The Origins of Libertarianism

A Bit of History

When I first heard the term “libertarianism” in the early 1950s, I mentioned it to Ayn Rand as a possible name for our political philosophy. She was suspicious of the term and inclined to dismiss it as a neologism. “It’s a mouthful,” she remarked. “And it sounds too much like a made-up word.”

I answered, “Maybe so, but what alternative do we have?”

She said, “We’re advocates of laissez-faire capitalism.”

I answered, “Sure, but that’s kind of a mouthful too – it’s not a one-word name – and besides, it puts the whole emphasis on economics and politics and we stand for something wider and more comprehensive: we’re champions of individual rights. We’re advocates of a non-coercive society.”

I suggested that “libertarianism” could convey all that by means of a single word – especially if we were to define “libertarianism” as a social system that (a) barred the initiation of force from all human relationships and (b) was based on the inviolability of individual rights.

Ayn considered this suggestion briefly, then shook her head and said, “No. It sounds too much like a made-up word.”