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A political philosophy that advocates free will, individual rights, and voluntary cooperation.

The core doctrine of libertarianism begins with the recognition that people have certain natural rights and that deprivation of these rights is immoral. Among these natural rights are the right to personal autonomy and property rights, and the right to the utilization of previously unused resources. These two basic assumptions form the foundation of all libertarian ideals.

Libertarianism can be traced back to ancient China, where philosopher Lao-tzu advocated the recognition of individual liberties. The modern libertarian theory emerged in the sixteenth century through the writings of Etienne de La Boetie (1530–1563), an eminent French theorist. In the seventeenth century, John Locke and a group of British reformers known as the Levellers fashioned the classical basis for libertarianism with well-received philosophies on human nature and economics. Since the days of Locke, libertarianism has attracted pacifists, utopianists, utilitarianists, anarchists, and fascists. This wide array of support demonstrates the accessibility and elasticity of the libertarian promotion of natural rights.

Essential to the notion of natural rights is respect for the natural rights of others. Without a dignified population, voluntary cooperation is impossible. According to the libertarian, the means to achieving a dignified population and voluntary cooperation is inextricably tied to the promotion of natural rights.

Libertarianism holds that people lose their dignity as government gains control of their body and their life. The Abdication of natural rights to government prevents people from living in their own way and working and producing at their own pace. The result is a decrease in self-reliance and independence, which results in a decrease in personal dignity, which in turn depresses society and necessitates more government interference.

Thus, the libertarian views government as both the cause and the effect of societal ills. Government is the cause of crime and prejudice because it robs people of their independence and frustrates initiative and creativity. Then, having created the sources of crime and prejudice by depriving individuals of their natural rights, government attempts to exorcise the evils with more controls over natural rights.

Libertarians believe that government should be limited to the defense of its citizens. Actions such as murder, rape, Robbery, theft, Embezzlement, Fraud, Arson, Kidnapping, Battery, Trespass, and Pollution violate the rights of others, so government control of these actions is legitimate. Libertarians acknowledge human imperfection and the resulting need for some government deterrence and punishment of violence, Nuisance, and harassment. However, government control of human activity should be limited to these functions.

Further readings

Boaz, David. 1997. Libertarianism: A Primer. New York: Free Press.

Otsuka, Michael. 2003. Libertarianism Without Inequality. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.


Anarchism; Independent Parties; Natural Law; Utilitarianism.

References in periodicals archive ?
1) In making these assessments we can be guided by an analysis of the objective moral and political doctrines of libertarian theory.
1 (2011): 1-13; Kinsella, "A Libertarian Theory of Contract: Title Transfer, Binding Promises, and Inalienability," Journal of Libertarian Studies 17, no.
Although protection of rights is advantageous, libertarian theory seems to do little more than this.
1997) "A Libertarian Theory of Punishment and Rights," 30 Loy.
For them, libertarian theory serves as an analytical calculus capable of explaining with breathtaking simplicity ideas and events that more pedestrian scholars, uninstructed in what Joseph R.
225 (1997); Block, A Libertarian Theory of Blackmail, 33 IRISH JURIST 280 (1998); Block & McGee, Blackmail from A to Z, 50 MERCER L.
Wrongness, Wisdom, and Wilderness: Toward a Libertarian Theory of Ethics and the Environment.
Throughout our debate, we invoked a number of relatively complex thought experiments, which, in order to help us advance our dialogue, touched upon some of the broader issues and concepts typically regarded as foundational to libertarian theory.
According to traditional libertarian theory, C is a rapist, and this act of his was liberty-reducing, since rape is a violation of the NAP.
James Pinkerton argues that any libertarian theory that obsesses on economics runs the risk of losing the large struggles over peace and freedom.
Free riding is clearly a form of theft, and libertarian theory itself admits the legitimacy of using government force to stop thefts, even where they are occurring through stealth rather than force.
29) Even so, he fails to understand what drives my position when he asserts that contract is central to libertarian theory.

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