Libertarianism is a political philosophy which advocates the maximization of individual liberty in thought and action and the minimization or even elimination of the powers of the state. Though libertarians embrace or dispute many viewpoints upon a broad range of economic strategies, ranging from laissez-faire capitalists such as those who dominate in the US Libertarian Party to libertarian socialists, the political policies they advocate tend toward those of a minimal state (minarchism), or forms of anarchism, and an insistence on the need to maintain the integrity of individual rights and responsibilities.
- Arranged alphabetically by author or source
- In markets where freedom of choice is hampered by inadequate information, or where rational choice requires extraordinary expertise, there is no acceptable alternative to government regulation. Contrary to libertarian preachments, it would be imprudent to expect an air traveler to do research required to avoid unsafe airlines, or for the automobile buyer to find out which cars are affected with rear-wheel lockup, or for the pregnant woman to conduct chemical tests to avoid drugs which may kill or deform her unborn child. Here social regulation is imperative, either by providing indispensable information to consumers or by prohibiting hazardous products outright. Here the privilege of free choice in a free market is the freedom to play Russian roulette with health and safety, and to impose the cost of death or injury on families or society.
- Walter Adams and James Brock, in The Bigness Complex (1986), p. 235
- Libertarians are self-governors in both personal and economic matters. They believe government's only purpose is to protect people from coercion and violence. They value individual responsibility, and tolerate economic and social diversity.
- He always pictured himself a libertarian, which to my way of thinking means "I want the liberty to grow rich and you can have the liberty to starve". It's easy to believe that no one should depend on society for help when you yourself happen not to need such help.
- Isaac Asimov, in I. Asimov : A Memoir (1994), p. 308
- Libertarians ... advocate a high degree of both economic and personal liberty. Libertarians believe that people have the right to freely engage in both commercial and private activities. Libertarians consistently uphold the right of individuals to control their own lives in all respects.
- David Bergland, 1984 Libertarian Party presidential candidate, in Libertarianism In One Lesson (Ninth Edition, 2005)
- Because libertarians do have a basic set of principles, you know that a libertarian will always come out on the side of any issue which maximizes personal liberty and responsibility — and which reduces government control over the individual.
- David Bergland, in Libertarianism In One Lesson (Ninth Edition, 2005)
- I am hard put to find something to say to people who still think libertarianism has something to do with liberty. A libertarian is just a Republican who takes drugs.
- You might object that what I’ve said may apply to the minarchist majority of libertarians, but not to the self-styled anarchists among them. Not so. To my mind a right-wing anarchist is just a minarchist who’d abolish the state to his own satisfaction by calling it something else. But this incestuous family squabble is no affair of mine. Both camps call for partial or complete privatization of state functions but neither questions the functions themselves. They don’t denounce what the state does, they just object to who’s doing it. This is why the people most victimized by the state display the least interest in libertarianism. Those on the receiving end of coercion don’t quibble over their coercers’ credentials. If you can’t pay or don’t want to, you don’t much care if your deprivation is called larceny or taxation or restitution or rent. If you like to control your own time, you distinguish employment from enslavement only in degree and duration.
- Bob Black, in "The Libertarian as Conservative" (1984), published in The Abolition of Work and Other Essays (1986)
- The libertarian phobia as to the state reflects and reproduces a profound misunderstanding of the operative forces which make for social control in the modern world. If — and this is a big “if,” especially where bourgeois libertarians are concerned — what you want is to maximize individual autonomy, then it is quite clear that the state is the least of the phenomena which stand in your way.
- Bob Black, in "The Libertarian as Conservative" (1984), published in The Abolition of Work and Other Essays (1986)
- Unlike side issues like unemployment, unions, and minimum-wage laws, the subject of work itself is almost entirely absent from libertarian literature. Most of what little there is consists of Randite rantings against parasites, barely distinguishable from the invective inflicted on dissidents by the Soviet press, and Sunday-school platitudinizing that there is no free lunch — this from fat cats who have usually ingested a lot of them.
