Home > big L, libertarianism > What’s the difference between a “big L” and a “small l” libertarian?

What’s the difference between a “big L” and a “small l” libertarian?

In my experience, a common source of confusion arises when discussing political issues with a self-identifying libertarian.  That is: an incomplete (or total lack) of understanding of the difference between “big L” and “small l” libertarianism.

For instance: some “small l”s are completely opposed to voting in political elections, which can lead to questions like “then how do you expect your party to ever get elected?”.  Herein lies the confusion.

A libertarian is one who advocates for the maximization of individual liberty, and/or advocates for the minimization (if not total abolition) of government, and/or follows the non-aggression principle.

A Libertarian is a member of the Libertarian Party, a political party based on libertarian principles.

Members of the Libertarian party are a subset of the libertarian community, who believe that the goals of limited (or abolished) government can be achieved through the political process.  Here it is in ven diagram form:

big L small l ven diagram

All Libertarians are libertarians, but not all libertarians are Libertarians.

So, libertarians who are opposed to voting can only be described as “small l” libertarians.  Ron Paul can generally be described as a “small l” libertarian, even though he is an elected member of the Republican party.  However, in 1988, when he ran for president on the Libertarian Party ticket, he could have been described as a “big L” Libertarian.

There are, unfortunately, cases of “Big L” Libertarians whose credentials as “small l” libertarians are questionable, but for the purposes of simplification (and my own sanity), we’ll try to ignore these individuals.

For more information on the Libertarian Party, visit lp.org.

For more information on libertarianism in general (big L and small), take a dive into the bottomless pit of articles over at mises.org.

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Categories: big L, libertarianism
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