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What is the difference between libertarianism and liberalism(*)?

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

Libertarianism and liberalism are two related political ideologies with some differences in their approach and philosophy.

What is the difference between libertarianism and liberalism?

Here are four key distinctions:

Government Scope:

  • Libertarianism: Advocates for an extremely limited or non-existent government. Libertarians believe that the government should intervene as little as possible in people's lives and the economy. In its most extreme form, some libertarians support the complete abolition of government and authority.

  • Liberalism: In its classical form, seeks a government that protects individual rights and promotes a free and competitive market. While it also supports limiting government interference, it doesn't necessarily aim for the complete elimination of government, as extreme libertarianism does.


  • Libertarianism: Tends to advocate for a completely free market without government regulations, including opposition to taxes, subsidies, and commercial regulations.

  • Liberalism: Especially in its classical form, supports a free market but accepts the need for government regulations to address information asymmetries, monopolies, and negative externalities.

Social Welfare:

  • Libertarianism: Generally opposes social welfare programs and believes that individuals should be responsible for their own economic and social well-being.

  • Liberalism: Can endorse the idea of a social welfare system providing some level of economic support and healthcare to those in need, although the extent of these programs may vary.

Civil Rights:

  • Libertarianism: Often strong advocates of civil rights and individual freedoms, including the right to privacy, freedom of expression, and equality before the law.

  • Liberalism: Values civil rights but may be willing to balance them with certain restrictions in the name of the public interest.

(*) It's important to keep in mind that: In the U.S. many Democrats are also called "liberals." This is why those who prioritize individual rights and freedoms over the state, both in economic and social matters, chose to call themselves "libertarians."

In summary, libertarianism tends to take a more radical approach in limiting government, while liberalism, especially in its classical form, seeks a balance between government intervention and the protection of individual rights.

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