August 25, 2014

In search of libertarians

FT_who-is-libertarianThe question of whether libertarianism is gaining public support has received increased attention, with talk of a Rand Paul run for president and a recent New York Times magazine story asking if the “Libertarian Moment” has finally arrived. But if it has, there are still many Americans who do not have a clear sense of what “libertarian” means, and our surveys find that, on many issues, the views among people who call themselves libertarian do not differ much from those of the overall public.

About one-in-ten Americans (11%) describe themselves as libertarian and know what the term means. Respondents were asked whether the term “libertarian” describes them well and — in a separate multiple-choice question — asked for the definition of “someone whose political views emphasize individual freedom by limiting the role of government”; 57% correctly answered the multiple-choice question, choosing “libertarian” from a list that included “progressive,” “authoritarian,” “Unitarian” and “communist.” On the self-description question 14% said they were libertarian. For the purpose of this analysis we focus on the 11% who both say they are libertarian and know the definition of the term.

These findings come from the Pew Research Center’s political typology and polarization survey conducted earlier this year, as well as a recent survey of a subset of those respondents via the Pew Research Center’s new American Trends Panel, conducted April 29-May 27 among 3,243 adults.

Self-described libertarians tend to be modestly more supportive of some libertarian positions, but few of them hold consistent libertarian opinions on the role of government, foreign policy and social issues.

Men were about twice as likely as women to say the term libertarian describes them well and to know the meaning of the term (15% vs. 7%). More college graduates (15%) than those with no more than a high school education (7%) identified as libertarians. There also were partisan differences; 14% of independents and 12% of Republicans said they are libertarian, compared with 6% of Democrats.

Some of these differences arise from confusion about the meaning of “libertarian.” Just 42% of those with a high school education or less answered the multiple-choice question correctly, compared with 76% of college graduates.

FT_libertarian-government-aidIn some cases, the political views of self-described libertarians differ modestly from those of the general public; in others there are no differences at all.

When it comes to attitudes about the size and scope of government, people who say the term libertarian describes them well (and who are able to correctly define the term) are somewhat more likely than the public overall to say government regulation of business does more harm than good (56% vs. 47%). However, about four-in-ten libertarians say that government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest (41%).

The attitudes of libertarians similarly differ from the public on government aid to the poor; they are more likely than the public to say “government aid to the poor does more harm than good by making people too dependent on government assistance” (57% vs. 48%), yet about four-in-ten (38%) say it “does more good than harm because people can’t get out of poverty until their basic needs are met.”

FT_libertarian-marijuanaLibertarianism is associated with limited government involvement in the social sphere. In this regard, self-described libertarians are somewhat more supportive of legalizing marijuana than the public overall (65% vs. 54%).

But there are only slight differences between libertarians and the public in views of the acceptability of homosexuality. And they are about as likely as others to favor allowing the police “to stop and search anyone who fits the general description of a crime suspect” (42% of libertarians, 41% of the public).

Libertarians, U.S. Role in World AffairsSimilarly, self-described libertarians do not differ a great deal from the public in opinions about foreign policy. Libertarianism is generally associated with a less activist foreign policy, yet a greater share of self-described libertarians (43%) than the public (35%) think “it is best for the future of our country to be active in world affairs.”

And in views of the tradeoff between defending against terrorism and protecting civil liberties, large majorities of both the public (74%) and self-described libertarians (82%) say “Americans shouldn’t have to give up privacy and freedom in order to be safe from terrorism.”

An alternative way to identify libertarians is the process used to create the Pew Research Center’s political typology, released in June (for more on how the political typology was created, read our explainer in Fact Tank). That study used a statistical technique called “cluster analysis” to sort people into homogeneous groups, based on their responses to 23 questions about a variety of social and political values.

None of the seven groups identified by the 2014 political typology closely resembled libertarians, and, in fact, self-described libertarians can be found in all seven. Their largest representation is among the group we call Business Conservatives; 27% of this group says the term libertarian describes them well. Business Conservatives generally support limited government, have positive views of business and the U.S. economic system, and are more moderate than other conservative groups on the issue of homosexuality. However, they are also supportive of an activist foreign policy and do not have a libertarian profile on issues of civil liberties.

In creating the political typology, many variations of the cluster analysis were run (e.g., varying the questions included and the number of clusters to be produced). Each was judged by how practical and substantively meaningful it was, with the final model judged to be strongest from a statistical point of view, most persuasive from a substantive point of view, and representative of the general patterns seen across the various cluster solutions (see “About the Political Typology” for more).

In the process of running several different models in creating the typology, we came up with one early version of the typology that had 12 groups, including a group that resembled libertarians. But the model was impractical, in part because it produced groups that were too small to analyze, and this set of groups did not persist across other models.

Under this one model, the group with a libertarian profile constituted about 5% of the public. They hold generally conservative views on the social safety net, regulation and business; liberal attitudes on homosexuality and immigration; and are less supportive of the use of military force when compared with the more conservative-leaning typology groups. They also are younger, on average, than most of the other groups (though a majority are 30 or older). But many members of this group diverge from libertarian thinking on key issues, including about half who say affirmative action is a good thing and that stricter environmental laws are worth the cost.

Here are the topline results and survey methodology. To see where you fit on the political spectrum, take our Political Typology Quiz.

Topics: Political Attitudes and Values, Political Party Affiliation, Political Typology, American Trends Panel

  1. Photo of Jocelyn Kiley

    is an associate director of research at Pew Research Center.


  1. LUKEDUDELUKE2 years ago

    So where exactly did get the statistic “96% of libertarians are old angry white men who are nostalgic over Jim Crow”??????

