Sweet Libertarian Taxonomy

Via Nick Bradley's blog, I came across this list of ten useful libertarian categories. It skillfully breaks the "movement" up along its natural grain and gives the different tendencies a pretty fair shake in my opinion. Unfortunately the links in Nick's post won't take me to the quoted source.

I don't know how many arguments I've gotten into where the participants could have benefited greatly from a common vocabulary based on these groups. They could certainly threaten the strawman industry's profits. A left libertarians might get pissed if you lump him in with the lifestyle libertarians and will probably punch you in the face in you conflate them with dominionists or, heaven forbid, Randians.

The emphasis of my personal ideological progression was roughly 4-5-3-10, presently a mutualist. How about you guys? Do you take exception to any of these descriptions or can you think of any more types that should be added to the list?

1. Randians/Objectivists/Egoists - Meet John or Jane Galt. While most card-carrying Objectivists assert that they are not libertarian in name, the movement started by Ayn Rand (author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged) was and is an important influence on the thought of modern American Libertarianism (Cathy Young says that "Libertarianism, the movement most closely connected to Rand's ideas, is less an offspring than a rebel stepchild."). They imagine an individualist/collectivist and egoist/altruist dichotomy and put it at the heart of their entire worldview as the supreme good vs. evil (along with some peculiar axioms like "A is A" and "existence exists"). According to those influenced by Randian Egoism, greed is a virtue, while compassion is a deadly sin. The word capitalism can stimulate a spontaneous orgasm. They are prone to histrionics and delusions of grandeur.

2. Dominionists - Business giants and empire-builders, moguls, magnates and tycoons who don't want antitrust laws, industry watchdogs, trade unions or environmental, worker, or consumer regulation to get in the way of their ambitions. They often fund libertarian and right-wing think tanks and organizations. Silicon Valley had many Dominionist younglings in the 90's until most of them perished tragically in the bursting of the dotcom bubble.

3. Market Fundamentalists - Focused on libertarian theories of economics/political economy, Market Fundamentalists believe the capitalist free market is best for the common good, and any interference with said market is contrary to the common good. They frequently use concepts like "the wisdom of the market" and "the invisible hand," etc. Austrian and Chicago schools, neoclassical economics, neoliberalism, etc.

4. Naïve Libertarians - This was a hard to name category (I also considered "propagandist libertarians"). Naïve Libertarians are like Market Fundamentalists, except they usually parrot Market Fundamentalist arguments and harp on "how liberals are weakening America" instead of coming up with arguments and ideas of their own. They believe hardship doesn't befall people who do what they should do, the environment isn't in any real trouble and environmental/pollution problems are negligible, and big corporations are really responsible and good on their own ("Greenhouse gas emissions? Those are just 'unrequested carbon surpluses'"). They are likely to listen to/host right-wing talk radio or do/follow right-wing journalism, and usually amount to little more than apologists for the Right.

5. "Liberty" Libertarians - Their libertarianism arises primarily from their ideas on the metaphysics of personal liberty, around concepts like "non-aggression" and "self-ownership." Libertarian philosophers are usually in this category, some of whom were founders of the modern American libertarian movement.

6. Libertarian Republicans - More traditional conservatives; Republicans who are against neoconservative big government and/or the religious right; conservative critics of the Bush administration. They consider themselves the true conservatives, and usually base their libertarian ideas on their perspective on the U.S. Constitution. "Goldwater conservatives;" Republican Liberty Caucus.

7. Crazy Libertarians - Primarily concerned about gun rights and privacy. Many survivalists, conspiracy theorists, tin-foil-hatters, etc. tend to fall into this group. They are likely to live in a rural area, with an impressive arsenal and weeks worth of food stocked up to secure against a New World Order threat.

8. Lifestyle Libertarians - Like the Crazy Libertarians about guns, but also for drugs, sex, alcohol, uncensored material, not having to recycle, driving without a seatbelt, driving without a seatbelt at 100mph, driving without a seatbelt at 100mph while receiving oral sex, etc. They are basically people who want to do whatever they want. If conservatives want government to be your daddy, and liberals want government to be your mommy, Lifestyle Libertarians want to get rid of daddy and mommy and stay up all night eating ice cream and watching after-dark cable.

9. Localist Libertarians - Anti-Federalists, they would rather have autonomy distributed to the community level, like town halls, local school boards and churches, than a strong federal government or any centralized power. More Main Street than Wall Street, they are communitarians and traditionalists, largely Catholic, often Scouting enthusiasts, people with Norman Rockwell paintings throughout their homes, etc. More compassionate and worker-oriented than other libertarians, and more likely to be concerned with local environmental problems.

10. Left-Libertarians - A special category. Left Libertarians believe big, powerful government is as oppressive and bad as big, powerful corporations. They are anti-war (including the War on Drugs), pro-choice, and against government favors for corporations (or against large corporations altogether). They usually favor participatory action and mutual aid over government for social justice and environmental causes, as well as smaller, more local businesses and community-centered marketplaces. They may caucus with right-libertarians ("vulgar libertarians" is a commonly used phrase) for strategic purposes, which is the primary reason they are on the list at all. They are also likely to work with Green parties. Often Georgist on physical property and against extensive and restrictive intellectual property (and a major front behind Open Source), they are related to others of the broad libertarian left--agorists, mutualists, libertarian socialists, cyberpunks and anarchists; also "Buddhist Economics."

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3 then 5 with a pinch of 1.

3 then 5 with a pinch of 1. Aiming to be 2, but I may not have what it takes (an enormous amount of luck).

Scared of what Obama will do.

