Libertarianism

Libertarians embrace political values and principles that differ from those held by members of the two main political ideologies in the United States. Chief of these differences is the role they believe government should play in citizens' daily lives. In this article, we'll explore the history and characteristics of Libertarianism, along with a definition and some examples of Libertarians. 

Libertarianism Libertarianism

Create learning materials about Libertarianism with our free learning app!

  • Instand access to millions of learning materials
  • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams and more
  • Everything you need to ace your exams
Create a free account
Contents
Table of contents

    “Libertarians strongly oppose any government interference in your personal, family, and business decisions. Essentially, we believe all Americans should be free to live their lives and pursue their interests as they see fit as long as they do no harm to another.”

    Libertarian party's official website

    The Definition of Libertarianism

    Libertarianism is a political outlook that places the rights of the individual above the rights of the government. Libertarians believe in a capitalist market economy free from government interference and a society where people can choose to live their lives as they see fit. They only ask the government to offer basic protections of freedom and security.

    Libertarians generally have the following views:

    • Libertarians believe in a free market economy with minimal to no government interference
    • Libertarians advocate for the reduction or elimination of taxes, believing that high taxes stifle the flow of the market
    • Libertarians believe in minimal government spending. Allowing the economy to function and prosper will resolve many of the issues around inequality
    • Police and military should receive minimal funding, just enough to protect basic personal and property rights and to safeguard against emergencies
    • The government should not get involved in the personal lifestyle choices of individuals as long as those actions aren’t hurting anyone
    • Parents and guardians should have school choice

    Characteristics of Libertarianism

    Libertarians are often fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Libertarians believe that the ultimate power in society rests in the hands of the individual, as opposed to the government. Economically, they believe the government should remain largely uninvolved. The free market will resolve its issues if it is left alone.

    Morally, libertarians maintain their preference for minimal government interference. Libertarians argue that as long as what someone is doing doesn’t directly hurt another person, they should be allowed to live their lives as they choose.

    What follows is an overview of libertarian views and how they are similar to or different from conservative and liberal perspectives. In some cases, libertarian ideas overlap with one or the others' ideas.

    Issue

    Liberal

    Conservative

    Libertarian

    Economy

    Prefer more regulation to help the needy and equalize opportunities.

    Value a capitalist system and reduced government regulation of the economy to allow the market to flow.

    Believe in a free market economy, with the least amount of government involvement possible.

    Taxes

    The wealthy should be taxed more heavily; lower taxes for the poor and middle classes.

    Lower taxes, especially for the wealthy.

    Lower taxes for all, regardless of income. They believe that high tax rates stifle the economy.

    Government Spending

    It is the government’s job to spend to address social inequalities. The government should fund programs to benefit people in need.

    The government should avoid spending money on social programs and instead invest in the military and police to maintain the social order.

    Keep government spending to a minimum.

    Police and Defense

    Those undergoing trial have rights that must be respected. Decriminalize “victimless” crimes like drugs and sex work.

    The police and military should be funded to ensure the United States is safe and protected from outside threats.

    Minimize government spending on security and defense, decriminalize “victimless” crimes, and establish basic protection of property and personal freedom.

    Education

    Advocacy for public schools; tend to be against private education and school of choice, believing it takes away from the value of public schools.

    Support educational flexibility around religious beliefs and favor charter schools and schools of choice.

    Values schools of choice and privatization of schools. The competition of a market model will improve education for everyone.

    Lifestyle and Personal Freedoms

    Appreciates greater freedom when it comes to personal and lifestyle choices.

    Values more government involvement in social and moral issues, which is necessary to maintaining a healthy social order.

    Believes in a hands-off government approach to social and lifestyle choices, as long as they do not hurt others.

    The History of the Libertarian Party

    The Libertarian party is a U.S. political party founded in 1971 by David Nolan in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Libertarians believe in a free-market economy and minimal government intervention. They support the rights of the individual alongside a small government.

    Libertarianism was founded by individuals spanning political party lines. The founders wanted to develop something different from the traditional Democratic and Republican parties. While the libertarian party hasn’t had much measurable political success, its numbers have grown over the years to over 600,000 registered party members.

    The Libertarian party is considered a third party. Except for a few very close elections, the party doesn’t play a major role in American politics. Since libertarianism isn’t currently a viable political party platform, much of its work focuses on trying to establish itself further and broaden its appeal to voters.

    Libertarianism is a draw for young Republicans who share the economic ideals of their party but don’t align with its social conservatism.

    Political Allegiance of Libertarians

    Libertarians represent a cross-section of liberal and conservative views. Economically, libertarians take a more conservative approach, preferring that the government avoid intervening in the flow of the free-market economy. However, libertarians differ from many conservatives when it comes to social and moral issues. They maintain a hands-off government stance, while many traditional conservatives prefer the government to involve itself in certain aspects of society.

    Libertarianism vs. Republicanism

    Libertarians are conservative regarding the economy, preferring minimal government involvement, and liberal about personal and moral choices. Libertarians often align with Republicans regarding fiscal views but veer away from Republican politics, believing that the government should not involve itself in personal affairs that do not impact others directly. There is a notable crossover between Republican and Libertarian policies and adherents.

