With the rise of progressivism on the left and religious fundamentalism on the right, America's core parties have also gone through a metamorphosis in terms of how each are perceived, respectively. For example, when someone says he or she is a "conservative," an outside observer may take that to mean that the person is socially conservative or traditional in the vein of Rick Santorum or Sarah Palin. Likewise, when someone identifies him or herself as a "liberal," there tends to be an implied connotation that he or she might be secular or at least holds views which are ideologically opposed to traditional Judeo-Christian principles.
On his Wednesday evening broadcast, Glenn Beck hosted a panel of libertarians including Jacob Hornberger, founder of the Future of Freedom Foundation, Jack Hunter, a radio host and columnist, and Zachary Slayback of Students for Liberty to discuss how libertarians can come together despite its members harboring divergent views on certain issues. For instance, Hunter believes that Sen. Rand Paul is both conservative and libertarian and that the two ideologies can be compatible with each other, while Slayback disagreed. The conversation continued in the same vein throughout the segment and offered insight into this unique political philosophy.
In the broader sense, libertarianism is a political philosophy whose core tenets emphasize limited government (both state and federal) involvement, individual liberty, and increased personal and political freedoms. While the actual definitions vary, and indeed there are even varying degrees within the libertarian spectrum as well, author and historian George Woodcock defined the philosophy as one that holds an inherent mistrust for authority, while libertarian philosopher Roderick Long explained it as "any political position that advocates a radical redistribution of power from the coercive state to voluntary associations of free individuals."
Serving as the third-largest and fastest-growing political party in the U.S., the Libertarian Party claims its beliefs are rooted in the "American heritage of liberty, enterprise, and personal responsibility," and maintains that its adherents desire a political system "which encourages all people to choose what they want from life; that lets them live, love, work, play, and dream their own way."
To this end, libertarians tend to even fall to the left of Democrats on social issues, championing for increased civil liberties and freedoms including the legalization of marijuana and same-sex marriage, LGBT rights, abortion, immigration, and separation of church and state policies, among others.
Of course some libertarians, like Ron Paul, are more socially conservative and harbor strong pro-life views. Paul does believe, however, that the issue should be left to the states to be handled directly.
On the conservative end, libertarians tend to fall to the right of Republicans, favoring minimally regulated markets, low taxes, decreased bureaucracies, and at times even advocate the privatization of public works and institutions including the police force and fire department.
Libertarianism supports the right to bear arms and according to the political platforms on the official party website, states that the party "agrees with the majority of Americans who believe they have the right to decide how best to protect themselves, their families and their property."
Libertarians are also ardent defenders of the First Amendment, favoring the "rights of individuals to unrestricted freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the right of individuals to dissent from government itself." Libertarians oppose censorship as well as state regulation of media, including laws pertaining to obscene content.
In terms of health care, most libertarians believe that the federal government has, with the advent of Medicare, Medicaid and HMOs, as well as increased regulations on doctors and insurance companies, ruined what was once a relatively efficient health system in the U.S.
"Today, more than 50 percent of all healthcare dollars are spent by the government" and insurance costs are "skyrocketing," the Libertarian Party notes.
To solve the health care problem, libertarians support free-market solutions such as 100 percent tax deductible medical savings accounts, deregulation and privatization of health care systems.
When it comes to entitlements, small government libertarians support the idea that Americans should be allowed to opt out of Social Security and that poverty in the U.S. can best be addressed by reforming costly Welfare programs as they currently stand, by creating more privatized options.
"To get from today's big government to a small, constitutional government, it is paramount that we prioritize the order of cuts humanely and fairly," an official statement from the Libertarian Party reads.
"Remove big government taxes, spending, regulations and restrictions first - cut subsidies that people are dependent upon last. Allow the free market and charities the time they need (which won't take long) to develop alternatives -- both low cost goods and services and free charities."
In terms of education, libertarians seek to "break up the public education monopoly and give all parents the right to decide what school their children will attend."
"Only a free market in education will provide the improvement in education necessary to enable millions of Americans to escape poverty," the official party platform states.
Where libertarians tend to diverge from conservatives is on issues related to foreign policy and militarism. Some libertarians believe in a greatly reduced military and harbor a more isolationist view regarding America's role on the world stage, while others believe in U.S. military involvement abroad, but only in rare circumstances.
Indeed, this is only a small cross-section of general libertarian platforms and by no means speaks for every individual libertarian, whose views on a range of issues is often as nuanced as it is multi-layered. Libertarianism isn't a monolith, which is why some of its adherents can identify themselves as both conservative or even liberal at the same time.
As a political party
The Libertarian Party was created in 1971 as an answer to what was considered the politics as usual meme perpetuated by Democrats and Republicans. The goal was to create a party that would adhere, as closely as possible, to the liberties which the Founding Fathers held in such high regard.
Currently, there are over 300,000 registered as Libertarians and there are a growing array of political candidates who, while affiliated officially with the Republican Party, harbor strong libertarian-ideals. Some of these lawmakers and political leaders include former governor and presidential candidate Gary Johnson, former Congressman Ron Paul, Sens. Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Jeff Flake, Pat Toomey, and governors Nikki Haley and Scott Walker, among others.
With many prominent lawmakers leaning libertarian, Carla Howell, executive director for the party, noted that some 15 million votes were cast for libertarian candidates in 2012 -- the highest number ever.
"The Libertarian Party is forging a whole new conversation in America for dramatically less government," an official statement read. "Not just opposing more big government. Dramatically reducing, downsizing big government."
"The Libertarian Party departs from both Democratic and Republican Party politicians, 99% of whom consistently vote for more Big Government - bigger budgets, more debt, higher taxes, fewer freedoms, more laws and regulations, and more foreign intervention."
Among its myriad initiatives, the Libertarian Party seeks to repeal "Obamacare," reform the current tax code and drastically reduce taxes, and obliterate thousands of restrictive laws and regulations. "In short, make government small."