Since Libertarianism can be defined as a political philosophy that advocates only minimal state intervention in the free market and the private lives of citizens, but when it comes to actual policies, do they seem far-fetched to adopt? I think that reducing bureaucracy and improving government expenditure in terms of spending seems plausible but outright claims that the federal government is imposing tyranny seems excessive. Have any studies been conducted by political academics regarding this particular quandary?

  • "...this particular quandary" I struggle to understand this? What is exactly meant here? From the question I would not have much ideas why Libertarianism would actually need to be a dominant ideology. Is this question simply asking about disadvantages of Libertarianism in a bit of a roundabout way? Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 18:06
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    @Trilarion Rather than "why not dominant?" the Q might be better thought of as "why so little success?". Can you name a city or state that is run by a government elected on the Libertarian ticket? Even with Communism, it's not hard to find some, somewhere. Why not Libertarianism? Esp in USA. Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 18:10
  • @Trilarion Actually I'm using this website after a while, so my question may feel a bit vague, but tdlr is why libertarianism policies are not being implemented in governments in general, and are still seem as unorthodox?
    – user45632
    Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 18:15

5 Answers 5


Since Libertarianism can be defined as a political philosophy that advocates only minimal state intervention in the free market and the private lives of citizens

Pretty much every popular ideology thinks it is removing bureaucracy and decreasing state intervention in areas where there shouldn't be any, as well as increasing it in areas that need more. Which is to say, every popular ideology thinks it advocates for the smallest possible government. Even fascists think a very strong government is necessary or else society will crumble.

For example, you may notice the Democrats want smaller government stopping people from being gay or transgender (because they believe it is not necessary and actively harmful) and bigger government spending on social welfare programs (because they believe the current amount is lower than what is actually necessary) while Republicans want the opposite, because they believe it is harmful to be gay or transgender or to spend any money on welfare.

Libertarianism is just another of those. It is no unique outlier. Libertarianism doesn't advocate for no government, but rather, it still advocates for the government to do certain things, such as enforcing private property boundaries, even more strongly than current governments do. Libertarian policies very frequently align with Republican policies and so a lot of Libertarians get absorbed into the Republican party. I expect this is true in most parts of the world that have similar parties, not just the USA.

An ideology that actually advocates for no government is anarchism, which is generally considered an extreme left-wing ideology. Libertarians do not agree with anarchists because the anarchist "state" does not protect private property rights.

The main difference between Libertarian and conservative ideology is that Libertarians do not support the government imposing restrictions on private behaviour such as homosexuality or drug use. However, they also do not support the government imposing restrictions on other people imposing restrictions on private behaviour. A Libertarian state would still require people, on average, to follow the most popular restrictions or else they would be unable to find employment, food or shelter. This is not really much different from a democratic state where the people vote for which restrictions the state should enforce.

  • See also left-libertarianism though. Rather absent in the US. Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 22:36
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    Anarchism has adherents on both the far right and the far left. Compare anarcho-capitalists vs anarcho-communists. In my experience, the former are more common.
    – eclipz905
    Commented Feb 23, 2023 at 17:54
  • @user253751 Anarcho-capitalism is no more of an "oxymoron" than anarcho-communism or anarcho-syndicalism are.
    – user76284
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 9:54
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 10:25

When transitioning from strongly state controlled economy to Libertianian one, it is possible to have a crash so hard that it results in dictatorships coming to power via democratic elections. Countries like Russia did have the post-Soviet Libertianian stage with mass privatization. Looks like the voters were not impressed. Even in Baltic states, the former Communist leaders suddenly came back to power after privatization and its consequences but happily did not went so badly there. And dictatorhsip is as bad thing to have. Every single Libertianian would agree.

Liberal thinking was dominated at the time by an almost neoconservative belief that generous social programs and labor protection were irrelevant or even harmful. Millions of Russians continue to hate liberals who oppose building a social welfare state. Many of the highly placed liberal politicians were unable to resist the temptations of enriching themselves through corruption. Some of those same liberals now occupy senior government posts in Putin’s regime, further discrediting the word Liberalism in Russians’ minds (and differences between Liberalism and Libertarianism are by many poorly understood). You can read more about the historical context in Russia here.