    Liberalism vs. Libertarianism

    Libertarians share many traits with liberalism regarding the role of the government in social affairs. Libertarians prefer a hands-off and tolerant approach and oppose government efforts to regulate morality or lifestyle. However, while liberals would like the government to become involved in the economy by assisting those in need and equalizing opportunities, libertarians do not. Libertarians oppose government interference in the economy, believing it harms society.

    Libertarianism vs. Authoritarianism

    Authoritarianism is the opposite of libertarianism. By definition, authoritarianism refers to people submitting to the government's will. Authoritarianism values blind obedience to authority figures. In contrast, libertarians do not believe in heavy-handed government authority. They consider this overreach. Libertarians believe government involvement beyond ensuring public safety and maintaining property rights harms society.

    Examples of Libertarians

    Over the years, several notable libertarian candidates have run for president. The following section details the most prominent libertarians – Ron Paul and Gary Johnson – to impact American electoral politics.

    Ron Paul

    Ron Paul is a physician with a military background who began his political career in 1971. He served as a Republican congressman in Texas and was a presidential candidate who ran unsuccessfully under the Libertarian party in 1988. He later ran as a Republican in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, albeit unsuccessfully.

    Ron Paul Libertarianism StudySmarter

    Ron Paul speaking to supporters at a town hall meeting in Iowa. Wikimedia Commons. Photo by Gage Skidmore, CC-BY-SA-2.0

    Gary Johnson

    Gary Johnson is the former Republican governor of the state of New Mexico. He ran as a fiscal conservative in the 2012 and 2016 Presidential elections, valuing the economic ideals of the Republican Party. However, he took a more liberal position on social issues, including decriminalizing marijuana. In the 2012 Presidential election, Johnson received over 1.2 million votes, a record-breaking amount for a Libertarian candidate.

    Gary Johnson Libertarianism StudySmarter

    Gary Johnson, 2016 Libertarian Presidential Candidate, Pixabay License, Free for commercial use. No attribution required

    Libertarianism – Key takeaways

      • Libertarianism is a political ideology that values the rights and liberties of the individual. Libertarians believe the government should be involved minimally in the economy and human social life.
      • Libertarians believe in the rights of humans as individuals. They advocate for a market economy, low taxes and federal spending, minimal police and military, and personal freedom.
      • Libertarians aren’t left or right. They are fiscally right-leaning, preferring minimal taxes and government involvement in the economy, and socially and morally left-leaning, maintaining their stance that the government should stay out of human affairs.
      • Libertarianism is effectively the opposite of an authoritarian approach to government. While authoritarianism sees value in heavy-handed government involvement in all aspects of society, Libertarians view this as damaging and prefer that the government keep out of the economy and social life as much as possible.
      • Ron Paul and Gary Johnson both have libertarian political philosophies. They are former presidential candidates who have run under the Libertarian ticket.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Libertarianism

    What is Libertarianism?

    Libertarianism is a political ideology that advocates for free-market capitalism and minimal government involvement. An emphasis is placed on the rights and freedoms of the individual.

    What do libertarians believe?

    Libertarians prioritize the rights and liberties of the individual above all. Libertarians believe in free-market capitalism, minimal taxes and government spending, a reduction in funding for the police and military and independence in personal lifestyle choices. 

    Are libertarians left or right?

    Libertarians are right when it comes to economics, preferring low taxes and minimal government involvement in the economy. They are left when it comes to moral issues, maintaining the stance that the government should stay out of most human affairs. 

    Are libertarians conservative?

    Libertarians are a mixed bag. While some libertarians may identify as conservative, in truth, libertarians are fiscally conservative and socially liberal. 

    Are libertarians republicans?

    Libertarians may identify with a variety of political parties, Many libertarians are Republican. Others belong to the Libertarian party itself while others identify more with the Democratic party platform.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    A Libertarian would support the government intervening in 

    Libertarians believe the government should refrain from involvement in the economy except to create protections and opportunities for the poor. 

    All of the following are examples of libertarians except

    Next

    Discover learning materials with the free StudySmarter app

    Sign up for free
    1
    About StudySmarter

    StudySmarter is a globally recognized educational technology company, offering a holistic learning platform designed for students of all ages and educational levels. Our platform provides learning support for a wide range of subjects, including STEM, Social Sciences, and Languages and also helps students to successfully master various tests and exams worldwide, such as GCSE, A Level, SAT, ACT, Abitur, and more. We offer an extensive library of learning materials, including interactive flashcards, comprehensive textbook solutions, and detailed explanations. The cutting-edge technology and tools we provide help students create their own learning materials. StudySmarter’s content is not only expert-verified but also regularly updated to ensure accuracy and relevance.

    Learn more
    StudySmarter Editorial Team

    Team Politics Teachers

    • 8 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
    Save Explanation

    Study anywhere. Anytime.Across all devices.

    Sign-up for free

    Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

    The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

    • Flashcards & Quizzes
    • AI Study Assistant
    • Study Planner
    • Mock-Exams
    • Smart Note-Taking
    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

    Get unlimited access with a free StudySmarter account.

    • Instant access to millions of learning materials.
    • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams, AI tools and more.
    • Everything you need to ace your exams.
    Second Popup Banner