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Bill Maher Addresses the ACLU

Edgy political comic Bill Maher addresses the American Civil Liberties Union. While issue-specific libertarian activism is still alive and well, the most visible advocates of broad-spectrum libertarianism today tend to be comedians.

Photo: Vince Bucci / Getty Images.
  1. One who believes that the only legitimate purpose of a government is to protect the rights of its citizens.
  2. Anyone who supports civil liberties to a greater-than-average degree.
  3. Anyone who believes in minimal, decentralized government.
  4. When the word "Libertarian" is capitalized, it generally refers to a member of the Libertarian Party.
For purposes of our discussion, we'll focus on the first definition.


The word comes from the French libertaire, meaning "anarchist."


Libertarian philosophy as we know it today has its roots in the classical liberalism of European political philosophers whose writings inspired the post-revolutionary governments of the United States and France during the latter years of the 18th century. The basic tenets of this classical liberalism are very simple:
  1. The legitimate purpose of government is to protect the rights of its citizens.
  2. People have a right to be left alone and live their own lives as long as they do not do so in a way that infringes on others' right to do the same.

Political Orientation:

Because libertarians tend to favor privatization and small government, libertarianism is often thought of as a right-wing movement more in keeping with the Republican Party than the Democratic Party. But changes in the Republican Party over the past 40 years, most notably with respect to social issues such as abortion and gay rights, have essentially marginalized the libertarian movement from both parties. Today it is arguably represented by the Libertarian Party, though the Libertarian Party's own record on civil liberties issues is far from perfect.
Also Known As: classical liberalism, laissez-faire government
Common Misspellings: liberterian

As an adjective:
  • "Megan Lehman made a forceful libertarian argument in favor of gun rights."
As a noun:
  • "Mitt Romney isn't much of a libertarian, but he sure has nice hair."
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