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Libertarianism (from Latin: libertas, meaning "freedom"), or libertarism (from French: libertaire, meaning "libertarian"), is a collection of political philosophies and movements that uphold liberty as a core principle. Libertarians seek to maximize political freedom and autonomy, emphasizing freedom of choice, voluntary association and individual judgement.

Libertarians share a skepticism of authority and state power, but they diverge on the scope of their opposition to existing economic and political systems. Various schools of libertarian thought offer a range of views regarding the legitimate functions of state and private power, often calling for the restriction or dissolution of coercive social institutions.

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Left-libertarianism (or left-wing libertarianism) names several related, but distinct approaches to political and social theory which stress both individual freedom and social equality. In its classical usage, libertarianism is a synonym for anti-authoritarian varieties of left-wing politics, e.g. libertarian socialism, which includes anarchism and libertarian Marxism, among others.

Left-libertarianism can also refer to political positions associated with academic philosophers Hillel Steiner, Philippe Van Parijs and Peter Vallentyne that combine self-ownership with an egalitarian approach to natural resources. While maintaining full respect for personal property, they are skeptical of or fully against private property, arguing that neither claiming nor mixing one's labor with natural resources is enough to generate full private property rights and maintain that natural resources (land, oil, gold and vegetation) should be held in an egalitarian manner, either unowned or owned collectively. Those left-libertarians who support private property do so under the condition that recompense is offered to the local community. Many schools of thought are communist, advocating the eventual replacement of money with labor vouchers or decentralized planning.

On the other hand, left-wing market anarchism, which includes Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's mutualism and Samuel Edward Konkin III's agorism, appeals to left-wing concerns such as egalitarianism, gender and sexuality, class, immigration and environmentalism within the paradigm of a socialist free market. In the United States, the word "libertarian" has become associated with right-libertarianism after Murray Rothbard and Karl Hess reached out to the New Left in the 1960s. However, until then political usage of the word was associated exclusively with anti-capitalism and in most parts of the world such an association still predominates.

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I see America with half the number of prisons, half the number of prisoners, ten thousand fewer homicides a year, inner cities in which there's a chance for these poor people to live without being afraid for their lives, citizens who might be respectable who are now addicts not being subject to becoming criminals in order to get their drug, being able to get drugs for which they're sure of the quality. You know, the same thing happened under prohibition of alcohol as is happening now.

Under prohibition of alcohol, deaths from alcohol poisoning, from poisoning by things that were mixed in with the bootleg alcohol, went up sharply. Similarly, under drug prohibition, deaths from overdose, from adulterations, from adulterated substances have gone up.

— Milton Friedman (1912–2006)
America's Drug Forum (1991)

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The Gadsden flag, named after American general and politician Christopher Gadsden who designed it in 1775 during the American Revolution, is today used by American libertarians
Credit: Lexicon, Vikrum

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Lysander Spooner
Lysander Spooner was a libertarian, individualist anarchist, entrepreneur, political philosopher, abolitionist, supporter of the labor movement and legal theorist of the 19th century.

Spooner is also known for competing with the United States Post Office Department with his American Letter Mail Company, which was forced out of business by the United States government. He has been identified by some contemporary writers as an anarcho-capitalist while other writers and activists believe he was anti-capitalist for vocalizing opposition to wage labor.

Later known as an early individualist anarchist, Spooner advocated what he called "Natural Law"—or the "Science of Justice"—wherein acts of initiatory coercion against individuals and their property were considered "illegal", but the so-called criminal acts that violated only man-made legislation were not. He believed that the price of borrowing capital could be brought down by competition of lenders if the government de-regulated banking and money as he believed this would stimulate entrepreneurship. In his Letter to Cleveland, Spooner argued: "All the great establishments, of every kind, now in the hands of a few proprietors, but employing a great number of wage labourers, would be broken up; for few or no persons, who could hire capital and do business for themselves would consent to labour for wages for another". Spooner took his own advice and started his own business called American Letter Mail Company which competed with the Post Office.


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