What is a Libertarian & how do I know if I am one?

Am I a Libertarian?

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Cracking the Left-Right Paradigm

Libertarians break apart the typical left-right paradigm and offer a unique perspective on government’s role in our lives.

The Libertarian Party — Principles, Platform & History


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.

Governments throughout history have regularly operated on the opposite principle, that the State has the right to dispose of the lives of individuals and the fruits of their labor. Even within the United States, all political parties other than our own grant to government the right to regulate the lives of individuals and seize the fruits of their labor without their consent.

We, on the contrary, deny the right of any government to do these things, and hold that where governments exist, they must not violate the rights of any individual: namely, (1) the right to life—accordingly we support the prohibition of the initiation of physical force against others; (2) the right to liberty of speech and action—accordingly we oppose all attempts by government to abridge the freedom of speech and press, as well as government censorship in any form; and (3) the right to property—accordingly we oppose all government interference with private property, such as confiscation, nationalization, and eminent domain, and support the prohibition of robbery, trespass, fraud, and misrepresentation.

Since governments, when instituted, must not violate individual rights, we oppose all interference by government in the areas of voluntary and contractual relations among individuals. People should not be forced to sacrifice their lives and property for the benefit of others. They should be left free by government to deal with one another as free traders; and the resultant economic system, the only one compatible with the protection of individual rights, is the free market.


Individuals should be free to make choices for themselves and must accept responsibility for the consequences of the choices they make. Our support of an individual’s right to make choices in life does not mean that we necessarily approve or disapprove of those choices. No individual, group, or government may initiate force against any other individual, group, or government.

1.1 Self-Ownership

Individuals own their bodies and have rights over them that other individuals, groups, and governments may not violate. Individuals have the freedom and responsibility to decide what they knowingly and voluntarily consume, and what risks they accept to their own health, finances, safety, or life.

1.2 Expression and Communication

We support full freedom of expression and oppose government censorship, regulation or control of communications media and technology. We favor the freedom to engage in or abstain from any religious activities that do not violate the rights of others. We oppose government actions which either aid or attack any religion.

1.3 Privacy

Libertarians advocate individual privacy and government transparency. We are committed to ending government’s practice of spying on everyone. We support the rights recognized by the Fourth Amendment to be secure in our persons, homes, property, and communications. Protection from unreasonable search and seizure should include records held by third parties, such as email, medical, and library records.

1.4 Personal Relationships

Sexual orientation, preference, gender, or gender identity should have no impact on the government’s treatment of individuals, such as in current marriage, child custody, adoption, immigration or military service laws. Government does not have the authority to define, license or restrict personal relationships. Consenting adults should be free to choose their own sexual practices and personal relationships.

1.5 Abortion

Recognizing that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on all sides, we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration.

1.6 Parental Rights

Parents, or other guardians, have the right to raise their children according to their own standards and beliefs. This statement shall not be construed to condone child abuse or neglect.

1.7 Crime and Justice

The prescribed role of government is to protect the rights of every individual including the right to life, liberty and property. Criminal laws should be limited in their application to violations of the rights of others through force or fraud, or to deliberate actions that place others involuntarily at significant risk of harm. Therefore, we favor the repeal of all laws creating “crimes” without victims, such as the use of drugs for medicinal or recreational purposes. We support restitution to the victim to the fullest degree possible at the expense of the criminal or the negligent wrongdoer. The constitutional rights of the criminally accused, including due process, a speedy trial, legal counsel, trial by jury, and the legal presumption of innocence until proven guilty, must be preserved. We assert the common-law right of juries to judge not only the facts but also the justice of the law.

1.8 Death Penalty

We oppose the administration of the death penalty by the state.

1.9 Self-Defense

The only legitimate use of force is in defense of individual rights—life, liberty, and justly acquired property—against aggression. This right inheres in the individual, who may agree to be aided by any other individual or group. We affirm the individual right recognized by the Second Amendment to keep and bear arms, and oppose the prosecution of individuals for exercising their rights of self-defense. Private property owners should be free to establish their own conditions regarding the presence of personal defense weapons on their own property. We oppose all laws at any level of government restricting, registering, or monitoring the ownership, manufacture, or transfer of firearms or ammunition.
Libertarians want all members of society to have abundant opportunities to achieve economic success. A free and competitive market allocates resources in the most efficient manner. Each person has the right to offer goods and services to others on the free market. The only proper role of government in the economic realm is to protect property rights, adjudicate disputes, and provide a legal framework in which voluntary trade is protected. All efforts by government to redistribute wealth, or to control or manage trade, are improper in a free society.