  2. Proud Two-Party-Voting American Idiot2 years ago

    I think libertarians just want to dethrone this two-party system that has served to undermine the US, its citizens and its consumers, all while empowering banks and corporations in their unending quest to “globalize” the planet and introduce fascism across the world, as they already are in Europe through “austerity measures.” God bless us all and may God particularly bless the two-party babyboomer, Gen X and millennial sheep for contributing to the demise of themselves (!) and their children and grandchildren. It all just makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Vote for Rand Paul if you have any respect for yourselves and humanity. If you’re registered as a Democrat, re-register as a Republican so you can factor into Paul’s primary election against the likes of Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz. Or you can keep complaining about the destruction of the US economically, politically, socially and culturally. Good luck, USA. You’ll need it.

  3. redgorilla2 years ago

    There’s no such thing as a true libertarian. One person’s version of libertarianism is anothers version of authoritarianism.

  4. Joey3 years ago

    If I may.
    I will keep it simple for those of you who are confused. Remember you are free, well maybe, to have your own beliefs. As long as your not a left wing extremists at least. As a libertarian we are a lot like conservatives. Main differences are we are not necessarily for drug and homosexuality laws. Meaning regardless if we approve of your lifestyle or not we feel it is your choice to make. As long as you are not harming anybody. couple simularites with conservatives. We both want a serious downsize of the government as well as free market capitalism. What it boils down to folks is very, very simple. We want to live based on the U.S. constitution and the bill of rights. Limited government involvement is necessary. We are all the same HUMANS. Everybody is intitles to their own opinion. We all have most of the same beliefs here in America only problem is most people don’t give a shit and never make an effort. Thanks I hope this helps anybody having trouble with understanding libertarianism.

    1. Chris3 years ago

      Libertarianism is not at all what you described. Voluntarism and the NAP are the cornerstones of libertarianism. Taxation is theft. Theft violates both libertarian cornerstones.

  5. Nick3 years ago

    I think some of the people who took the survey confused “Liberal” and “Libertarian”..

  6. Matthew Reece3 years ago

    The meaning of libertarianism is not “someone whose political views emphasize individual freedom by limiting the role of government.” It is the position that initiatory force is never moral and defensive force is always moral. Since Pew Research pollsters (and the author of this article) fail to understand even this, I trust nothing else that they have to say on the matter.

    1. Rick3 years ago

      Yeah, Matt. I’m *sure* that’s what the tri-corner foil hat wearers are thinking.

    2. chazz novit3 years ago

      To Mat: Other than the definition of seeking and supporting liberty ( economic freedom, human freedom, freedom from coercion), there is no strict or limiting role in Libertarianism.
      Yes, a great many will narrow the scope of libertarianism by quoting similar to you as “The Non Aggression Principle”. But I will audaciously say that is only a tenet, and meant to illustrate that forced charity under the threat of violent ( ie government taxes and welfarism), is just as unhealthy for our constitutional nation as theft.
      It is no more correct to assert that Ayn Randism is a pinnacle of libertarian foundation or code. She is merely an author, whom many libertarians enjoy, and favor, with some of her ideas being in synchrony with freedom, and teaching the folly of overbearing government.

      Charles, San Diegan LP Strategist.

  7. Ronald Wray3 years ago

    Grow up support the party that’s as close to your beliefs, a 10% group will be a waste of your vote.

    1. Justin3 years ago

      I’m assuming you say that because you agree almost exactly with republicans and don’t like the idea of a split vote.

      But as a Libertarian, I would rather split the vote for a few elections, living under socialism than to affirm the beliefs of a party who are wrong on so many issues.

      The only waste of a vote is a vote that goes to someone you disagree with.

  8. Steven Yates3 years ago

    To describe this article as unhelpful is being polite. If I’d never heard of libertarianism before reading it, I’d know no more now than I did before starting. I’d of course get the idea that libertarians are a confused bunch, which may be what the author (or the Pew Research Center) wants readers to think.

    A person is a libertarian if he/she subscribes to the non-aggression principle (NAP): one should never initiate force, aggression, or fraud against another. A person who does not believe this, or supports policies that require force & aggression against others, is not a libertarian–period.

    While there is significant disagreement over whether the NAP is enough (as “thin” libertarians think) or whether it needs to be supplemented with specific personal moral convictions (“thick” libertarians), & also disagreement over whether libertarianism should emphasize natural law / natural rights or just economic utility, the NAP is clearly at the center of libertarian thinking. Read any of the major libertarian writers such as Murray N. Rothbard or Walter Block among economists or Robert Nozick or Tibor R. Machan among philosophers. We need to be clear on what is fundamental to libertarianism, before we can evaluate whether a society based on the NAP is viable or determine what else libertarians might bring to the table. (Please, none of this “No True Scotsman” pseudo logic!)

  9. graphictruth3 years ago

    Well, I never thought I’d come across a political test LESS likely to come up with a meaningful result than the “political compass test.”

    This tells me I’m as left as left can be. the political compass test says I’m a libertarian (of sorts) …. at least close enough that I should support the libertarian cause!

    MOST of these questions were false choices. In some cases I could have answered “Yes” to both. In other cases “no” would have been my response to each.

    In all, it felt like I was sitting through a magician’s card trick – and that’s how I regard the results of this survey.

    Perhaps you should hire someone who knows how to do real sociological research. This isn’t meaningful.

  10. Pete Langlois3 years ago

    If you ask this question: do you believe that fundamentally people have the best ideas about how to manage their own finances and lives, or is government better able to do it for them, then 98% are “libertarian”.

    1. Douglas Morton3 years ago


    2. axt1133 years ago

      I believe I am able to manage my own life and finances.

      I do not believe you are able to manage yours however.

