The Libertarian Purity Test

By skepticlawyer

Via the Australian Libertarian Society blog, I came across this rather amusing little exercise in placing oneself on the political spectrum. I still prefer the more famous ‘World’s Smallest Political Quiz‘, in large part because it gives one a strong visual sense that there are two axes along which freedom may be plotted (economic and social), which is very useful for sorting the libertarians from the conservatives, and the left-liberals from everyone else.

That said, this is entertaining, and as the author (George Mason University’s Bryan Caplan) says:

This is the Libertarian Purity Test, which is intended to measure how libertarian you are. It isn’t intended to be any sort of McCarthyite purging device — just a form of entertainment, hopefully thought-provoking. I like it a lot better than the more famous “World’s Shortest Political Quiz” because I haven’t stated the questions with any intent to give an upward bias to a test-taker’s score, and because it gives a clearer breakdown between hard and soft-core libertarians. Enjoy, suggest your friends try it out, and see how you compare to other test-takers…

I scored 62 on the Caplan test, which makes me a moderate libertarian, although there are no questions (as one commenter noticed over at the ALS) on firearms, which tend to make me appear more libertarian whenever they come up. I also have a somewhat Aristotelian view of the state: that it can (sometimes) be a vehicle for very good things, as I discussed in this post on Lorenzo’s excellent piece at his place.

My view of ‘good things’ tends not to be the things commonly imagined: I don’t think the state is very good at welfare provision, for example, and the empirical evidence is becoming stronger on this point. It is, however, good at putting men on the moon or uniting us when we are threatened. Just as states produced fascism and communism, states enabled us to fight them off.



  1. Posted March 30, 2010 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    22, still well inside the same category as LE. I think I scored most of my points opposing conscription, cutting the military budget, legalising dope and telling officialdom to get its rosaries off my ovaries.

  2. Jason Soon
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 8:18 am | Permalink


  3. Posted March 30, 2010 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    I scored 79. I might have got higher except I don’t accept the implicit argument that staying home and ignoring tyranny in other countries is libertarian. In my view it is quite consistent to knock off dictators and despots provided it is achieved in an economical manner.

  4. Posted March 30, 2010 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Part of my relatively low score came from the rather formidable mixture problem some of the questions presented. The one suggesting the US should withdraw from all its military bases — then enumerating them all — had me agreeing with some bits but not others. This must have happened half a dozen times.

    There’s also the problem that the test is designed for people in the US, and I’d answer some questions differently if I were living in Australia or the US rather than the UK.

  5. Posted March 30, 2010 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    “Privatising courts and the law!?!? ”

    Arbitration, underpinned by Uncitral. And it has to be said that legal practice is already largely privatised.

    I got 35, was surprised it was that high. Property rights and criminal law both got an under treatment, usual story with libertarianism.

  6. Posted March 30, 2010 at 8:57 am | Permalink


    Obviously, I need to try harder 🙂

    But it seems about right: “my libertarian credentials are obvious”.

  7. Peter Patton
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Gee, I have always disavowed libertarianism, yet I got 56!

  8. Patrick
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 11:25 am | Permalink


    Armagny, are you sure there is not a bit of cognitive dissonance in the idea of privatising courts and replacing them with UNCITRAL principles?

  9. Posted March 30, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Cognitive dissonance? Sure, I agree (if I’ve interpreted what you mean by that here correctly) – AND I think arbitration is overrated from an ADR point of view (given arbitrators are usually phenomenally expensive QCs).

  10. Sinclair Davidson
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 2:18 pm | Permalink


  11. Posted March 30, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Jason and Sinkers, you can’t just post a number! Comments, please 😉

  12. conrad
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    62, but I wouldn’t consider myself a libertarian.

  13. Posted March 30, 2010 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    31-50 points: Your libertarian credentials are obvious. Doubtlessly you will become more extreme as time goes on. (Well, just, at 33)

    Yep… prefer the two axes of economic v personal freedoms. (And yes, if I had all my ‘druthers, the Fed and taxes /could/ be abolished because there would be no money, all resources collectively owned… resources from each according to ability to each according to need…. NEED not desire).

    Hell… I expected a score of -100!

  14. su
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    I think it is a takeover bid to claim all of the political territory that is worth having, David. We are all libertarians now (30).

