lib·er·tar·i·an: One who advocates maximizing individual rights and minimizing the role of the state. – American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition
There are many ways of saying the same thing, and libertarians often have unique ways of answering the question “What is libertarianism?” We’ve asked many libertarians that question, and below are some of our favorite definitions.
Let us know by email which ones YOU like best, and/or share your definition with us.
"Libertarianism is what your mom taught you: behave yourself and don't hit your sister." – Kenneth Bisson, Board Member, Advocates for Self-Government
"Libertarianism is a philosophy. The basic premise of libertarianism is that each individual should be free to do as he or she pleases so long as he or she does not harm others. In the libertarian view, societies and governments infringe on individual liberties whenever they tax wealth, create penalties for victimless crimes, or otherwise attempt to control or regulate individual conduct which harms or benefits no one except the individual who engages in it." – definition written by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (!), during the process of granting the Advocates for Self-Government status as a nonprofit educational organization
"Libertarianism is, as the name implies, the belief in liberty. Libertarians believe that each person owns his own life and property and has the right to make his own choices as to how he lives his life – as long as he simply respects the same right of others to do the same." -- Sharon Harris, President, Advocates for Self-Government
The core of libertarianism is respect for the life, liberty, and property rights of each individual. This means that no one may initiate force against another, as that violates those natural rights. While many claim adherence to this principle, only libertarians apply the non-aggression axiom to the state." – Ron Paul, medical doctor, U.S. Congressman, and 2008 Republican Primary candidate for president.
“We want government to largely leave us alone, protect our personal security, but then to butt-out, leave us free to pursue our hopes and dreams, as long as we don't hurt anybody else.” – John Stossel, Host of “Stossel” on Fox Financial News Network, and author of Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity
“Libertarians believe in individual liberty, personal responsibility, and freedom from government – on all issues at all times… A libertarian is someone who thinks you should be free to live your life as you want to live it, not as [the President of the United States] thinks you should – who believes you should raise your children by your values, not those of some far-off bureaucrat who’s using your child as a pawn to create some brave new world – who thinks that, because you’re the one who gets up every day and goes to work, you should be free to keep every dollar you earn, to spend it, save it, give it away as you think best.”– Harry Browne (1933-2006),1996 and 2000 Libertarian Party Presidential Candidate and author of Liberty A-Z: 872 Libertarian Soundbites You Can Use Right Now!
:"As Libertarians, we seek a world of liberty; a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives, and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others. We believe that respect for individual rights is the essential precondition for a free and prosperous world, that force and fraud must be banished from human relationships, and that only through freedom can peace and prosperity be realized. Consequently, we defend each person's right to engage in any activity that is peaceful and honest, and welcome the diversity that freedom brings. The world we seek to build is one where individuals are free to follow their own dreams in their own ways, without interference from government or any authoritarian power."– from the Preamble to the Libertarian Party Platform
"Libertarianism is the view that each person has the right to his life in any way he chooses so long as he or she respects the equal rights of others. Libertarians defend each person's right to life, liberty and property-rights that people have naturally, before governments are created. In the Libertarian view, all human relationships should be voluntary; the only actions that should be forbidden by law are those that involve the initiation of force against those who have not themselves uses force-actions like murder, robbery, rape, kidnapping and fraud." – Charles Murray, political scientist and author of What It Means To Be a Libertarian
"In popular terminology, a libertarian is the opposite of an authoritarian. Strictly speaking, a libertarian is one who rejects the idea of using violence or the threat of violence -- legal or illegal -- to impose his will or viewpoint upon any peaceful person. Generally speaking, a libertarian is one who wants to be governed far less than he is today."– Dean Russell, Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), 1955
"Libertarians are self-governors in both personal and economic matters. They believe government's only purpose is to protect people from coercion and violence. Libertarians value individual responsibility, and tolerate economic and social diversity." – Carole Ann Rand, former president, Advocates for Self-Government
"Libertarianism is what you probably already believe… Libertarian values are American values. Libertarianism is America's heritage of liberty, patriotism and honest work to build a future for your family. It's the idea that being free and independent is a great way to live. That each of us is a unique individual, with great potential. That you own yourself, and that you have the right to decide what's best for you. Americans of all races and creeds built a great and prosperous country with these libertarian ideals. Let's use them to build America's future." – David Bergland, 1984 Libertarian Party Presidential Candidate and author of Libertarianism in One Lesson
