Who started the libertarian movement?

…as answered on Quora….

The libertarian movement evolved. It was started by the first person to articulate the notion that initiating force is a bad idea not only when private citizens to it, but also when people in government do it.

Modern libertarianism, as understood in the sense usually discussed in America, is a revived and refined classical liberalism, with ties also to 19th century individualist anarchism, which was itself called “philosophical anarchism” in its heyday, and, most astutely, “unterrified Jeffersonianism.” The main libertarian idea can be found in a diversity of liberal writers, such as John Locke and Thomas Jefferson, but received its first clear discussions in the middle of the 19th century in writers like William Leggett, Henry David Thoreau, Herbert Spencer, Frédéric Bastiat, and Gustave de Molinari. The American brand of anarchism (which I do not regard as a form of anarchism) was invented by utopian experimenter Josiah Warren and jurist Lysander Spooner. But by the end of that century, though the obviously libertarian theory received a great deal of careful elaboration by writers who called themselves “individualists” — Auberon Herbert, J. H. Levy and Wordsworth Donisthorpe to name three — classical liberalism had collapsed as a movement, and for half a century only a few obscure figures and their favorite authors (like Albert Jay Nock) survived . . . as “a remnant.” (See Nock’s essay “Isaiah’s Job,” and his book Our Enemy, the State; see also Garet Garrett’s The People’s Pottage.)

Now, three American women novelists might be said to have “created” modernlibertarianism in the middle of the 20th century: literary critic Isabel Paterson (esp. in The God of the Machine), journalist Rose Wilder Lane (daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder), and Russian expatriate Ayn Rand (The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged). The revival of classical liberalism in the writings of two Austrian economists — Ludwig von Mises and F. A. Hayek — spurred the movement, intellectually, especially with their more overtly political books, the elder Austrian’s Socialism and Omnipotent Government, and the younger man’s Road to Serfdom. By the time Murray N. Rothbard made a name for himself in the 1960s, the intellectual movement was well underway. Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia basically sealed the deal, and, as an intellectual movement, libertarianism appeared on the American scene as quite robust by 1976, with Nobel Prizes in economics going to Hayek and the astoundingly brilliant Milton Friedman. Milton and his wife Rose Director, and their son David D. Friedman, were all important exponents of variants of modern libertarianism, with the son being the more daring and radical.

As a political movement, libertarianism erupted out of the Young Americans for Freedom organization in the 1960s and a political party forming after Nixon took the U.S. off the gold standard, which helped disenthrall libertarians from conservative politics.

The definitive account of libertarian history was written by Brian Doherty in Radicals for Capitalism.

N.B. The Jeffersonian reference is to a passage from Benjamin R. Tucker:

The development of the economic programme which consists in the destruction of these monopolies and the substitution for them of the freest competition led its authors to a perception of the fact that all their thought rested upon a very fundamental principle, the freedom of the individual, his right of sovereignty over himself, his products, and his affairs, and of rebellion against the dictation of external authority. Just as the idea of taking capital away from individuals and giving it to the government started Marx in a path which ends in making the government everything and the individual, nothing, so the idea of taking capital away from government-protected monopolies and putting it within easy reach of all individuals started Warren and Proudhon in a path which ends in making the individual everything and the government nothing. If the individual has a right to govern himself, all external government is tyranny. Hence the necessity of abolishing the State. This was the logical conclusion to which Warren and Proudhon were forced, and it became the fundamental article of their political philosophy. It is the doctrine which Proudhon named Anarchism, a word derived from the Greek, and meaning, not necessarily absence of order, as is generally supposed, but absence of rule. The Anarchists are simply unterrified Jeffersonian Democrats. They believe that “the best government is that which governs least,” and that that which governs least is no government at all. Even the simple police function of protecting person and property they deny to governments supported by compulsory taxation. Protection they look upon as a thing to be secured, as long as it is necessary, by voluntary association and cooperation for self-defence, or as a commodity to be purchased, like any other commodity, of those who offer the best article at the lowest price. In their view it is in itself an invasion of the individual to compel him to pay for or suffer a protection against invasion that he has not asked for and does not desire. And they further claim that protection will become a drug in the market, after poverty and consequently crime have disappeared through the realization of their economic programme. Compulsory taxation is to them the life-principle of all the monopolies, and passive, but organized, resistance to the tax-collector they contemplate, when the proper time comes, as one of the most effective methods of accomplishing their purposes.

Benjamin R. Tucker’s Instead of a Book, by a Man Too Busy to Write One (1893/1897).
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