  15. Posted March 30, 2010 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    Su, seriously, every single question on that test has been a standard libertarian argument for many years. The clue is the picture of the famous libertarian theorist — Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand, Ludwig von Mises etc. If you’ve read their stuff, you’ll recognise the questions nearest their portrait from their published scholarship.

    Years and years ago I think it was David Leyonhjelm (upthread with a 79) who pointed out to me that there were a lot of people of many different political stripes who had very significant overlap with libertarian ideas, they just didn’t know it because (basically) libertarians have been fairly crap at spreading knowledge about their ideas.

    This may have been to do with the fact that libertarians — while surprisingly numerous — have tended to ally themselves with mainstream political movements to achieve anything, whether it be with the left to end conscription and achieve abortion law reform, or with the right to end overregulation and bring about lower taxes.

  16. conrad
    Posted March 31, 2010 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    Dave: I think part of the problem is the economic part, not just combining the social and economic part. For example, I don’t like middle-class welfare, which means I think taxes are too high etc. However, I don’t really care about paying taxes to support people that really are in hopeless positions (i.e., those people that others love to complain about, like young single mothers etc.). I don’t think that makes me a libertarian, but it gets me up the scale on economic issues.

  17. Jason Soon
    Posted March 31, 2010 at 5:58 am | Permalink


    well basically I answered yes to virtually every question Milton Friedman except some of the defence ones (thinking from the perspective of an Australia who free rides on the US’s security shield), almost all the economic questions preceding Rand again except the defence and bombing ones and none of the ones preceding Rothbard except the roads and Fed one.

  18. su
    Posted March 31, 2010 at 5:58 am | Permalink

    It is a good way to point out as you say, the overlap of ideas, but the categorization is a little weird as it casts a very wide net. An extreme pacifist who answers yes accordingly up to and including the disbanding of the military still scores in the soft libertarian range even though they are illiberal on everything else including drugs, sex and free speech!

  19. Posted April 1, 2010 at 10:15 am | Permalink


    Again the questions in these things are not nuanced enough and because they’re about the US I’m not entirely sure how to answer some of them. In an ideal world I’d answer ‘yes’ where I answered ‘no’ some places but it’s not an ideal world.

    We need an educated population for example, I think vouchers are a good idea, I’d like to see an entirely private system but if we do that we could end up with a lot of sub-standard education -um 🙂

    I think classic liberal policy should take on board the class system critique asserted by socialists with a view to designing policy that allows for liberty whilst creating a game plan open enough to ensure that socio-economic heredity doesn’t absolutely determine one’s destiny.

    I always find it weird that so many libertarians have these purity contests. They remind me of left-wing pissing stoushes: a how-puritan-are-you farrago. Reason loses. Surely if one believes in individual liberty one has an obligation to recognize and respect the diversity of opinion rather than attempting to enforce some conformity with the ideological codebook?

  20. conrad
    Posted April 1, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    “I always find it weird that so many libertarians have these purity contests. They remind me of left-wing pissing stoushes: a how-puritan-are-you farrago. ”

    I think this happens everywhere. I have a funny story about a friend who joined a hippy commune. It basically started out being your standard hippy fare (vegetarian, environmentally friendly etc.), but as the years went by, they got more and more extreme about the environment and so on — so extreme that they started arguing about what was ethical to wear. This ended up as road-kills and things could grow. In addition, they became more and more rejecting of anyone with views different to themselves — apparently, at some stage, some guy turned up that wanted to join with a pet chicken from which he ate the eggs that were laid. This of course meant he failed the test, and wasn’t even considered. So what went from being an environmentally friendly group trying to live a “natural” lifestyle ended up as a group of raving authoritarian loonies.

  21. Posted April 1, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    The other problem with these sorts of tests is that you know the answers.

  22. Patrick
    Posted April 1, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    That’s a non-sequitur, Adrien, as well as misplaced.

    If one really believes in individual liberty then there are real limits to how far one can accept other people’s ‘legitimate’ opinions. This is commonly summarised by the aphorism ‘your freedom to swing your arm ends where my nose begins’.

  23. su
    Posted April 1, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Sounds a bit like Animal Farm Conrad and I have seen similar things on a smaller scale, but it has made me very wary of insular groups. I heard tell of a couple of blokes who raised the money to build their boat by selling hot dogs at the Channon markets in the late 70’s. They did a roaring trade amongst the many vegetarians-under-sufferance, compelled to adopt vegetarianism by their partners. A triumph of entrepreneurship. They called their boat “The Rat” and it sank on its maiden voyage but after patching it up they made it all the way to the Mediterranean.

