted in a voluntaryist society.
  • People who want to avoid involvement with foreigners can shelter inside their own proprietary communities, but they cannot use the law to impose their personal preferences on others. 

Stated differently…

If two people own property side-by-side at the Mexican border, and one wants to associate with Mexicans on his property, and the other does not, both are within their rights. No legitimate institution of governance has the right to make them do differently. Borders represent political lines of jurisdiction, not property boundaries. 


Roads would continue to be built in the same way they are today, by commercial developers, only instead of deeding those streets to The State to maintain in an expensive and slipshod manner, associations of property owners would retain ownership and the maintenance responsibility. 

Highways would be built on a for-profit basis, either to earn tolls or to increase the value of adjacent properties. After all, what good is it to own land if no one can get to it? On the other hand, if you build a road to your land it can be profitable to build a shopping center there. There is zero need for tax-funded roads. 

Developers could obtain rights-of-way for highways through option contracts instead of imminent domain. Option contracts would prevent landowners from blocking or delaying a highway by holding out for an exorbitant price.

The voluntaryist approach would give us better roads and fewer potholes. 

Indigent care

Aggression is morally inconsistent with compassion. All acts of charity must be voluntary, not compelled. Voluntary charities have to compete with other potential spending choices. That means they will innovate more and perform better than state programs do. Thus…

Voluntary funding could give us a social safety net truly worthy of the name. It would not create dragnet programs that rope in everyone regardless of need, like Social Security does in this country and the National Health Service does in Great Britain. Rather, voluntary charity would serve only the indigent. It would also tailor its solutions to local conditions and individual needs. 

Voluntaryists believe this approach would bring an end to the hoards of homeless people that currently make our major cities look like a zombie apocalypse. Voluntaryist economic policies would also increase the stock of housing to lower prices. This would reduce homelessness.  

National Defense

The Military Industrial Complex (MIC) has a huge incentive to create enemies for the American people and/or to instill fear in us over small or fanciful dangers. This results in expensive defense spending and/or harmful wars that enrich the MIC but make everyone else worse off. Aspects of the Cold War, Vietnam, the two Gulf Wars, the Afghanistan occupation, and the War on Terror all provide good examples of this bad problem. 

Voluntary funding for the military would fix this flaw. Politicians would have to persuade Americans to provide sufficient funding for any wars they want to fight, and they would have to do a better job of waging those wars in order to keep the funds flowing. This would bring better results at less cost. 

The choice would be yours. In a voluntaryist world, you could continue funding the current Military Industrial Complex, or you could favor smaller, safer, less expensive, and probably more effective approaches to defense. These alternatives could include militias or the kind of guerilla tactics that worked so well against the U.S. in Vietnam and Iraq (remote-controlled roadside explosive devices), and against the Soviet Union and the U.S. in Afghanistan.  

Current Institutions of governance

The transition to a voluntaryist system does not entail as many changes as most people assume. There would be little need to abolish most current government institutions and agencies. They would simply need to earn their keep by finding voluntary funding. 

Things like Social Security, the FDA, the military, and the weather service could continue so long as they can find willing customers. Only those agencies that inherently initiate force, such as the DEA and the BATF would need to be closed for certain. And even the IRS-managed system of withholding money from paychecks could be maintained, only the amounts withheld and the uses to which the money would be put would all be voluntary. 

Congress, the state legislatures, and city and county councils could all continue to function, but more as boards of directors than as dictators. Mayors, governors, and presidents would function more as CEOs and less as pushy busybodies. 

What kind of libertarian world do you want?

Do you want to move the world in a libertarian direction? Libertarianism offers multiple approaches to meet many preferences, be it for small government, a limited state, or a voluntaryist civilization. You can decide how far you want to go. 

Libertarian heroes and accomplishments

Frederic Bastiat

1801 to 1850.

French economist 

Key works: 

  • The Law
  • Economic Sophisms

William Loyd Garrison

1805 – 1879

American anti-slavery abolitionist and anarchist

Key work: The Liberator magazine which was the premiere publication advocating the abolition of slavery in America

Lysander Spooner

1808 to 1887

American political philosopher 

Key work: No Treason (which argues against the idea of the social contract, and against the idea that the U.S. Constitution represents such a contract). 

Herbert Spencer


British philosopher 

Key works: 

  • Social Statics
  • The Man Versus The State

William Graham Sumner

1840 to 1910

Harvard professor

Key work: The Conquest of the United States by Spain (which argued against the Spanish-American War and the U.S. acquisition of a colonial empire as the result of that war)

Benjamin Tucker

1854 to 1939

American writer and publisher

Key work: Liberty magazine

H.L. Menken

1880 to 1956

American journalist, editor, book author, and intellectual

Key works: 

  • He was the editor and publisher of three important magazines, The Smart Set (which covered culture), The American Mercury (which covered politics), and Black Mask (a pulp magazine that pioneered the hardboiled detective story). 
  • He wrote columns and editorials for The Baltimore Sun 
  • He authored numerous books including The American Language and Notes on Democracy
  • He was often referred to as the Great Libertarian, and the Great Skeptic. He was widely considered to be the most influential American public intellectual of the first half of the 20th Century. 

Albert Jay Knock

1880 to 1956


Key works: 

  • Our Enemy The State 
  • The Memoirs of a Superfluous Man
  • He was a mentor to the great conservative leader, William F. Buckley, and influenced Buckley’s libertarian leanings on various issues. He is also a key influence on voluntaryist libertarians. 