  11. James Walsh3 years ago

    This quiz is horrible. As a libertarian many of my views are based on the role of government and voluntary human interaction. Even if I thought corporations made too much profit I would not expect the government to redistribute the wealth. I also do not think homosexuality should be accepted by society but rather should be determined on an individual basis. I felt the whole quiz I was just settling for answers that I did not agree with. I feel like a sell out moderate politician now. thanks

  12. Heather Johnson3 years ago

    Statistical research should include at least 10% of the population for which the research is conducted. It is basic statistical analysis of data as taught in colleges currently, so not sure why research firms do not poll at least that much.

    I would also argue that a number of the people who believe they know libertarianism in fact, do not. In its simplest form, libertarian is maximum individual freedom and responsibility with all people having the unalienable right to their lives, liberties, and properties, so long as they follow the nonaggression principle and do not infringe upon another’s same rights. That is the basis for which all libertarian values spring. So, having any opposing stance on drug legalization, GLBT rights, public versus privatized charity, and deregulation of business is in opposition entirely to libertarian ideology.

    This study does not include the biggest points where libertarians split, which leads me to believe that it does not include actual libertarian reasoning.

    Our numbers are truly split on the issue of abortion (some view it as a violation of the nonaggression principle with unborn children having an equal right to their lives and others view the choice as up to the woman). We also, split along the lines of those who are atheist and those who are religious, those who support open borders and those who believe their should be a process to immigration that all people must follow.

    Furthermore, the study neglects the biggest facets of libertarianism regarding the crimes of fraud, force, and coercion. I cannot say this research is accurate in the least. I am unsure why the mainstream media who choose to cover libertarianism continuously neglect speaking to actual libertarian party members and candidates. For an accurate representation, please go to the source.

    – Heather Johnson
    U. S. Senate Candidate MN
    Libertarian Party

    1. Douglas Morton3 years ago

      Heather, come on, you don’t know why research firms don’t poll at 10%? It’s obviously because that would take tremendous time and money to poll 10% of a population. I think the pollsters know how to ensure statistical significance.

    2. Ron Lawl3 years ago

      > Statistical research should include at least 10% of the population for which the research is conducted. It is basic statistical analysis of data as taught in colleges currently

      Show me any college statistics course that supports your original statement. You won’t find one.

      It’s bad enough that you have no clue on how random sampling works. But then you go one step further and claim your ignorance as universally accepted fact.

    3. Barry3 years ago

      “Statistical research should include at least 10% of the population for which the research is conducted. It is basic statistical analysis of data as taught in colleges currently, so not sure why research firms do not poll at least that much.”

      No, that’s simply not true. Please check any intro to stats book.

  13. Ilpalazzo3 years ago

    Labels of groups have all lost their meanings. Hell, journalists can’t even figure out what ‘Millennials’ are. They’ve mislabeled Gen Y as Millennials, instead of the generation actually born in the new millennium. If they can’t even grasp that obviousness of that, well…

    1. Heather Johnson3 years ago


  14. Nick O. Time3 years ago

    I’ve previously seen libertarianism labelled as nothing more than a cult of anarchy for the rich, and I have to say, these results seem to indicate there is some solid truth to that label. Perhaps next time Pew could include a question about the support for libertarianism according to type of college degree and or occupation rather than simply income.

  15. Frank Underwood3 years ago

    Which division of the Statist Party paid for this poll, the Republicans or Democrats?

  16. Douglas Morton3 years ago

    Hi Jocelyn,

    I’m a libertarian, and I think that this study has many problems in the phrasing of questions. First, on the question of regulation of business, one must realize that, technically, “regulation” generally means “rule” or “law”. Laws against stealing and murder are technically regulations for all of us, and libertarians are in favor of businesses also being under the same laws. The real issue is the nature of the regulations. Libertarians are against laws that are beyond the legitimate scope, that scope being the protection and enforcement of natural rights, such rights being the freedom to do whatever you want as long as you are not initiating aggression against others or violating their property rights. So, because I don’t think that businesses should legally be able to steal from others, I also think that “govt regulation of business is necessary”, depending on what you mean.

    Second, on corporations and profit, even a strict libertarian like myself would say that many corporations make unfair (“too much”) profits, because we believe that many businesses actually use govt to enrich themselves through “corporate welfare” and they actually use many regulations to protect themselves from upstart competitors by erecting “barriers to entry” in the marketplace, enabling themselves to make higher profits than they would in a truly free market where they would have to face stronger competition. In this case, we believe govt is the source of the unfair profits, not free markets.

    Third, your question on homosexuality is ridiculous and demonstrates how little Pew understands basic political concepts. The results show “homosexuality should be accepted” in your article, but that is completely irrelevant. The real issue is not “accepting” versus “discouraging” in culture, but “legalize” versus “outlaw” in govt. I personally think homosexual activity is a sin, but that’s irrelevant, and I believe in a strict separation of church and state and I don’t ever want to force my views on others through govt law. Libertarianism is about letting other people live their lives the way they want to, regardless of whether or not I think it’s a good way to live. I think govt should be completely out of such affairs, and should deregulate marriage. So, even though I don’t “accept homosexuality” personally, I believe that gay marriage (and other homosexual activities) should be legal and that gays should be able to legally live their lives freely the way they want to.

    Fourth, I think the police search question is confusing. The question needs to be more specific and nuanced. Also, it only catches a small unrepresentative slice of the issues of police force. I don’t see anything in this Pew study about the major issues of warrantless searches, police abuse, or civil forfeiture.

