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Libertarianism is a set of related political philosophies that uphold liberty as the highest political end. This includes emphasis on the primacy of individual liberty, political freedom, and voluntary association. It is the antonym to authoritarianism. Libertarians advocate a society with a greatly reduced state or no state at all.
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines libertarianism as the moral view that agents initially fully own themselves and have certain moral powers to acquire property rights in external things. Libertarian philosopher Roderick Long defines libertarianism as "any political position that advocates a radical redistribution of power from the coercive state to voluntary associations of free individuals", whether "voluntary association" takes the form of the free market or of communal co-operatives. According to the U.S. Libertarian Party, libertarianism is the advocacy of a government that is funded voluntarily and limited to protecting individuals from coercion and violence.
Libertarian schools of thought differ over the degree to which the state should have a role. Anarchist schools advocate complete elimination of the state. Minarchist schools advocate a state which is limited to protecting its citizens from aggression, theft, breach of contract, and fraud. Some schools accept government assistance for the poor. Additionally, some schools are supportive of private property rights in the ownership of unappropriated land and natural resources while others reject such private ownership and often support common ownership instead (Libertarian socialism).
Some political scholars assert that in most countries the terms "libertarian" and "libertarianism" are synonymous with anarchism, and some express disapproval of capitalists calling themselves libertarians. Conversely, other academics as well as proponents of the free market perspectives argue that free-market libertarianism has been successfully propagated beyond the U.S. since the 1970s via think tanks and political parties and that "libertarianism" is increasingly viewed worldwide as a free market position. Likewise, many libertarian capitalists disapprove of socialists calling themselves "libertarian."
In the United States, where the meaning of liberalism has parted significantly from classical liberalism, classical liberalism has largely been renamed libertarianism and is associated with "economically conservative" and "socially liberal" political views (going by the common meanings of "conservative" and "liberal" in the United States), along with a foreign policy of non-interventionism.
The term libertarian in a metaphysical or philosophical sense was first used by late-Enlightenment free-thinkers to refer to those who believed in free will, as opposed to determinism. The first recorded use was in 1789 by William Belsham in a discussion of free will and in opposition to "necessitarian" (or determinist) views.
The use of the word "libertarian" to describe a set of political positions can be tracked to the French cognate, libertaire, which was coined in 1857 by French anarchist Joseph Déjacque who used the term to distinguish his libertarian communist approach from the mutualism advocated by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Hence libertarian has been used by some as a synonym for anarchism since the 1890s. The term libertarianism is commonly considered to be a synonym of anarchism in countries other than the US. Albert Jay Nock and H. L. Mencken were the first prominent figures in the US to call themselves "libertarians," which they used to signify their allegiance to individualism and limited government, feeling that Franklin D. Roosevelt had co-opted the word "liberal" for his New Deal policies, which they opposed.
Libertarian philosophies are generally divided on three principal questions: by ethical theory – whether actions are determined to be moral consequentially or in terms of natural rights (or deontologically), the legitimacy of private property, and the legitimacy of the state. Libertarian philosophy can therefore be broadly divided into six groups based on these distinctions.
There are broadly two different types of libertarianism which are based on ethical doctrines: "consequentialist libertarianism" and "natural rights libertarianism" (or "deontological libertarianism"). Deontological libertarians have the view that natural rights exist, and from there argue that initiation of force and fraud should never take place. Natural rights libertarianism may include both right-libertarianism and left-libertarianism. Consequentialist libertarians argue that a free market and strong private property rights bring about beneficial consequences, such as wealth creation or efficiency, rather than subscribing to a theory of rights or justice. There are hybrid forms of libertarianism that combine deontological and consequentialist reasoning.
Contractarian libertarianism holds that any legitimate authority of government derives not from the consent of the governed, but from contract or mutual agreement, though this can be seen as reducible to consequentialism or deontologism depending on what grounds contracts are justified. Some libertarian socialists reject deontological and consequential approaches and use historical materialism to justify their political beliefs.
Propertarian libertarian philosophies define liberty as non-aggression, or the state in which no person or group aggresses against any other person or group, where aggression is defined as the violation of private property. This philosophy implicitly recognizes private property as the sole source of legitimate authority. Propertarian libertarians hold that an order of private property is the only one that is both ethical and leads to the best possible outcomes. They generally support the free-market, and are not opposed to any concentration of power (monopolies) provided it is brought about through non-coercive means.