- Libertarians complain that the state is parasitic, an excrescence on society. They think it’s like a tumor you could cut out, leaving the patient just as he was, only healthier. They’ve been mystified by their own metaphors. Like the market, the state is an activity, not an entity. The only way to abolish the state is to change the way of life it forms a part of. That way of life, if you call that living, revolves around work and takes in bureaucracy, moralism, schooling, money, and more. Libertarians are conservatives because they avowedly want to maintain most of this mess and so unwittingly perpetuate the rest of the racket. But they’re bad conservatives because they’ve forgotten the reality of institutional and ideological interconnection which was the original insight of the historical conservatives.
- One difference between libertarianism and socialism is that a socialist society can't tolerate groups of people practicing freedom, but a libertarian society can comfortably allow people to choose voluntary socialism. If a group of people — even a very large group — wanted to purchase land and own it in common, they would be free to do so. The libertarian legal order would require only that no one be coerced into joining or giving up his property.
- Libertarianism offers an alternative to coercive government that should appeal to peaceful, productive people everywhere.
No, a libertarian world isn't a perfect one. There will still be inequality, poverty, crime, corruption, man's inhumanity to man. But, unlike the theocratic visionaries, the pie-in-the-sky socialist utopians, or the starry-eyed Mr. Fixits of the New Deal and Great Society, libertarians don't promise you a rose garden. Karl Popper once said that attempts to create heaven on earth invariably produce hell. Libertarianism holds out, not the goal of a perfect society, but of a better and freer one. It promises a world in which more of the decisions will be made in the right way by the right person: you.
- Libertarianism: A Primer (1997) Ch. 1 : The Coming Libertarian Age"; A Note on Labels: Why "Libertarian"?
- Libertarians see the individual as the basic unit of social analysis. Only individuals make choices and are responsible for their actions. Libertarian thought emphasizes the dignity of each individual, which entails both rights and responsibility. The progressive extension of dignity to more people — to women, to people of different religions and different races — is one of the great libertarian triumphs of the Western world.
- Libertarianism is not libertinism or hedonism. It is not a claim that "people can do anything they want to, and nobody else can say anything." Rather, libertarianism proposes a society of liberty under law, in which individuals are free to pursue their own lives so long as they respect the equal rights of others. The rule of law means that individuals are governed by generally applicable and spontaneously developed legal rules, not by arbitrary commands; and that those rules should protect the freedom of individuals to pursue happiness in their own ways, not aim at any particular result or outcome.
- David D. Boaz, in "Key Concepts of Libertarianism" (1 January 1999)
- Libertarians have always battled the age-old scourge of war. They understood that war brought death and destruction on a grand scale, disrupted family and economic life, and put more power in the hands of the ruling class — which might explain why the rulers did not always share the popular sentiment for peace. Free men and women, of course, have often had to defend their own societies against foreign threats; but throughout history, war has usually been the common enemy of peaceful, productive people on all sides of the conflict.
- David D. Boaz, in "Key Concepts of Libertarianism" (1 January 1999)
- We should never define Libertarian positions in terms coined by liberals or conservatives — nor as some variant of their positions. We are not fiscally conservative and socially liberal. We are Libertarians, who believe in individual liberty and personal responsibility on all issues at all times.
- One of the more pretentious political self-descriptions is "Libertarian." People think it puts them above the fray. It sounds fashionable, and to the uninitiated, faintly dangerous. Actually, it's just one more bullshit political philosophy.
- George Carlin, in Napalm and Silly Putty (2002), p. 261
- Libertarian in the United States has a meaning which is almost the opposite of what it has in the rest of the world traditionally. Here, libertarian means ultra right-wing capitalist. In the European tradition, libertarian meant socialist. So, anarchism was sometimes called libertarian socialism, a large wing of anarchism, so we have to be a little careful about terminology. I was drawn pretty early, maybe in the early teens, towards anarchist thinking and activities, and even spent a lot of time in anarchist bookstores and picking up pamphlets and talking to mostly Europeans who had fled or had been driven out of a pretty ugly continent in the 1930s.
