What Is Libertarian?

Want to know “what is a classical liberal?” Visit our Core Classical Liberal Principles page.

The libertarian perspective is that peace, prosperity, and social harmony are fostered by “as much liberty as possible” and “as little government as necessary.”

With a long intellectual tradition spanning hundreds of years, libertarian ideas of individual rights, economic liberty, and limited government have contributed to history-changing movements like abolition, women’s suffrage, and the civil rights movement.

Libertarian is not a single viewpoint, but includes a wide variety of perspectives. Libertarians can range from market anarchists to advocates of a limited welfare state, but they are all united by a belief in personal liberty, economic freedom, and a skepticism of government power.

Different Takes on the Libertarian Political Perspective:

According to American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition, 2000:

NOUN: 1. One who advocates maximizing individual rights and minimizing the role of the state.

The Challenge of Democracy (6th edition), by Kenneth Janda, Jeffrey Berry, and Jerry Goldman:

Liberals favor government action to promote equality, whereas conservatives favor government action to promote order. Libertarians favor freedom and oppose government action to promote either equality or order.

According to The Machinery of Freedom by David Friedman, Open Court Publishing Company, 1973:

The central idea of libertarianism is that people should be permitted to run their own lives as they wish.

According to Libertarianism: A Primer by David Boaz, Free Press, 1997:

Libertarianism is the view that each person has the right to live his life in any way he chooses so long as he respects the equal rights of others. Libertarians defend each person’s right to life, liberty, and property-rights that people have naturally, before governments are created. In the libertarian view, all human relationships should be voluntary; the only actions that should be forbidden by law are those that involve the initiation of force against those who have not themselves used force-actions like murder, rape, robbery, kidnapping, and fraud.

Who is Libertarian?

A number of prominent thinkers are associated with libertarian ideas, from economists to philosophers. Below are just a few of the key figures associated with libertarian and classical liberal ideas on individual liberty and economic freedom.


James Madison


Thomas Jefferson


Thomas Paine


Isabel Paterson


Rose Wilder Lane


Ayn Rand


F.A. Hayek


Ludwig von Mises


Milton Friedman


John Locke


Frederic Bastiat


Alexis de Tocqueville

Learn more about libertarian thinkers and big ideas through short videos on Learn Liberty.

Who Is IHS?

At IHS, we believe in the power of freedom to create a more just, peaceful, and thriving future. That’s why, in 1961, Dr. F.A. “Baldy” Harper founded the Institute for Humane Studies to support research and education, with the belief that a greater understanding of the principles of freedom would foster peace, prosperity, and social harmony.

For more than 50 years, we’ve worked with thousands of scholars and students, handed out millions in funding, and empowered students and professors by providing education, resources, and events. 


“Not in government or force, not in slavery or war, but in the creative, and thereby spiritual, power of freedom, shall our inspiration be found.”  

—F.A. “Baldy” Harper