Neo-libertarianism has its roots at least as far back as 1980 when it was first described by James Sterba of the University of Notre Dame. Sterba observed that libertarianism advocates for a government that does no more than protection against force, fraud, theft, enforcement of contracts and other "negative liberties" as contrasted with "positive liberties" by Isaiah Berlin  He contrasted this with the older libertarian ideal of a "night watchman state", or "minarchism". Sterba held that it is "obviously impossible for everyone in society to be guaranteed complete liberty as defined by this ideal: after all, people's actual wants as well as their conceivable wants can come into serious conflict. [...] [I]t is also impossible for everyone in society to be completely free from the interference of other persons". In 2013, Sterna wrote:
I shall show that moral commitment to an ideal of "negative" liberty, which does not lead to a night-watchman state, but instead requires sufficient government to provide each person in society with the relatively high minimum of liberty that persons using Rawls' decision procedure would select. The political program actually justified by an ideal of negative liberty I shall call Neo-Libertarianism.
The concept of neo-libertarianism gained a small following in the mid-2000s among commentators who distinguished themselves from neoconservatives by their support for individual liberties and from libertarians by their support for foreign interventionism.
- "Positive and Negative Liberty". plato.stanford.edu. Retrieved 12 October 2018.
- Sterba, James (1980). Justice: Alternative Political Perspectives. Wadsworth, Inc. p. 175. ISBN 0-534-00762-7.
- Sterba, James (2013). The Pursuit of Justice. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 52.
- Freund, Charles Paul (April 2005). "You Know You're Neolibertarian If..." Reason. Retrieved 12 October 2018.
- Franks, Dale (November 2012). "Bryan Pick's Suggestions for the GOP". QandO. Retrieved 12 October 2018.