- Dismantling the state is a core element of almost all left-anarchist thinking. Of course, that's a goal. It doesn't mean that this society should not be organized and governed; it should be, but by democratic institutions, based on natural modes of association. Here, incidentally, you begin to get differences of points of view and ideas, as to how human life and society should be organized. There's no doctrine. It's not like Marxism and Leninism where there are some books you read and that's what you believe. This is a tendency in thinking, nobody owns it. It's all generally based on the idea that hierarchic and authoritarian structures are not self-justifying. They have to have a justification. So if there is a relation of subordination and domination, maybe you can justify it, but there's a strong burden of proof on anybody who tries to justify it. Quite commonly, the justification can't be given. It's a relationship that is maintained by obedience, by force, by tradition, by one or another form of sometimes physical, sometimes intellectual or moral coercion. If so, it ought to be dismantled. People ought to become liberated and discover that they are under a form of oppression which is illegitimate, and move to dismantle it.
What happens next? We don't really know. There are people who think they know the answer. I'm not one of them. My view is, we don't understand very much about human beings or human affairs, so anything that would be done has to be experimentally tried, but I think there are some leading ideas that make some good sense.
- Noam Chomsky, in "Reluctant Icon" (interview, c. 1990)
- There's a long tradition of Anarchism — libertarian thought outside the United States, which is diametrically opposed to the positions of the Libertarian Party — but it's unknown here. That's the dominant position of what's always been considered Socialist Anarchism. Now, the Libertarian Party, is a capitalist party. It's in favor of what I would regard a particular form of authoritarian control. Namely, the kind that comes through private ownership and control, which is an extremely rigid system of domination — people have to... people can survive, by renting themselves to it, and basically in no other way... I do disagree with them very sharply, and I think that they are not … understanding the fundamental doctrine, that you should be free from domination and control, including the control of the manager and the owner.
- Noam Chomsky, in an appearance on Donahue/Pozner (14 February 1992)
- There isn't much point arguing about the word "libertarian." It would make about as much sense to argue with an unreconstructed Stalinist about the word "democracy" — recall that they called what they'd constructed "peoples' democracies." The weird offshoot of ultra-right individualist anarchism that is called "libertarian" here happens to amount to advocacy of perhaps the worst kind of imaginable tyranny, namely unaccountable private tyranny. If they want to call that "libertarian," fine; after all, Stalin called his system "democratic." But why bother arguing about it?
- I hear Republicans and Libertarians and so forth talking about property rights, but they stop talking about property rights as soon as the subject of American Indians comes up, because they know fully well, perhaps not in a fully articulated, conscious form, but they know fully well that the basis for the very system of endeavor and enterprise and profitability to which they are committed and devoted accrues on the basis of theft of the resources of someone else. They are in possession of stolen property. They know it. They all know it. It's a dishonest endeavor from day one.
- What are the reasons we are libertarians? Here are a few of the many different reasons…
1. Moral: because we believe no person or group has the right to initiate force against another.
2. Pragmatic: Freedom works.
3. Utilitarian: Freedom produces the greatest good for the greatest number.
4. Self-Interest: Freedom benefits you. It's in your self-interest.
5. Altruistic: Freedom benefits others.
6. Big Government Doesn't Work. Freedom does.
7. Personal Responsibility: Freedom rewards personal responsibility and punishes irresponsibility.
8. Choice: freedom maximizes choice. In fact, freedom is choice.
9. Prosperity: Economic freedom creates prosperity.
10. Tolerance: the free, competitive marketplace makes bigotry and prejudice very expensive. And very widely known.
- Michael Cloud, in "Why Are We Libertarians?" in Liberator Online (25 May 2006)
- Different individuals want different things.
Different approaches to liberty reach different people.
Different reasons for liberty convince different individuals.
There are many paths to libertarianism. Many reasons for becoming a libertarian.
Don't be trapped by the fallacy that there's only one reason, one case, or one justification for liberty.
- Michael Cloud, in "Why Are We Libertarians?" in Liberator Online (25 May 2006)
- This country is a one-party country. Half of it is called Republican and half is called Democrat. It doesn't make any difference. All the really good ideas belong to the Libertarians.
