DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-S036-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved November 30, 2023, from

Article Summary

In political philosophy ’libertarianism’ is a name given to a range of views which take as their central value liberty or freedom. Although occasionally the term is applied to versions of anti-authoritarian Marxist theory (the ’libertarian left’), more commonly it is associated with a view which champions particularly pure forms of capitalism. Libertarians endorse the free market and unfettered free exchange, and oppose paternalistic or moralistic legislation (for example, laws regulating sexual behaviour or the consumption of alcohol or drugs). Liberty, on such a view, is identified with the absence of interference by the state or by others. The legitimate state exists purely to guard individual rights, protecting people and their property from force, theft and fraud. This is the ’minimal state’ or ’night-watchman state’ of classical liberalism. The state has no authority to engage in the redistribution of property (except to rectify the effects of theft, and so on) or, in certain versions at least, to pursue policies designed to further the common good. Such activities are viewed by the libertarian as illegitimate interferences with an individual’s right to do what they wish with their own person or property.

    Citing this article:
    Wolff, Jonathan. Libertarianism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-S036-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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