I agree with one of comments that the power gained can be used to seize more power, the process getting runaway. Finally those in power say they do not need Libertianianism anymore and it will be totalitarian regime now instead. Or, if this is wrong, this is a myth that makes Libertianianism unpopular and they should work on clarification.

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    I agree that likely something was wrongly done there at the time.
    – Stančikas
    Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 17:48
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    Not sure about the details but post-1991 Russia was more "Robber Barons meets Chicago Mobs to rob privatized SEOs" than Libertarianism. Or free markets. Or any thought-through political system, especially one minimizing state intervention IIRC tax rates were ministry-by-ministry and not coordinated, so you could in theory be liable for more taxes than your profits - hardly a study in state footprint minimization. Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 17:53
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    How do you avoid robber barons and chicago mobs when you have minimal state? Having strong law enforcement alone makes your state not so small.
    – alamar
    Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 18:32
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    @justapasserby That's not a relevant factor (and the soviet education system would not have produced any free market experts anyway). "Intellectuals" are not what's needed to reform the economy of a collapsing state, economic experts are. And Russia spared no expense in getting free market experts from the west to reform their economy; things just did not pan out. Look up the efforts of Jeffrey Sachs, who was an American economist part of a team in the 90s sent to reform the Russian economy.
    – uberhaxed
    Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 21:02
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    @uberhaxed Economic experts are intellectuals. But it's all irrelevant anyway. When the state is collapsing, facts go out the window - what matters is power. The ability to make other people follow your orders and shoot the other people who are trying to make people follow their orders instead. Whoever manages to come out with the most followers ends up dominating and becoming the state. See the phrase "power vacuum" Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 21:05

Mostly answering wrt the US Libertarian position, since I don't know if too many other countries have a significant explicit party in this domain.

Racism (by some of its members)

The Hill oped - blames it on racism

He probably has a point in practice, but I would not say racism is a feature of Libertarianism per se.

In May, the party was taken over at its national convention by the so-called Mises Caucus, a far-right group, some of whose members have been associated with racist and antisemitic ideas. The caucus is named after the libertarian economist Ludwig von Mises, whose philosophy was pretty crude (as I explained in the book) but who firmly condemned racism.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year, the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire tweeted (in a later deleted post) that “America isn’t in debt to black people. If anything it’s the other way around.” Caucus members have called for violent repression of antifa and Black Lives Matter protesters.

Libertarian Party platform - positions that do not appeal to too many people.

Parents should have control of and responsibility for all funds expended for their children’s education.

Retirement planning is the responsibility of the individual, not the government. Libertarians would phase out the current government-sponsored Social Security system and transition to a private voluntary system.

To further that end, we call for the repeal of the income tax, the abolishment of the Internal Revenue Service and all federal programs and services not required under the U.S. Constitution.

Therefore, we favor the repeal of all laws creating “crimes” without victims, such as gambling, the use of drugs for medicinal or recreational purposes, and consensual transactions involving sexual services.

We oppose the administration of the death penalty by the state.

It's not hard to see how some of these are not going to be very appealing across the US ideological landscape (the last 2 are going to be unpopular with religious conservatives). Reform of pensions for example is a political live-wire everyone avoids.

Seems to me that US Libertarians are stuck in the same kind of rut Germans Greens wrt "fundis vs realos", with the fundis being in the ascendant within the party, but unappealing outside of it. People often talk about big-L Libertarians - those are the people who are not getting elected.

It's also interesting, when you talk to hardcore Libertarians individually, how regulations will be replaced by legal arbitration and contract law. The benefits of replacing regulation by litigation is not an entirely convincing argument.

Donald Trump and foreign policy.

For those libertarians hoping to get in via the Republican back door, times are tough, with the Reps ditching much of their small-government roots lately.

There are areas, certainly, in which Trumpism and libertarianism will peacefully co-exist; school choice, as evidenced by Trump’s selection of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, is one example. Deregulation is another. But by and large, they cannot be reconciled. Where libertarians champion the flow of people and capital across international borders, Trump aims to slow, or even stop, both. Where libertarians advocate drug legalization and criminal justice reform, Trump and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, seek a return to law-and-order policies. Where libertarians push to protect the First and Fourth Amendments, Trump pushes back with threats of banning Muslims and expanding the surveillance state. And where Mulvaney has dedicated his career to the argument that dramatic fiscal measures are needed to prevent the United States from going bankrupt, Trump campaigned unambiguously on accumulating debt, increasing spending and not laying a finger on the entitlement programs that make up an ever-growing share of the federal budget.

