What is Libertarianism?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Libertarianism is a complex political philosophy that favors maximizing individual freedom and minimizing the concentration of power. Adherents to libertarianism, who are known as libertarians, want people to be allowed to do virtually whatever they want unless it infringes upon the rights or property of someone else. Advocates of libertarianism want to discard the enormous collection of rules, regulations, laws and bans that are common to most of the world's governments. In its extreme form, libertarianism is anarchism — the absence of all rules — but in practice, most libertarians advocate government as a necessary evil. Government for the purpose of national defense is a typical example.

Businessman giving a thumbs-up
Businessman giving a thumbs-up

Absence of Government Interference

Libertarians visualize a libertarian society as a network of groups and individuals who define and enforce their own collective laws and norms without the interference of a national government body. In a libertarian society, almost everything would be entirely privatized — law enforcement, research of all types, utilities, road maintenance and so on. The idea is that if people want something, they will pay for it, and supply will emerge to meet the demand. This is the notion of free markets, which also is central to libertarianism.

Maintaining Order

Members of more popular political parties fear that a libertarian society would degenerate into chaos. Libertarians argue that, to the contrary, the market would cause order to exist, eliminating the unnecessary excesses and waste of big government and making society more efficient and effective. Proponents of libertarianism are opposed to any form of government handouts or societal safety nets, so publicly funded programs that provide services such as financial support, health insurance and the like would all be dissolved and presumably replaced by private programs if there is sufficient demand for them. Libertarians believe, to a certain extent, that a society based on "survival of the fittest" would be a better place to live.

Modern Libertarianism

Historically, libertarianism has been poorly funded and badly organized. This has changed slightly over time, because there has been a strong presence of libertarians in techno-savvy, entrepreneurial circles that have experienced great success. Libertarians see themselves as forward-looking and against all types of boundaries or coercion. They might also see advocates of more conventional political parties as tools of big government.

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime wiseGEEK contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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Discussion Comments


@Melonlity -- I know there are a lot of voters out there looking for a third party, but I am not sure that the Libertarian Party is it. I mean, think about it. Do you really want a system of government where everything is privatized? Just think of the nightmares of maintaining the federal highway system. Do you want to pay a toll every time you jump on the Interstate for just a few miles? That would be the kind of thing that would come with Libertarianism.

I am no fan of big government, but there are some things the government is just better at doing. It doesn't need to be a weird, shadowy thing that provides an army and little else.

In short, Libertarianism sounds great on paper. The philosophy, taken to its logical extreme, would be unworkable at best and complete anarchy at worst.


I have a feeling that the Libertarian Party and its members may get their day in the sun before too much longer. I hear all the time about people who are sick of both major political parties and want alternatives to them.

The Libertarian Party is, perhaps, the strongest "third party" out there and could serve as a good home for disaffected voters. Besides, the notions of small government, maximum privatization and increased liberties should resonate well with a lot of voters who are sick of taxes, an invasive federal government and too many laws and regulations.

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