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Libertarianism in the United States is a movement promoting limited government and individual liberties. The Libertarian Party, the third largest political party in the United States as of 2008 with 235,500 registered voters, 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.
In the United States people commonly associate the term libertarian with those who have "economically conservative" and "socially liberal" political views (using the common meanings of "conservative" and "liberal" in the United States).
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 been successfully propagated beyond the US since the 1970s via think tanks and political parties and that libertarianism is increasingly viewed worldwide as a free market position. However, libertarian socialists Noam Chomsky, Colin Ward and others argue that the term "libertarianism" is globally considered a synonym for anarchism 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.
In the United States, the Tea Party movement, founded in 2009, has become a major outlet for libertarian ideas especially rigorous adherence to the U.S. Constitution, lower taxes and an opposition to a growing role for the federal government in health care. Electorally, it was considered a key force in Republicans reclaiming control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010.
Polls (circa 2006) find that the views and voting habits of between 10 and 20 percent (and increasing) of voting age Americans may be classified as "fiscally conservative and socially liberal, or libertarian." This is based on pollsters and researchers defining libertarian views as
- fiscally conservative and socially liberal (based on the common US meanings of the terms) and
- against government intervention in economic affairs, and for expansion of personal freedoms.
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. Most of these vote for Republican and Democratic (not Libertarian) party candidates. This posits that the common single-axis paradigm of dividing people's political leanings into "conservative", "liberal" and "confused" is not valid. Libertarians make up a larger portion of the US electorate than the much-discussed "soccer moms" and "NASCAR dads", yet this is not widely recognized. One reason for this is that most pollsters, political analysts, and political pundits believe in the paradigm of the single liberal-conservative axis.
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Well-known libertarian organizations include the Center for Libertarian Studies, the Cato Institute, the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), the Reason Foundation, the International Society for Individual Liberty (ISIL) and the Ludwig von Mises Institute. The Libertarian Party of the United States is the world's first such party.
The activist Free State Project, formed in 2001, works to bring 20,000 libertarians to the state of New Hampshire to influence state policy. In March 2009, the project website showed that more than 650 were resident there and more than 9,150 had pledged to move there. Less successful similar projects include the Free West Alliance and Free State Wyoming.
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United States Congressman Ron Paul and United States Senator Barry Goldwater popularized libertarian economics and anti-statist rhetoric in the United States and passed some reforms. United States President Ronald Reagan tried to appeal to them in a speech, though many libertarians are ambivalent about Reagan's legacy.
Individuals influential to libertarianism in the United States include classical liberals such as John Locke, Frédéric Bastiat, John Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer, etc. along with contemporaries such as Milton Friedman, Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, Ayn Rand, Ludwig von Mises, and Murray Rothbard.
See also 
- Libertarianism in the United Kingdom
- Libertarianism in South Africa
- List of libertarian organizations
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of libertarianism
- For philosophical literature describing the variations of libertarianism, see:
- Bevir, Mark. Encyclopedia of Political Theory. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage Publications, 2010. page 811;
- Vallentyne, Peter (September 5, 2002). "Libertarianism". In Edward N. Zalta. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2009 ed.). Stanford, CA: Stanford University. Retrieved March 5, 2010. "in addition to the better-known version of libertarianism—right-libertarianism—there is also a version known as 'left-libertarianism'";
- Christiano, Thomas, and John P. Christman. Contemporary Debates in Political Philosophy. Contemporary debates in philosophy, 11. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. [ page 121];
- Lawrence C. Becker, Charlotte B. Becker. Encyclopedia of ethics, Volume 3 Encyclopedia of Ethics, Charlotte B. Becker, ISBN , page 1562;
- Paul, Ellen F. Liberalism: Old and New. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007. page 187; and
- Sapon, Vladimir; Robino, Sam (2010). "Right and Left Wings in Libertarianism". Canadian Social Science 5 (6).
- Roderick T. Long, "Towards a Libertarian Theory of Class," Social Philosophy and Policy 15:2 1998, 303-349: 304-308.
- Szasz, Thomas Stephen (31 May 2004). "1". Faith in freedom: libertarian principles and psychiatric practices (1st ed.). Transaction Publishers. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-7658-0244-6.
- "Libertarian Party 2010 Platform". The Libertarian Party. May 2010. p. 1. Retrieved 24 September 2010.
- Watts, Duncan (16 March 2006). Understanding American government and politics: a guide for A2 politics students (2nd Revised edition ed.). Manchester University Press. p. 246. ISBN 978-0-7190-7327-4.
