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Libertarianism is a view in politics and philosophy that focuses on liberty. Libertarianism says that it is usually better to give people more free choice. It also says that the government should have less control over people. There are different kinds of libertarianism in both left-wing and right-wing politics.
Libertarianism grew out of liberalism as a movement in the 1800s. Many of the beliefs of libertarianism are similar to the beliefs in classical liberalism. It also has roots in anarchism and the Austrian School of economics.
Libertarians believe that no person can justly own or control the body of another person, what they call ‘self-ownership’ or ’individual sovereignty.’ In simple words, every person has a right to control her or his own body.
In the 19th century, United States libertarians like William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and Lysander Spooner were all abolitionists. Abolitionists were people who wanted to end slavery right away.
Garrison based his opposition to slavery on the idea of self-ownership. Since you have a natural right to control your own body, no one else has any right to steal that control from you. Garrison and Douglass both called slave masters ‘man stealers.’
If you have a right to control your own body, then no one has a right to start violence (or force) against you.
Some libertarians believe that all violence is unjust. These libertarians are often called "anarcho-pacifists". Robert LeFevre was a libertarian who rejected all violence. However, most libertarians believe that there are some ways violence can be justified.
One thing that justifies violence is self defense. If someone is violent towards you, you have a right to defend yourself with equal force.
The libertarian Murray N. Rothbard said that it would be wrong to kill someone for stealing a pack of gum. If you steal gum, this is an act of violence against the property owner. The owner has a right to use defensive violence to get the gum back, but killing the thief goes too far. That is too much force because it is not equal to the force used by the thief. Punishment must be equal to the crime. A student and colleague of his, Walter Block, said that a punishment should not be equal to the crime, but rather enough to make up for the damage the crime caused plus how much it cost to catch the criminal.
Some libertarians believe that it is your moral duty to defend yourself and your property if you can. This belief is usually held by Objectivists. These people believe that pacifism is immoral. Most libertarians disagree with this view.
All libertarians believe that it is wrong to start violence against any person or against what he or she owns. They call this the "non-aggression principle."
Libertarians believe that property rights come from self-ownership. This means that because you have a right to control your own body, you also have a right to control what you make with it.
The English philosopher John Locke said that a person comes to own something by using it. So, if you turn an area that no-one else owns into a farm and use it, that area becomes your property. This is called the "homestead principle."
Libertarians also say that you can become a legitimate owner by receiving something as a gift or by trading it with someone for something they own. You do not become a legitimate owner by stealing. You also do not become a legitimate owner by simply saying you own something. If you have not "homesteaded" the thing or received it through trade or gift, you do not own it.
Libertarians are opposed to states (or governments) creating any "laws" that tell people what they can and cannot do with their own bodies. The only legitimate laws are laws that say a person may not start violence against other people or their legitimate property. All "laws" stopping people from doing nonviolent things should be repealed, according to libertarians. (These "laws" are usually called "victimless crimes" because there is no victim if there is no harm.)
In most countries, the state (or government) takes tax money from the people. All libertarians support cutting taxes back, and some libertarians believe the state should not take tax money at all. Libertarians think people can take care of the poor without the government. They believe that people should pay for the things that they want to use, but not have to pay for other things that they do not want. Tax evasion (refusal to pay taxes to the state) is a victimless crime. Libertarians would prefer to see taxation replaced with lotteries, user fees, and endowments.
Libertarians think everyone should be allowed to decide what is good or bad for her/his own body. Libertarians think if people want to drive cars without wearing seat belts, it is their own choice. They should not be forcibly stopped from doing that, not even by the state. If a person wants to donate all of her/his money to a charity, or waste it all gambling, that is also something she/he should decide for herself/himself. No one should be forcibly stopped from doing that, not even by the state. Libertarians even say that if adults want to use harmful drugs, they should be allowed to do that, even if it spoils their lives. It is the drug user's own choice because it is the drug user's own body. As long as the drug user does not start using violence against other people or their legitimate property, no one should use violence against the drug user or the drug user's legitimate property, not even the government.
Many libertarians also believe that families and friends should look after people so that they will not use drugs, drive without seat belts, or do other things that are dangerous for them. But no one can force others to do things that they do not want to do, or to stop them from doing nonviolent things that they want to do.
Types of Libertarians
There are two broad basic types of libertarians.
Minarchists are libertarians who believe that society should have a state with very limited power. They believe that free markets are the most moral and efficient way of providing goods and services. They typically believe that the only things the state should provide are police and judges to make sure that people obey the laws, and a military to make sure that no one attacks the country. Some minarchists believe in having a small amount of taxation and limited provision of public goods such as international diplomacy and public parks.
Two famous minarchist libertarians are Robert Nozick and Ayn Rand. Nozick believed that the only legitimate thing a state can do is have a police force. He called his legitimate state a "night-watchman state." Ayn Rand believed that the state should have a police force and a court system.
Libertarian anarchists do not believe the state is needed. They believe that people can organise their own lives and businesses. They want to replace the state with voluntary organisations, including charities, private companies, voluntary unions, and mutual aid societies. They also want to end all forced taxation.
Most libertarians fall under one of the two types of libertarians listed above. But there are other types, too.
- Libertarian constitutionalists are libertarians who believe that the only legitimate things a state can do are those things that have been approved in a constitution. Libertarian constitutionalists include Ron Paul.
- Agorists are revolutionary libertarian anarchists who believe that we should fight the state through what they call "counter-economics." Agorists include Samuel Edward Konkin, III and Brad Spangler.
- Objectivists are libertarians who believe in atheism. They believe that humans are able to know things, as opposed to skepticism, which is the idea that people cannot know things with certainty. They believe reason is the only path to truth, and that a system of free capitalism is the only ethical system of government. Objectivists include Ayn Rand. (There are also some "anarcho-Objectivists," such as Linda & Morris Tannehill and Roy A. Childs, Jr..)
- Left-libertarians are libertarian anarchists who believe that a free market capitalistic system will not lead to more equality. They are often very open to ideas such as "worker self-management" and feminism. These beliefs often work well with anrarcho-communism and anarcho-syndicalism. Left-libertarians include Benjamin R. Tucker and Roderick T. Long.
- Anarcho-pacifists are libertarians who believe that no force is ever legitimate, not even in self-defence. Although Robert LeFevre did not call himself an "anarcho-pacifist" (or even an "anarchist"), he was one.
- Autarchism is a form of libertarian anarchism which supports individual freedom, self-reliance, and individualism. To put it simply, autarchists believe in the philosophy: "Control yourself". Robert LeFevre is a self-described autarchist.
- Geolibertarians believe that the only legitimate tax is a tax on land. This is often called the "single tax" or "land value tax".
- Voluntaryism is another term for libertarian anarchism. Voluntaryists believe that only voluntary actions are legitimate. This means that all government force is illegitimate. The first libertarian to call himself a voluntaryist was Auberon Herbert.
- Civil libertarians are people who believe in the preservation of civil liberties, such as free speech. But not all civil libertarians believe you should be allowed to do what you want with the money you earn. All libertarians are civil libertarians, but not all civil libertarians are libertarians.