What is Libertarianism?

by Libertarian Country December 06, 2022

What is Libertarianism?

Libertarianism (the etymology of which derives from the Latin Libertas, meaning liberty or freedom) is an umbrella term for a collection of political philosophies that proclaim individual liberty as their core value. Libertarianism, in a nutshell, is the diametric opposite of authoritarianism.

Let's take a closer look. 

Libertarianism is marked by a firm rejection of tyranny, calling for a stripped-down version of government, dismantling regulatory (or otherwise) overreach that stifles individual liberty, and relegating the government's role to a fundamental function.

The mantra of libertarianism is "less government, more freedom."

Libertarianism is a celebration of the individual and the inalienable rights they possess. Libertarians support an individual's right to live as they see fit, so long as they do not infringe upon the rights of others, a concept endorsed by classical liberal thinkers such as Locke and Bastiat and pinned down in the U.S. Constitution.

Libertarians may find someone's personal choices despicable and immoral, but so long as they do not infringe on the rights of others, they maintain that it is their choice. Libertarians believe in the free exchange of ideas and that others can be persuaded to morality by words or leading by example rather than by force. The essential ingredient is liberty.

Tenets of Libertarianism

Many different philosophies comprise the overall libertarian ethos, but ironclad principles exist throughout. This section will examine essential tenets to help you better understand libertarianism. They are:

  • Self-Ownership
  • Non-Aggression
  • Freedom of Speech
  • The Right to Bear Arms
  • Free Markets


Self-Ownership--What is Libertarianism?

Perhaps the most vital of libertarian tenets is the belief that humans own themselves. No human can own another human being, no matter what. A person may contract out their labor or agree to pay off debts with service, but to whom the service is rendered does not claim possession over those who perform the service. The transaction is impossible, philosophically speaking, even if a person wishes to sell themselves--because self-ownership is immutable. To conduct such a transaction would violate the laws of nature, such as in the unethical practice of slavery. Those who claimed ownership over slaves did not, by natural law, actually own them. Even in the event of imprisonment, conservatorship, or a call to military service, individual sovereignty is perpetually maintained.

Libertarians hold self-ownership as a core value. To dispute the concept and paradigm of self-ownership is a blatant contradiction to the philosophy of libertarianism.

"Every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has any right to but himself" ~ John Locke


Non-Aggression Principle--What is Libertarianism?

Libertarians--on a large scale--subscribe to an axiom called The Non-Aggression Principle, or simply The NAP.

The Non-Aggression Principle states that force must not be applied against an individual without justification or provocation.

Violence, rape, theft, slavery and murder are examples of force that libertarians (and most of the population) eschew and denounce. 

Libertarians believe in peaceable existence, and avoid force and violence unless it is in self-defense.

"Don't hurt people and don't take their stuff" is a famous libertarian adage that simplifies this principle.   

Freedom of Speech

Lenny Bruce Wrongfully Arrested on Obscenity Charges

Lenny Bruce wrongfully arrested on obscenity charges 

In a previous article, we wrote more extensively on freedom of speech and why it is an essential principle to libertarians, but we will summarize it again here. 

Freedom of speech is a cornerstone libertarian principle throughout every libertarian sect. Libertarians have fought for the right to free speech for decades. The freedom to communicate ideas--whether in the written word, verbal communication, art, video or any other medium--is essential to a free society, a fundamental human right, and must never be hindered or eradicated. 

As pointed out by the ACLU, even disgusting and pernicious speech must be protected. Otherwise, all speech risks being trivialized or thwarted via censorship and government repeal. Although some speech may provoke a public backlash and result in negative ramifications, the government must never possess any power to mitigate, curtail, censor or forbid any speech, regardless of how it's defined.


“To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the right of the hearer as well as those of the speaker" ~ Frederick Douglas

The Right To Bear Arms

The Right to Bear Arms--What is Libertarianism?


