In a libertarian view, how are the rights of the majority over the rights of the minority handled? Do they have a right to overrule?

For example, if there are 10 homeowners in a subdivision and 9 of them would like to create a POA with restrictive rules, do they have a right to impose their will on the remaining homeowner who disagrees?

  • 4
    Does POA = property owners association?
    – origimbo
    Aug 2 '16 at 11:15
  • libertarianism eats it's own tail Aug 2 '16 at 15:05


As a general rule, libertarianism is opposed to changes imposed by majority rule over the objections of a minority. The more likely solution in this case would be for the nine homeowners to buy out the tenth.

Note that it is also possible that the ten homeowners could have previously entered into a contractual relationship where the tenth homeowner would be obligated to comply with majority rule. But that's based on freedom of contract, not majority rule as a principle.

The best time to establish such a system is before selling the home to the person who has different values. In a libertarian system, it is far more likely that people who favor restrictive rules would try to get that institutionalized prior to forming the community. People wouldn't expect to be able to make such changes later, so they'd want the system to be clear up front.

  • 5
    This answer would benefit from citing some sources.
    – Philipp
    Aug 2 '16 at 13:37
  • Here again this is another misinterpretation. Libertarianism has nothing to do with "objections of a minority", unless the "changes imposed by majority rule", violates the minority's Natural Rights. You 9 other neighbors can vote to do whatever you want to do, but the minute that you attempt to violate my Natural Rights, say by trying to compel me to perform in some way that I don't wish too, that's where the line gets drawn. As a libertarian I can't object to anything you other 9 do, unless it violates my Natural Rights and the reverse is also true, whether you're in the minority or majority
    – Aporter
    Feb 17 '19 at 11:11

There's no hard and fast rule on this, but in general, libertarians hold the rights of the minority above all else, noting that the individual is the smallest minority of them all. This was popularized by Ayn Rand, who herself didn't identify as a libertarian but is thought to be one of the most influential philosophers in modern libertarianism.

The central document most libertarians and conservatives hold onto when it comes to the rights of the minority is Madison's Federalist 10, which also holds that the rights of the minority take precedent over the majority.

  • Again this is a misinterpretation. Libertarianism which by modern definition is basically 'Classical Liberalism'. It's based on (among others) John Locke's teachings of Natural Rights and self government, which Jefferson basically quoted in the Declaration of Independence and which the Bill of Rights is based on. Which does not claim that the will of the minority is greater than the will of the majority. It's simply based on the principle that the majority can't vote away Natural Rights of the individual. In essence, it says that....
    – Aporter
    Feb 17 '19 at 10:45
  • …..freedom is a bubble of liberty around each of us. Each 1 of us has the freedom to do whatever he wants to do, so long as our actions do not cause our bubble to crash into another individual's bubble and burst it. The majority, therefore; can vote to do whatever it wants, up to the point where it would violate individual's rights. It's really quite simple. I don't know why everyone here is trying so hard to over complicate it. Think about it; what would the point of having rights be, if a majority could just vote them all away?
    – Aporter
    Feb 17 '19 at 10:53

Libertarianism is a philosophy which puts the liberty of the individual over the interests of the whole society. According to the definition of Libertarianism by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, an important concept of Libertarianism is that it guarantees the right to property:

  1. Control rights over the use of the entity: both a liberty-right to use it and a claim-right that others not use it
  2. Rights to compensation if someone uses the entity without one's permission
  3. Enforcement rights (e.g., rights of prior restraint if someone is about to violate these rights)
  4. Rights to transfer these rights to others (by sale, rental, gift, or loan)
  5. Immunities to the non-consensual loss of these rights.

Forcing someone to give up any of these rights, for example by forcing them to bend to the rules of a property owner association they don't want to be part of, would be against libertarian values.

And so would be to subject people to arbitrary rules when not following these rules does not result in someone's rights being violated (for example: A libertarian society would not be allowed to fine you for a traffic violation when they can not prove you actually endangered or bothered someone or something).