  24. Posted April 1, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Adrien: that’s why I went to some trouble to quote Bryan Caplan’s comments. In some ways, he’s taking the piss out of the concept of the purity test, as well as encouraging us to use the little grey cells.

  25. Dave Bath
    Posted April 1, 2010 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    OK… purity…. as I understand Libertarian dogma, it involves doing what you want if it harms no-one else. (Gross oversimplification, I know).

    So… given that all acts involving thermodynamic changes cause the universe to run down quicker, profligate acts could be seen as universally a Bad Thing… but you’d still have the choice for suicide.

    Example of thermodynamic profligacy that is otherwise “sinless” : running two pollution and noise free solar-powered devices in the same room at the same time: a cooler and a heater. OK, I know it’s a hypothetical case, but I wonder how the purists would deal with this one… thermodynamic versions of “sumptuary laws” in order to avoid killing the universe?

    (Ooooh…. I can see it now… the same cabal of climate-change deniers getting stuck into Newton and astrophysicists!)

    as to [email protected]: Hit the nail on the head with the need for a community to make communal ownership viable – the problem is how limited or universal the sense of community you have: some people treat the neighbors as inconsequential, others see the “common bonds between all people” (roughly translating Cicero) extending to all humans… or even further. That’s the result of education… either a decent education or brainwashing depending on your point of view.

  26. Joseph Clark
    Posted April 1, 2010 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    143… and I always thought of myself as a moderate :/ Maybe people would have scored higher if the questions asked about partial privatisation of the law. Most libertarians think quite a lot of the law can be privatised, just not all of it.

  27. Patrick
    Posted April 1, 2010 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    Dave, as a broadly libertarian person, I can answer your hypothetical.

    With a blank gaze.

  28. Boris
    Posted April 3, 2010 at 10:28 pm | Permalink


    “The other problem with these sorts of tests is that you know the answers.”

    That’s the main problem.

    Also I think I did this one ages ago – unless they are all the same. Talking medicare in the US when they are overhawling the entire system suggests this is quite old…

  29. Posted April 4, 2010 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Ah, proximity, a bit of tort law that died a natural (or was that unnatural?) death.

    And welcome back, Boris. You were missed.

  30. Posted April 7, 2010 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    If one really believes in individual liberty then there are real limits to how far one can accept other people’s ‘legitimate’ opinions.

    Yes indeed. One can’t accept a Nazi as an ally if one is liberal. But there’s a range of diversity within acceptable limits which are broad. People who acftually endorse liberalism should endeavour to keep those limits broad and very few in number. That’s the whole point ‘ey?

  31. Posted April 7, 2010 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    encouraging us to use the little grey cells.

    He should watch himself. He might be up in front of Dick Cheney’s House UnAmerican Activities Committee when next the GOP gets in. That guy’s Ze terminator: He’ll be back.

  32. dr00
    Posted April 10, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    got a 98, not far off the good professor which is good to hear.

    almost all of my Nos came in part III

  33. Posted April 22, 2010 at 4:14 am | Permalink

    Most of mine came in part III as well, dr00. Some of them made my eyes water a bit, even though I understand the theoretical logic behind the questions.

  34. Posted April 22, 2010 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    “proximity, a bit of tort law that died a natural (or was that unnatural?) death”

    I’m happy to say that one of my few triumphs as an otherwise pretty mediocre law student was writing an HD essay hammering the use of the concept.

    Such a tortured way of just saying, owning up to the real reason: ‘we do not feel, in the vibe, that it is right to grant relief to this person in these circumstances’.

    A bit of cross-pollination with equity (dirty hands) would have been far better for the law in my view.

  35. Posted April 22, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps… I guess there is also that distinction where equity saw itself as beyond basic remedies of the law, a sort of privilege. But is it really consistent with the rule of law for a judge to deny an ostensibly applicable remedy because of a notion that policy/proximity/vibe matters suggest it shouldn’t apply?

    Things that make lawyers go hmmm.

  36. Posted April 28, 2010 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    That reminds me of all the young British lawyers I have introduced to the concept of ‘it’s just the vibe, M’Lord’. Not to mention The Castle

  37. Tim
    Posted May 2, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    I scored 88. And I consider myself more conservative than libertarian. But some labels create more heat than light. Some of the questions are fanciful, and there really isn’t anything about keeping the federal government, in particular, within its constitutional bounds.

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