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Diversity of Libertarian Thought: Exploring the Streams of Anarchism and Classical Liberalism

Updated: Oct 28, 2023

Did you know that libertarian thought takes various forms? From anarcho-capitalism to classical liberalism, encompassing minarchism, neoliberalism, objectivism, and voluntarism, these streams share a commitment to individual freedom but differ in how they pursue it and their views on state intervention. In this article, we will delve into these currents, highlighting their unique approaches to freedom and governance.

Diversity of Libertarian Thought: Exploring the Streams of Anarchism and Classical Liberalism

  1. Anarcho-capitalism Anarcho-capitalism advocates for the abolition of the state in favor of individual sovereignty within a free-market capitalism framework. Under this philosophy, law, courts, and security services are provided by private competitors rather than through taxes, and money is handled privately and competitively in an open market. Personal and economic activities are regulated by private laws rather than through politics. Murray Rothbard, an economist of the Austrian school, is widely considered its founder and promoted the idea of a "mutually agreed-upon libertarian legal code" based on individual autonomy and the non-aggression principle.

  2. Classical Liberalism Classical liberalism originated in the 17th and 18th centuries as a political ideology opposing absolute state power and seeking individual freedom in political, religious, and economic realms. It advocates for civil liberties under the rule of law and a market economy. Influenced by thinkers like John Locke, Montesquieu, and Adam Smith, 19th-century classical liberalism focuses on limiting state power and maximizing the free market, promoting laissez-faire and limited government.

  3. Minarchism Minarchism proposes a "night-watchman state," with its only functions being to provide the military, police, and courts to protect citizens from aggression, theft, contract breaches, and fraud. This ideology is based on the belief that only these minimal state functions are necessary for maintaining society. Robert Nozick is one of its key proponents.

  4. Neoliberalism Neoliberalism, which emerged after World War II, advocates for reducing the state's role and a return to classical liberalism. Economists like Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman led this public policy trend, although they identified themselves as classical liberals. The term "neoliberalism" has been controversial and has been used in various ways, but at its core, it promotes a market economy with limited state interventions.

  5. Objectivism The relationship between objectivism, Ayn Rand's philosophy, and libertarianism is complex. Ayn Rand inspired many young people in the 1950s and 1960s with her novels promoting rationalism and individualism. While some libertarians drew inspiration from her works, not all became followers of objectivism. This ethical philosophy promotes rational self-interest and the defense of capitalism.

  6. Voluntarism Voluntarism, in political theory, is the idea that all forms of government should be as voluntary as possible. Voluntarists argue that voluntary association and agreement are the only legitimate ways to organize a society. They advocate for a free market of legal, political, and economic systems, accepting all voluntary forms of governance. This idea originally appeared in the pro-market spencerian environment of the United Kingdom in the 1880s and has had a resurgence in the contemporary libertarian movement, often accompanied by a rejection of electoral politics as a fundamental aspect of their political philosophy.

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