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What is the Libertarian Party?

By Laura Evans
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Libertarian Party is an American political party. This political party, which is now the third largest political party in the United States behind the Republican and Democratic parties, was formed in 1971. Libertarian political ideologies are based on the supremacy of individual rights.

Founded on 11 December 1971, the first Libertarian Party meeting was held in co-founder David Nolan's Westminster, Colorado home. Libertarian candidates for national offices have included Theodora Nathan (b. 1923) for Vice-President in 1972, Ron Paul for President (b. 1935) in 1988, and Robert Barr Jr. (b. 1948) for President in 2008. Nathan was the first woman to receive an electoral vote during her campaign in the history of the United States.

According to the Libertarian Party platform, government rights should not take precedence over individual rights. The party's platform is based on the notion that people have the right to life and using physical force against others is wrong. The party also believes in the right to free speech and action, so it opposes attempts by the government to suppress free speech or a free press, or to censor anything in any form. The third plank of the Libertarian platform is a belief in the right to property, which means the party opposes government interference with private property. Libertarians oppose government confiscation, eminent domain and other actions that infringe on the right to private property.

The Libertarian Party platform states that the government should not become legally involved in abortion, gay marriage, gay adoption practices, or gays serving in the military. These matters should be left to the individual or individuals involved. In addition, the government should not subsidize or set pricing standards for energy, should not subsidize retirement for individuals, and should not be involved in health care or health care insurance.

Libertarians believe that income tax should be abolished, that laws about victimless crimes such as prostitution should be repealed, and that farm subsidies be discontinued. Party members maintain that individuals should be able to travel as they please as long as this traveling does not interfere with the rights of others. This means that immigration laws should be changed.

The Libertarian Party supports abolishing the minimum wage and that schools should be managed locally. In addition, the Libertarian Party supports a balanced budget for the United States government unless funds for balancing the budget come from taxation. Party members want to disengage from agreements with foreign countries, stop supplying foreign economic aid, and focus on defending the United States on home grounds.

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Discussion Comments
By anon982087 — On Dec 17, 2014

Alternative parties in the United States are suppressed by the establishment two-party cartel with the help of a largely compliant mainstream media that fails to give equal time and attention to non-establishment parties and candidates.

Discriminatory ballot access laws make it harder for Libertarians and other independents to even get on the ballot than it is for Republicans and Democrats. Often they have to collect larger numbers of signatures, a task only made more onerous by the fact that they are already working with fewer resources (corporations, unions, and other special interests give mainly to those in power).

When Libertarians do make it on the ballot, they are often shut out of debates with their establishment rivals, again often with the silent complicity or even active collaboration of the milquetoast media.

Some apologists for the establishment cartel claim that Libertarians and other candidates are "spoilers," as if your vote somehow belongs to either the Democrats or the Republicans, and independent candidates are somehow taking votes away from one of the cartel parties.

In fact, of course, it is the cartel parties who are effectively stealing votes by the fact of having rigged the whole electoral system so strongly in their own favor.

By MaPa — On Oct 24, 2011

@robbie21 - Third parties will probably not be a huge power in United States Presidential elections anytime soon, but they do have a powerful potential role as spoilers.

You may remember Bill Clinton's first win over George H.W. Bush. He barely won, very tiny majority, and that was only because Ross Perot ran as an independent and took votes away from Bush. Clinton won his second term by a much larger margin, but the first one was a gift from Perot.

You may see that in upcoming elections if a Libertarian runs as a third party against a Democrat and a "Moral Majority" Republican. The conservative ticket could split, leaving the Democrat to walk into the White House.

By KLR650 — On Oct 24, 2011

@letshearit - I cannot think of a really high-profile Libertarian presidential candidate, although you might see one in coming years, most likely a Republican who didn't get nominated.

It's interesting that the party is popping up in the UK. They don't really have the tradition of the rugged individualism that you see in the U.S. It's interesting to see where that goes in the coming years, and if it spreads.

By BigManCar — On Oct 23, 2011

@Sara007 - I think you're right, especially in the U.S. where one party wins at the expense of the other parties. In other countries with a parliament, the minority parties are more important because you end up with many different parties having seats in the legislature, and they have to form coalitions to get things done.

If we had that in the U.S. the Libertarians and the Republicans would probably ally on many issues, and would be hard to beat where they agreed.

Realistically, I think that many Libertarians just vote Republican now, a handful vote Democrat, and many just don't vote. I don't know if this will ever change, but it does not look like the two party system will go away in the U.S. anytime soon.

By robbie21 — On Oct 23, 2011

@Sara007 - I think the thing about third parties is not so much that they have a hope of winning, but that they can hope to get their ideas heard and possibly eventually incorporated into a major party platform. Other countries (like the UK, for instance) have parliamentary or other systems that are much more friendly to multiple parties (you might read that Party Y won 13% of seats, and so on). The US is pretty firmly two-party.

I think the ideas of the Libertarian Party are important, even though I'm far from agreeing with all of them. They remind us that just because the government *can* do something, doesn't always mean that it *should.* I tend to want the government to be involved in health care and other things that private enterprise seems to do poorly, but I think it should stop using the tax code for social engineering.

By letshearit — On Oct 22, 2011

Historically it seems like Americans are the strongest advocates of small government, so I was somewhat surprised to learn that there is also a United Kingdom Libertarian Party. The Libertarian Party UK is very new politically speaking (formed in 2008) so it's probably not very surprising that it hasn't had a lot of electoral success yet. There are libertarian parties throughout Europe, as well as one in Canada but I don't think any of them have had a lot of success at the polls.

Can anyone think of anyone who got a lot of coverage as a libertarian party presidential candidate?

By Sara007 — On Oct 21, 2011

The Libertarian Party is an example of a party that just has too much overlap with one the larger parties to ever be viable, in my opinion. The most high-profile libertarian in the country is Ron Paul, who of course is Republican. Very few people would know that the Libertarian Party presidential candidate of 2008 was Bob Barr.

They do have differences from Republicans in that they are usually against "legislating morality", but moral values are such a strong part of the Republican base that their differences from the Republicans are doomed to be unpopular. The overlap problem is shared by many third parties in America.

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