Libertarianism Versus Socialism for Dummies

I’m not a Libertarian although I strongly agree with some of its principles.

This post won’t be a scholarly enunciation either of Libertarian philosophy nor of Socialism (and all its sibiling labels). Rather, it is meant, partly in a light-hearted manner, to list out the main items of difference between the two schools and their adherents.

Disclaimer: Contains some broad generalizations but those more well-versed in the subject than I am, I’m sure will tend to agree.

Libertarian: Believes in minimal state interference in people’s lives
Socialist: Looks to the State as mai-baap

Libertarian: Believes in economics as the Prime Mover of a society/nation.
Socialist: Advocates the State as the Prime Mover of economics.

Libertarian: Trusts that people given the liberty, usually end up doing things beneficial to each other.
Socialist: Believes special people were made to guide the rest to decide on their behalf, what’s good for them.

Libertarian: Looks at state interference as a hurdle and/or creator of problems.
Socialist: Argues for more state interference as a solution to the problem which was created owing precisely to state interference.

Libertarian: Relies on reasoning, and the scientific method of analyzing a problem.
Socialist: Relies on anecdotal evidence and emotive outburst to approach a problem.

Libertarian: Emphasizes on economic activity for increasing societal prosperity.
Socialist: Emphasizes on social justice as a substitute for economic activity to achieve egalitarianism.

Libertarian: Understands people are endowed with different skills and talents and are therefore rewarded accordingly.
Socialist: Seeks to “equalize” these for the “greater benefit of the society.”

Rants, comments, criticism?

33 comments for “Libertarianism Versus Socialism for Dummies

  1. the word
    December 24, 2013 at 9:49 PM


  2. you dun know
    January 17, 2013 at 7:41 AM

    Why is everyone confusing Socialism with Stalinism or Maoism? Socialism means joint democratic ownership by the workers of the means of production. The idea being that whomever owns the means of production controls pretty much everything; in this way the people own their own institutions and factories. This is why the idea of revolutions are prevalent in Socialism, it is a complete upheaval of capitalism (where the means of production are owned by individuals). It is not simply a Satist totalitarian takeover of the current means of affairs.

  3. William
    July 18, 2012 at 7:17 AM

    This is a pretty good article for someone to learn some basic ideas about libertarianism. Your ideas about socialism are a little more basic, but you said you lean more libertarian so that’s understandable.

    It’s a good starting point but I do believe people need to go a lot further, especially in the current political climate. It’s not that your ideas are necessarily wrong, but people need to get beyond the simple labels.

    The conversation most people are having is that one is good and one is bad. But it’s not that black and white.

    For instance, any time the government adds a new regulation someone could say we’re becoming more socialist, or vice versa taking away a regulation could be considered becoming more libertarian. But few people would argue for complete deregulation, as well most would say too many regulations hurt business.

  4. Brian
    April 9, 2012 at 5:58 PM

    Large misrepresentation of socialism, here.

    Socialism does not have to be state socialism. Anarchy is Libertarian Socialism, for example. Voluntary.

    There is a monopoly of power centralized in the state. There is no other way to explain this.

  5. Tatesism
    December 28, 2011 at 2:33 AM

    This is clearly biased towards libertarianism

  6. Stern
    October 17, 2011 at 3:56 AM

    You need to explain more of the social aspect, that libertarians believe in not letting anyone tell you how to live your life. On a more realistic level, to let states decide their own laws. This is Ron Paul’s plan, vote for the sensible man

  7. Cameron
    September 8, 2011 at 4:25 AM

    Abel, Jay has explained much better than I can.

    Just I think people are far too stuck in their ways that it’s all black and white, left and right, choose your camp and stick to your guns.

    Whatever is happening on the planet Earth at the moment, things aren’t working out and I think more radical thinking than that is needed to get us out of this mess.

  8. Cameron
    September 8, 2011 at 4:21 AM

    Abel, look it up.

  9. Cameron
    September 8, 2011 at 4:20 AM

    You seem to have a fair understanding of libertarianism, however your reading of socialism is totally superficial. If you are not actually biased, then you are most definitely letting the popular [read: grossly oversimplified] view of what is actually an extremely broad, complicated and diverse section of political theory, affect your reading. The term socialism is chucked about in the US so much with most people not having a clue what it genuinely involves.