2.1 Property and Contract

As respect for property rights is fundamental to maintaining a free and prosperous society, it follows that the freedom to contract to obtain, retain, profit from, manage, or dispose of one’s property must also be upheld. Libertarians would free property owners from government restrictions on their rights to control and enjoy their property, as long as their choices do not harm or infringe on the rights of others. Eminent domain, civil asset forfeiture, governmental limits on profits, governmental production mandates, and governmental controls on prices of goods and services (including wages, rents, and interest) are abridgements of such fundamental rights. For voluntary dealings among private entities, parties should be free to choose with whom they trade and set whatever trade terms are mutually agreeable.

2.2 Environment

Competitive free markets and property rights stimulate the technological innovations and behavioral changes required to protect our environment and ecosystems. Private landowners and conservation groups have a vested interest in maintaining natural resources. Governments are unaccountable for damage done to our environment and have a terrible track record when it comes to environmental protection. Protecting the environment requires a clear definition and enforcement of individual rights and responsibilities regarding resources like land, water, air, and wildlife. Where damages can be proven and quantified in a court of law, restitution to the injured parties must be required.

2.3 Energy and Resources

While energy is needed to fuel a modern society, government should not be subsidizing any particular form of energy. We oppose all government control of energy pricing, allocation, and production.

2.4 Government Finance and Spending

All persons are entitled to keep the fruits of their labor. We call for the repeal of the income tax, the abolishment of the Internal Revenue Service and all federal programs and services not required under the U.S. Constitution. We oppose any legal requirements forcing employers to serve as tax collectors. Government should not incur debt, which burdens future generations without their consent. We support the passage of a “Balanced Budget Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution, provided that the budget is balanced exclusively by cutting expenditures, and not by raising taxes.

2.5 Government Employees

We favor repealing any requirement that one must join or pay dues to a union as a condition of government employment. We advocate replacing defined-benefit pensions with defined-contribution plans, as are commonly offered in the private sector, so as not to impose debt on future generations without their consent.

2.6 Money and Financial Markets

We favor free-market banking, with unrestricted competition among banks and depository institutions of all types. Markets are not actually free unless fraud is vigorously combated. Those who enjoy the possibility of profits must not impose risks of losses upon others, such as through government guarantees or bailouts. Individuals engaged in voluntary exchange should be free to use as money any mutually agreeable commodity or item. We support a halt to inflationary monetary policies and unconstitutional legal tender laws.

2.7 Marketplace Freedom

Libertarians support free markets. We defend the right of individuals to form corporations, cooperatives and other types of entities based on voluntary association. We oppose all forms of government subsidies and bailouts to business, labor, or any other special interest. Government should not compete with private enterprise.

2.8 Labor Markets

Employment and compensation agreements between private employers and employees are outside the scope of government, and these contracts should not be encumbered by government-mandated benefits or social engineering. We support the right of private employers and employees to choose whether or not to bargain with each other through a labor union. Bargaining should be free of government interference, such as compulsory arbitration or imposing an obligation to bargain.

2.9 Education

Education is best provided by the free market, achieving greater quality, accountability and efficiency with more diversity of choice. Recognizing that the education of children is a parental responsibility, we would restore authority to parents to determine the education of their children, without interference from government. Parents should have control of and responsibility for all funds expended for their children’s education.

2.10 Health Care

We favor a free-market health care system. We recognize the freedom of individuals to determine the level of health insurance they want (if any), the level of health care they want, the care providers they want, the medicines and treatments they will use and all other aspects of their medical care, including end-of-life decisions. People should be free to purchase health insurance across state lines.

2.11 Retirement and Income Security

Retirement planning is the responsibility of the individual, not the government. Libertarians would phase out the current government-sponsored Social Security system and transition to a private voluntary system. The proper and most effective source of help for the poor is the voluntary efforts of private groups and individuals. We believe members of society will become even more charitable and civil society will be strengthened as government reduces its activity in this realm.
The protection of individual rights is the only proper purpose of government. Government is constitutionally limited so as to prevent the infringement of individual rights by the government itself. The principle of non-initiation of force should guide the relationships between governments.

3.1 National Defense

We support the maintenance of a sufficient military to defend the United States against aggression. The United States should both avoid entangling alliances and abandon its attempts to act as policeman for the world. We oppose any form of compulsory national service.

3.2 Internal Security and Individual Rights

The defense of the country requires that we have adequate intelligence to detect and to counter threats to domestic security. This requirement must not take priority over maintaining the civil liberties of our citizens. The Constitution and Bill of Rights shall not be suspended even during time of war. Intelligence agencies that legitimately seek to preserve the security of the nation must be subject to oversight and transparency. We oppose the government’s use of secret classifications to keep from the public information that it should have, especially that which shows that the government has violated the law.

