Libertarianism is a political philosophy which maintains that each person is the rightful owner of his own life and property, and, as such, that he is free to do as he wishes with those possessions -- provided that he does not harm the person or property of another. In this sense, libertarianism combines liberty (the freedom to live life peacefully in any way one chooses), responsibility (the prohibition against the use of force against others, except in defense), and tolerance (honoring and respecting the peaceful choices of others).
Strictly speaking, libertarianism is neither a uniformly "left-wing" nor a “right-wing” doctrine. On social issues, it tends to be liberal, opposing laws that restrict consensual and private sexual relationships between adults (homosexuality, non-marital sex, prostitution, etc.), laws that restrict drug use, laws that impose religious views or practices on individuals, and compulsory military service. On economic issues, by contrast, libertarianism tends to be "conservative" -- favoring low taxes and free markets. With regard to social and economic issues alike, libertarianism consistently advocates limited government intervention in the private sphere.
Below is an overview of the libertarian positions vis a vis various social, political, and economic issues of import:
Criminal Justice: Government has a legitimate function to protect citizens and their property from harm caused by others, and aggressors should be required to compensate their victims as much as possible. But so-called "victimless" crimes -- drug use, prostitution, gambling -- should not be punished.
Taxes: The main problem with taxation is that the government has undertaken too may illegitimate programs and must take money from productive citizens in order to fund them. Taxation steals wealth from productive citizens in order to benefit the preferred programs and constituencies of the governing class. By adding a bureaucratic “middle man,” the government ensures it cannot do any task as efficiently or as cheaply as the free market. People freely pay for the products and services they think are necessary in their private lives. If given the opportunity to decide which government programs merit their financial backing, they would continue to fund those that they view as necessary and proper. Conversely, programs that are neither needed nor wanted would go unfunded and thus would wither on the proverbial vine. There is no legitimate reason why citizens should pay for programs they neither benefit from nor support.
Healthcare: Medicare and Medicaid should be abolished. Healthcare can be taken care of more effectively and efficiently in the free marketplace. Government regulation and licensing unnecessarily inflate the cost of services and limit access to them. Healthcare will always have a cost, and that cost will always continue to rise as long as arbitrary regulations place undue burdens on pharmaceutical companies and healthcare providers. To ensure efficient services in this sector, healthcare and health insurance should not be constrained by state boundaries.
Environment and Energy: An increase in private-property rights would result in a cleaner environment. Federal agencies like the EPA should be abolished. The free market offers quicker, more effective ways to clean the environment.
Business and Economy: Free markets allow for competition that quickly increases the quality and availability of useful products while decreasing their costs and correcting any negative corporate practices. Any government regulation beyond enforcing property rights and contract law is illegitimate and dangerous. Such policies either unfairly benefit one company over another or stifle the innovations that drive progress.
Education: Compulsory education is both ineffective and unneeded. Public schools force parents into compromising the values and ideas they want their children to learn. These schools are sterile institutions that are required to focus more on standardizing education to the lowest possible denominator, than on equipping children with the skills they need in order to become productive citizens. Even when limited choice and competition have been introduced into the education system – like voucher systems for inner-city schools – students learn more and perform better than their counterparts in public schools.
Foreign Policy and National Security: A non-aggressive, isolationist stance (as outlined by George Washington) is the appropriate role of the state. This includes not engaging with international bodies (like the United Nations) that threaten America's national sovereignty. Raising a military for national defense is a valid function of the federal government, but that military must be manned solely with volunteers and should only be used for defensive purposes. Invasive, aggressive military encounters as well as nation-building campaigns are unjust.
Freedom of Speech: The marketplace of ideas benefits from the same forces and rules that propel the economic free market. Competition of ideas helps refine and polish the best concepts while phasing out bad ideas. The First Amendment must be aggressively defended, and any restrictions on speech -- however offensive -- that does not cause material harm to others must be prohibited.
Gun Rights: The right to keep and bear arms is essential for a free, democratic society. Private citizens need guns to protect themselves, their families, and their property from dangerous citizens or, more importantly, from a tyrannical government. Guns are private property and should not be subject to any more regulation than any other type of property. People who use guns to unjustly damage someone else or their property should be punished to the full extent of the law, but they should not be subject to prior restraint.
Social Security: The best way to ensure that the elderly are taken care of later in life is by letting them control their own retirement savings. The current Social Security system needs to be privatized so that private individuals can get the low costs, and high benefits, of an unregulated and free market.
Trade and Globalization: National borders should not limit the ability of free peoples to conduct business with one another. In both migration and trade, governments have no legitimate right to regulate or tax peaceful interactions, which are the cornerstones of free markets.
Immigration: Immigration is a controversial issue on which libertarians often disagree. Many libertarians argue that government-defined borders are unnecessary; that free people should be allowed to move freely in search of a market for their skills, so long as they do not violate anyone else’s property rights through trespass. Other libertarians believe that the definition and protection of a nation's borders is one of the chief responsibilities of a federal government.
Abortion: Libertarians are also somewhat divided on the issue of abortion. Some, like Libertarians for Life founder Doris Gordon, believe that abortion is "anti-libertarian" and constitutes "a deadly attack against helpless children" who are "human beings" endowed with "the equal, unalienable right to life from the first moment they exist." Others, like Chapman University professor Tibor Machan, contend that "the principle" behind Roe v. Wade "is sound" because "a human being only exists once the cerebral cortex has emerged in the human fetus." "Prior to this," adds Machan, "only a potential human being exists, and killing it, while possibly objectionable, is not homicide."
Major Resource: Libertarianism.com