Background (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
Libertarianism is a political philosophy rooted in individual liberty. It stands in contrast to other political philosophies that place the interests of the nation, state, or other collective group above the interests of the individuals composing the group. There is no list of beliefs shared by all libertarians, though they generally oppose the Drug War and military draft, while favoring large tax and spending cuts. The libertarian position is often described as conservative on economic issues and liberal on social issues, but its proponents believe that libertarianism represents a consistent defense of individual freedoms against government encroachment.
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Strains of Libertarianism (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
Historically, many different political philosophies have embraced the term libertarian. Some libertarians do not have strict rules limiting state power but generally favor reducing the size of government in most areas. Economist Milton Friedman (1912-2006) falls into this camp. Another group of libertarians are principled minarchists, who believe that the only legitimate role for the government is to provide judicial, police, and military services for its citizens. The novelist Ayn Rand (1905-1982) was a famous minarchist libertarian.
Other self-described libertarians are more radical anarcho-capitalists, who call for the abolition of the modern state and the privatization of all legitimate government services, including defense from foreign invasion. Economists Murray Rothbard and David Friedman are anarcho-capitalist theorists. Finally, there are libertarians who reject the system of capitalism as it exists today and believe that private property rights can lead to unjust power relations among the capitalists and the common workers. Pierre Proudhon (1809-1865) and Emma Goldman (1869-1940) are examples. However, in modern American political debate, libertarianism is usually associated with support for private property and laissez-faire capitalism.
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Libertarianism and the Environment (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
In mainstream political debate, the libertarian position is often associated with the “pro-economy” forces and opposed to the “pro-environment” groups. For example, if there is a conflict between the livelihood of loggers and the natural habitat of the spotted owl, most libertarians would typically support the former. Despite this tendency, many libertarians embrace defense of the environment but believe that market solutions are more effective than government regulations. Such free market environmentalists argue that air and water pollution are not examples of market failure but rather government failure. Free market environmentalists argue that under the common law, a factory dumping chemicals into a river could be prosecuted by the homeowners living downstream. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, however, British and American courts often threw out lawsuits against big businesses, in order to promote industry.
Libertarians explain environmental abuses using the economics concept of the tragedy of the commons, defined in the essay “The Tragedy of the Commons” (1968) by Garrett Hardin. Historically, when pastureland was treated as common property, herders would routinely allow their animals to overgraze the land, because any individual’s restraint would simply allow another herder’s animals to eat more grass. Only the introduction of private property boundaries (and barbed...
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Libertarianism and Climate Change (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
In the political debate concerning anthropogenic climate change, most libertarians are skeptical of government solutions, which often involve new government powers and hundreds of billions of dollars. Many libertarians have embraced criticisms of the scientific evidence for anthropogenic climate change, especially as the consensus view is promulgated by a worldwide coalition of governments, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This group of libertarians does not believe continued carbon emissions pose any serious threat and therefore opposes new taxes or regulations because they would impose economic damages with no corresponding benefit.
A smaller but growing group of libertarians endorses the scientific evidence of anthropogenic global warming but supports voluntary, private-sector measures to address the problem. Many in this group rely on the public choice school of economic thought, which demonstrates that democratic systems often lead to unintended consequences. Even if climate change is a serious threat, these libertarians believe, politicians cannot be trusted to implement effective solutions. Instead, they argue that unfettered economic growth will allow mankind to adapt to rising sea levels, higher temperatures, and other possible changes. They also believe that if the situation requires it, the market can provide more extreme remedies such as geoengineering solutions (mirrors in...
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Context (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
There has always been a strong emphasis on individual liberty and suspicion of bureaucratic government in American politics. Since Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930’s, Republican politicians have generally presented themselves as advocates of fewer taxes and regulations on business. Democrats, in contrast, have generally focused on protecting the rights of minority groups and others with little political power against abuses from employers, the police, and other powerful groups. In modern political debate, libertarians have combined both elements of this suspicion of government, emphasizing the freedom of the individual in both the marketplace and public arena. Because most of the proposed remedies for anthropogenic climate change involve more money and power for the federal government, many libertarians have been very skeptical of the growing calls for government-directed mitigation efforts.
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Further Reading (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
Adler, Jonathan H., ed. Ecology, Liberty, and Property: A Free Market Environmental Reader. Washington, D.C.: Competitive Enterprise Institute, 2000. Adler is a leader in this field and has assembled a collection of essays dealing with topics such as species preservation and conventional pollution, as well as climate change. The book emphasizes the reasons for government failure at these important tasks.
Anderson, Terry L., and Donald R. Leal, eds. Free Market Environmentalism. New York: Palgrave, 2001. Similar to Adler’s collection, this book covers several different applications, including the assignment of property rights to the world’s oceans. Tables, figures, index.
Boaz, David. Libertarianism: A Primer. New York: Free Press, 1997. Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, presents a very readable introduction to mainstream libertarian ideas. Further reading, index.
Dolan, Edwin. “Science, Public Policy, and Global Warming: Rethinking the Market-Liberal Position.” Cato Journal 26, no. 3 (Fall, 2006): 445-468. In this provocative article, economist Dolan chides libertarians for parroting conservative Republican views in the global warming debate, and urges them to apply libertarian principles when formulating policy recommendations.
Rothbard, Murray. “Law, Property Rights, and Air Pollution.” Cato Journal 2, no. 1 (Spring, 1982):...
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Libertarianism (West's Encyclopedia of American Law)
A political philosophy that advocates free will, individual rights, and voluntary cooperation.
The core doctrine of libertarianism begins with the recognition that people have certain natural rights and that deprivation of these rights is immoral. Among these natural rights are the right to personal autonomy and property rights, and the right to the utilization of previously unused resources. These two basic assumptions form the foundation of all libertarian ideals.
Libertarianism can be traced back to ancient China, where philosopher Lao-tzu advocated the recognition of individual liberties. The modern libertarian theory emerged in the sixteenth century through the writings of Etienne de La Boetie (1530563), an eminent French theorist. In the seventeenth century, JOHN LOCKE and a group of British reformers known as the Levellers fashioned the classical basis for libertarianism with well-received philosophies on human nature and economics. Since the days of Locke, libertarianism has attracted pacifists, utopianists, utilitarianists, anarchists, and fascists. This wide array of support demonstrates the accessibility and elasticity of the libertarian promotion of natural rights.
Essential to the notion of natural rights is respect for the natural rights of others. Without a dignified population, voluntary cooperation is impossible. According to the...
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Libertarianism (Political Theories For Students)
Despite the obstacles of many centuries, national boundaries, and terminology confusion, the tradition known since the 1950s as libertarianism forms a coherent legacy from its founding by fathers John Locke and Adam Smith in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries through its organization as a U.S. political party in 1971 and beyond. This individualist political theory has spawned classic works, inspired revolutions,...
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