3.3 International Affairs

American foreign policy should seek an America at peace with the world. Our foreign policy should emphasize defense against attack from abroad and enhance the likelihood of peace by avoiding foreign entanglements. We would end the current U.S. government policy of foreign intervention, including military and economic aid. We recognize the right of all people to resist tyranny and defend themselves and their rights. We condemn the use of force, and especially the use of terrorism, against the innocent, regardless of whether such acts are committed by governments or by political or revolutionary groups.

3.4 Free Trade and Migration

We support the removal of governmental impediments to free trade. Political freedom and escape from tyranny demand that individuals not be unreasonably constrained by government in the crossing of political boundaries. Economic freedom demands the unrestricted movement of human as well as financial capital across national borders. However, we support control over the entry into our country of foreign nationals who pose a credible threat to security, health or property.

3.5 Rights and Discrimination

Libertarians embrace the concept that all people are born with certain inherent rights. We reject the idea that a natural right can ever impose an obligation upon others to fulfill that “right.” We condemn bigotry as irrational and repugnant. Government should neither deny nor abridge any individual’s human right based upon sex, wealth, ethnicity, creed, age, national origin, personal habits, political preference or sexual orientation. Members of private organizations retain their rights to set whatever standards of association they deem appropriate, and individuals are free to respond with ostracism, boycotts and other free-market solutions.

3.6 Representative Government

We support election systems that are more representative of the electorate at the federal, state and local levels. As private voluntary groups, political parties should be free to establish their own rules for nomination procedures, primaries and conventions. We call for an end to any tax-financed subsidies to candidates or parties and the repeal of all laws which restrict voluntary financing of election campaigns. We oppose laws that effectively exclude alternative candidates and parties, deny ballot access, gerrymander districts, or deny the voters their right to consider all legitimate alternatives. We advocate initiative, referendum, recall and repeal when used as popular checks on government.

3.7 Self-Determination

Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of individual liberty, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to agree to such new governance as to them shall seem most likely to protect their liberty.

Our silence about any other particular government law, regulation, ordinance, directive, edict, control, regulatory agency, activity, or machination should not be construed to imply approval.

A Timeline of Libertarian Thought

From John Locke to Jesse Ventura, a stroll down Libertarian lane

1690: The state “cannot take from any man any part of his property without his own consent,” writes John Locke. His The Second Treatise of Civil Government will inform the Declaration of Independence and the eminent-domain schemes of generations of shopping-mall developers.

1792: German philosopher Wilhelm von Humboldt, in The Sphere and Duties of Government, argues that providing security is the only proper role of the state. Citizens must be granted freedom to live as they choose, he writes, because “the absolute and essential importance of human development [is] in its richest diversity.”

1819: “Every time collective power wishes to meddle with private speculations, it harasses the speculators,” complains Swiss-born thinker Benjamin Constant in France. “Every time governments pretend to do our business, they do it more incompetently and expensively than we would.”

1849: 148 years before the founding of Blackwater, Gustave de Molinari reasons, in his economics treatise Les Soirées de la rue Saint-Lazare, that if trade can supply cheap consumer goods, it can also supply military contractors, rendering government unnecessary.

Henry David Thoreau writes, “That government is best which governs least,” inspiring generations of don’t-tread-on-me Americans.

1859: In On Liberty, British philosopher John Stuart Mill’s Harm Principle holds that each individual has the right to act as he wants, so far as his actions do not harm others. He is a firm advocate of free speech.

1885: Former British House of Commons member Auberon Herbert founds the Party of Individual Liberty and later its journal, Free Life, which describes itself as “the organ of voluntary taxation and the voluntary state.” His term “voluntaryism” is later adopted by libertarians in 1950s America.

1922: German political economist Franz Oppenheimer publishes the English version of his popular revisionist history of government power, The State, tracing its origins to blood and conquest and its survival to ruthless predation on working folk.

1935: Laura Ingalls Wilder publishes Little House on the Prairie. Libertarians claim her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, a prominent libertarian author at the time, was the ghostwriter. In 2003 Reason magazine will praise the books for placing “community and commerce—rather than male adventure, escape and violence—at the heart of our national experience.”

1944: Austrian School economist F.A. Hayek publishes Road to Serfdom, equating the social democracy of the time to the collectivist tyrannies of fascists and communists. He’s ignored by New Dealers but later inspires a new generation of libertarians.

1946: Economist Milton Friedman accepts a teaching job at the University of Chicago and later establishes the Chicago School of Economics. Government adviser, best-selling author, columnist, and Nobel Prize winner, his career becomes a tour de force of free-market evangelism.

1957: Ayn Rand publishes her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, guaranteeing a solid market for “Who is John Galt?” T shirts among college objectivist societies for years to come.

1964: Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater loses his bid for the presidency, but instills the Republican Party with fierce anticommunism tempered by moderation on social issues. In later years Goldwater comes out in favor of abortion rights, gays in the military, and medical marijuana.