In principle, I'm a mixture of 3 and 9 but here lately I've been behaving like a 4 or 6 even though I don't mean to. ;)

10 then 8 with a big fistful

10 then 8 with a big fistful of 7. Always consistent, always an activist.

In liberty,

I've been through marxism,

I've been through marxism, social-democratism, then 6/4 then 5 and finally now a 10 with some 8 in it.

A 5 and a 3, with a pinch of

A 5 and a 3, with a pinch of 8, with sympathies for the 9's.

Facts about liberty

The comments show that this isn't a taxonomy in the usual sense, because individuals easily span several categories. Few horned owls are also hammerhead sharks. Probably not more than one or two, at the most. Restated as facts about liberty:

1) Ayn Rand was and remains influential.

2) Liberty is good for business.

3) There is a strong economic argument for liberty.

4) It doesn't take a PhD to value liberty.

5) There are strong moral arguments for liberty.

6) Liberty is a traditional American value.

7) The government cannot be trusted.

8) There is more to liberty than economic freedom.

9) Political fragmentation favors liberty.

10) Some leftists are friends of liberty some of the time.

Well Put

See above

I'll own up to being a 6 (I

I'll own up to being a 6 (I never claimed I wasn't on the right), but it really depends on the level of government for me. I'm a more committed federalist than I am a libertarian (is that being a 9?), so while I'd like to see the national government transformed into little more than a defense-oriented military and court system, I'd like to see a thousand flowers bloom at the local level.

Which is, incidentally, part of the reason I'm interested in seasteading (so that makes me a 7, right?). Personally, I don't think I'd want to live in a anarchist community (I'm an exceptionally boring person). But what I'd like to see is vastly more diversity, as well as freedom of choice, in governance.


Too many of these categories are laced with value judgments. Something like #6 "libertarian republicans" doesn't seem to come with an explanation of what these people actually mean. I don't know where to put myself or John Mackey of whole foods. Perhaps 5? That doesn't seem too specific though.


While there are elements of 3, 4, 5, 8, and 10 here, it seems to be missing my major category: anarchist consequentalist. This is people who have a personal preference for liberty, and also believe the empirical evidence is that liberty is the best means for achieving most people's ends. They tend to argue on practical, not moral grounds. They like anarchy because it seems like an economically efficient way to run government. They are interested in exploring ideas and systems, even if they are just theoretical. They think other people's preferences for equality are weird and short-sighted, but not evil.

Also, the whole seasteading philosophy is like a variant of (9) - it's all about local autonomy because of the principle of free association - the social contract is actually binding if people actually explicitly choose who to live with and where and how. It's very federalist / competing jurisdiction oriented, and has nothing to do with local environmentalism or scouting / religion.

Anyway, some of these categories ring true to me as being descriptive (1, 4, 10) but most do not.

They tend to argue on

They tend to argue on practical, not moral grounds. They like anarchy because it seems like an economically efficient way to run government.

Always implicit is the idea that we should want efficiency. Don't fool yourself, this is moral ground.

PT Barnum

I don't know where to put---- John Mackey of whole foods.

Where do well spoken con men who sell overpriced useless herbs and vitamins to affluent suckers belong in the pantheon of libertarians?Perhaps somewhere between 3 and 7.



con men?

I take it you're not libertarian, Dave!

I would do nothing to

I would do nothing to restrict John Mackey or any snake oil salesman. So I am libertarian.


Dominionists . . .

Be aware that there are Christian Dominionists aka Reconstructionists whose goal is to impost the Mosaic Law on the world. One justification for this is Premillenium (sp) theology which teaches that Jesus will not return until until "Christian" rule is imposed on the world. See google. There is little pragmatic difference between the left wing and right wing one-worlders.

Don't pigeonhole me! Yall don't <i>know</i> me!

No paleolibertarians. I think there might be more of them than left-libertarians, though both of them seem to have a fondness for localism. I used to consider myself a libertarian Republican though I was never a party-member or even a registered voter. I like it for the same reasons as #3 (see Policy Isomorphism) and I dislike a lot of the same things as #2s, even though I'm low on the corporate ladder right now. I'm dismissive of philosophy in general, so even while I like some of the same things as #5s, I don't think that gets us anywhere. I like guns, but I don't think they'll make a dent on the government. As long as the second amendment is not generally believed to encompass bazookas or more, it cannot preserve our freedom from tyranny. I really don't care about the lifestyle stuff, I'm just irritated about the effects of stupid policy directed at it (War on Drugs, I'm looking at you). I've learned a good deal from the Kevin Carsons of the world, but ultimately I can't be a lefty and don't share some of their basic values. I do try to avoid falling into the vulgar libertarian trap of defending something just because it's painted as part of the free-market. Intellectual property is one area where I've changed my mind. Now back to the beginning: I do consider myself an egoist, but of the Stirnerite sort. I'm glad I've never read Rand.

8 rather than 10?

This is a really useful list; I've been looking for a compact presentation of all the different flavors of "the coalition" for some time. I wonder, though, whether "Dominionists" really count as Libertarians? These seem to be people piggy backing on the movement for aims which are neither principled nor in line with our goals. As such, I'm not sure they really count as members of the movement over and above being infiltrators. With "naive libertarians," I see what you're getting at, but I don't think this is a fair category either. These are simply entry-level people who haven't really done enough reading to know which group they're in (or else they've been pigeonholed into calling themselves Libertarians by friends eager to fit them in the acceptable labels somewhere). Such people exist in any movement, and they never really reflect the ideological underpinnings. So I would suggest an 8-category list - with numbers 2 and 4 removed, but identical to this in all other respects.

Cool list.

I'm a mixture of 1,3,5 and 10 with a bit of 8.