    Fifth, the questions on foreign policy. Does Pew even know what libertarianism means? The real issue is not about “involvement” or being “active in world affairs”, it’s about using military force. I’m in favor of the US being active in world affairs, but not in forceful ways. Libertarians believe in voluntary interaction, not coercion. Free trade between nations is one way that libertarians favor interaction with the world. Also, we favor free speech where people around the world share ideas, we favor freedom of movement and travel and immigration between countries, and we are generally happy to see US citizens trying to solve world problems of disease and poverty, but through voluntary means, not govt aid that is backed by stealing through taxes. I don’t know how many times we have to explain this, but we are not “isolationists”, we are “noninterventionists” when it comes to the use of govt force.

    Next time you (Pew) do a poll on libertarianism, please understand what libertarianism is first. Go to

    1. DK3 years ago

      I agree with several of your points and would add that there are many libertarians who believe in some form of gov’t aid to the poor (reverse income tax, etc), but don’t believe in the current paternalistic structure. There is a lively discussion on a Basic Income Guarantee going on right now among economically minded folks.

    2. Zach3 years ago

      First, the concept of “natural rights” verse rule of law are contradicting theories. They do do not intermingle fluidly.

      The definition of the former has been debated throughout history and have changed as humans have progressed. For most of history, only a select few — in America, white males — deserved natural rights. Furthermore, on an individual level, the definition will differ from the human being next to you.

      For instance, I think in a modern society, it is every persons natural right to be able to seek healthcare without fear of bankruptcy. There is no such thing as a free market in healthcare.

      As far as rule of law, it seems you would like to pick and choose which rules and laws should apply to you, to best increase your individual circumstance. That’s not how a society works.

      Second, I think by saying it is solely the government’s fault that corporate welfare and monopolies exist is ignoring one of your core principles. Corps are just doing what is best for them. If it means threatening a local politician that you will go to China if they don’t cut taxes, so be it. Act in your own best interest.

      It’s a two way street. Blinding yourself to corporate and individual greed, both by government employees — who usually get a taste on the backend — and by the privately held businesses itself is gleefully ignoring half of the equation and what libertarianism means on some level.

      Third, unfortunately, you need to get the word out on this. Because many of my conversations with Libertarians say it quite differently. They combine the two. No to marriage. No to being gay. Which is kind of the point.

      This study shows that people use your ideology “wrong”. They use it to further their bigotry, hate and greed. They hide behind “libertarianism”. Furthermore, would you agree most people in this country believe their personal views should be rule of law? This is where dangerous ideology interferes with actual freedom — imposing your views on other individuals through government, decreasing individual freedoms. Helllooooo Tea Party.

      Fourth, it was pretty clear they were describing stop and frisk, which any libertarian should be starkly against. Searching someone because they “look a certain way” is the definition of government overreach and stomping on personal freedoms, something you should be starkly against.

      Fifth, unfortunately you live in a state. In order for a state to interact with other states, it needs money. Peaceful interactions are often sealed with foreign aid in more ways than one. Hence taxes. (I really don’t want to go deep into this, because it is very self-evident.)

      The larger point, most “libertarians” pick and choose when they want it to apply. Which, again, is the point of the study. This is no different than any other political belief.

      Theories are nice. Reality is hard.

      1. Douglas Morton3 years ago


        I appreciate your thoughtful response. Overall, my complaint to Pew was that the questions and results in the poll seemed very misleading and couldn’t do a very good job of actually capturing the important distinctions between libertarians and others. However, for the sake of time, I am not trying at the moment to actually debate the various issues and libertarian stances. I merely want to criticize the polling questions. However, I’ll briefly respond to a few things you said.

        As for rights, yes, nearly everyone has a completely different view on what those mean and what those are. But, this is why libertarians like me are actively trying to explain these things to people, so that we can persuade them that our view of rights is much more consistent and ethical than most other ideologies. It’s a topic of philosophy that we love to discuss. Persuasion through free speech is all I can hope to do, however. By the way, about your specific health care example. Generally, a “natural right” is a claim that you morally should be able to enforce (ensure though force). So, if you say that you have a right to health care, you are actually saying that you should morally be able to force someone else to give you health care, even against their will. It would be equivalent to you coming up to someone and holding a gun at them and saying, “hey you, if you know how to do surgery, than you better do surgery on me or I’ll shoot”. Most people do this very thing, but indirectly through government force. When we get into it, it becomes more clear that most people’s notions of rights are unethical. But, that’s just a taste of the discussion.

        Secondly, I don’t completely follow your reasoning on the corporation thing. I think that you are trying to say the following, “Such corporations are just acting in their self interest when they unethically use government to enrich themselves, and libertarians are in favor of seeking self interest, so your criticism of corporate welfare and corporate protections is contradictory”. First, I agree that such corps are seeking self interest to satisfy greed, but what’s important is that they are using coercive force (through government) to satisfy it, instead of voluntary interactions in a free market. Yes, such corp welfare and protectionism is partly due to both greed and government working together, but in real life we have no way of eliminating greed and self interest. Nearly every human is largely self interested. You can’t magically get rid of fundamental human nature. However, you can get rid of government laws that enable the greedy to satisfy themselves through force. You can take away their favorite tool. You can establish a system (free markets) that funnels that self interest into voluntary cooperation instead of aggressive coercion. Also, libertarians don’t technically say that we “should” satisfy self interest. We’re neutral on the “should” part; let individuals decide for themselves how they should conduct their lives (except in the realm of coercing others). We simply observe that most people “do” seek to satisfy self interest, and this observation leads us to be skeptical of altruistic coercion through government, because such coercion will likely be captured and exercised by those who are already wealthy and powerful. And, as long as you don’t initiate aggression and coercion, someone else cannot morally force you to stop seeking your interests.

        To learn more about libertarianism, you can visit this blog.
        I’d read the home page first before exploring the blog. This blog is different from other blogs because it focuses on introductory concepts and fundamentals, instead of day-to-day political news.

