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  Libertarianism (from Latin libertas, ‘state of being free’) is the name given in the political sciences to the confluence of anarchism and liberalism, although the term is often used to refer to any kind of rejection of authority, of whatever kind. Libertarians believe either that ‘government is best which governs least’, or that ‘government is best which governs not at all’. (Since the latter viewpoint is described under the entry on anarchism only minimal-state libertarianism is discussed here). Such libertarians emphasize the inalienable rights of individuals, especially to acquire and maintain private property. The sole legitimate functions of government, they say, are to protect these rights, and to enforce contracts made between consenting adults; in other words prisons and courts are the only reasonable forms of government. Such libertarians regard taxation, especially redistributive taxation, as ‘forced labour’.

Contemporary libertarianism owes most to the American reception of the work of the Austrian school of economists (notably Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich von Hayek) which defended the state purely as a ‘night-watchman’. The best-known economic, literary, and philosophical exponents of American libertarianism are Murray Rothbard, Ayn Rand and Robert Nozick. The latter\'s book Anarchy, State and Utopia (1974) is perhaps the most lucid statement of the libertarian case, and attempts to establish that a libertarian society would be the most feasible form of a Utopian social order—although its author has now repudiated many of its arguments.

Nozick\'s Anarchy, State and Utopia argues against all principles of ‘patterned’ justice: in other words against all attempts to regulate economic prices or incomes to produce specific patterns of income distribution whether they be egalitarian or highly stratified. Justice is purely a matter of establishing whether somebody has properly the rights (or entitlements) to a given set of objects or activities. Libertarians argue that provided the initial allocation of rights in property are just, then any distributive outcomes resulting from the free activities of individuals are for that reason also just.

There are two major problems with this childishly simple argument. First, in most actually existing histories of the world it is plain that existing property rights have stemmed from injustice (sometimes described as conquest, robbery, or exploitation). Second, it would require major governmental activity to establish a régime of just property rights and therefore a consistent libertarian would have to grant to government (or some other agency) a major interventionist role in ensuring that property rights are just.

The key assumption behind libertarian thought is that formal institutions such as governments, formal religions and social organizations are not only poor managers of resources, but are also fundamentally inimical to the autonomy of the individual, the most fundamental libertarian value. It is easy to see why critics of libertarianism describe it as a rationalization of egoism, but that is a criticism which many libertarians accept with pride. BO\'L

See also capitalism; individualism.Further reading T.R. Machan, Capitalism and Individualism: Reframing the Argument for the Free Society; , R. Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia; , M. Rothbard, Power and Market.



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