A Quick Look at Various Libertarian Symbols
With early roots in anarchy, a current political party and a love of free markets, it's no wonder there are so many libertarian symbols. Or at least symbols for groups that are libertarian minded.
Libertarian symbols do get a bit mixed up so that more than one group claims it. And the groups using these symbols aren't always in agreement on principles. It's hard to see anarchists who are against any form of government working hand in hand with the Libertarian Party, which is trying to be a part of the government. But the overarching idea behind all the symbols is that of freedom.
One color that pops up frequently is gold, the official color of the Libertarian Party. Typically, it is associated with the gold of the marketplace and the idea of free markets.
With traditional liberty symbols, you'll see the Statue of Liberty make an appearance, but surprisingly not the Liberty Bell. It is the official symbol of the Liberal Party of New York, which is so not libertarian, but not other groups.
Statue of Liberty
Lady Liberty serves as the emblem for the Libertarian Party, the third-largest party in the country. It wasn't the first logo the party had, but trust me, it's a bit better than the original, an upward trending arrow with the abbreviation "TANSTAAFL" in the middle.
The abbreviation stood for the party's first slogan—There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch—taken from Robert Heinlein's book, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress.
For many years, there has been a small movement to adopt "LP" the Liberty Penguin as the official mascot, much like the Republican elephant or the Democratic donkey. The Libertarian parties of Tennessee, North Carolina, Utah, Hawaii, Delaware, and Iowa have all adopted "LP" as their mascot. This is a bit different and separate from the porcupine choice you'll read about below.
Totally cool looking, this one is. I so can see it as a tattoo choice. It's called Ama-gi and it's a Sumerian word for the emancipation of slaves believed to be the first written expression of the concept of liberty.
It's fairly popular amongst anarcho-capitalists, although as you'll see farther down the page, other symbols are a bit easier to draw and thus a bit more widely seen. You can find various groups using it to symbolize freedom and the journal of the Hayek Society at the London School of Economics is titled Ama-gi. The symbol is used as a logo by the Instituto PolitÃco para la Libertad of Peru, and another version is a trademarked logo of the publishing firm, Liberty Fund. (Not entirely sure how you trademark this, but if someone just thinks it's a picture, maybe so.)
Porcupine? Really? Seems like an odd choice for a symbol. Unless your idea of libertarians is a bunch of cranky, prickly people.
But wait, the porcupine, while prickly, isn't a cranky animal. In fact, the animal was chosen because he is a cute and cuddly creature who is friendly but nonetheless armed and ready to defend himself if somebody initiates aggression against him. It's been adopted by some as the animal of choice (like the Democrat donkey) for the concept of libertarian thinking, although not by the Libertarian Party. The stylized porcupine pictured here is one such representation. It's part of the logo for the Free State Project, which actually led to a more organized usage. Oh, it's also the symbol for the Libertarian Party of Nevada.
Seen here, the libertarian porcupine icon designed by Kevin Breen in 2006 mimics the Republican Elephant and Democratic Donkey. It has since been used to represent many local libertarian groups and included on major libertarian publications. It was meant to help establish libertarianism as a viable political ideal in a way that the Libertarian Party's mascot, the Statue of Liberty, can not because it is used by non-libertarians as a patriotic icon. The porcupine was chosen because the porcupine is a defensive animal. It does not shoot its quills (contrary to myth), so it does not harm anyone who respects its boundaries, analogous to the non-aggression principle.
You have probably seen this one before and had no clue what you were looking at. In fact, I ran across several people who said this symbol was demonic. Probably because an updated and stylized version of the circle A looks like blood and is frequently seen on skulls and as part of video games.
There are tons of symbols for anarchy, but this is the best known today. The capital "A" comes from the first letter of anarchy or maybe autonomous - I've seen the argument made for both. Anarchy meaning no government, autonomous meaning self0governance. You can see why people would prefer the latter. The letter "O", which makes the circle, stands for order. (Surprise!) The idea comes from "Anarchy is the mother of Order," the first part of a quotation. Or in the case of the second interpretation, Autonomous Order, which is Anarchism.
The first recorded use of this symbol was back in 1868 by the Federal Council of Spain of the International Workers Association. Of anarchists, anyway. There were a few other uses long before that time. It gained recent popularity starting in 1964 when used by a small French group, Jeunesse Libertaire ("Libertarian Youth"). Circolo Sacco e Vanzetti, a youth group from Milan, adopted it and in 1968 it became popular throughout Italy. It spread even farther in the 70s as part of the anarcho-punk movement, which introduced the symbol to non-anarchists, reducing the symbol to just a vague synonym for rebelliousness rather than its true political meaning.
If you paid attention in history class, you've heard the phrase "Don't Tread on Me" as part of the Revolutionary War lesson. The Gadsden Flag was the fist flag ever carried into battle by the US Marines during the American Revolution. Could you imagine if we had decided to go with it instead of the Stars & Stripes?
You see the Gadsden Flag trotted out as a symbol of American patriotism, disagreement with the government and support for civil liberties, all libertarian ideas. Beginning in 2009, it became the adopted symbol of the Tea Party movement, causing all kinds of trouble for people who wanted to display the flag based on the original use of it. (Frankly, I find it an odd choice for the Tea Party, but whatever.)