    I’m not saying your ideas are wrong, I strongly support many Libertarian values too. And much of what you say about socialism can be true in certain examples. But it is far, far too simplistic to view in this way only.

    You cannot sum up either of these -isms in a few sentences as you have just done.

    Look up Libertarian Socialism for a start.

    I also find it strange that at a time when Capitalism is quite clearly near it’s death throes, that so many Americans are still reaching out to it for salvation.

  10. Abel
    August 27, 2011 at 12:03 PM

    How can there be a “libertarian socialist”? Socialism by definition must be IMPOSED on everyone in society in order to work. There is no room for individual views or dissent since everyone must “cooperate” in order to make their socialist utopia work. Its the only system, along with communism, that does not tolerate any other ideas to exist. So somebody please explain to me how there can be such a thing as a libertarian socialist.

  11. David.H
    May 9, 2011 at 4:52 AM

    I have my own brand of libertarianism. You don’t tell me where, how and with whom I can live and believe what I will wish to believe. Complete liberty to he extent that it does not interfere with the same rights extended to all. These are all things which in my opinion are not the province of government, government which should be social in nature to ensure that the resource wealth of a land is used to provide social services for all people rather than exploited to enrich the few. The few who’s only ‘superiority’ is happenstance of birth or a complete lack of ethics to restrain their greed.

    btw ATTN Lori… if by some chance you should see this …. I very much liked your comment but I do disagree as I actually am a libertarian socialist. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive as the devotees of both sides will tell you.

  12. February 8, 2011 at 1:39 AM

    Wow, the most recent comment prior to mine is over a year old, but I’m thinking, why not comment anyway, since the comments span a period of almost four years?


    As other commenters have said in so many words, the article is basically a hit piece. It is basically a sevenfold repetition of the mantra that socialism is another word for government. The second bludgeon in this tirade is particularly illustrative of the comparison of apples to oranges:

    Libertarian: Believes in economics as the Prime Mover of a society/nation.
    Socialist: Advocates the State as the Prime Mover of economics.

    This is apples vs. oranges because you’re comparing what one group believes with what another group advocates. If by socialist you mean marxist, socialists emphatically believe that economics is the Prime Mover of a society/nation. That, in a nutshell, is exactly what they mean by ‘economic determinism.’ Libertarians and socialists both believe that economics is the prime mover of society. One sharp difference is that libertarians see this as a good thing, whereas socialists see it as a bad thing. I’m with the socialists on that one. As others have commented, there is such a thing as libertarian socialism, and in the history of ideas it is considerably older than either statist socialism or libertarian capitalism. One thing (one of few things) I would say all flavors of socialism have in common is a preference for cooperation over competition. One thing all libertarians have in common is rejection of the state, although with libertarian socialists it is most centrally the state as authority-wielder, whereas with libertarian capitalists it is the state as economic policymaker.

  13. Lynne
    January 8, 2010 at 3:27 PM

    I wonder what Rose Wilder Lane would think of the “progress of USA “and USA as a supposed bastion of human rights (enshrined in the constitution)” post Abu Graib, post anti Terrorism laws restricting individuals rights to freedom (especially if you are from a Middle Eastern background) and post Afghanistan not to mention the huge numbers of people now living in poverty in USA as compared to the progress of socialist leaning countries such as Sweden and Denmark.with their supportive social systems that have benefited the masses??

  14. Tyler
    December 30, 2009 at 7:52 PM

    October 29, 2008 at 3:07 AM | Permalink

    Thank you Brittany. I feel exactly the same. Socialism gives no incentive to better yourself.”

    If bettering yourself means making more money and buying more possessions, than yes. But if you can think outside of a capitalist mindset and focus on actually improving yourself as a human being, then Libertarian Socialism would allow people to better themselves. If we can remove the greed that capitalism relies on to thrive as an economic and social system then we can all realize that we are in this together.

    And what makes you think flipping a burger is worth less than going to medical school. That’s pretty ignorant. Intelligence is not wisdom and frankly I believe wisdom goes a lot farther than intelligence. Anyone can spend time studying and becoming intelligent, but wisdom is a lot harder to come by. Spending years training and then working in a profession requiring a lot of intellectual expertise can surely be rewarding, but it can take time away from a very different kind of learning.

    Besides the discussion on the values of intelligence versus wisdom, anything can be rewarding. I find monotonous tasks to be enjoyable as they give a person time to either deliberate on other matters or to be induced into a meditative state, where one could learn more about themselves.

