David Ricardo, portrait by Thomas Phillips, 1821; in the National Portrait Gallery, London. However, three additional points need to be made: first, libertarianism is not just these broad liberal principles. From Chapter 1, “The Coming Libertarian Age,” The Libertarian Mind, by David Boaz (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015). and publications. The notion of spontaneous order may seem counterintuitive: it is natural to assume that order exists only because it has been designed by someone (indeed, in the philosophy of religion, the apparent order of the natural universe was traditionally considered proof of the existence of an intelligent designer—i.e., God). Thomas Paine, for instance, wrote, “There are two distinct classes of men in the nation, those who pay taxes, and those who receive and live upon the taxes.” Similarly, Jefferson wrote in 1824, “We have more machinery of government than is necessary, too many parasites living on the labor of the industrious.” Modern libertarians defend the right of productive people to keep what they earn, against a new class of politicians and bureaucrats who would seize their earnings to transfer them to political clients and cronies. The libertarian benchmark for any idea or institution is its effects on individual freedom and the basic rights of people. Libertarian thought emphasizes the dignity of each individual, which entails both rights and responsibility. Learn More: “What is a Libertarian?” by Grant Babcock. The rule of law means that individuals are governed by generally applicable and spontaneously developed legal rules, not by arbitrary commands; and that those rules should protect the freedom of individuals to pursue happiness in their own ways, not aim at any particular result or outcome. This effort developed into a respect for the dignity of work and production and especially for the growing middle class, who were looked down upon by aristocrats. Indeed, after centuries of intellectual, political, and sometimes violent struggle, these core libertarian principles have become the basic structure of modern political thought and of modern government, at least in the West and increasingly in other parts of the world. If this has piqued your interest in the philosophy of freedom, then check out our sister website, Lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org. Libertarians developed a pre‐​Marxist class analysis that divided society into two basic classes: those who produced wealth and those who took it by force from others. To survive and to flourish, individuals need to engage in economic activity. Libertarians continued gaining momentum nationally and in 1994, the US has more than 40 members serving in public office. By signing up for this email, you are agreeing to news, offers, and information from Encyclopaedia Britannica. Receive periodic updates on Cato research, events, Another aspect of the individualism of libertarians is their belief that the individual, rather than the group or the state, is the basic unit in terms of which a legal order should be understood. 1000 Massachusetts Ave. NW The progressive extension of dignity to more people — to women, to people of different religions and different races — is one of the great libertarian triumphs of the Western world. Second, while our society remains generally based on equal rights and capitalism, every day new exceptions to those principles are carved out in Washington and in Albany, Sacramento, and Austin (not to mention London, Bonn, Tokyo, and elsewhere). Even those who describe themselves as “anarchist libertarians,” however, believe in a system of law and law enforcement to protect individual rights. Here is a statement of principles directly from the Libertarian party website: We hold that all individuals have the right to exercise sole dominion over their own lives, and have the right to live in whatever manner they choose, so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose. Those who claim to believe in liberal principles but advocate more and more confiscation of the wealth created by productive people, more and more restrictions on voluntary interaction, more and more exceptions to property rights and the rule of law, more and more transfer of power from society to state, are unwittingly engaged in the ultimately deadly undermining of civilization. Libertarian. Limited government is the basic political implication of libertarianism, and libertarians point to the historical fact that it was the dispersion of power in Europe — more than other parts of the world — that led to individual liberty and sustained economic growth. They also claim that libertarianism is based on the unproven notion that economic growth results in increased quality of life. The most important institutions in human society — language, law, money, and markets — all developed spontaneously, without central direction. Beliefs like which economic system (Cap, Soc, Com) is ideal and the subtler beliefs differ between schools thought and even more so down to the individual. Indeed, libertarians often claim that the greater freedom and prosperity of European society (in comparison with other parts of the world) in the early modern era was the result of the fragmentation of power, both between church and state and among the continent’s many different kingdoms, principalities, and city-states. Libertarianism (from French: libertaire, "libertarian"; from Latin: libertas, "freedom") is a political philosophy and movement that upholds liberty as a core principle.