from The Worldview Literacy Book   copyright 2009            back to worldview theme(s) #50


#50A: Libertarians value individual freedom in both personal and economic matters (see Figure #50a).  They insist on having complete control over, and accepting personal responsibility for, how one's body and personal property are used.  While the term "libertarian" wasn't used until the mid 19th century, its beginnings can be traced to John Locke (1632-1704).  He felt  owning property was a natural right (Figure #42a) derived from a person's labor. Viewing humans as inherently selfish, he nonetheless felt no one had the right to harm another's "life, health, liberty, or possessions."

     Libertarians are not fans of big government (Figure #50b). They advocate limiting the power of government so individual liberty is maximized.  Most believe in the sanctity of private property, and view government challenging private property rights as tantamount to it trampling on their freedom. They value reason and generally embrace the non-aggression principle, popularized by philosopher/novelist Ayn Rand (Figure #50c), founder of the objectivism philosophy.  It states that coercive physical force or the threat of such force against person or property should never be used first, and that its only legitimate use is for defensive purposes by individuals or retaliatory purposes by governments.  In this regard she wrote, "A government is the means of placing the retaliatory use of physical force under objective control...under objectively defined laws."  One can distinguish two types of libertarians: those who believe some minimal amount of government is needed (called libertarians and discussed here), and those who don't (called anarchists and discussed in the next section). 

     Libertarians will allow the government to seemingly infringe on their liberty.  They accept police forces, the justice system, national defense and the taxes to pay for them—believing that these will protect them against even greater violations of their freedom.  They will not tolerate government interference in laissez faire capitalism = self interest based economics.  They are enthusiastic supporters of competition, "the virtue of selfishness" (also the title of a 1964 book by Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Brandon), and "Economic Individualism" (theme #19).  The purest of them will denounce with equal vehemence both government help to individuals (welfare assistance) and  handouts to corporations (corporate welfare).

     Many of them attack concepts like "the common good" and the "social responsibility" of business.  On the latter, in his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom, Milton Friedman wrote, "There is only one social responsibility of business—to use its re-sources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say it engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud."  He elsewhere links social responsibility with "the most explicitly collectivist doctrine"—"Socialism"


Figure #50b: Sign at Libertarian Rally


(theme #49B), which he and most libertarians abhor.  Putting profits before ethics, they are not fans of "Ethical Orientation" (theme #42). Lamenting both government inefficiency and excessive government regulation, they similarly abhor "Ethical Globalization," and "Environmental Economics" (themes #51 and #40).

     There are many variations of libertarianism.  Some value the role of government more than others.  One, promoted by Robert Ringer, author of Winning Through Intimidation, relaxes the prohibition against using force.  Another—left libertarianism or libertarian socialism—values egalitarianism, income redistribution and collective ownership.  Some libertarians support decentralized co-operative economic ventures (theme #48).  Some are found fervently promoting the wise use movement.

#50B: Left libertarianism that completely devalues government is called left anarchism.  It comes in various forms, one being collectivist anarchismwhere the means of production would be collectively owned, controlled, and managed by the producers themselves.  Some left anarchists are comfortable with co-operative economics (theme #48) provided no government is involved.  Their dislike of government has two fundamental aspects.  They feel 1) government taxation and other policies violate the non-aggression principle, and 2) government interference in markets destroys competition, protects monopolies and prevents workers from being fairly compensated.  (The economic theory of mutualism elaborates.) 

     Ayn Rand had no use for anarchism, viewing it as an "irrational, anti-intellectual ...whim-worshiping fringe of the collectivist movement."  While a majority of anarchists sub-scribe to left anarchism, anarcho-capitalists do not.  Neither collectivists nor egalitarians, they believe in the sanctity of private property.  They also believe government is not needed to supply legal, security and defensive services—arguing the free market can effectively do this.

Figure #50a










(middle of road)


Conservatives (right)


















 Liberals (left)








<===== values individual freedom in personal matters

Figure #50c: Ayn Rand's Answer to "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need."

"This is John Galt speaking..." from Atlas Shrugged

"This countrythe product of reasoncould not survive on the morality of sacrifice.  It was not built by men who sought self-immolation or by men who sought handouts...You let them infect you with the worship of needand this country became a giant in body with a mooching midget in place of its soul, while its living soul was driven underground to labor and feed you in silence...We will rebuild America's system on the moral premise which had been its foundation...the premise that man is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others, that man's life, his freedom, his happiness are his by inalienable right."       


back to worldview theme(s) #50