        1. Ron Lawl3 years ago

          > Overall, my complaint to Pew was that the questions and results in the poll seemed very misleading and couldn’t do a very good job of actually capturing the important distinctions between libertarians and others.

          Apparently, most libertarians don’t do a very good job of telling the difference either.

          > So, if you say that you have a right to health care, you are actually saying that you should morally be able to force someone else to give you health care, even against their will.

          By that logic, if libertarians see property as a natural right, then I should morally be able to force any libertarian to give me all their property, even against your will.

          You are proving the point of the Pew Study: Most libertarians are absolutely clueless on what their own religion actually entails.

          1. Douglas Morton3 years ago


            Here’s to your claim of a contradiction with what I said about rights to health care versus property.

            When libertarians say that we have a “right to our property”, this is short-hand speak. It would be quite inconvenient in ordinary discussion to always speak in the complete most detailed language. What we mean by property rights is that a every person has the right to not be interfered with in the use of their property, and that others should not be able damage their property, all as long as they are respecting the property rights of others as well, and not initiating aggression on others.

            Similarly, let’s take the example of free speech. When I say that I have the right to free speech, I am not saying that I have the right to force someone else to provide me with the tools or venues to speak. What I mean is that I have a right to not be interfered with or inhibited from speaking, all so long as …etc.

            These are “negative” rights, as opposed to “positive” rights.

      2. Douglas Morton3 years ago

        Oh, and I agree that NY’s “stop and frisk”was terrible. The libertarian organizations that I’m familiar with agree that it was terrible and violated people’s privacy rights.

    3. Jesse Lyons3 years ago

      A couple of questions.

      1. What is the libertarian position on abortion? Is there a split between people who believe life begins at conception and those who don’t?

      2. It seems like on a number of issues, especially social issues, where a libertarian would break from conservatives/republicans, Rand Paul’s answer is, “leave it up to the state”. From a libertarian point of view is there any difference between the Federal and State government regulating the same thing?(my understanding of Paul’s positions is rudimentary because I have done little research on him, this is just the impression I have.)

      1. Heather Johnson3 years ago


        I am the Libertarian Party candidate for U. S. Senate in MN. I will answer your question from the party and party members actual stances, excluding small “l” libertarian views (they can differ, but I cannot be an accurate speaker for all of those groups).

        Abortion –
        It is true libertarians are split on this, not necessarily in regards to when life begins. We all seem to acknowledge from the number of libertarians I know and myself that life begins at conception, which looking at how science defines life, conception counts.
        However, the split is in does abortion violate the nonaggression principle or infringe upon the right of an individual to their lives? For me, it does. For others it does not. Though, for this issue, many of us believe the government cannot adequately mediate it. A number of us believe it is a social ill that needs direct attention rather than government intervention, because really the argument won’t be won through legislation. However, helping expectant mothers directly prior and after birth, may be a big start and most effective with direct assistance. The government frequently enacts inefficient and costly action. The reason, they’re really not in the thick of things, they cannot possibly cater to specific needs of every person, but we as a society certainly can help one another and on a more intimate, genuine level.
        Again, state and federal government, for me and many other libertarians within the LP, we consider the individual having the most right and dominion over their own lives before the states and federal government themselves in regards to unalienable right to ones own life, liberties, and properties so long (and this is quite important to libertarianism) as each individual does not infringe upon another’s same right particularly through crimes of fraud, force, and coercion.
        Ultimately, elected officials are public servants there to defend our individual right (to libertarian view) and provide justice when those rights are infringe, defend the nation against foreign aggression, and create treaties so long as they do not infringe upon individual right. As public servants, we the people are not governed, we have the most right over the leadership of this nation. They are there to serve us, work for us, not for some, not for specific interests, but for all of our inherent right. That is how we see it.

        For the public, an easy way to assess how a libertarian might approach an issue, besides asking us directly, would be to apply the basic principles of libertarianism against the issue, law, or idea. 1. Is it in line with the nonaggression principle? 2. Does it violate individual natural right to life, liberty, and property? 3. Does it support maximum freedom and individual responsibility?

        One thing frequently missed by the public and even a number of libertarians is the responsibility aspect of libertarian ideology. We believe in maximum freedom to the individual, but an honest effort to preserve that in my view is a direct approach to resolve social and economic ill. There are varied ways to do that and it is up to “we the people” to meet those needs. 1 – to preserve personal freedom and 2 – so leaders can stick to defending our liberties and mediating justice as needed rather than interfering or limiting liberty on behalf of special interest and certain groups (which is not in fact equal representation).

        Heather Johnson
        U. S. Senate Candidate
        Libertarian Party

        1. Ron Lawl3 years ago

          > For the public, an easy way to assess how a libertarian might approach an issue, besides asking us directly, would be to apply the basic principles of libertarianism against the issue, law, or idea. 1. Is it in line with the nonaggression principle? 2. Does it violate individual natural right to life, liberty, and property? 3. Does it support maximum freedom and individual responsibility?

          Heather, if you believe that children have natural rights from the time of conception, then what’s your stance on age of consent laws? If a small orphan child decides that the only way to afford food is by selling his kidneys or by selling his body to prostitution, then where does the state find the authority to restrict his right to property, so long as the child isn’t bringing harm to an unwilling third party?

          For that matter, Rothbard says that while it’s immoral for a parent to aggress upon the child, it would be perfectly okay for a parent to stop feeding or supporting a child, as long as they didn’t prevent the child from seeking food or shelter elsewhere.

          Question: Suppose a four year old child decides to run away from home so they can play in broken glass. Does the parent have any right to restrict this behavior?