    Many very intelligent people have chosen a physically demanding job over a more mental one because they enjoy learning for learning. They don’t need to use a job as a social status or a way to increase the amount of possessions they can aquire to distract them. They go to the construction site every day and stay healthy doing their job, then go home and read up on law books for fun.

    Life isn’t so black and white. Everything is a matter of perception. And perception itself is limited by the bodies we live in.

  15. Tyler
    December 30, 2009 at 7:41 PM

    Looks like Jay already gave a good little description of Libertarian Socialism. His descriptions about mutualism basically describe what I believe to be a real, true democracy. The United States was never meant to be a real democracy and has never been one.

  16. Tyler
    December 30, 2009 at 7:39 PM

    Looks like Jay already gave some pretty good insight. I should have read all the comments first. :D

  17. Tyler
    December 30, 2009 at 7:38 PM

    I have a huge problem with this little comparison. Not all Socialism involves Statism. There are two types of socialists. Those who value the state above the people and those who value the people over the state. Basically Anarchism vs. Statism.

    There are two different types of Libertarians as well. Right-Libertarians are Anti-Statists who believe in Capitalism. Left-Libertarians are also Anti-Statists who believe in Socialism. The Capitalist Libertarians frankly view money and possession as much more important speaking points than human rights and equality. Now that may sound a little slanted, as I am a Libertarian Socialist, but there’s a good deal of truth in the claim that capitalists value money over people.

    Anyway, two kinds of socialism and two kinds of libertarians.

    I hate when people assume all Socialists are Statists who love big government.

  18. Jay
    December 1, 2009 at 8:09 AM

    You know there are different schools within libertarian thought. There is a school called libertarian socialism which is what they call a left libertarian. Such libertarians support a non authoritarian (free), more egalitarian, democraic, non hiearchical society. Libertarian Socialists support a voluntary socialism that comes from the people voluntarily entering into common ownership of the means of production and/or land. As opposed to state socialism which is authoritarian and is not voluntary. An example of voluntary socialism would be some religious communities where the people have decided to hold all things in common, this being done without the state. I lean within a sub school of LS called mutualism. Mutualism supports a free market socialism. It argues for individuals owning businesses along with partnerships. In terms of larger scale businesses it supports worker cooperatives over capitalist corporations where the workers own an interest in the business and have a vote in how it is run. This is basically the democratic workplace. Mutualism supports community nonprofit banks/credit unions that would provide loans to such cooperatives at a very low interest rate. Mutualism supports private property based on possession and use of such property.

  19. Chuck
    November 9, 2009 at 2:33 PM

    Capitalism offers freedom and opportunity. Libertarianism empowers the individuals who are motivated, ambitious and self-governed. Socialism relies on the destruction of the individual to empower the state, which is a select few individuals that control it. Collectivism is a farce, and even if it was probable, which it isn’t…. It is not something at all that is appealing. Individual interest serves the greater good, not creating an illusory equality with those who are clearly not equal.

    Some people say that socialism and communism look good on paper, in theory, but I disagree. It doesn’t look appealing at any angle. Socialism allows the government to control individual virtue, restrict creativity, and abolish self-interest. Turbulent risk-taking freedom is infinitely more appealing than a safe and sedate oppression.


  20. Raghavendra
    May 27, 2009 at 9:27 AM

    Our civilization has experimented several of these theories,its better to revise these theory from Indian(Hindu) point of view. Our varna system though not feasible today, was once, a successful model,it was cooperative in nature compared to competitive western counterpart. Liberalism in American sense is little dangerous, India believed in free thought but society in terms of its customs, there never was much of freedom. I guess we can improvise on this, Indians should forget the America dream and should follow its own.

  21. Mahesh
    May 26, 2009 at 6:18 PM

    I guess the more relevant question to be discussed/debated is where does the hindu way of living lie in the socialism-libertarian axis. This is assuming that the people who visit this blog would have a pro-bjp stand and/or concerned with preserving the hindu way of living. I had the fortune of discussing this issue with Dr. David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri, and his view was it would be in proximity to the libertarian thought. I also hold that view. Minimum government, free market principles governing economics and individual responsibility on his/her actions.

