Libertarianism is a set of related political philosophies that uphold liberty as the highest political end. This includes emphasis on the primacy of individual liberty, political freedom, and voluntary association. It is an antonym of authoritarianism. Although libertarians share a scepticism of governmental authority, they diverge on the extent and character of their opposition. Certain schools of libertarian thought offer a range of views on how far the powers of government should be limited and others contend the state should not exist at all. While minarchists propose a state limited in scope to preventing aggression, theft, breach of contract and fraud, anarchists advocate its complete elimination as a political system. While some libertarians accept laissez-faire capitalism and private property rights, such as in land and natural resources, others oppose capitalism and private ownership of the means of production, instead advocating their common or cooperative ownership and management.
Liberalism and libertarianism have deep roots in Western thought. A central feature of the religious and intellectual traditions of ancient Israel and ancient Greece was the idea of a higher moral law that applied universally and that constrained the powers of even kings and governments. Christian theologians, including Tertullian in the 2nd and 3rd centuries and St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, stressed the moral worth of the individual and the division of the world into two realms, one of which was the province of God and thus beyond the power of the state to control.
According to libertarians, free markets are among the most important (but not the only) examples of spontaneous order. They argue that individuals need to produce and trade in order to survive and flourish and that free markets are essential to the creation of wealth. Libertarians also maintain that self-help, mutual aid, charity, and economic growth do more to alleviate poverty than government social-welfare programs. Finally, they contend that, if the libertarian tradition often seems to stress private property and free markets at the expense of other principles, that is largely because these institutions were under attack for much of the 20th century by modern liberals, social democrats, fascists, and adherents of other leftist, nationalist, or socialist ideologies.
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