Liberalism and Libertarianism


One should not confuse the notions of liberalism and libertarianism despite the fact that they have a lot in common. However, they have many differences. Liberalism is a political worldview or philosophy that presupposes the idea of equality and liberty. Liberals support such principles as the right to property, liberty, life, fair and free elections, free trade, civil rights, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press. Libertarianism comprises a group of political philosophies that emphasize voluntary association, liberty, and freedom. Libertarians pay less attention to the significance of the government and underline the importance of making it small. Thus, this paper intends to analyze liberalism and libertarianism and determine their similarities and differences. Moreover, it proves that liberalism is a broad philosophical and political worldview that supports all principles of equality, while libertarianism believes in limiting the government to restrict liberty.

The Notions of Liberalism and Libertarianism

Liberalism is a political philosophy and state of being liberal. It emphasizes the freedom and rights of an individual that are guaranteed by the government. Liberalism has some differences in many countries. For example, in Britain and North America, liberals support state welfare programmes; therefore, they are the left-of-center party. In the European countries, liberals are right-wing as they support the free market. In America, liberalism is associated with socialism, whereas in Australia, Liberal Party is conservative. Furthermore, liberalism can be used in the religious context that presupposes a freedom from authority.


Libertarianism is a political philosophy that emphasizes the liberty of an individual when the state interferes in his/her affairs as little as possible. Libertarianism is associated with anarchism and right-wing politics. The term ‘libertarianism’ was first used in the 18th century and was defined as a free will against determinism. The key concepts of libertarianism are individualism in the decisions, and the protection of human rights. One can find the principles of libertarianism in the philosophical works of Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Adam Smith, David Hume, and John Locke.

Similarities between Liberalism and Libertarianism

On may think that liberalism and libertarianism have different political implications. However, they have certain similarities. It is necessary to underline the parallel between liberalism and libertarianism as they are striving for equality. Both libertarians and liberals are against aggressive wars, expansive military spending, the police state, the surveillance state, concern for racism and institutional oppression, and the drug war. However, both liberalism and libertarianism are for social tolerance, immigration, and protection of civil liberties.

Both liberals and libertarians take care for the poor and the lack of access to the resources. Moreover, the representatives of both philosophies support qualitative and effective schooling. It is evident that they are awaiting changes in the community that will make it the better place for living. One should also mention that liberalism and libertarianism demonstrate distrust of concentrated power stating that it provides inequality and violates human freedoms.

Both liberals and libertarians are against wars, drone attacks, and violation of civil liberties by the NDAA and the Patriot Act. It is obvious that the representatives of both philosophies are interested in maintaining personal freedom and peace. For example, Glenn Greenwald is a dedicated liberal; therefore, he is against unjust government actions. On the other hand, Edward Snowden who is a libertarian observes rights violations by the government. It means that the representatives of both liberalism and libertarianism regard the government as an imperfect system that is immoral and unfair according to the rights and freedoms of the individual.

Another similarity between liberalism and libertarianism is connected with the drug question. Both liberals and libertarians regard drug prohibition as an evil and example of racism and the U.S. government oppression. It means that liberalism and libertarianism support human autonomy even if it can be a negative one. Liberals and libertarians are also similar in the question of immigration. The representatives of both philosophies support pro-immigration measures such as open borders, complete amnesty, less deportation, and decreased border control. Liberals and libertarians believe that immigration is a positive process for the economy as it increases its productivity and performance. It means that immigration controls are immoral for them as they violate the right to freedom of movement. It is obvious that liberals and libertarians are against measures and acts that prevent one from freedom of choice.

One should mention that the complete rejection of bigotry and social tolerance are other aspects that intertwine libertarianism and liberalism. However, it is evident that these philosophies are not totally successful as gay marriage and the rights of the gay community are lagging behind other achievements of equality. It is necessary to say that liberalism and libertarianism share the idea that people ought to be free. Both liberals and libertarians support the ideas of personal choice and civil liberties. Moreover, they are for the protection of the first, fourth, and fifth Amendments. Liberalism as well as libertarianism intends to protect an individual and the rights from the government. It means that the representatives of both philosophies criticize the government and express distrust of it.