In another article, we covered why libertarians support the right to bear arms, but we will again summarize here. 

Guns; love or hate them, it is your inalienable human right to possess them, and libertarians have stood by this principle since the term 'libertarian' was first coined in 1789 by William Belsham.

There are many reasons that the right to keep and bear arms is essential, including: 

    • The inalienable right to defend one's own life and safety
    • The inalienable right to protect one's property
    • The inalienable right to defend one's liberty and freedom
    • The inalienable right to protect your family and loved ones
    • The inalienable right to own private property without needing to justify ownership. Meaning you can buy a gun, put it on your wall and do nothing else with it, for it is your right to possess it for whatever reason you choose, so long as you do not infringe on the rights of others.

The Second Amendment states that a well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Across the libertarian spectrum, the right to keep and bear arms is essential.

"The constitution shall never be construed...to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms." ~Alexander Hamilton.

Free Markets

 Free Markets--What is Libertarianism?

(Photo) 'Bob Chitester and Milton Friedman during the pre-filming of the 1980 series 'Free to Choose' from Wiki Commons.

In the scope of Libertarianism, there are two central economic systems endorsed by libertarians. One, on the right of the political spectrum, advocates private ownership and is called Laissez-faire Capitalism (or free market capitalism); the other, on the left, supports decentralized ownership and is called Libertarian Socialism.

While these two economic philosophies clash, both advocate for free markets and are anti-authoritarian.

For a more in-depth understanding of economics, we recommend the following books: 

Free Market Capitalism

Libertarian Socialism

Market forces, according to libertarians across the politico-economic sphere, must always be kept free from state control. State control, central planning and interference with the market leads to a host of problems, including but not limited to; inflation, gas hikes, rent control, price controls, commodity shortages, housing shortages, luxury goods shortages, agricultural surplus (government surplus), wealth devaluing, rationing, lost pensions/retirement funds, bond yield deflation, stock market crashes, and more.

Markets function well when left to their own devices, seemingly automatically (a force known as 'the invisible hand.') The invisible hand is a metaphor for the unseen forces that operate in the free market. Through individual ambition and freedom of production, a society's needs (and wants) are met through an interdependence commonly referred to as 'supply and demand.' If there is a demand for a product, the incentive to profit leads manufacturers to the production line. This free exchange of need/desire and production/supply is the pinnacle of laissez-faire economics. It is why free markets are superior to the central planning found in socialism or communism. 

In state socialism or communism, centralized economic planning is generally utilized to determine what is to be produced, the volume of what's being made, distribution, pricing etc. Spurring the Soviet Union's post-war, mid-century economic growth, socialism appeared to be a viable economic alternative to Western capitalism. Ultimately, it failed to compete on the global stage, leading to its collapse in 1991. Western nations' market capitalism proved far superior in the long term. 

Libertarians believe in the free exchange of goods and services. The free market is a brutal yet beautiful jungle and should be left uncorrupted. The freer the markets, the freer the people. 


We covered some of the most important tenets of libertarianism. They are:

    • Self-Ownership
    • Non-Aggression
    • Freedom of Speech
    • The Right to Bear Arms
    • Free Markets   


Libertarianism has earned a rank among scholars, academics, philosophers, great thinkers, as well as everyday citizens across the globe. What makes libertarianism attractive is this notion of self-ownership and the ability to live as one sees fit.

Hardline conservatives and liberals favoring big government have criticized libertarianism for its seemingly chaotic and impractical beliefs. Still, more and more people are being drawn to it for its emphasis on personal responsibility and non-aggression.

Voluntaryism and freedom of choice, coupled with the integrity and honor of self-discipline, make libertarianism a philosophy that will stand the test of time.      

We thank you for reading our guide to Libertarianism and urge you to continue your education. Keep thinking, my dear friends, for it's not illegal yet! :)

For more information, visit our Knowledge Bank

Libertarian Country
Libertarian Country


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