Pub. date: 2011 | Online Pub. Date: October 04, 2011 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412994163 | Print ISBN: 9781412959636 | Online ISBN: 9781412994163| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
Libertarianism refers to a normative political theory that gives top priority to the value of freedom of choice over other competing political values; moreover, libertarianism understands a person to possess freedom of choice so long as no other agent coercively interferes with his or her choices. Since the state characteristically acts by defining laws and coercively enforcing them, libertarians’ hostility to coercion typically leads them to conclude that only a very minimal state is legitimate—namely, a state whose only purposes are to protect citizens against acts of coercion (murder, assault, theft, and so on) and acts of fraud in a system of free enterprise. As a result, libertarians regard the modern welfare state to be illegitimate. Defined in this way, libertarianism names a family of political theories rather than a single theory; diversity among libertarian political theories arises depending on just how strong a priority is given to the value ...