Differences between Liberalism and Libertarianism

Without a doubt, there are differences between liberalism and libertarianism. The first difference is associated with the representation of the political ideology. Liberals are socially and politically liberal. For example, they support a big government and gay marriage. Liberals support such marriages because they think that everybody should be equal. Libertarians are economically conservative and socially liberal. For example, they support personal choice and gay marriage and are against a large government. The reason is that libertarians believe that the government should not be involved in regulating marriages. It means that liberals regard the power of government as the way of promotion of social equality and good. As to libertarians, they state that governmental power should be limited. One should mention that liberalism and libertarianism have different means of achieving equality.

Another difference between liberalism and libertarianism is connected with the problem of abortion. Liberals support abortion as they think that all women have the right to choose, and nobody can forbid this. Libertarians are also pro-abortion, but they think that government should not be against this as well. It is necessary to mention that libertarians are always associated with conservatives as they both are against government regulation of business and are for low taxes. There are also the distinctions in the reasons liberals and libertarians support and the ways of the implementation of their ideas. Liberals tend to be more static comparing to libertarians. It means that libertarians are dynamic and flexible.

Liberalism is grounded on the concept of social justice. Thus, it regards banning of homosexualism as the case of inequality. Consequently, liberals insist on passing new legislation prohibiting the treatment of the person unequally due to his/her homosexuality. Libertarians believe in the necessity of maximizing personal freedom. As a result, it is their main reason for being against banning homosexuality. Moreover, they believe in freedom of association. It means that the person has the right to choose what he/she wills. Thus, for libertarians, the use of compulsion to make people interact with each other is a violation of individual rights. Another difference between liberalism and libertarianism is related with the legalization of gay marriages. Liberalism supports the legalization of gay marriages, signing their marriage into law. As to libertarianism, it is against the interference of government. It means that government should not regulate this question. Thus, libertarians regard marriage as a social contract between individuals who do not violate the rights with their actions.

For liberals, social justice is justice related to the distribution of privileges, opportunities, and wealth. On the contrary, for libertarians, the non-aggression principle is above social justice as they think that every person has the right to make his/her choice if it does not involve aggression or fraud against other people. Liberals regard social justice in the form of two principles, namely difference principle and liberty principle. Liberty principle provides the right to vote, freedom of conscience, and freedom of speech. The difference principle allows inequalities in social and economic goods if they promote welfare. Libertarians do not agree that social justice and its principles can solve the problems of discrimination and inequality in the community. Hereby, they state that only ‘a minimal state’ is the basis for protecting people from crimes; therefore, it is morally justified.

Another difference between liberals and libertarians is associated with their measures of protection of the poor. Libertarians insist that only small government can take care of the poor. In contrast, liberals believe that the implementation of the necessary policies is the solution to poverty. It means that both philosophies handle the same problems but search for different ways of their solution. It is not without reason that liberals are criticized for enormous conservatism. Libertarians’ principles are more supported as the government makes harder for the poor to increase welfare by creating barriers for them. Moreover, government concentrates power and wealth and distorts the market.

Liberal ideas on the ideal schooling are grounded on centralization and perpetual spending on school education. However, they have become their failures. As to libertarians, they have different solutions to the problems of schooling. First, they believe that there should be competition among schools as it decreases costs and increases quality. Second, they support the idea of school choice. Moreover, liberals and libertarians have different perception and association with the word ‘equality.’ Liberals want to achieve equality of material possessions and outcomes, while libertarians crave equality of authority. Thus, it is obvious that they want to achieve equality in the different areas.


In conclusion, one should say that liberalism is a political philosophy that is committed to conservative principles of social justice. Liberals support the ideas of personal choice and the right to all freedoms. Libertarianism is also a political philosophy that is skeptical about the role of the government in the solution of social and economic problems. The similarities between liberalism and libertarianism are connected with the desire for equality, solution to racism, discrimination, and military conflicts. Liberals and libertarians support immigration and protection of civil liberties. It is evident that the representatives of both political philosophies want to protect the poor and minorities and provide them with the right to free will and personal choice. The differences between liberals and libertarians are associated with the measures they use to solve similar issues. Moreover, liberals are socially and politically liberal, and libertarians are economically conservative and socially liberal. The differences in their entities lead to their search of the opposite ways of achievement of equality in the community.

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