Non-propertarian libertarian philosophies hold that liberty is the absence capitalist authority and argue that a society based on freedom and equality can be achieved through abolishing authoritarian institutions that control certain means of production and subordinate the majority to an owning class or political and economic elite. Implicitly, it rejects any authority of private property and thus holds that it is not legitimate for someone to claim private ownership of any resources to the detriment of others. Libertarian socialism is a group of political philosophies that promote a non-hierarchical, non-bureaucratic, stateless society without private property in the means of production. The term libertarian socialism is also used to differentiate this philosophy from state socialism. Libertarian socialists generally place their hopes in decentralized means of direct democracy such as libertarian municipalism, citizens' assemblies, trade unions and workers' councils.
Libertarians differ on whether government is desirable. Some favor the existence of states and see them as necessary while others favor stateless societies and view the state as being undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful.
Supporters of government argue that having defense and courts controlled by the market is an inherent miscarriage of justice because it turns justice into a commodity, thereby conflating justice with economic power. Anarchists argue that having defense and courts controlled by the state is both immoral and an inefficient means of achieving both justice and security. Libertarian socialists hold that liberty is incompatible with state action based on a class struggle analysis of the state.
John Locke greatly influenced both libertarianism and the modern world in his writings published before and after the English Revolution of 1688, especially A Letter Concerning Toleration (1667), Two Treatises of Government (1689) and An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). In the latter he established the basis of liberal political theory: that people's rights existed before government; that the purpose of government is to protect personal and property rights; that people may dissolve governments that do not do so; and that representative government is the best form to protect rights. The United States Declaration of Independence was inspired by Locke in its statement: "to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…"
According to Murray Rothbard, the libertarian creed emerged from the classical liberal challenges to an "absolute central State and a king ruling by divine right on top of an older, restrictive web of feudal land monopolies and urban guild controls and restrictions", the mercantilism of a bureaucratic warfaring state allied with privileged merchants. The object of classical liberals was individual liberty in the economy, in personal freedoms and civil liberty, separation of state and religion, and peace as an alternative to imperial aggrandizement. He cites Locke's contemporaries, the Levellers, who held similar views. Also influential were the English "Cato's Letters" during the early 1700s, reprinted eagerly by American colonists who already were free of European aristocracy and feudal land monopolies.
In January of 1776, only two years after coming to America from England, Thomas Paine published his pamphlet "Common Sense" calling for independence for the colonies. Paine promoted classical liberal ideas in clear, concise language that allowed the general public to understand the debates among the political elites. Common Sense was immensely popular in disseminating these ideas, selling hundreds of thousands of copies. Paine later would write the Rights of Man and The Age of Reason and participate in the French Revolution.
In 1793, William Godwin wrote a libertarian philosophical treatise, Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and its Influence on Morals and Happiness, which criticized ideas of human rights and of society by contract based on vague promises. He took classical liberalism to its logical anarchic conclusion by rejecting all political institutions, law, government, and apparatus of coercion, as well as all political protest and insurrection. Instead of institutionalized justice he proposed that people influence one and other to moral goodness through informal reasoned persuasion, including in the associations they joined, and that this would facilitate human happiness.
During the 19th century a tradition of individualist anarchism developed that continued into and influenced 20th century libertarianism. Benjamin Tucker, Lysander Spooner, Ezra Heywood, William B. Greene, J.K. Ingalls, and Stephen Pearl Andrews opposed the idea of equalitarian conformity. They supported a world free of the state and monopolistic privileges, where individuals were free to trade. They were influenced by individualist German philosophers like Johann Gottleib Fichte, Max Stirner and Friedrich Nietzsche. They also were influenced by Britain's Herbert Spencer and France's Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.
Josiah Warren's individualistic philosophy arose from rejection of Robert Owen's failed cooperative movement in the 1820s, of which he was a participant. Of it, he wrote: "It seemed that the difference of opinion, tastes, and purposes increased just in proportion to the demand for conformity […] It appeared that it was nature's own inherent law of diversity that had conquered us […] our 'united interests' were directly at war with the individualities of persons and circumstances and the instinct of self-preservation". Warren even rejected community of property which he considered "doomed to failure because of the individuality of the persons involved in such an experiment."
For American anarchist historian Eunice Minette Schuster, American individualist anarchism "stresses the isolation of the individual—his right to his own tools, his mind, his body, and to the products of his labor. To the artist who embraces this philosophy it is 'aesthetic' anarchism, to the reformer, ethical anarchism, to the independent mechanic, economic anarchism."
Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) was an important early influence in individualist anarchist thought in the United States and Europe. Thoreau was an American author, poet, naturalist, tax resister, surveyor, philosopher, and leading transcendentalist best known for his book Walden and his essay Civil Disobedience, an argument for individual resistance and moral opposition to an unjust state. He originated the phrase "that government is best which governs less" and wrote "this government of itself never furthered any enterprise, but by the alacrity with which it got out of the way."
In the late nineteenth century individualist anarchism was expressed through influential writer Benjamin R. Tucker's periodical Liberty (1881-1908), which Wendy McElroy calls a “textbook of libertarian culture of the late nineteenth century.” It debated issues among the various strains of individualist anarchism in the Americas and Europe. Tucker himself had a "passionate belief in the moral illegitimacy of the state", which premise he often followed to its uncomfortable conclusions. "When was widely criticized, Tucker enthusiastically endorsed the poem, urging all of his subscribers to read it. Tucker, in fact, published an American edition. From its early championing of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, to it's printing of Oscar Wilde's plea for penal reform called "The Ballad of Reading Gaol", to a series of short stories by Francis du Bosque in its last issues, Liberty was a vehicle of controversial, avant-garde literature."
An important concern for American individualist anarchism was free love. Free love particularly stressed women's rights since most sexual laws discriminated against women: for example, marriage laws and anti-birth control measures. It produced a number of important publications like Lucifer the Lightbearer (1883–1907), 'The Word' (1872–1890, 1892–1893) and Free Society.
"Freethought" was an anti-christian, anti-clerical movement whose purpose was to make the individual politically and spiritually free to decide on religious matters. The church was seen as a repressive ally of the state. A number of contributors to Liberty were prominent figures in both freethought and individualist anarchism. Freethought was important in European individualist anarchism and it emphasized criticism of religious dogmas and of the church.
Charles-Auguste Bontemps and others were active in French individualist anarchism. Their theoretical positions and practices were iconoclastic and scandalous, even within libertarian circles, including nudist anarcho-naturism, defense of birth control and the idea of 'unions of egoists' solely for sexual purposes. Spanish individualist anarchists were influenced by American and French theorists, and practiced by individuals like Dorado Montero, Ricardo Mella, Federico Urales and J. Elizalde.
Mutualism is a libertarian socialist school of thought originating from the mid-19th century writings of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. While Proudhon argued against private ownership of the means of production and advocated a stateless socialist society based on democratic worker self-management, he denounced the state socialist tendency toward advancing communism through central planning. He acknowledged that principles of competition and solidarity were in conflict but stated that society would find the “most libertarian means possible” to deal with the tension between freedom and order. Proudhon proposed spontaneous order, whereby organization emerges without central authority, a "positive anarchy" where order arises when everybody does "what he wishes and only what he wishes." He saw that every society has libertarian and authoritarian tendencies and that conflicts could be resolved by independent arbitrators or federations. Mutualism has been retrospectively characterized as ideologically situated between individualist and collectivist forms of anarchism.
In the late nineteenth century, the libertarian philosophy of Georgism became influential among many libertarians, particularly among American libertarians. The Georgist philosophy is based on the writings of the economist Henry George (1839–1897), and is usually associated with the idea of a single tax on the value of land. Georgists argue that a tax on land value is economically efficient, fair and equitable; and that it can generate sufficient revenue so that other taxes, which are less fair and efficient (such as taxes on production, sales and income), can be reduced or eliminated.
Left-libertarianism, libertarian Marxism, libertarian socialism and libertarian communism are all phrases which activists with a variety of perspectives have applied to their views. Anarchist communist philosopher Joseph Déjacque was the first person to describe himself as "libertarian". Unlike mutualist anarchist philosopher Pierre Joseph Proudhon, he argued that, "it is not the product of his or her labor that the worker has a right to, but to the satisfaction of his or her needs, whatever may be their nature." According to anarchist historian Max Nettlau, the first use of the term "libertarian communism" was in November 1880, when a French anarchist congress employed it to more clearly identify its doctrines. The French anarchist journalist Sébastien Faure started the weekly paper Le Libertaire (The Libertarian) in 1895.