          Libertarianism is based on the right to contract. The parent can say, “If you play in broken glass, then no dinner,” and the child can decide for himself whether or not playing in broken glass is more important than having something to eat. But if the child has already decided to end the “contract” with the parent, even if it’s only a temporary decision that the child will later regret, does the parent have any authority under the NAP to restrict the child’s movements?

          1. Douglas Morton3 years ago


            You bring up a good question on age of consent laws. This is a tricky issue because everything changes with regard to children versus adults. There is a large diversity of ideas on children’s rights within libertarianism. You stated Rothbard’s position, but not all libertarians agree with him. So, I’ll get to the kernel of this. When libertarians describe their system or philosophy of rights, they are usually saying such things under an unstated assumption that we are talking about adults.

            That doesn’t mean that we think that children have no rights, it just mean that modifications are warranted for this completely difference case of children. More broadly, when someone is forming theories of rights, they are usually having adults in mind during this “derivation” or ethical rules. However, if one applies this final set of rights theories onto a different set of people that were not considered during the derivation, than it’s logical to say that such rules may not be fully applicable to this other set of people. It’s similar to math and science, when it’s improper to apply an empirical equation to a set of conditions that were not contained in the derivation of that empirical equation. So, yes, I agree that the usually stated claims about NAP and contract may not necessarily apply to children in the same way as they should apply to adults. For example, I don’t agree that children should be able to engage in prostitution, but I think that should be legal for adults.

            That being said, I don’t really wish to provide any actual grand complete children’s rights theories here because it’s such a complex and time consuming issue, and I don’t have final opinions of it yet either. All I’m trying to say is that the rules can be different for children than for adults, and this concept is not actually inconsistent with libertarianism, technically, because our usually stated rules are implicitly assumed to be for adults to begin with. Also, for these hard questions of children’s rights, keep in mind that other major political philosophies (democracy, progressivism, etc.) also have no good answers to these questions. So, please don’t apply a high bar to us and a low bar for everyone else.

        2. dan richter3 years ago

          I wish I lived in Minnesota when you were running. You grasp the LP ideas and I hope you would defend them courageously. Thank you for your candor.

      2. Douglas Morton3 years ago

        Jesse, although Heather Johnson is doing a good job discussing this stuff, I’ll add just a little. I also don’t know a lot about Rand Paul specifically, besides that he leans libertarianish. He’s still somewhat Republican, not fully libertarian. His conclusion of “leave it to the states” is not very satisfactory to most hardcore libertarians like myself. Relatively speaking, state government control is “better” than federal control because the more local government is closer to the represented populace and a smaller government closer to home is generally easier to control, check against, and reform. However, libertarians still hold the same principles with regard to state, county, and city governments as in federal government. We don’t think anyone or any government, federal or city, should be able to initiate aggression against people or violate their property rights. However, Rand Paul is trying to be a moderate libertarian who punts to state powers. More pure libertarianism is not yet appealing to most Americans (I hope to help change that), so Rand is like a mild first taste who has better practical chances of getting elected.

        To learn more about libertarianism, you can visit this blog.
        I’d read the home page first before exploring the blog. This blog is different from other blogs because it focuses on introductory concepts and fundamentals, instead of day-to-day political news.

      3. John Mills3 years ago

        Libertarianism isn’t a discrete set of policy prescriptions. It’s a philosophy about the proper role of government.

        Libertarians believe that people should be free to live life as they choose to as long as they aren’t hitting people or stealing things. Of course, among libertarians and others, there is considerable debate about what exactly is “hitting people or stealing things.” Is copying a DVD of “Gone with the Wind” stealing something? Is Abortion “hitting people”? These are all interesting questions that occupy the cutting edges of discussion about proper government policy.

        All of politics is a discussion of the circumstances under which the government should be intervening to force people to do things they otherwise would not do. Laws against murder are efforts to force people into behavior patterns they might not like. Similarly, laws against using drugs or against homosexual behavior are efforts to force people to behave a certain way even if they don’t want to.

        What is central to the libertarian philosophy is a tendency to try and minimize the role of government so that politicians are authorized to control behavior as little as possible. And so it’s not a precise set of policy rules, but rather a direction toward which evolve politically.

        The philosophy of disempowering politicians distinguished libertarians from, communists (for example) who believe the state should direct all people in all things, and it distinguishes libertarians from people who believe in democracy; that is, the belief that the government ought to do whatever the majority wants. The philosophy of minimizing political power also distinguishes libertarians from constitutionalists who believe the government should do whatever a written set of rules allows, or from conservatives who believe change should be treated with skepticism on account of the belief that things that have long existed, probably exist for good reason.

        There is, accordingly, not a “libertarian position” on abortion (or any other public policy), but rather a discussion about whether laws against abortion are justified as protecting human life against assault, or whether what exists is not a human life at least early on in the gestation process; in short, it’s a discussion about when life begins, and there are similar discussions about when life ends.

        There is discussion about these subjects among libertarians, as there are about many public policy issues.

        Libertarians do tend to think that “one-size-fits-all” solutions are unlikely to be good things, and to the extent one can move decision-making to the most local level, that’s a good thing which long history suggests tends to make people happier and wealthier.

    4. Matt3 years ago

      Well stated. Thank you on behalf of the libertarians who understand the term.

    5. Ron Lawl3 years ago

      > Libertarians are against laws that are beyond the legitimate scope

      Libertarians are also apparently in favor of circular reasoning and other tautologies, since “legitimate scope” is completely subjective and arbitrary from person to person.

      > the freedom to do whatever you want as long as you are not initiating aggression against others or violating their property rights

      Question: Do you support the existence of age of consent laws? Because the entire notion of “age of consent” is mutually exclusive with natural rights theory, which dictates that all rights are inherent at birth.

