Lisbeth Salander: A Strong Libertarian Heroine?

Updated on February 20, 2019
Garry Reed profile image

Garry Reed combined a professional technical writing career and a passion for all things libertarian to become The Libertarian Opinionizer.

Commentary From Your Libertarian Opinionizer

Where are all the strong libertarian female heroes?

With the sixth book in the series, The Girl Who Lived Twice by David Lagercrantz—he took over after original author Stieg Larsson died—scheduled for release in August, 2019 it’s time for all the Johnny- and Joanie-Come-Latelies out there who somehow missed all the Lisbeth Salander sagas to begin playing catch up right now.

Actually libertarians in general, Libertarian Feminists in particular and all other anarchists, voluntaryists and individualists who seek strong female heroes in fiction have hopefully long ago discovered and embraced Lisbeth Salander. Those who haven’t will love her.

She is the driving force in the original Swedish novels The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Trilogy (also known as “The Millennium Series”) by creator and author Stieg Larsson and, following his death by several years, two additional novels with the same primary characters by David Lagercrantz. Book six is in the works now.

Book Break: Your Libertarian Opinionizer’s Pick

Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy : (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) (The Girl Who Played with Fire) (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest) (Millennium Trilogy)
Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy : (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) (The Girl Who Played with Fire) (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest) (Millennium Trilogy)

The original Millennium trilogy sold over 27 million copies in 40 countries, spun off movies, a TV series, comic books, graphic novels and at least three additional follow-on novels. Creator Stieg Larsson became the first author to sell over a million e-books on Amazon.

While the novels are true thrillers the massive success of these books are ultimately driven by one of the most unique heroes to appear in modern literature, the sexual abuse survivor, social misfit, brilliant hacker, defiantly rebellious and intensely fascinating female character Lisbeth Salander.

Each book is stand-alone, but read in order they tie up all the loose ends in Salander’s world.


The Girl Who Could Be an Anarchist

Described in a New York Times review as “one of the most original and memorable heroines to surface in a recent thriller" Lisbeth Salander is no Ayn Rand style Dagny Taggart. To some readers she will come off as an antihero until they discover, if their minds are open, that her many failings are actually her most important strengths.

She’s in her mid-twenties, under five feet tall, pale with underdeveloped breasts, a rare crooked smile and so skinny some think she’s anorexic. Her goth-like look includes “red hair which she dyes black” along with several body piercings and tattoos including a wasp and, of course, a dragon tattoo.

For many libertarian fans she’s the girl with the porcupine tattoo. Other libertarians will see her as an embarrassing stereotype that plays into the mindset of superficial touchy-feely anti-libertarians incapable of seeing beneath the surface.

Salander’s backstory: She has been brutalized by male criminals inside and outside of the legal system since childhood. As a pre-teen she found her mother beaten so severely by a man that her mother was left mentally crippled for life. When she took revenge against the victimizer she was declared mentally ill and cast into Sweden’s social services system where she was physically, psychologically and emotionally abused.

But Salander, above all else, is a survivor. She learned never to speak to or even acknowledge the presence of state psychiatrists and other social service bureaucrats because “They never listen to me” or to the police because “They twist my words.”

That causes the establishment to regard her as an autistic sociopath, but in reality she is incredibly intelligent with a photographic memory and an intrinsic ability to understand systems, making her a chess master, a math genius and a world class computer hacker known as “Wasp” to her peers (and hence the wasp tattoo).

One fan identifies Salander as an INTJ (Introversion, Intuition, Thinking, Judgement) in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator which makes her a Mastermind in one of the four types belonging to the temperament he called the Rationals.

She is also a woman of unrelenting morality. She ruthlessly attacks men who abuse women and unrelentingly takes vengeance against all who would seek to harm her and the people she cares about. But Salander is never impulsive; at key moments, even in the midst of a crisis, she pauses to calmly perform a “risk assessment,” considering short term gains against long tem consequences before taking action. She is ruthless in the cause of justice but rational in the pursuit of it.

From there spin incredibly compelling and intricately plotted stories of murder, exploitation, perversion, corruption and cover-ups.

The Girl Who Attacks the Attackers

Have no doubt, the viciousness of the villains in these books are not for the weak of stomach. They commit sadist torture, sexual abuse, rape and other violent sex crimes. But there are also devoted heroes who come to Salander’s aid in spite of her emotionally cold and antisocial and frequently unforgiving behavior. In addition to highly principled men there are several strong female characters in the Lisbeth Salander books, including a cop, a private security operative, a lawyer, and the editor in chief of a crusading magazine.

Some see the character of Lisbeth Salander as a spiritual descendant of the female-Amazon warriors of early Greek mythology.

This is where libertarians can pause to consider the issues of what constitutes self-defense as opposed to revenge, what the difference—and justification—is between revenge and retribution, and when self-defense against initiated attack itself turns into initiated attack. If government law enforcement can solve twenty-year-old cold cases and bring perpetrators to court where justice is meted out why can’t individuals do the same?

Further, if the political, legal and social systems can throw people into cages even though they have harmed no one why can’t individuals mete out punishment against people who have actually done harm to others? Is “vigilantism” wrong even when the “legal” system fails? If “the law” is our law why can’t we take it “into our own hands?”

The Girl Who Could Be a Libertarian

For such a very libertarian-oriented series of books the word “Libertarian” appears only twice in the original trilogy. Both times, taken in full context, “libertarian” could be interpreted as the European usage meaning “anarchist” as well as the American usage meaning “Individual freedom and personal responsibility” as embodied in the non-aggression principle against coercion, intimidation and fraud.

