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Political Ideologies In Action: Conservatism: Libertarianism

A research guide for John Hulgreen's Political Ideologies in Action (SCT2107.01)

Quick Description

Libertarianism is the belief that the role of the state should be minimized in order to create the maximum possible scope for human freedom. It is distinct from anarchism, which advocates the abolition of government. Instead, most libertarians accord the highest priority to individual rights, especially the right to property, and recognize that a minimal “night-watchman” state is needed to guarantee these rights. Rights-based libertarianism is best defended in Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974). Other varieties include Ayn Rand's ethical defense of rational egoism as the best way of life, Friedrich von Hayek's pragmatic case that the state should be kept small as a defense against tyranny, and Milton Friedman's celebration of the free market as the fairest and most efficient form of social organization.

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Brief Bios

Ayn Rand was a Russian-American novelist, philosopher, playwright, and screenwriter. She is known for her two best-selling novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and for developing a philosophical system she called Objectivism. In 1957, Rand published her best-known work, the novel Atlas Shrugged. Afterward, she turned to non-fiction to promote her philosophy, publishing her own magazines and releasing several collections of essays until her death in 1982. In politics, she condemned the initiation of force as immoral, and opposed collectivism and statism as well as anarchism, and instead supported laissez-faire capitalism, which she defined as the system based on recognizing individual rights, including property rights. 

Friedrich Hayek, frequently referred to as F. A. Hayek, was an Austrian-British economist and philosopher best known for his defense of classical liberalism. Hayek shared the 1974 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with Gunnar Myrdal for his "pioneering work in the theory of money and economic fluctuations and ... penetrating analysis of the interdependence of economic, social and institutional phenomena."

Ludwig Heinrich Edler von Mises was an Austrian-American theoretical Austrian School economist. Mises wrote and lectured extensively on behalf of classical liberalism. Since the mid-20th century, the libertarian movement in the United States has been strongly influenced by Mises's writings. Mises's student, Friedrich Hayek, viewed Mises as one of the major figures in the revival of liberalism in the post-war era.

Mises's Austrian School was a leading group of economists. Many of its alumni, including Hayek and Oskar Morgenstern, emigrated from Austria to the United States and Great Britain. Mises has been described as having approximately seventy close students in Austria, and the Austrians as the insiders of the Chicago School of economics.

Milton Friedman was a U.S. economist and leading proponent of monetarism in the Chicago School. He won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1976. Friedman is known worldwide for his studies of the influence of the quantity of money (bank deposits and currency) in an economy on the level of production. He was a strong believer in the efficiency of the market and minimal government interference.

Robert Nozick was a Harvard philosopher whose most influential work presented an articulate defence of a bare-bones libertarianism, an alternative to the prevailing liberalism of academic circles. Nozick argued that the state cannot have a very large role in the economy and society if the libertarian rights of individuals are to prevail. In general, he argued against end-state theories, such as utilitarianism or John Rawls's theory of justice, and in favour of process theories that focus on the rightness of piecemeal actions independently of their contribution to a final state of affairs.