And their avowed goal of isolationism can seem naive at times.

Polling suggested as much. In November 2013—when Rand Paul was riding high—43 percent of Republicans said U.S. anti-terrorism policies were going too far in restricting civil liberties, while 41 percent said they weren’t going far enough to protect the homeland, according to Pew Research. In September 2014—during the immediate aftermath of the Foley and Sotloff execution videos—those figures were 24 percent and 64 percent, respectively. The shift in sentiment would only accelerate. A separate poll in September 2014, commissioned by CBS News, found that 39 percent of Americans favored sending U.S. ground troops to Iraq and Syria to fight ISIS, with 55 percent opposed.

Do they really have no success?

However, as an influence on politics in general, especially in the US, small-l libertarians, advocating for a smaller state, do have some influence within the Republican party. And, really, cutting red tape, axing corporate subsidies and promoting individual liberties are views that are fairly popular in general. Balancing budgets may not be all that popular, but there are intergenerational equity risks with running near-constant deficits.

In short, viewing the role of government through a watered down version of libertarianism when deciding on laws, regulations and policies is viewed as helpful, at least by some.

Which is, to some extent, not that dissimilar how Green parties struggle to get elected on their own ticket, but manage to get quite a few of their principles adopted by mainstream parties.

Pure big L-ibertarianism on other hand is unpopular because it is a reductio ad absurdum position with obvious shortcomings in its practical application and ethics.

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    I don't think this answer is wrong, but a problem with analyzing the popularity of third parties in the US is that first past the post voting discourages voting for third parties across the board. Currently there are zero third party members of Congress. Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 0:54
  • @IllusiveBrian There is a bit of truth to that. But the lack of success seems to extend quite a bit downstream from the US congress, to state legislatures and town mayors. Do you think the party duopoly is that strong on those levels? It might be, but still. And Sanders for example is an independent. Mind you, in a way shouldn't Rand Paul count as an elected Libertarian? Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 1:26
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    The 3 elected Independents all caucus with Democrats (I think they're all even former Democratic party members). Rand Paul and his father, are/were small-l libertarians but again are/were Republicans while in office. Even Gary Johnson I don't think has ever actually held an elected position in government as a Libertarian, and he was the governor of New Mexico for awhile (again as a Republican). My point I think actually aligns with what you're saying, the popularity of libertarianism in the US isn't exactly aligned with the popular vote records of the Libertarian Party, because of FPTP. Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 3:33
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    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… assuming the accuracy of this page even at the state level 3rd party victories are rare. Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 3:36

Apart from all the other reasons already mentioned, there is also the aspect that there are limited incentives for elected officials to reduce their own budget, and limited possibilities to reduce someone elses budget.

Even if a politician thinks that less money should be spent on some area they are responsible for, if they actually cut expenses there, without increasing expenses elsewhere at the same time, they will effectively loose some power. Founding government programs is more prestigious than shutting them down.

  • "Founding government programs is more prestigious than shutting them down." But that would be the job description, shutting down something, of any Libertarian politician by definition. I agree in general but not for Libertarians. They should rejoice at defunding, cutting and slashing and finally putting themselves out of the job, shouldn't they? Commented Feb 25, 2023 at 2:30
  • @Trilarion Yes. I guess what I'm trying to say is that politicians who want to actually reduce the influence of the state would need to be either more idealistic than others, or have an alternative career plan that does not involve being reelected to the same position.
    – Hulk
    Commented Feb 25, 2023 at 8:46

Libertarianism is the free market masquerading as a political philosophy. Markets are not known for either philosophy or politics. It's where you go to buy and sell stuff.

I do not expect a politician to tell me where to go to get the best deal on a mobile phone and nor do I expect a philosopher to tell how to best to sell a used car.

Why then we think we should go to business men to tell us about politics or philosophy or even political philosophy beats me. They'll only sell you a political philosophy that benefits them. And more fool you.


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