Right-libertarianism (or right-wing libertarianism) refers to libertarian political philosophies that advocate capitalist economics, negative rights, and a radical reversal of the modern welfare state.[1] Right libertarians strongly support private property rights, and defend unequal distribution of natural resources and private property.[2] This position is contrasted with that of some versions of left-libertarianism, which maintain that natural resources belong to everyone in some egalitarian manner, either unowned or owned collectively.[3] Right-libertarianism includes anarcho-capitalism and laissez-faire, minarchist liberalism.[note 1]


The non-aggression principle

The non-aggression principle (NAP) is often described as the foundation of present-day right-libertarian philosophies.[4][5][6] It is a moral stance which forbids actions that are inconsistent with capitalist property rights. The principle defines "aggression" and "initiation of force" as violation of these rights. NAP and property rights are closely linked, since what constitutes aggression depends on what libertarians consider to be one's property.[7]

Because the principle redefines aggression in right-libertarian terms, use of the NAP as a justification for right-libertarianism has been criticized as circular reasoning and as rhetorical obfuscation of the coercive nature of libertarian property law enforcement.[8]

The principle has been used rhetorically to oppose such policies as victimless crime laws, taxation, and military drafts.

The state

There is a debate amongst right-libertarians as to whether or not the state is legitimate: while anarcho-capitalists advocate its abolition, minarchists support minimal states, often referred to as night-watchman states. Minarchists maintain that the state is necessary for the protection of individuals from aggression, theft, breach of contract, and fraud. They believe the only legitimate governmental institutions are the military, police, and courts, though some expand this list to include fire departments, prisons, and the executive and legislative branches.[9][10][11] They justify the state on the grounds that it is the logical consequence of adhering to the non-aggression principle and argue that anarchism is immoral because it implies that the non-aggression principle is optional, that the enforcement of laws under anarchism is open to competition. Another common justification is that private defense agencies and court firms would tend to represent the interests of those who pay them enough.[12]

Anarcho-capitalists argue that the state violates the non-aggression principle by its nature because governments use force against those who have not stolen or vandalized private property, assaulted anyone, or committed fraud.[13][14] Many also argue that monopolies tend to be corrupt and inefficient, that private defense and court agencies would have to have a good reputation in order to stay in business. Linda & Morris Tannehill argue that no coercive monopoly of force can arise on a truly free market and that a government's citizenry can't desert them in favor of a competent protection and defense agency.[15]

Libertarian philosopher Moshe Kroy argues that the disagreement between anarcho-capitalists who adhere to Murray Rothbard's view of human consciousness and the nature of values and minarchists who adhere to Ayn Rand's view of human consciousness and the nature of values over whether or not the state is moral is not due to a disagreement over the correct interpretation of a mutually held ethical stance. He argues that the disagreement between these two groups is instead the result of their disagreement over the nature of human consciousness and that each group is making the correct interpretation of their differing premises. These two groups are therefore not making any errors with respect to deducing the correct interpretation of any ethical stance because they do not hold the same ethical stance.[16]

Property rights

While there is debate on whether left, right, and socialist libertarianism "represent distinct ideologies as opposed to variations on a theme," right-libertarianism is most in favor of private property.[17] Right-libertarians maintain that unowned natural resources "may be appropriated by the first person who discovers them, mixes his labor with them, or merely claims them—without the consent of others, and with little or no payment to them." This contrasts with left-libertarianism in which "unappropriated natural resources belong to everyone in some egalitarian manner."[18] Right-libertarians believe that natural resources are originally unowned, and therefore, private parties may appropriate them at will without the consent of, or owing to, others (e.g. a land value tax).[19]

Right-libertarians (also referred to as propertarians) hold that societies in which private property rights are enforced are the only ones that are both ethical and lead to the best possible outcomes.[20] They generally support the free market, and are not opposed to any concentrations of economic power, provided it occurs through non-coercive means.[21]


Libertarianism in the United States developed in the 1950s as many with Old Right or classical liberal beliefs in the United States began to describe themselves as libertarians.[22] H. L. Mencken and Albert Jay Nock were the first prominent figures in the United States to call themselves libertarians.[23] They believed Franklin D. Roosevelt had co-opted the word liberal for his New Deal policies, which they opposed, and used libertarian to signify their allegiance to individualism. Mencken wrote in 1923: "My literary theory, like my politics, is based chiefly upon one idea, to wit, the idea of freedom. I am, in belief, a libertarian of the most extreme variety."[24]

In the 1950s, Russian-American novelist Ayn Rand developed a philosophical system called Objectivism, expressed in her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, as well as other works, which influenced many libertarians.[25] However, she rejected the label libertarian and harshly denounced the libertarian movement as the "hippies of the right."[26] Philosopher John Hospers, a one-time member of Rand's inner circle, proposed a non-initiation of force principle to unite both groups; this statement later became a required "pledge" for candidates of the Libertarian Party, and Hospers himself became its first presidential candidate in 1972.

