Libertarianism in the United States is a movement promoting individual liberty and minimized government. The Libertarian Party, asserts the following to be core beliefs of libertarianism:
Libertarians support maximum liberty in both personal and economic matters. They advocate a much smaller government; one that is limited to protecting individuals from coercion and violence. Libertarians tend to embrace individual responsibility, oppose government bureaucracy and taxes, promote private charity, tolerate diverse lifestyles, support the free market, and defend civil liberties.
Through 20 polls on this topic spanning 13 years, Gallup found that voters who are libertarian on the political spectrum ranged from 17%- 23% of the US electorate. This includes members of the Republican Party (especially Libertarian Republicans), Democratic Party, Libertarian Party, and Independents.
In the 1950s many with classical liberal beliefs in the United States began to describe themselves as “libertarian.” Academics as well as proponents of the free market perspectives note that free-market libertarianism has spread beyond the U.S. since the 1970s via think tanks and political parties and that libertarianism is increasingly viewed worldwide as a free market position. However, libertarian socialist intellectuals Noam Chomsky, Colin Ward, and others argue that the term “libertarianism” is considered a synonym for social anarchism by the international community and that the United States is unique in widely associating it with free market ideology.
Arizona United States Senator Barry Goldwater’s libertarian-oriented challenge to authority had a major impact on the libertarian movement, through his book The Conscience of a Conservative and his run for president in 1964. Goldwater’s speech writer, Karl Hess, became a leading libertarian writer and activist.
The Vietnam War split the uneasy alliance between growing numbers of self-identified libertarians, anarchist libertarians, and more traditional conservatives who believed in limiting liberty to uphold moral virtues. Libertarians opposed to the war joined the draft resistance and peace movements and organizations such as Students for a Democratic Society. They began founding their own publications, like Murray Rothbard’s The Libertarian Forum and organizations like the Radical Libertarian Alliance.
The split was aggravated at the 1969 Young Americans for Freedom convention, when more than 300 libertarians organized to take control of the organization from conservatives. The burning of a draft card in protest to a conservative proposal against draft resistance sparked physical confrontations among convention attendees, a walkout by a large number of libertarians, the creation of libertarian organizations like the Society for Individual Liberty, and efforts to recruit potential libertarians from conservative organizations. The split was finalized in 1971 when conservative leader William F. Buckley, Jr., in a 1971 New York Times article, attempted to divorce libertarianism from the freedom movement. He wrote: “The ideological licentiousness that rages through America today makes anarchy attractive to the simple-minded. Even to the ingeniously simple-minded.”
In 1971, David Nolan and a few friends formed the Libertarian Party. Attracting former Democrats, Republicans and independents, it has run a presidential candidate every election year since 1972. Over the years, dozens of libertarian political parties have been formed worldwide. Educational organizations like the Center for Libertarian Studies and the Cato Institute were formed in the 1970s, and others have been created since then.
Philosophical libertarianism gained a significant measure of recognition in academia with the publication of Harvard University professor Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia in 1974. The book won a National Book Award in 1975. According to libertarian essayist Roy Childs, “Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia single-handedly established the legitimacy of libertarianism as a political theory in the world of academia.”
Texas congressman Ron Paul’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns for the Republican Party presidential nomination were largely libertarian. Paul is affiliated with the libertarian-leaning Republican Liberty Caucus and founded the Campaign for Liberty, a libertarian-leaning membership and lobbying organization.