The First Libertarians

This week in my Western Civilization course on the Ron Paul Curriculum, I learned about the Levellers, the first organized Libertarian society.  Now, I will answer this question from my instructor: Dr. Tom Woods.

Who were the Levellers, and what did they believe in?”

(Just a quick note, all words or sentences in “” are from a quote I will be sharing with you later.)

The Levellers, a political movement during the 17th Century, were one of the first libertarian societies to exist.  I am sure others in the past had considered these ideas but not with the same intent of creating a party.  Please do not confuse this group with another group called the Diggers.  The Diggers and Levellers couldn’t be more different.  While the Levellers believed in private property, the Diggers believed in common property.  They were the exact opposite from each other.

Levellers were libertarian but who are they and what do they believe in?  Their leaders and founders were these three men:

  • Richard Overton
  • John Lilburne
  • William Walwyn

These men, together, were able to create a whole system of how things should be run from a libertarian perspective.  This included certain rights like, private property, self-ownership and religious freedom.

Now, if what I said didn’t make any sense, just read this quote by Murray Rothbard,  he was an economist, libertarian and professor at Mises Institute.  This is what he said about the 17th Century libertarians:

the world’s first self-consciously libertarian movement. … In a series of notable debates within the Republican Army — notably between the Cromwellians and the Levellers — the Levellers led by John Lilburne, Richard Overton and William Walwyn, worked out a remarkably consistent libertarian doctrine, upholding the rights of self-ownership, private property, religious freedom for the individual, and minimal government interference in society. The rights of each individual to his person and property, furthermore, were natural, that is, they were derived from the nature of man. … And therefore were not dependent on, nor could they be abrogated by government. And while the economy was scarcely a primary focus of the Levellers, their adherence to a free market economy was a simple derivation from their stress on liberty and the rights of private property.”

This quote just summed up everything that I was talking about!  Rothbard explains who the Libertarians were and who they were led by.  He also explained what their beliefs were.   I don’t think there is much more for me to explain.  Here is where I got the quote, if you are interested in learning more about the Levellers.

Quinn Palmer

RPC Student



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