Austrian School economist Murray Rothbard was influenced by the work of the 19th-century American individualist anarchists, themselves influenced by classical liberalism.[27] However, he thought they had a faulty understanding of economics: they accepted the labor theory of value as influenced by the classical economists, but Rothbard was a student of neoclassical economics which does not agree with the labor theory of value. Rothbard sought to meld 19th-century American individualists' advocacy of free markets and private defense with the principles of Austrian economics: "There is, in the body of thought known as 'Austrian economics,' a scientific explanation of the workings of the free market (and of the consequences of government intervention in that market) which individualist anarchists could easily incorporate into their political and social Weltanschauung".[28]

The Vietnam War split the uneasy alliance between growing numbers of self-identified libertarians, anarchist libertarians, and more traditional conservatives who believed in limiting liberty to uphold moral virtues. Libertarians opposed to the war joined the draft resistance and peace movements, as well as organizations such as Students for a Democratic Society. They began founding their own publications, such as Reason magazine and Murray Rothbard's The Libertarian Forum,[29] and organizations like the Radical Libertarian Alliance[30] and Society for Individual Liberty.[31]

Arizona United States Senator Barry Goldwater's libertarian-oriented challenge to authority had a major impact on the libertarian movement,[32] through his book The Conscience of a Conservative and his run for president in 1964.[33] Goldwater's speech writer, Karl Hess, became a leading libertarian writer and activist.[34]

The split was aggravated at the 1969 Young Americans for Freedom convention, when more than 300 libertarians organized to take control of the organization from conservatives. The burning of a draft card in protest to a conservative proposal against draft resistance sparked physical confrontations among convention attendees, a walkout by a large number of libertarians, the creation of libertarian organizations like the Society for Individual Liberty, and efforts to recruit potential libertarians from conservative organizations.[35] The split was finalized in 1971 when conservative leader William F. Buckley, Jr., in a 1971 New York Times article, attempted to divorce libertarianism from the freedom movement. He wrote: "The ideological licentiousness that rages through America today makes anarchy attractive to the simple-minded. Even to the ingeniously simple-minded."[36]

In 1971, a small group of Americans led by David Nolan formed the U.S. Libertarian Party.[37] The party has run a presidential candidate every election year since 1972. Educational organizations like the Center for Libertarian Studies and the Cato Institute were formed in the 1970s, and others have been created since then.[38]

Modern libertarianism gained significant recognition in academia with the publication of Harvard University professor Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia in 1974, a response to John Rawls's A Theory of Justice. The book proposed a minimal state on the grounds that it was an inevitable phenomenon which could arise without violating individual rights. Anarchy, State, and Utopia won a National Book Award in 1975.[39][40]

Since the resurgence of neoliberalism in the 1970s, free-market capitalist libertarianism has spread beyond North America and Europe via think tanks and political parties.[41][42]


Right-libertarianism has been criticized by the Left for being pro-business and anti-labor [43] and also for desiring to repeal government aid for people with disabilities and the poor.[44]

Contention over placement on the political spectrum

Corey Robin describes right-libertarianism as fundamentally a reactionary conservative ideology, united with more traditional conservative thought and goals by a desire to enforce hierarchical power and social relations:[45]

Conservatism, then, is not a commitment to limited government and liberty—or a wariness of change, a belief in evolutionary reform, or a politics of virtue. These may be the byproducts of conservatism, one or more of its historically specific and ever-changing modes of expression. But they are not its animating purpose. Neither is conservatism a makeshift fusion of capitalists, Christians, and warriors, for that fusion is impelled by a more elemental force—the opposition to the liberation of men and women from the fetters of their superiors, particularly in the private sphere. Such a view might seem miles away from the libertarian defense of the free market, with its celebration of the atomistic and autonomous individual. But it is not. When the libertarian looks out upon society, he does not see isolated individuals; he sees private, often hierarchical, groups, where a father governs his family and an owner his employees.

Within right-libertarianism, many reject associations with conservativism, and often reject traditional left-right labels.

In the 1960s, Rothbard started the publication Left and Right: A Journal of Libertarian Thought, believing that the left-right political spectrum had gone "entirely askew" since conservatives were sometimes more statist than liberals. Rothbard tried to reach out to leftists.[46] In 1971, Rothbard wrote about right-wing libertarianism which he described as supporting self-ownership, property rights and free trade.[47] He would later describe his brand of libertarianism as anarcho-capitalism.[48][49]

Anthony Gregory points out that within the libertarian movement "just as the general concepts 'left' and 'right' are riddled with obfuscation and imprecision, left- and right-libertarianism can refer to any number of varying and at times mutually exclusive political orientations". He writes that one of several ways to look at right-libertarianism is its exclusive interest in economic freedoms, preference for a conservative lifestyle, view that big business is "a great victim of the state," favoring a strong national defense, and sharing the Old Right's "opposition to empire." However, he holds that the important distinction for libertarians is not left or right, but whether they are "government apologists who use libertarian rhetoric to defend state aggression."[50]