The revolutionary wave of 1917–23 saw the active participation of anarchists in Russia and Europe. Russian anarchists participated alongside the Bolsheviks in both the February and October 1917 revolutions. However, Bolsheviks in central Russia quickly began to imprison or driven underground the libertarians anarchists. Many fled to the Ukraine. There, in the Ukrainian Free Territory, they fought in the Russian Civil War against the White movement, monarchists and other opponents of revolution, and then against Bolsheviks as part of the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine led by Nestor Makhno, who established an anarchist society in the region for a number of months. Expelled American anarchists Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman protested Bolshevik policy before they left Russia.
The victory of the Bolsheviks damaged anarchist movements internationally as workers and activists joined Communist parties. In France and the United States, for example, members of the major syndicalist movements of the CGT and IWW joined the Communist International. In Paris, the Dielo Truda group of Russian anarchist exiles, which included Nestor Makhno, issued a 1926 manifesto, the Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists (Draft), calling for new anarchist organizing structures.
The "Bavarian Soviet Republic" of 1918-1919 had libertarian socialist characteristics. In Italy from 1918-1921 the anarcho-syndicalist trade union Unione Sindacale Italiana grew to 800,000 members but libertarians were persecuted by socialists.
In the 1920s and 1930s, with the rise of fascism in Europe, anarchists began to fight fascists in Italy in France during the February 1934 riots, and in Spain where the CNT boycott of elections led to a right-wing victory and its later participation in voting in 1936 helped bring the popular front back to power. This led to a ruling class attempted coup and the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). Gruppo Comunista Anarchico di Firenze held that the during early twentieth century, the terms libertarian communism and anarchist communism became synonymous within the international anarchist movement as a result of the close connection they had in Spain (see Anarchism in Spain) (with libertarian communism becoming the prevalent term).
Murray Bookchin wrote that the Spanish libertarian movement of the mid-1930s was unique because its workers’ control and collectives - which came out of a three generation “massive libertarian movement” - divided the “republican” camp and challenged the Marxists. Urban anarchists’ created libertarian communist forms of organization which evolved into the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (“CNT”), a syndicalist union providing the infrastructure for a libertarian society. Also formed were local bodies to administer of social and economic life on a decentralized libertarian basis. Much of the infrastructure was destroyed during the 1930s Spanish Civil War against authoritarian and fascist forces.
The Manifesto of Libertarian Communism was written in 1953 by Georges Fontenis for the Federation Communiste Libertaire of France. It is one of the key texts of the anarchist-communist current known as platformism. In 1968 in Carrara, Italy, the International of Anarchist Federations was founded during an international anarchist conference to advance libertarian solidarity.It wanted to form "a strong and organised workers movement, agreeing with the libertarian ideas".
In 1969 French platformist anarcho-communist Daniel Guerin published an essay in 1969 called "Libertarian Marxism?" in which he dealt with the debate between Karl Marx and Mikhail Bakunin at the First International and afterwards he suggested that "Libertarian marxism rejects determinism and fatalism, giving the greater place to individual will, intuition, imagination, reflex speeds, and to the deep instincts of the masses, which are more far-seeing in hours of crisis than the reasonings of the ‘elites’; libertarian marxism thinks of the effects of surprise, provocation and boldness, refuses to be cluttered and paralysed by a heavy ‘scientific’ apparatus, doesn’t equivocate or bluff, and guards itself from adventurism as much as from fear of the unknown." Libertarian Marxist currents often draw from Marx and Engels' later works, specifically the Grundrisse and The Civil War in France. They emphasize the Marxist belief in the ability of the working class to forge its own destiny without the need for a revolutionary party or state. Libertarian Marxism includes such currents as council communism, left communism, Socialisme ou Barbarie Lettrism/Situationism and operaismo/autonomism, and New Left. According to Noam Chomsky, Libertarian Marxism is one of the main currents of libertarian socialism.[verification needed]
In the early 21st century various left libertarians became active in anti-war, anti-capitalist, and anti-globalisation movements. Anarchists became known for their black bloc protests against the World Trade Organization conference in Seattle in 1999, other meetings of the World Trade Organization, the Group of Eight, and the World Economic Forum. Today's radical activist circles have more in common with the libertarian socialism advocated by Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn than with the writings of Bakunin or Kropotkin.