  22. Vance
    May 26, 2009 at 4:22 PM

    I think you have illustrated perfectly both points of view. It all boils down to the question of who is mor important, the individual or the state. As a long-time Libertarian activist I vote for the individual. The only way the state has any power is through force (try not paying your taxes). It’s the iron fist of the government verses the gentle hand of liberty.

  23. Julie
    October 31, 2008 at 12:45 AM

    I think “Evil” corporations are the ones that rake in billions of dollars and run the country with the government in their pocket. Regulations on business practices should be stronger. While I’m perfectly comfortable earning a five figure income, people should strive for what they want. It’s at the expense of those who cannot achieve the same because of insurmountable circumstances that is wrong. This is an undeniable reality in the world right now. Socialism is an extreme answer though.

    Liberalism worries me because what about the care of mentally ill and developmentally disabled(which is my vocation)? Many don’t have families or help without government intervention. Just look out in the streets of any big city – the forgotten people. Are communities of this country ready to take care of those around them who can’t?

  24. Kristin
    October 29, 2008 at 3:07 AM

    Thank you Brittany. I feel exactly the same. Socialism gives no incentive to better yourself. Instead you end up with a pacifier from the government, placed there so you will continue to vote to whoever will keep that pacifier in place. It is a dangerous step for our country to go in. Once it’s doled out, it will be very hard to ween. And in these current financial times we should be encouraging people to succeed and create small businesses, use their ingenuity, not waiting around for a check.
    I’m much more in favor of creating individual opportunity through better education. Our schools are not keeping up with the pace of the changing world. Finance, business and accounting should be taught at earlier stages and in more detail for all American children so they all feel they have a chance at being a small business owner or understand small business.
    I feel that this deep divide on the issues roots back to business & corporations being looked at as evil from the left.
    But business, from massage therapists to sandwich shops to accounting firms all serve a purpose and a need.
    How will wealth redistribution help our economy in the long term?

  25. Brittany
    October 28, 2008 at 7:05 AM

    That last post wasn’t supposed to be for HyperTree. That was my mistake. It should have been directed at someone’s post on August 15, 2008.

  26. Brittany
    October 28, 2008 at 7:03 AM

    Hyper Tree-
    I don’t like the principle in socialism that everyone is equal. If everyone is equal, then there would be no reason to excel. If you’re not going to be any better than a McDonald’s burger flipper, then why go through the exhausting work of medical school?
    I am in between the two principles. I don’t align myself with either thought process fully, but I tend to lean more towards libertarianism than socialism.
    We keep hearing a lot about the distribution of wealth with this Presidential election, and I cannot stand it. I do not think that it is right for my money, which I earned by going through a lot of schooling and paid for entirely myself, to go to someone who is content to work a minimum wage job. People need to take the responsibility of improving their own lives upon themselves. John McCain said it best. We do not need the redistribution of wealth but rather the redistribution of opportunity.

  27. someone
    August 15, 2008 at 6:55 PM

    “to the problem which was created owing precisely to state interference”

    As someone torn between Libertarian and Socialism, I think this is a misrepresentation of the Socialist view. The people are at fault for creating this problem, if they weren’t then anarchy would work.

    I like socialism in that it makes everyone equal and is arguably more efficient, but I like libertarianism because it emphasizes the individual’s rights. Libertarian promotes values that I don’t agree with, however; such as capitalism and materialism.

  28. KaoruTheAnarchist
    November 13, 2007 at 6:40 PM

    This generalisation seems to ignore the fact that libertairian socialism, what some argue is the original libertarianism, is against state interference.

  29. March 23, 2006 at 10:06 PM

    A damning indictment of libertarianism; thanks!

    Relying on hegemonstic machinistic reason instead of a human pragmatic feeling? Emphasizing vulgar money, most probably obtained by unsustainable practices instead of a collectively joyous egalitarianism?

    Hopefully this exposition of the moral hollowness of the libertarian camp would lead more of the capitalist minions into the inviting arms of uscompassionate socialists.

  30. Sandeep
    March 22, 2006 at 3:43 PM


    Can’t please ‘em all :)

  31. doubtinggaurav
    March 22, 2006 at 3:02 PM

    You are going to get lots of people angry with this ;-)

  32. Praveen
    March 22, 2006 at 2:30 PM

    This post will help beginners understand the rants going at the libertarian and humanatarian cartels.

  33. Pingback: HyperTree

Leave a Comment