Ludwig von Mises

1881 – 1973

Economist from Austria who fled to America to escape Hitler

Key works: 

  • Human Action
  • Socialism
  • Liberalism
  • The Anti-capitalist Mentality
  • Theory & History
  • The Theory of Money and Credit
  • He was the founder of what has come to be known as the Austrian School of Economics

Frederic Hayek

1889 to 1992

Austrian economist who fled to London to escape Hitler

Key works: 

  • The Road to Serfdom
  • The Fatal Conceit
  • The Constitution of Liberty
  • Won the Nobel Prize
  • Famous for arguing that central state planners cannot possibly have enough knowledge to achieve their goals. 

Milton Friedman 

1912 to 2006

American economist 

Key works: 

  • A Monetary History of the United States
  • Capitalism and Freedom
  • Free to Choose
  • Won the Nobel Prize
  • He was the key figure in what came to be called the Chicago School of Economics. 
  • He was very influential on conservative politicians but thought of himself as a libertarian. 

Leonard Read 

1898 – 1983

Founder of the first major libertarian organization, the Foundation for Economic Education

Key works: 

  • I, Pencil (this is one of the most important essays ever written)
  • Elements of Libertarian Leadership

Henry Hazlitt


Key works:

  • Co-founder of the Foundation for Economic Education
  • Economics in One Lesson

Murray Rothbard


American economist. Sometimes referred to as Mr. Libertarian

Key works:

  • Man, Economy and State
  • For a New Liberty
  • Power and Market
  • The Ethics of Liberty
  • Etc., etc., etc.

Karl Hess


Key works:

  • Editor for Newsweek
  • Wrote most of the 1960 and 1964 Republican platforms
  • Speechwriter for Barry Goldwater
  • The Death of Politics (Playboy)
  • Dear America (documentary nominated for an Academy Award)
  • Editor of Libertarian Party News (mid-1980s)

David Nolan

1943 – 2010

The Committee to Form a Libertarian Party met in his living room on July 17, 1971

Key works:

Creator of the Nolan Chart upon which the World’s Smallest Political Quiz is based

David Friedman


Economist and college professor. Son of Milton and Rose Friedman

Key works:

The Machinery of Freedom (1973) (this book is a favorite among voluntaryist libertarians)

Robert Anton Wilson

1932 – 2007

Author of the Illuminatus Trilogy, published in 1975 and many other works too numerous to list

Roger Lea Macbride


Key works:

  • Owner/producer Little House on the Prairie
  • 1976 Libertarian Party presidential nominee
  • Cast the first vote for a woman (Tonie Nathan) in the Electoral College (Nathan was the 1972 Libertarian Party Vice Presidential nominee running with John Hospers, who was a philosophy professor at USC.) 

Robert Nozick


Harvard philosophy professor

Key works:

Won the National Book Award for Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1977)

Ed Clark


Key works:

  • Chief attorney, Arco
  • 1978 Libertarian Party candidate for governor
  • 1980 Libertarian Party presidential nominee

David Bergland


Key works:

  • 1976 LP Vice presidential nominee
  • 1984 LP presidential nominee
  • Served as LNC Chair more than any other person
  • Author of Libertarianism in One Lesson

Ron Paul


Key works:

  • Elected to Congress numerous times as a Republican
  • 1988 LP presidential nominee
  • Two hugely important campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 and 2020

Russell Means


Key works:

  • Co-founder of AIM – the American Indian Movement
  • Leader of the Wounded Knee occupation in 1973
  • Challenged Ron Paul for the 1988 presidential nomination, and lost
  • In the movie “The Last of the Mohicans,” Russell was the last Mohican.

Andre Marrou


Key works:

  • Former Alaska state legislator
  • Brother of Chris Marrou, CBS TV anchor in San Antonio, TX
  • 1992 Libertarian Party presidential candidate
  • Winner of the Dixville Notch vote in the 1992 New Hampshire primary, which made national news all across America

Harry Browne


Key works:

    • Author of 12 books that sold more than 2 million copies
    • 11 were New York Times bestsellers
    • How You Can Profit from the Coming Devaluation was the number-one book in America in 1970
  • Why Government Doesn’t Work
  • The Great Libertarian Offer
  • His most famous libertarian book is How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World (1973)
  • 1996 and 2000 LP presidential candidate

Important libertarian books. 

  • The Law by Frederic Bastiat
  • Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt
  • Libertarianism in One Lesson by David Bergland
  • The Incredible Bread Machine by R.W. Grant
  • Healing Our World by Mary Ruwart
  • What It Means to Be a Libertarian by Charles Murray
  • How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World by Harry Browne
  • Libertarianism by David Boaz

Important libertarian organizations

  • Advocates for Self-government
  • The Libertarian Party
  • Foundation for Economic Education
  • The Reason Foundation & Reason magazine
  • The Cato Institute
  • Institute for Humane Studies
  • Mercatus Center
  • The Independent Institute
  • Anti-war.com
  • The Mises Foundation
  • Pacific Legal Foundation

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Learn More About Libertarianism

What Is A Self-Governor?

Libertarians seek to maximize human freedom and eliminate coercion in personal or economic matters. They advocate “self-government,” that is, people who govern themselves.

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What Is a Libertarian?

Libertarians seek to maximize human freedom and eliminate coercion in personal or economic matters. They advocate “self-government,” that is, people who govern themselves.

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The Austrian School of Economics

Libertarians seek to maximize human freedom and eliminate coercion in personal or economic matters. They advocate “self-government,” that is, people who govern themselves.

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