In The Girl Who Played with Fire two of her most fervent male supporters have this exchange about Salander:

Armansky sighed and looked grimly at the old lawyer.

“And if she spends the next ten years in prison, at least she was the one who chose that path. I’ll still be her friend,” Palmgren said.

“I had no idea you had such a libertarian view of humanity.”

“Neither did I,” he said.

In The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest Erica Berger, editor in chief of the crusading Millennium magazine, is musing about a journalistic colleague when the author describes her thoughts:

Erika had never had an opinion about Morander. He was an anonymous power figure among the elite of editors in chief. In his editorials he came across as boring and conservative. Expert in complaining about taxes, and a typical libertarian when it came to freedom of the press.

Author Stieg Larsson himself was, according to one of his friends, a European-style anarchist—a libertarian socialist. While not the same as American libertarians, he, as all libertarians everywhere should, and as his Salander character does, “would not suffer even previously close friends once he had reason to believe that in fact they harbored racist, sexist or prejudicial views.”

Another reviewer takes the Salander character even further by stumbling over Ayn Rand’s philosophy. Under the headline “The Objectivist with the Dragon Tattoo“ Benjamin Kerstein wrote in PJ Media, “Salander often seems to have stepped into Larsson’s world from out of an Ayn Rand novel. She despises all institutions, whether they are business corporations, government agencies, or the Stockholm police.”

But those are just interesting digressions.

The Girl Who Became an Icon

While traditional conservatives will likely have little problem digesting the gore and torture in the Lisbeth Salander books many will need trigger warnings about the sex.

Leading man Blomkvist is an exuberant bed-hopper who sees no reason to hide his hopping habits from any of his various bedmates; he’s an open and honest cocksman. But his longtime obsession is his Millennium co-founder and Editor-in-chief Erica Berger, both of whom have the knowledge and consent of Berger’s beloved husband.

For her part Salander thinks of herself as neither bisexual nor lesbian but simply someone who enjoys whatever bed partner she’s attracted to, whether it’s her friend Miriam Wu or a pickup in a bar in Gibraltar or her journalistic colleague, the aforementioned Mikael Blomkvist.

Author Stieg Larsson died in 2004 after delivering his trilogy to his publisher, so he never knew how immensely popular his heroine became. His books were translated into English and several other European languages. In Sweden all three books were turned into movies as well as a six-part TV series. Hollywood released an English language version of Dragon Tattoo in 2011 and Lagercrantz’s sequel The Girl in the Spider’s Web in 2018. Three different actresses have played the titular role in the movies.

Lisbeth Salander is far from being every libertarian’s idea of a heroine but throughout all of the books she rarely deviates from libertarianism’s non-aggression principle and even then only in non-violent ways. She is violent only in self-defense and defense of others.

Many fans and reviewers alike recommend reading only the first three books by Larsson and ignoring the second trilogy by Lagercrantz. But many others will insist that even a poorly crafted Lisbeth Salander is better than no Lisbeth Salander at all.

So let’s finish this paean in back-cover book blurb style: The stories are a stew pot of violence, sex, crime, tangled webs of intrigue and suspense heavily peppered with libertarian-style heroes, flawed characters and page after page of deliciously viciously maliciously psychopathic, sociopathic and sickopathic villains. Enjoy!

References and Links

Books, Movies, Comics, Fan Pages, Reviews

Has a Socialist Created an Individualist Hero? “Indeed, not only is Salander a walking rebuke to the myths of Scandinavian socialism, but she is usually portrayed by Larsson as being absolutely correct in her attitude toward it.”

Dragon Tattoo Movie Review “So am I saying that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo represents a great new expression of radical libertarianism or anarchism? Well, it definitely represents a sea-change in the way I think characters in thrillers and action movies will be portrayed.”

Graphic Novels and Comics For readers who prefer both text and pictures the Millennial series has been turned into graphic novels and comic books. This 2017 “first look” article offers a review of and several panels from issue #1 of the comic series.

Facebook Fan Page Stay up to date with everything Lisbeth Salanger, from promoting the next book The Girl Who Lived Twice to a Stieg Larsson documentary to arguing for your favorite Salander movie actress and more.

Video View 1: A tribute to Lisbeth Salander

Video View 2: Sweden Isn't Socialist

Questions & Answers


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      • Garry Reed profile imageAUTHOR

        Garry Reed 

        11 months ago from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas

        Hi Doris,

        I love how the Swedish official says with a smug smile at the end of the Stossel video:

        “This is the dirty little secret of the Swedish tax system. We don’t take from the rich and give to the poor; we squeeze the poor because they are loyal taxpayers.”

        Translation: “They are loyal suckers.” Wonder if America’s Eat the Rich “Democratic Socialist Loyal Suckers” know this about their dreamy Scandinavian Utopia.

        The interview clips were taken from the full one hour documentary that was broadcast on public television:

        As for the books, start with the first—The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo—and it will tell you whether you want to read the others or not.

        Thanks for your comments!

      • MizBejabbers profile image

        Doris James MizBejabbers 

        11 months ago from Beautiful South

        I haven't seen the movie, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but now I'm interested. Thanks for the review. I had no idea why this girl was such a crusader.

        I watched the John Stossel video. Sounds like Sweden has the best of both worlds. Really? Squeezing the poor and privatized pensions just to name a couple. This country would have to find a way to keep the government's mitts off private pensions or it would take that money just as it has stolen the medicare fund and diverted it into selfish uses. And don't get me started on the loses of 401Ks to mismanagement in 2008. (Thank the gods I didn't have one, but my brother did.) Rotsa ruck folks. I believe it would be hard to retrain the Powers That Be in the U.S.


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