- Hugh Downs, as a guest on Politically Incorrect (31 March 1997)
- Libertarians have quietly become America's best organized and most significant third party. Unlike flash-in-the-pan parties organized around cults of personality like Ross Perot's and Ralph Nader's, Libertarians have organized at the grass roots for the long haul. They are fast approaching the point where they may force the major parties to reckon with Libertarian ideas.
- Bob Ewegen, in The Denver Post (24 November 2001)
- Most left-wing ideologues are dangerous because they don't recognize that they have an ideology. They simply think they're doing the obvious and right thing. Libertarians of the stripe I've been talking about have a different problem. They know they have an ideology. They know it and they love it. And they love it so much they are unwilling to loosen their clench on it when reality — and more importantly, morality — demand it. Just as they consider "state violence" to be always and everywhere evil, they fetishize change, assuming it to be always and everywhere good.
- Young Libertarians have so much more energy and verve than pretty much anybody else these days, young conservatives included. Libertarianism is an ideology best suited for young folks. It compellingly tells kids everything they want to be told. Self-interest is not merely indulged; it is sanctified. Experience — represented either in the traditions accumulated over the centuries or simply in the lessons learned by one's elders — has no greater authority than the self-gratifying whims of a single person. In the world of these young libertarians, the utopian future is one where they get to share with the world the full benefit of their inexperience.
- Jonah Goldberg, in "The Libertarian Lobe" in National Review Online (22 June 2001)
- 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 — as long as he simply respects the same right of others to do the same.
- Probably nothing has done so much harm to the liberal cause as the wooden insistence of some liberals on certain rough rules of thumb, above all the principle of laissez-faire.
- For libertarians, freedom entails the right of people to live their lives any way they choose, so long as their conduct is peaceful. For conservatives, freedom entails the right of government to do just about anything it wants, even if its conduct is violent.
- We the members of the Libertarian Party challenge the cult of the omnipotent state and defend the rights of the individual.' We hold that all individuals have the right to exercise sole dominion over their own lives, and have the right to live in whatever manner they choose, so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose.
- Libertarians believe the answer to America's political problems is the same commitment to freedom that earned America its greatness: a free-market economy and the abundance and prosperity it brings; a dedication to civil liberties and personal freedom that marks this country above all others; and a foreign policy of non-intervention, peace, and free trade as prescribed by America's founders.
- The Libertarian Party: A Short History (2000) by Libertarian Party
- The Libertarians, of whom I'm rather fond, are running Harry Browne. Libertarians are, just as they claim, principled and consistent — they believe in individual liberty. Commendable as they are, and despite their reliability as allies in civil liberties struggles, you may notice that Libertarians sometimes prove that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, and that there is a difference between logic and wisdom.
- Molly Ivins, Fort Worth Star-Telegram (7 September 1996)
- For the libertarian, it is always illegitimate to initiate force against nonaggressors. Libertarianism is the political philosophy based on the concept of self-ownership; that is, every human being, simply by being a human being, has moral justification over his or her own body. This jurisdiction, which is called individual rights, cannot properly be violated, for this would be tantamount to claiming that human beings are not self-owners.
- Libertarianism is a direct attack upon the mystique of the state. It recognizes that the state is only an abstraction and reduces it to the actions of individuals. It applies the same standard of morality to the state as it would to a next-door neighbor. If it is not proper for a neighbor to tax or pass laws regulating your private life, then it cannot be proper for the state to do so. Only by elevating itself above the standards of personal morality can the state make these claims on your life.
- Wendy McElroy, in "Demystifying the State" (21 May 2008)
- First and foremost, libertarians believe in the principle of self-ownership. You own your own body and mind; no external power has the right to force you into the service of "society" or "mankind" or any other individual or group for any purpose, however noble. Slavery is wrong, period.
- A government which cannot conscript, confiscate, or counterfeit, and which imposes no criminal penalties for the mere possession and peaceful use of anything, is one that almost all libertarians would be comfortable with.
- The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries but between authoritarians and libertarians.