|This section requires expansion with: referenced info on influential movement in U.S. and worldwide. (March 2013)|
In the 1950s, many with "Old Right" or classical liberal beliefs in the United States began to describe themselves as libertarian. Arizona United States Senator Barry Goldwater's right-libertarian leaning challenge to authority also influenced the U.S. libertarian movement. During the 1960s, the Vietnam War divided right-libertarians, anarchists, and conservatives. Right-libertarians and left-libertarians opposed to the war joined the draft resistance and peace movements and began founding their own publications, like Murray Rothbard's The Libertarian Forum and Reason magazine. The 1960s also saw the formation of organizations like the Radical Libertarian Alliance and the Society for Individual Liberty. An increase in popular interest in anarchism occurred in western nations during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1971, a small group of Americans led by David Nolan formed the U.S. Libertarian Party. The party has run a presidential candidate every election year since 1972. Over the years, dozens of capitalism-supporting libertarian political parties have been formed worldwide. Educational organizations like the Center for Libertarian Studies and the Cato Institute were formed in the 1970s, and others have been created since then.
In the 1950s, Russian-American novelist Ayn Rand became one of the most influential thinkers among conservatives and right-libertarians. Rand developed a philosophical system called Objectivism and expressed her ideas in her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, as well as in other works. She further elaborated on her philosophy in her periodicals The Objectivist Newsletter, The Objectivist, and The Ayn Rand Letter, and in non-fiction books such as Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology and The Virtue of Selfishness. Despite her influence on libertarian thought, she adamantly rejected the label of libertarian and denounced non-Objectivist libertarians. Philosopher John Hospers, a one-time member of Rand's inner circle, proposed a non-initiation of force principle to unite both groups; this statement later became a required "pledge" for candidates of the Libertarian Party, and Hospers himself became its first presidential candidate in 1972.
Right-libertarianism gained significant recognition in academia with the publication of Harvard University professor Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia in 1974. The book advocated support for government on the grounds that it was an inevitable phenomenon. It was also written to critique A Theory of Justice by John Rawls. Anarchy, State, and Utopia won a National Book Award in 1975.
Proponents of the free market perspectives argue that free-market capitalist libertarianism has been successfully propagated beyond the United States since the 1970s via think tanks and political parties.
In the United States, polls (circa 2006) find that the views and voting habits of between 10 and 20 percent (and increasing) of voting age Americans may be classified as "fiscally conservative and socially liberal, or libertarian." This is based on pollsters and researchers defining libertarian views as fiscally conservative and socially liberal (based on the common US meanings of the terms) and against government intervention in economic affairs, and for expansion of personal freedoms. Through 20 polls on this topic spanning 13 years, Gallup found that voters who are libertarian on the political spectrum ranged from 17–23% of the US electorate.
Most of these vote for Republican and Democratic (not Libertarian) party candidates. A 2011 Reason-Rupe poll found that among those who self-identified as Tea Party supporters, 41 percent leaned libertarian and 59 percent socially conservative. In addition, anti-war presidential candidates—Libertarian Republican Ron Paul and Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson—raised millions of dollars and garnered millions of votes despite opposition to their obtaining ballot access by Democrats and Republicans.
Since the 1950s, many American libertarian organizations have adopted a free market stance, as well as supporting civil liberties and non-interventionist foreign policies. These include the Ludwig von Mises Institute, the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), Center for Libertarian Studies, the Cato Institute, and the International Society for Individual Liberty (ISIL). The activist Free State Project, formed in 2001, works to bring 20,000 libertarians to New Hampshire to influence state policy. Active student organizations include Students for Liberty and Young Americans for Liberty.
A number of countries have libertarian parties that run candidates for political office. In the United States, the Libertarian Party of the United States was formed in 1972. The Libertarian Party is the third largest American political party, with over 370,000 registered voters in the 35 states that allow registration as a Libertarian and has hundreds of party candidates elected or appointed to public office.
Current international anarchist federations which sometimes identify themselves as libertarian include the International of Anarchist Federations, the International Workers' Association, and International Libertarian Solidarity. The largest organised anarchist movement today is in Spain, in the form of the Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT) and the CNT. CGT membership was estimated to be around 100,000 for 2003. Other active syndicalist movements include, in Sweden, the Central Organisation of the Workers of Sweden and the Swedish Anarcho-syndicalist Youth Federation; the CNT-AIT in France; the Union Sindicale Italiana in Italy; in the US, Workers Solidarity Alliance; and in the UK, Solidarity Federation. The revolutionary industrial unionist Industrial Workers of the World, claiming 2,000 paying members, and the International Workers Association, an anarcho-syndicalist successor to the First International, also remain active.
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