- Moseley, Daniel (June 25, 2011). "What is Libertarianism?". Basic Income Studies 6 (2): 2. Retrieved 15 November 2011.
- Russell, Dean (May 1955). "Who Is A Libertarian?". The Freeman (The Foundation for Economic Education) 5 (5). Retrieved March 6, 2010.
- Steven Teles and Daniel A. Kenney, chapter "Spreading the Word: The diffusion of American Conservativsm in Europe and beyond," (p. 136-169) in Growing apart?: America and Europe in the twenty-first century by Sven Steinmo, Cambridge University Press, 2008, ISBN , The chapter discusses how libertarian ideas have been more successful at spreading worldwide than social conservative ideas.
- Anthony Gregory, Real World Politics and Radical Libertarianism, LewRockwell.com, April 24, 2007.
- David Boaz, Preface for the Japanese Edition of Libertarianism: A Primer, reprinted at Cato.org, November 21, 1998.
- Radicals for Capitalism (Book Review), New York Post, February 4, 2007.
- The Week Online Interviews Chomsky, Z Magazine, February 23, 2002. "The term libertarian as used in the US means something quite different from what it meant historically and still means in the rest of the world. Historically, the libertarian movement has been the anti-statist wing of the socialist movement. Socialist anarchism was libertarian socialism. In the US, which is a society much more dominated by business, the term has a different meaning. It means eliminating or reducing state controls, mainly controls over private tyrannies. Libertarians in the US don't say let's get rid of corporations. It is a sort of ultra-rightism."
- Colin Ward, Anarchism: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 62. "For a century, anarchists have used the word 'libertarian' as a synonym for 'anarchist', both as a noun and an adjective. The celebrated anarchist journal Le Libertaire was founded in 1896. However, much more recently the word has been appropriated by various American free-market philosophers..."
- Fernandez, Frank. Cuban Anarchism. The History of a Movement, Sharp Press, 2001, p. 9. "Thus, in the United States, the once exceedingly useful term "libertarian" has been hijacked by egotists who are in fact enemies of liberty in the full sense of the word."
- Henry J. Silverman, American radical thought: the libertarian tradition, p. 279, 1970, Heath publishing.
- Robert Poole, In memoriam: Barry Goldwater – Obituary, Reason Magazine, August–Sept, 1998.
- Hess, Karl. The Death of Politics, Interview in Playboy, July 1976.
- Murray Rothbard, The Early 1960s: From Right to Left, excerpt from chapter 13 of Murray Rothbard The Betrayal of the American Right, Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2007.
- Ronald Lora, William Henry Longton, Conservative press in 20th-century America, p. 367-374, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999, ISBN ,
- Marc Jason Gilbert, The Vietnam War on campus: other voices, more distant drums, p. 35, 2001, Greenwood Publishing Group, ISBN 0-275-96909-6,
- Rebecca E. Klatch, A Generation Divided: The New Left, the New Right, and the 1960s, University of California Press, 1999 ISBN , 215–237.
- Jude Blanchette, What Libertarians and Conservatives Say About Each Other: An Annotated Bibliography, LewRockwell.com, October 27, 2004.
- Bill Winter, "1971–2001: The Libertarian Party's 30th Anniversary Year: Remembering the first three decades of America's 'Party of Principle'" LP News
- International Society for Individual Liberty Freedom Network list.
- David Lewis Schaefer, Robert Nozick and the Coast of Utopia, The New York Sun, April 30, 2008.
- The Advocates Robert Nozick page.
- http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703882404575520252928390046.html Tea-Party Movement Gathers Strength By Peter Wallsten and Danny Yadron The Wall Street Journal September 29, 2010
- http://reason.com/poll/2011/09/26/is-half-the-tea-part-libertart Is Half the Tea Party Libertarian? Emily Ekins September 26, 2011
- "Katie Couric interviews Tea Party Leaders", CBS News, January 25, 2010.
- The Libertarian Vote by David Boaz and David Kirby, Cato Institute, October 18, 2006
- The ANES Guide to Public Opinion and Electoral Behavior, 1948–2004 American National Election Studies
- Gallup Poll news release, September 7–10, 2006.
- Beyond Liberal and Conservative Willaim S. Maddox & Stuart A. Lilie, 1984.
- Free State Project Membership Statistics accessed at December 14, 2007
- Inside Ronald Reagan: A Reason Interview, Reason Magazine, July 1975, accessed 2010-02-11.
- Konkin's History of the Libertarian Movement (This link returns 404, as of 7/24/2012)