1966: Sci-fi writer Robert A. Heinlein releases The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, a libertarian retelling of the American Revolution set on the big cheese. The narrator, a polyandrous computer programmer who rebels against a meddling and incompetent Lunar Authority, appeals to the experimental, fiercely independent mentality of Silicon Valley’s emerging generation of techno-libertarian hippies.

1968: Reason is founded and grows into the mouthpiece of the modern libertarian movement. It is published under the banner “Free minds and free markets.”

1971: The Libertarian Party originates in the Westminster, Colorado living room of advertising executive David Nolan. It will eventually endorse abolishing property taxes, legalizing drugs, and selling off “all publicly owned infrastructures including dams and parks.”

1973: With help from the CIA and advice from Chicago School economists, General Augusto Pinochet seizes control of Chile and puts in place radical free-market reforms. He privatizes social programs, curtails trade unions, and begins to eliminate tariffs on imported goods. By the time he is forced out in 1990 a new moneyed class has emerged while the majority of workers earn less (adjusted for inflation) than they did when he took power. Reason will later argue that the economic recovery under the succeeding socialist government was due instead to the “long term benefit” of Pinochet’s policies.

1976: Texas obstetrician Ron Paul is elected to the U.S. Congress on a platform of eliminating most of the federal government.

1977: The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, is founded in San Francisco with funding from oil baron Charles G. Koch. The name comes from Cato’s Letters, newspaper articles written by two Englishmen using the pen name Cato the Younger, an allusion to the defender of republicanism in ancient Rome. With a yearly budget of nearly $20 million, Cato defends corporate empires.

1978: Dick Randolph is elected to the Alaska House of Representatives, becoming the first Libertarian to hold state office. He will lead a successful campaign to repeal the state income tax.

1980: Avowed libertarian John Mackey founds Whole Foods in Austin, Texas.

1981: Cato Institute founding board member Murray Rothbard, after accusing his colleagues of watering down their radical libertarian vision to woo voters and shill for corporate donors, is fired. The next year Rothbard joins the new Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, which becomes a hotbed of anarcho-capitalism. (See “Libertarian Theology.”)

1988: Hustler publisher Larry Flynt fends off evangelist Jerry Falwell’s libel case in the Supreme Court. Libertarians cheer.

Ron Paul runs for president on the Libertarian Party ticket, earning less than one half of one percent of the vote.

1993: Founded as the voice of Silicon Valley, Wired heralds the day when technology will make government obsolete.

1994: Beatnik poet William S. Burroughs accepts a TV spot hawking sneakers for Nike.

1995: Libertarian businessman Jeff Bezos founds Amazon.com, becoming the tech boom’s John Galt.

1996: Journalist Paulina Borsook publishes “Cyberselfish” in the pages of Mother Jones (and later, as an eponymous book), blaming libertarians for creating a moral vacuum inside the tech bubble.

1997: The first episode of South Park, “Cartman Gets an Anal Probe,” airs on Comedy Central. Police officer Barbrady doesn’t think it unusual that cows have been turned inside out, and Mr. Garrison, a schoolteacher, uses a puppet to tell a student: “You go to hell! You go to hell and you die!” The show’s tales of authority gone awry inspire a generation of “South Park Conservatives.”

1998: Comedian and avowed libertarian Drew Carey lights a cigarette in a bar to protest California’s anti-smoking law, inspiring a backlash against the “Nanny State.”

1999: “I am a libertarian,” Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, elected in a third-party bid as the Reform Party candidate, tells Reason. “I’ve taken the libertarian exam [a query of views on libertarian issues] and scored perfect on it.” In later years libertarians won’t give his record such stellar marks.

Believing that the Y2K virus could cause the collapse of Western civilization and an outbreak of pandemics, Stan Jones, a perennial libertarian candidate in Montana, imbibes a solution of ionic silver to fortify his immune system. The resulting chemical reactions turn his skin blue.

2006: In a race against Senator Conrad Burns of Montana, Jones earns 3 percent of the don’t-tread-on-me vote, which throws the election to Democrat Jon Tester and hands the U.S. Senate to the Democrats.

The war on terror gives small-government conservatives sticker shock; compared to 2004, the Republican margin among libertarians drops 24 percent.

2007: Presidential candidate Ron Paul inveighs against the Iraq War in the Republican primary debates; his November 5 “money bomb” rakes in $4 million, breaking the single-day online fundraising record for a presidential primary.

Notable Libertarians

  • Camille Paglia


    “I’m a libertarian. That’s why I’m always freely offending both sides.”

  • Penn Jillette

     I have no evidence that libertarianism leads to a better life. I just think it is morally right.

  • Peter Thiel

    If you do something new, it will always look a little bit strange.