- George Orwell, in a letter to Malcolm Muggeridge (4 December 1948), published in Malcolm Muggeridge : A Life (1980) by Ian Hunter
- Once an individual who would advance liberty has settled on self-perfection as correct method, the first fact to bear in mind is that ours is not a numbers problem. Were it necessary to bring a majority into a comprehension of the libertarian philosophy, the cause of liberty would be utterly hopeless. Every significant movement in history has been led by one or just a few individuals with a small minority of energetic supporters.
- Even if you want no state, or a minimal state, then you have to argue point by point. Especially since the minimalists want to keep the economic and police system that keeps them privileged. That's libertarians for you — anarchists who want police protection from their slaves. No! If you want to make the minimum-state case, you have to argue it from the ground up.
- What the Russian autocrats and their supporters fear most is that the success of libertarian Socialism in Spain might prove to their blind followers that the much vaunted "necessity of dictatorship" is nothing but one vast fraud which in Russia has led to the despotism of Stalin and is to serve today in Spain to help the counter-revolution to a victory over the revolution of the workers and the peasants.
- Rudolf Rocker, in The Tragedy of Spain (1937)
- However, while the peasants will tolerate a lot, there are limits to their patience. But those limits can be all but eliminated simply by giving them some sort of outlet (completely ineffectual, of course) for their displeasure with you and your regime. As long as there is some system of "checks and balances" whereby the peasants can appeal to different levels and agencies of your regime, they will almost never resort to violence. "You have to work within the system." That should be your mantra, and it will quickly be echoed by most of the peasants. Of course, working within your "system" is never going to get the peasants freedom or justice, but even giving them the illusion of "due process" and some form of appeal will keep most of them forever banging their heads against a bureaucratic wall instead of actually resisting you.
- All libertarians, of whatever faction or persuasion, lay great stress on education, on convincing an ever-larger number of people to become libertarians, and hopefully, highly dedicated ones. The problem, however, is that the great bulk of libertarians hold a very simplistic view of the role and scope of such education. They do not, in short, even attempt to answer the question: After education, what? What then? What happens after X number of people are convinced? And how many need to be convinced to press on to the next stage? Everyone? A majority? Many people? ... Beyond the problem of education lies the problem of power. After a substantial number of people have been converted, there will be the additional task of finding ways and means to remove State power from our society. Since the state will not gracefully convert itself out of power, other means than education, means of pressure, will have to be used. What particular means or what combination of means — whether by voting, alternative institutions untouched by the State or massive failure to cooperate with the State — depends on the conditions of the time and what will be found to work or not to work. In contrast to matters of theory and principle, the particular tactics to be used — so long as they are consistent with the principles and ultimate goal of a purely free society — are a matter of pragmatism, judgment, and the inexact "art" of the tactician.
- 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, in "Who Is A Libertarian?" in The Freeman, Vol. 5 Issue 5 (May 1955) published by Foundation for Economic Education
- Most libertarians agree that all rights are, in effect, property rights, beginning with this fundamental right to self-ownership and control of one's own life. As owners of their own lives, individuals are completely free to do absolutely anything they wish with them — provided, of course, that it doesn't violate the identical right of others — whether the people around them approve of what they do or not.
- L. Neil Smith, and Rylla Cathryn Smith in What Libertarians Believe, Introduction: The Zero Aggression Principle
- 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, and Rylla Cathryn Smith, the "Zero Aggression Principle" in What Libertarians Believe, Introduction: The Zero Aggression Principle
- I'm not an anarchist any longer, because I've concluded that anarchism is an impractical ideal. Nowadays, I regard myself as a libertarian. I suppose an anarchist would say, paraphrasing what Marx said about agnostics being "frightened atheists," that libertarians are simply frightened anarchists. Having just stated the case for the opposition, I will go along and agree with them: yes, I am frightened. I'm a libertarian because I don't trust the people as much as anarchists do. I want to see government limited as much as possible; I would like to see it reduced back to where it was in Jefferson's time, or even smaller. But I would not like to see it abolished. I think the average American, if left totally free, would act exactly like Idi Amin. I don't trust the people any more than I trust the government.
- 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 non-profit educational organization, as quoted in Healing Our World : The Other Piece of the Puzzle (1992) by Mary J. Ruwart