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The Span of Libertarianism

What are the different subsets of the Libertarian ideal?

By Susan Rowe/News Reporter

The libertarian party is built on the shoulders of several different ideologies that come together under one term, as libertarianism. It is a social ideology that leaves room for all sorts of economic ideals under that umbrella. The three largest factions - who also happened to found the party together - include anarcho-capitalists, classical liberals, and libertarian socialists (The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

“Liberalism is more than one thing,” authors Gaus, Gerald and Courtland, Shane D. and Schmidtz, David elucidated. “On any close examination, it seems to fracture into a range of related but sometimes competing visions.”

Different symbols Libertarians have used to identify themselves/Courtesy of David Tartaglia

The first and most fiscally conservative of libertarians are the anarcho-capitalists. As their name suggests, they center their ideology on the free market, believing that private companies will provide societal needs like healthcare, law and order, etc, in the absence of a central government. Anarcho-capitalists and anarchists differ slightly in belief. The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism states,

“Although most anarchists oppose all large institutions, public or private, anarcho-capitalists oppose the state, but not private actors with significant market power.”

The second major sect of Libertarians is the classical liberals. They have an economic philosophy far more concerned with the self than societal needs. Their primary belief is in the sanctity of private property and its ties to liberty itself. To classical liberals, true freedom is personal freedom, which is obtained through private and self-maintained land where its owner is free to do as they please. Those who adopt this label still vary in some beliefs however. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy continues,

“Although classical liberals agree on the fundamental importance of private property to a free society, the classical liberal tradition itself is a spectrum of views, from near-anarchist to those that attribute a significant role to the state in economic and social policy.”

The last major group of Libertarians is the libertarian socialists. Far left and somewhat more anarchist than the others, this ideology believes in a nearly abolished state - one just large enough to protect its people and handle foreign and economic affairs - as well as worker-owned production and means. Libertarian socialists are most concerned with one’s freedom financially and in the workplace, many supporting the idea of a universal basic income rather than relying on a boss to provide one’s wage. An Anarchist FAQ - I.1 Isn't libertarian socialism an oxymoron? claims,

“Therefore, rather than being an oxymoron, ‘libertarian socialism’ indicates that true socialism must be libertarian and that a libertarian who is not a socialist is a phony. As true socialists oppose wage labor, they must also oppose the state for the same reasons. Similarly, libertarians must oppose wage labor for the same reasons they must oppose the state.”

The social and economic-political axis, Courtesy of

All sorts of people take to calling themselves libertarians and that’s how it should be. Libertarianism in neither left nor right - all it requires is a desire for freedom and choice. David Friedman in What Does it Mean to Be a Libertarian puts it best,

“‘Libertarian’ is not a binary variable—there is no bright line separating those just libertarian enough to qualify from those not quite libertarian enough.”

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