Some pro-property libertarians reject association with either right or left. Leonard E. Read wrote an article titled "Neither Left Nor Right: Libertarians Are Above Authoritarian Degradation."[51] Harry Browne wrote: "We should never define Libertarian positions in terms coined by liberals or conservatives—nor as some variant of their positions. We are not fiscally conservative and socially liberal. We are Libertarians, who believe in individual liberty and personal responsibility on all issues at all times."[52] Tibor R. Machan titled a book of his collected columns Neither Left Nor Right.[53] Walter Block's article "Libertarianism Is Unique and Belongs Neither to the Right Nor the Left" critiques libertarians he described as left and right, the latter including Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Edward Feser and Ron Paul. Block wrote that these left and right individuals agreed with certain libertarian premises but "where we differ is in terms of the logical implications of these founding axioms."[54]

Author Ilana Mercer draws even further distinction between right-wing libertarianism and left-leaning libertarianism, which she refers to as "Lite Libertarianism" stating that the "difference between lite libertarians and the Right kind is that to the former, the idea of liberty is propositional–a deracinated principle, unmoored from the realities of history, hierarchy, biology, tradition, culture, values. Conversely, the paleolibertarian grasps that ordered liberty has a civilizational dimension, stripped of which the libertarian non-aggression axiom, by which we all must live, cannot endure"[55] and "that Classical Liberalism of the 19th century certainly allows for the individual to do as he pleases ... but the authentic libertarian emphasizes the right to life, liberty and property."[56]

Other uses

Herbert Kitschelt and Anthony J. McGann contrast right-libertarianism—"a strategy that combines pro-market positions with opposition to hierarchical authority, support of unconventional political participation, and endorsement of feminism and of environmentalism"—with right-authoritarianism.[57]


See also


    • Marshall, Peter (2008). Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism. London: Harper Perennial. p. 565. "In its moderate form, right libertarianism embraces laissez-faire liberals like Robert Nozick who call for a minimal State, and in its extreme form, anarcho-capitalists like Murray Rothbard and David Friedman who entirely repudiate the role of the State and look to the market as a means of ensuring social order."
    • Goodway, David (2006). Anarchist Seeds Beneath the Snow: Left-Libertarian Thought and British Writers from William Morris to Colin Ward. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. p. 4. ISBN 1846310253, ISBN 978-1846310256. "'Libertarian' and 'libertarianism' are frequently employed by anarchists as synonyms for 'anarchist' and 'anarchism', largely as an attempt to distance themselves from the negative connotations of 'anarchy' and its derivatives. The situation has been vastly complicated in recent decades with the rise of anarcho-capitalism, 'minimal statism' and an extreme right-wing laissez-faire philosophy advocated by such theorists as Murray Rothbard and Robert Nozick and their adoption of the words 'libertarian' and 'libertarianism'. It has therefore no become necessary to distinguish between their right libertarianism and the left libertarianism of the anarchist tradition."
    • Newman, Saul (2010). The Politics of Postanarchism, Edinburgh University Press. p. 43. ISBN 0748634959, ISBN 978-0748634958. "It is important to distinguish between anarchism and certain strands of right-wing libertarianism which at times go by the same name (for example, Murray Rothbard's anarcho-capitalism). There is a complex debate within this tradition between those like Robert Nozick, who advocate a 'minimal state', and those like Rothbard who want to do away with the state altogether and allow all transactions to be governed by the market alone. From an anarchist perspective, however, both positions--the minimal state (minarchist) and the no-state ('anarchist') positions--neglect the problem of economic domination; in other words, they neglect the hierarchies, oppressions, and forms of exploitation that would inevitably arise in a laissez-faire 'free' market. ... Anarchism, therefore, has no truck with this right-wing libertarianism, not only because it neglects economic inequality and domination, but also because in practice (and theory) it is highly inconsistent and contradictory. The individual freedom invoked by right-wing libertarians is only a narrow economic freedom within the constraints of a capitalist market, which, as anarchists show, is no freedom at all."


  1. Baradat, Leon P. (2015). Political Ideologies. Routledge. ISBN 978-1317345558.
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  3. Vallentyne, Peter (2007). "Libertarianism and the State". In Paul, Ellen Frankel; Miller Jr., Fred; Paul, Jeffrey. Liberalism: Old and New: Volume 24. Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 13 June 2013. ISBN 978-0521703055. "The best-known versions of libertarianism are right-libertarian theories, which hold that agents have a very strong moral power to acquire full private property rights in external things. Left-libertarians, by contrast, hold that natural resources (e.g., space, land, minerals, air, and water) belong to everyone in some egalitarian manner and thus cannot be appropriated without the consent of, or significant payment to, the members of society."
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