Libertarian Thinkers: Diverse, Innovative, Iconic

By Brandon Mioduszewski
March 19, 2019

Classical Libertarian thinkers are often overlooked. Although many Libertarians are aware of figures such as Ron Paul or Milton Friedman, the numerous thinkers who have contributed to the Libertarian thought bubble are overlooked. Lesser known Libertarian philosophers have many unique and compelling stories which deserve to be shared. For the purposes of this article, I will attempt to briefly showcase the diversity, history, and achievements of these aptly forgotten thinkers.

Lao-Tzu (6th Century B.C)

Ancient-era thinkers such as Plato, Confucius, and Aristotle among many others are famously known and studied diligently in academia. In contrast, many have hardly heard of Lao-Tzu (also known as Laozi), who was believed to have lived during the 6th century B.C. Often overlooked by his colleague Confucius, Lao-Tzu is seen as one of the first Libertarian-ideological philosophers. More famously known for the founding of Taoism, it is not known if Lao-Tzu truly existed. However, his collections of teachings known as the Tao-Te-Ching (Book of the Way) clearly support modern-day Libertarian ideology, whether written by him or not.    Commonly overlooked by his colleague, Confucius, Lao-Tzu held vastly different creed than Confucius. While Confucian thinking emphasizes strict adherence to the law, Lao-Tzu’s teachings focused on the liberties of man, claiming that “the more laws that one makes, the more criminals one creates”. Lao-Tzu preached a life of simplicity and lack of governmental interference in personal matters. Despite these differences, history shows that the Confucius possessed great respect for Lao-Tzu at a young age. Despite the obscurity and mystery behind the figure of Lao-Tzu, his central teachings of the core beliefs of freedom and lack of governmental interference are those that modern-day Libertarians can reflect on and build upon.

Friedrich Hayek (1899 – 1992)

Friedrich Hayek was an Austrian economic who made important contributions to the ideology of Libertarianism. Hayek’s work is reflected upon by economists to this day. He was not only famous for his own work, but for the harsh criticism of his colleague John Maynard Keynes. While Keynes believed in taxes to stimulate the economy, Hayek advocated for a free market. Hayek published many books such as The Fatal Conceit and The Constitution of Liberty which were some of the most influential sources of Libertarian ideology, advocated for an increase of civil liberties along with a decrease of governmental economic intervention.    As an economist, Hayek helped to popularize the idea of the Phillips Curve. Essentially, he supported that idea that the lower inflation is, the lower the unemployment rate will be as a result. This and many other economic philosophies helped Hayek with the fight against socialist and communist ideology. He continued to spread his ideas during old age at the University of Chicago, and later the University of Freiburg in Germany. Although many of his ideals of freedom were not respected in his day, today, Libertarians can reflect on his work and his economic platform, and find that it is very similar to ours.

Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)

Henry David Thoreau may be a more familiar name to Libertarians. Born and raised in Massachusetts, Thoreau was a famous American philosopher. He was one of the first strong voices to claim that individual rights were above the law – not only did he preach these beliefs, but he also lived them. After graduating from Harvard University, Thoreau lived off the grid in a house built by himself. Interestingly enough, he built his house on the property of famous American author and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson.     Living off the grid, Thoreau had lots of time to do philosophical writing. Although he published many works that support and form the ideas of individualism and liberty, his most influential work was Civil Disobedience. He begins the essay by stating his famous quote, “The government is best which governs least”. Thoreau goes on to say later in the essay that “Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison”. To Thoreau, personal values and morality are more important than the arbitrary and unjust laws set forth by the government. Overall, Thoreau has created a philosophy that is ingrained within the Libertarian culture – one of freedom, simplicity, and morality

These historical thinkers have each contributed large amounts to the ideology of Libertarianism – whether economically or socially. As Libertarians, we can admire and build upon their contributions. There are countless more examples of philosophers who have upheld these beliefs of freedom and individualism, and it is worth our while to study them.

References & Further Reading