No matter what the origins, one would immediately associate this flag with libertarian ideals given the phrase, which definitely is a statement of individual freedom.
Voluntaryism is probably a new one on you. It was for me. It's a philosophical system of beliefs based on the non-aggression principle whereby society orders itself through exclusively voluntary terms.
Basically, it plays from the idea that government authority comes at the point of a gun (force) and that force is fundamentally wrong (a violation of personal freedom). So voluntaryists reject forms of government where power doesn't come from a voluntary association. They're very anti-tax, as you can imagine, as that is one of the supreme examples of governmental force.
The symbol uses the black and gold colors of the anarcho-capitalist movement, and this particular symbol has a stylized version of a handshake at the top to represent the voluntary nature of the agreement.
Given the core concept of free markets, it shouldn't be surprising that the dollar sign shows up among the various symbols. Understandably popular with anarcho-capitalists, although some also say with Objectivists. (Objectivists would disagree, saying they have no symbol as Ayn Rand never wanted one.)
This particular version shown here is the Libertatis Ãquilibritas (Latin for "the Equilibrium of Liberty") created by Per Bylund and used by some adherents of anarcho-capitalism. It is based on the Circle, but you can see the yin/yang image and dollar sign are also present. The idea is more of balance of a free market rather than anarchist society (the yin/yang) and capitalism and the natural right to private property (dollar sign)
The duality symbol is a bit of a repeat from the one above, only a tiny bit (ok, a lot) less subtle in its design. The concept is one of a positive attitude toward peace and money rather than a negative one toward government.
This particular symbol was created by Harry Reid back in 1991. He used the peace sign as a symbol from the 60s for opposition to war and the establishment (as well as a connection between hippies and libertarians on the drug thing). The dollar sign was chosen because it stands for "having money, making money, caring about money". The yin/yang was included to show the two ideas supporting and enabling the other to exist.
Thanks for stopping by!
Comments or questions?
Nate on July 08, 2020:
I personally think it should be a rattlesnake that is the official symbol unanimously with porcupine and penguin as sub groups for extremists on both spectrums. The rattlesnake perfectly represents as it will not go out of its way to attack you and will leave you alone, it will however warn you with its tail rattling, and if provoked will end you swiftly. It doesnt want to but knows it can. Just like the people of the libertarian party. They just want peace and freedom, but will fight for it fiercely if provoked.
Robert on January 04, 2018:
There's a few missing, including different variations of the TANSTAAFL, flag of luna, the line with an arrow crossing it.
anonymous on July 14, 2013:
@Lewister: You're kidding me right? Have you recently read the US constitution? Section 8 states the duties of the government far beyond two roles. One of which states regulating commerce between nations, states, and Indian tribes. Anarchy is a joke. A balanced non-dictatorial and just government is what has proven effective.
Kimberly Schimmel from Greensboro, NC on April 25, 2013:
@clp3777: Yes, the porcupine is perfect! You only get hurt if you mess with it--just like Libertarians live and let live.
clp3777 on August 23, 2012:
Love the porcupine! Gonna use it for (L) purposes from now on!
anonymous on August 19, 2012:
@Lewister: actually the constitution gives four responsibilities: Defence, Courts, Regulate trade between states and countries and operate a post office..
LisaDH on July 28, 2012:
Love the porcupine!
Susan (author) from Texas on February 14, 2012:
@Edutopia: You're going to have to read far more on voluntaryism than I provided here to get the answers to those questions. Because there are a couple of different takes on the philosophy (of course) and it gets pretty detailed.
First - government, through the people, settle on a tax rate. Two problems here, first being that what if only 51% of the people agree to the tax rate? They're forcing the other 49% to go along with it. Majority rule is a form of force. Secondly, when the gov't agrees to a tax rate, it has to enforce that rate, which currently means going to jail if you don't pay up. Again, a form of force (regardless of what anyone agreed to).
As to dissolving government, there is a role for them to play. (Well, maybe not to voluntarists, but generally.) The US constitution gives it two roles (and only two!) - protection from outside forces and the court system. Neither of which involve regulating the free market in any way. So you can have government without having regulation of the market. What happens today is people want no risks and perfect guarantees and that's not possible. But they try anyway by making all kinds of rules.
Somalia - doesn't just not have a government, it is in a state of lawlessness. And none of those people are following any libertarian principles. They're all about getting in each others faces and business - hardly a live-and-let-live kind of place that would make it a good example for your argument.
Edutopia on February 14, 2012:
You say that Voluntaryism is strongly anti-tax because taxes are a supreme example of government force but this raises a few questions for me. Namely If they agree that a government should only form under the united support of its followers and the people, through the government, settle on a tax rate why would this be a bad thing?
Also if the existence of any regulation means you can't have a truly free market and any amount of government is a form of regulation than to have a truly free market we should dissolve all government. That being the case the only real world example of this in practice would be pretty much Somalia, and they aren't exactly known for their liberty or freedom.