The primary purpose of the state in Libertarianism is the protection of individual rights. So a libertarian society will only apply force against individuals if they violate the rights of others.

There might be situations where individual liberty rights conflict with each other. For example, A wants to hear loud music on their property but neighbor B prefers silence. In that case a Libertarian society needs to judge on a case-by-case basis if forbidding A to play loud music would be a larger or smaller infraction of personal liberty than forcing B to listen to it.

  • Regarding your last point, i'd always vaguely understood libertarianism to imply that societal rights do not agglomerate, so in that situation a small annoyance of the music to a large number of people is better than the large annoyance to a single person of turning it off. I'm finding it difficult to find a reference though.
    – origimbo
    Aug 2 '16 at 16:06
  • @origimbo My example only has two people. I didn't talk about agglomeration of the rights of multiple victims. Also, is that point really serious enough to warrant a downvote?
    – Philipp
    Aug 2 '16 at 16:44
  • 1
    The original question and your first paragraph frame the discussion in the context of minority versus majority, hence there's a need to include more than two people. The down vote isn't mine.
    – origimbo
    Aug 2 '16 at 17:37
  • 2
    "Libertarianism is a philosophy which puts the liberty of the individual over the interests of the whole society" establishes a negative connotation of Libertarianism. The overriding premise is that through the protection of individual sovereignty, where individual rights can be exercises up till the point of interfering with the rights of others, improves society overall. Aug 2 '16 at 18:03
  • the loud music example is clearly defined in libertarian ideology: you have a right to do what you want to do until it violates someone else's rights. So it's simple neighbor A can play his music as loud as he wants, up to the point where it would infringe on his neighbor's right to not be disturbed. Every imaginable scenario can be summed up by this principle. Every natural right can be broken down to this principle. This is why positive rights are not legit. In order to enact a positive right it requires someone else to give up 1 of their rights.
    – Aporter
    Feb 17 '19 at 10:33

There's some fundamental misunderstandings contained in some of the previous answers to this question.

First of all libertarian philosophy is based on individual rights first and foremost, but that doesn't mean that they believe that the minority has power over the majority. It simply means that the majority cannot vote to take away the rights of the minority or the individual. There's a difference, and that is the principle that the Bill of Rights was built on, that rights are inalienable and can't be voted away.

Use the analogy of 3 men on an island: these 3 men establish a republic which believes that individual rights are to be protected. When these men run out of food, 2 of the men cannot vote to eat the third man, because all men are bound to the rules of individual rights. In essence the group cannot sacrifice individuals and their rights for the good of the collective.

In the case of the Home Owners Association, you enter a contract when you enter the into the association. The natural assumption is that this contract would include certain clauses that would obligate each home owner in the association to abide by the votes of the organization. Libertarians believe in the law of contracts as well. For example, employment: employment is a voluntary contract between the employer and the employee. When a person voluntarily enters an employment contract, the libertarian understands that his individual rights may not apply while he is being paid by an employer. Obviously I have the freedom to practice my religion, but that right doesn't apply while I am on the boss' clock.

Imagine the 3 men on the island, who established a 3 man republic, but they all agreed to sign a contract. In this contract it's stated that in the event that the men were starving, that they would vote to eat the weakest member of the group. Philosophically a libertarian would be compelled to violate the rights of the minority because all members of the contract agreed to do so. It's a silly example I know, but that's a simplified example of how it works.

Nobody can force you to enter a contract, contracts are ONLY valid when they are entered into by both parties knowingly, willingly and voluntarily. With that being said the typical libertarian would not enter into a Home Owners Association(assuming it involved a contract), if he was not willing to give up some of is liberties in order to be part of that particular community.

In the case where there's not a Home Owners Association agreement or contract, the libertarian would most certainly make a stand that the group cannot force him to do things with his property that he doesn't want to do.

  • 1
    Well said. I'd go a step further and argue there's no such thing as collective will, collective rights or collective good. I've yet to see an example of these concepts that didn't involve benefiting a subset of individuals at the expense of another subset. Feb 15 '19 at 21:40

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