      If a small child needs money to survive and can only raise it by selling his kidneys to harvesters or his body to prostitution, then the non-aggression principle dictates that it would completely illegitimate for the government to interfere or regulate this industry, so long as the child doesn’t violate the property rights of others.

      > In this case, we believe govt is the source of the unfair profits, not free markets.

      Because everything is 100% fair in Somalia, right? You’re making a religious argument, the idea that all social evil is the fault of government. There is no logical or empirical basis for your claim. Next you’ll claim that government is the source of why some men beat their wives, or why some men rape, and not the fact that some men are simply bad people.

      > I I believe that gay marriage (and other homosexual activities) should be legal and that gays should be able to legally live their lives freely the way they want to.

      That’s great. Many libertarians disagree with you on this, either believing that it should be left to the states, or outlawed entirely. The 2008 Libertarian Presidential candidate authored the Defense of Marriage Act.

      > I don’t see anything in this Pew study about the major issues of warrantless searches, police abuse, or civil forfeiture.

      Yes, because it’s addressing a strawman. Show me a single political party in America that states “We are in favor of INCREASED police abuse” as part of their official platform.

      1. John Mills3 years ago

        Well, Ron, the 2012 National Republican Party platform (last one published) says this: “But even under the best social circumstances, strong, well-trained law enforcement is necessary to protect us all, and especially the weak and vulnerable, from predators.”

        It also says: “In solidarity with those who protect us, we call for mandatory prison time for all assaults involving serious injury to law enforcement officers. Criminals injured in the course of their crimes should not be able to seek monetary damages from their intended victims or from the public.”

        This is the kind of philosophy that leads to the militarization of police and often to an excessive reliance on force to solve problems, real or perceived.

        True that no political party platform calls overtly for increased police abuse, but that is not to say there is no difference in the thinking of the different political outlooks on life and its challenges.

        1. Ron Lawl3 years ago

          > It also says: “In solidarity with those who protect us, we call for mandatory prison time for all assaults involving serious injury to law enforcement officers. Criminals injured in the course of their crimes should not be able to seek monetary damages from their intended victims or from the public.”

          And that would be no different under libertarianism, whether public (minarchism) or private (anarcho-capitalist). But that’s not the same as advocating police abuse.

          > no political party platform calls overtly for increased police abuse,

          Which makes the entire libertarian position a strawman.

          > but that is not to say there is no difference in the thinking of the different political outlooks on life and its challenges.

          Sure. But libertarians aren’t unique isn’t their opposition to police abuse, since pretty much EVERYONE will say that.

          What makes libertarians unique is their opposition to age of consent laws, which pretty much EVERYONE supports. Libertarianism is based on the Non-Aggression Principle, which dictates that it’s immoral to restrict child labor, child prostitution or child organ selling as long as the child is only hurting himself and not an unwilling third party. If you believe that any of those things are illegal, then you do not actually support the NAP.

          That doesn’t mean that there aren’t self-described libertarians who oppose child prostitution and child organ selling. Just like there are many self-described libertarians who oppose gay rights, or who support “stop and frisk.” But the point of the Pew Study shows that the vast majority of self-described libertarians are total hypocrites who don’t actually believe in the principles of libertarianism.

      2. Douglas Morton3 years ago

        See my above other response on age of consent laws.

        As far as police abuse, you have a decent point about straw men, that no political party officially advocates police abuse. But, libertarians are unique in our desire to greatly reduce invasive laws, reduce the size of police force, limit their power, and make it easier to bring charges against police departments for abuse.

      3. Robert Garrard3 years ago

        Ron Lawl, the governments (clan elders, warlords, etc.) that rule Somalia are not remotely libertarian.

        Most libertarians, including Libertarian Party members, believe the gov’t should not issue marriage licenses at all. Bob Barr, the former Republican who wrote DOMA, claimed to have changed his mind about gay marriage. He would not have won the nomination had he not reversed his positions on DOMA and the PATRIOT Act.

    6. Jocelyn Kiley3 years ago

      Doug, thanks for your comment. These questions were part of our political typology and polarization survey, a large-scale study of a wide variety of political values. Many of the patterns shown here are evident on other items (For instance, favor or oppose gay marriage: 61% of libertarians favor, 36% oppose; in the the public as a whole, 54% favor 39% oppose. And on the question of free trade, libertarians are no different than the public as a whole: 59% of both libertarians and the public say free trade agreements between the U.S. and other countries have been a good thing for the U.S.

      1. Douglas Morton3 years ago

        Once again, you just said “favor or oppose gay marraige”. That’s not the important issue with libertarians. The real question is “favor or oppose the legality of gay marraige”. Pew’s polls could be getting misleading data by not asking the question correctly.

        1. Jocelyn Kiley3 years ago

          Doug, the full question wording is: “Do you strongly favor, favor, oppose, or strongly oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally?” Full question wording on all of the political values mentioned in this post can be found here

          1. Douglas Morton3 years ago

            Delightful. Thanks. I had a hard time finding the exact poll questions when I first read the article, so I based my phrasing complaints on the article’s language and results summaries. I suppose at least the gay marriage question was indeed phrased well.

    7. Russell3 years ago

      Oh, heck, let’s look at the most salient example of business regulation. I live four miles from an oil refinery. Should it be allowed to emit however much pollution is convenient for the bottom line of its owners? Or should there be some regulation on that, for the health and livability of the community around it?