"A libertarian is a person who believes that no one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being, or to advocate or delegate its initiation. Those who act consistently with this principle are libertarians, whether they realize it or not. Those who fail to act consistently with it are not libertarians, regardless of what they may claim." – author L. Neil Smith
"Libertarianism is self-government. It combines the best of both worlds: The left leg of self-government is tolerance of others; the right leg is responsible economic behavior. The combination of both legs leads to social harmony and material abundance." -- Marshall Fritz (1943-2008), Founder of the Advocates for Self-Government and of the Alliance for the Separation of School and State, inventor of the World’s Smallest Political Quiz
"Free minds and free markets." – slogan of Reason magazine
“Individual liberty, free markets, and peace.” – slogan of Cato Institute
“Anything that’s peaceful. Libertarians condemn all invasive acts and the initiation of violence, but voluntaryists reject ALL forms of government for two primary reasons. First, even limited governments ‘presume to establish a compulsory monopoly of defense (police and courts) over some geographical area.’ (Individual property owners who prefer to subscribe to another defense company within that area are not allowed to do so.) Secondly, every government obtains its income by stealing, euphemistically called ‘taxation.’” – Carl Watner, The Voluntaryists
“Central to libertarianism is its non-aggression principle. Each of us has the obligation under justice not to aggress against anyone else for any reason -- personal, social, or political.” – Doris Gordon, Libertarians for Life
“Small government: one that stays out of people's wallets and out of their bedrooms.” – Jeffrey Miron, Harvard Professor and author of Libertarianism from A to Z
A political philosophy that has as its core mission, the maximization of individual liberty and the minimization of government power. – Bob Barr, former U.S. Congressman and 2008 Libertarian Party Presidential Candidate
"True and impartial liberty is therefore the right of every man to pursue the natural, reasonable, and religious dictates of his own mind; to think what he will, and act as he thinks, provided he acts not to the prejudice of another; to spend his own money himself, and lay out the produce of his labour his own way; and to labour for his own pleasure and profit, and not for others who are idle, and would live and riot by pillaging and oppressing him, and those that are like him."– Thomas Gordon, 1722 -- submitted by David Nalle, Republican Liberty Caucus
“The political and legal philosophy rooted in natural law of individual liberty and personal responsibility under a rule of law.” – David J. Theroux, Founder and President, Independent Institute
“Individual freedom, under a system of universally understood and accepted rules, such as appear in the U.S. Constitution, or the Ten Commandments. The system assumes the principle of Undesigned Order, under which people--sovereign individuals--interact and thereby produce and live as best they can. No other system could ever be as productive -- by magnitudes of generated real income. Nor could any other system be as satisfying to the individual. The proof of this pudding is the USA -- what it was, not what it is becoming.” – Richard Timberlake, economist and retired University of Georgia professor
“Non agression axiom plus homesteading to establish property rights.”– Walter Block, Loyola University professor and author of Defending the Undefendable
“Libertarianism is the simple morality we learned as children: don't strike first, don't steal or cheat, keep your promises. If you inadvertently fail to live up to these standards, make it up to the person you've harmed. If someone harms you, you may defend yourself as needed to stop the aggressor and obtain reparations. This simple morality works group-to-group just as it works one-to-one to bring about a peaceful and prosperous world.” – Mary Ruwart, author of Healing Our World in an Age of Aggression
“A political system guided by the basic principles of natural individual human rights (to one's life, liberty, property, etc.).” – Tibor Machan, philosopher, Chapman University professor, and author of The Promise of Liberty
“The political philosophy in which individual and economic liberty constitute the highest societal value.” – Bob Poole, Founder , Reason Foundation
“The freedom to live your life as you see fit as long as you do not harm or infringe upon the rights of others.” – Jeff Frazee, Executive Director, Young Americans for Liberty
"Libertarianism is the idea that adult individuals have the right and the responsibility to make the important decisions about their own lives. You could say that you learn the essence of libertarianism -- which is also the essence of civilization -- in kindergarten: don’t hit other people, don’t take their stuff, keep your promises"– David Boaz, Executive Vice President, Cato Institute
“Other people are not your property.” – Roderick Long, philosopher, Auburn University professor, and author of Reason and Value: Aristotle Vs. Rand
"Libertarians want the smallest, least-intrusive government consistent with maximum freedom for each individual to follow his own ways, his own values, as long as he doesn't interfere with anyone else's doing the same."– Milton Friedman (1912-2006),Noble Prize-winning economist
“Libertarianism is a political philosophy that advocates little or no initiation of force in society. That view is derived from the philosophy's core premise, namely, that each and every person is born into this world as a distinct and precious individual, possessing the right to do anything that is peaceful.” – Lawrence Reed, President, Foundation for Economic Education
What's YOUR definition of libertarianism? Email us and let us know.