Much political and moral philosophy over the past three centuries has concerned itself with human liberty. The philosophical outlook on politics known as libertarianism takes this idea to its extreme, proposing to make liberty, the only interest that a state may properly have with respect to its citizens.
The libertarian philosophy has been propounded by a number of scholars, prominent among them are F. A. Hayek ,Karl Proper, Talmon ,Milton Friedman, I. Berlin , M Rothbard, Robert Nozick, Ayn Rand .Taking liberty as the ultimate value, it asserts that in order to protect liberty, a society must have strong private property rights, a free market and minimal government. Some writers have termed libertarianism as “freedom”. The best way to understand the various terms is to know what libertarians believe in. In few words, libertarianism believes that individual freedom is the fundamental value that must underlie all social relations, economic exchanges and the political system.
Essentially libertarians preach freedom in all fields including the right to do what one wants with one’s own body insofar as one does not infringe on the property and equal freedom of others. They believe that voluntary cooperation between individuals in a free market is always preferable to coercion exerted by the state. They believe that the role of the state is not to pursue goals in the name of the community. The state is not there to redistribute wealth, ‘promote’ culture, ‘support’ the agriculture sector or ‘help’ small firms, but should limit itself to the protection of individual rights and let citizens pursue their own goals in a peaceful way.
Libertarianism supports the formal equality of each and all before the law, but it worries little about the inequalities between the rich and poor, inequalities which are inevitable and can be reduced only by encroaching on personal freedom and by reducing overall prosperity. For them the best way to fight poverty is to guarantee a system of free enterprise and free trade and to let private charity initiatives which are more effective and better justified morally than state programmes of wealth transfer, come to the rescue of those in need. Libertarians believe that the only way to ensure the maintenance of personal freedom is to guarantee the inviolability of private property and to limit as much as possible the size of the government and the scope of its interventions. They do not trust the state in protecting individual liberty.
Libertarianism is opposed to collectivist ideologies of all types, be it of the left or of the right which stress the primacy of the group, nation, social class, sexual or ethnic group, religious or language community etc. They oppose all whose purpose is to regiment individuals in the pursuit of collective goals. They do not deny the relevance of these collective identities, but claim that it is up to the individuals themselves to determine which group they wish to belong and contribute to. It is not for the state or for institutions that derive their power from the state to impose their own objectives in a bureaucratic and coercive manner.
Thus, libertarianism rejects the main political developments of the 20th century; that is, the sustained growth in the size of the state and the range of its interventions in the private lives of the citizens. It is the only one that demands and works for radical change, a drastic reduction of the size and role of the state, they are the only ones who value individual freedom, above all else. More and more people realize that libertarianism constitutes the only alternative. the libertarian movement hardly existed in the 1960s but really took off in the United States in the early 1970s.
Whereas collectivist philosophies and Keynesian economics used to dominate academic life, recently there has been a revival of interest in classical liberalism and free market economy throughout the world. After a century of eclipse, classical liberalism in its libertarian offspring is becoming an influential philosophical doctrine and movement in the 21st century.
Like all philosophical movements, libertarianism is varied, containing several schools and sub-groups and one will find no unanimity about its theoretical justifications, its goals or the strategy that should be adopted to reach them. Mainly, there are two types of libertarianism and each has its own answers to the queries. One group, the anarchists or also known as ‘anarcho-capitalists’ advocate the complete disappearance of the state and privatization of even the basic functions mentioned above. This goal may appear extreme or ridiculous at first sight, but it is based on a theoretically plausible argument.
It is for example, easy to imagine that one could replace provincial state or municipal police forces ( with the corruption , abuses of power, the incompetence and favoritism which usually characterize them all and often with impunity ) with private security agencies. These would make profits only in so far as they really protect citizens and fight real criminals. Anarcho-capitalists use the same type of arguments to support the privatization of the army and the courts which would leave nothing for a state to do. Private firms would then provide all the services that individuals might need in a pure free market.
In a context where public spending now accounts for almost half of all that is produced, where governments continue to adopt law after law so as to increase their control over our life, a more realistic libertarian goal is simply to reverse this trend and fight for any freedom and any concrete reduction in state tyranny. The other branch is known as ‘miniarchists’ who maintain that government may appropriately engage in police protection, enforcement of contracts and national defense , foreign relations, justice, the protection of private property and individual rights.
All remaining functions should be privatized. In the context of a much decentralized federal state, libertarians accept, however, that local authorities can intervene in other fields and offer various types of social and economic arrangements in so far as dissatisfied citizens can easily move to other jurisdictions. Definitely not included, according to miniarchists, is the power to tax, even to secure money for the functions just mentioned.
The question arises: why the libertarians endorse these views so sharply at variance with most political theory?
Firstly, libertarians hold an extremely strong doctrine of individual rights, particularly the right of individuals to acquire and hold property. Their concept of property rights and freedom of contract excludes welfare rights, since claims to these rights require in the libertarian view compulsory labor of some on behalf of other.
Secondly, libertarians believe that the operation of an unrestricted system of laissez faire capitalism is the most desirable social system. People unfettered by the state compulsions would be likely to establish this sort of economic system and it is all for the best that they do.