      1. Douglas Morton3 years ago

        Russel, I think you misunderstand the basic principles of libertarianism. Libertarianism is not about just doing anything you want. There are serious limits involved. In this philosophy, one is not legally allowed to violate another person’s property rights or initiate aggression (harm) against them. If a pollutant harms someone’s health, then that’s initiating harm against others against their will, so it would be strictly outlawed. And, if some oil refinery’s pollution is damaging your property or water source, then that is a property violation, and would be outlawed, and you could sue them for damages. Environmental protection is actually stronger under libertarianism than any other major political philosophy. For more detail on this libertarian environmentalism, see this post link below. You might also want to Google the “tragedy of the commons”.…

        1. Russell3 years ago

          I understand the theory. What I see in practice is that those who call themselves libertarian oppose environmental regulations, as well as putting limits on the ability to sue corporations.

          For what it is worth, I will add that tort law is a lousy way to regulate things like air pollution. It doesn’t come into play until people can demonstrate past harm. It requires a large effort on the part of those living in the polluted area. Those claims will take years to resolve. The settlements doesn’t stop the ongoing pollution. And will represent only a small fraction of actual damage. (Unless turned into a class action. I haven’t seen any libertarian politicians eager to broaden class action law.)

          I don’t want the only limit on how much volatile organics an oil refinery emits to be the concern that in a few decades, those suffering increased cancers in the polluted area might bring suit. Assuming the company still exists then. I want law that insists oil refineries monitor their emissions. And regulatory bodies that set limits based on current understanding of the effects of those emissions.

          Now, I understand in some theoretical sense, libertarianism means zero pollution is allowed. If I can detect any benzene at all drifting over my property, I should be able to run to some court in Libertopia and call a stop to it. But that’s not practical either.

          1. Douglas Morton3 years ago


            I encourage you to read that environmentalism link I sent earlier. Tort law can be quite powerful once you enable it. But, I do not pretend that tort law is the only way. It can be a significant help, but there are many other ways to address this as well. And, I’m not saying that our exact current tort system is the goal. I’m in favor of any modifications that are coherent with the general libertarian philosophy. You bring up the point about long term harm and the ability to sue only after damage is done. So, prevention of harm is something you seek. That’s fine and libertarianism does not restrict itself to only righting past harm. For example, we believe that a person has the right to self defense against an aggressor who is about to harm them. Someone has a right to hold up a shield to someone with a knife; they don’t have to wait until they are stabbed to bring action against the criminal. Similarly, laws that prevent harm via pollution are also consistent with libertarianism.

            Also, I favor cap and trade for many environmental problems, not just tort law. Nothing about cap and trade is inconsistent with libertarianism.

            Now, you bring up the valid point that many people who call themselves libertarian also oppose environmental regulations. That’s a somewhat nuanced issue. What’s important is the nature of those regulations. Many environmental regulations are unethical and don’t really protect the environment. I’m against the “command and control” style of regulation. However, I’m in favor of strict limits on pollution and strict environmental limits, but through the system of tort law and cap and trade. For more detail on these distinctions, see my earlier link. But, sadly, even some self-described libertarians don’t even favor strict environmental protection through tort law and cap and trade. This is because, sadly, many libertarianish people are uneducated on this subject, and they come from conservative Republican backgrounds before they learned about libertarianism, so they still hold on to their stupid Republican anti-environmentalism beliefs. However, I’m not saying that these “libertarians” are correct on this issue, I’m saying that “libertarianism” is correct, and the very definition of the term is consistent with environmental protection laws and cap and trade. If you ignore the less educated libertarians (who probably just started learning about libertarianism recently), and instead listen to the actual major libertarian organizations (, etc.) and major philosophers and economists, they share the same strong environmentalist views I’ve stated. For the uneducated recently converted libertarians, I for one am trying my best to educate them about environmentalism.

            By the way, on practicality, you said that theoretically, libertarianism means zero pollution. This is wrong. All those familiar with basic science know that “it’s the dose that kills”. Small amounts of something are not harmful. In libertarianism, pollution is allowed as long as its under the harmful limit. Of course the concept of a limit can be complex, but I’m just trying to describe the fundamental philosophy, I’ll leave the exact details to actual scientists.

        2. John Mills3 years ago

          Actually, most libertarians would not “strictly outlaw” pollution, but would advocate for the right to bring damage suits, which are generally not allowed at this time. Right now, if the EPA approves of the discharge as within regulatory limits, then tough luck to those downwind.

          What would happen is that business could pollute, as long as it paid the damages, thus internalizing costs.

          Again, what we are discussing is the existence of property rights to things like clean air and water. These are things that don’t have obvious limits or answers, but right now, the answer is that business (which donates billions to politicians) gets to do as much damage as the politicians allow them to do. Libertarians don’t subscribe to that as being either the correct, or even a very good, solution to the problem of competing rights.

          1. Douglas Morton3 years ago

            John Mills,
            What in libertarianism is inconsistent with strictly outlawing pollution levels that produce harm? I agree with damage suits as part of the solution, one method of action. But, it is perfectly consistent with libertarianism to also have cap and trade and laws against levels of pollution that cause harm. For more detail on this matter, see this post:

  17. DC Harris3 years ago

    There are leftist Libertarians which account for a small part of the libertarian population as well:…

    Just FYI

    1. Fred Smith3 years ago

      I have questions similar to those raised above but my major interest in this work is its failure to explore the cultural value classification schemes explored by Aaron Wildavsky and Mary Douglas (“Risk and Culture” many other works) and now being explored by (among others) the Yale law School Project on Cultural Cognition. I realize that cluster analysis is a technique for reducing complex variations in scores to a simpler number of factors – and, then, sometimes heroically, seeking to give these mathematical entities some common sense meaning.

      We know America is a value diverse nation but we’ve not yet (in my view) sought to explore adequately whether that must lead to a policy diverse nation – or whether the spokesperson, the framing of the questions/narrative about that policy, and the channel by which reaches the interviewed party might allow more policy agreement.

      Pew is one of the key groups seeking to better understand values and their impact – shouldn’t you do more to explore the value topic? Hope so.