Unlike both conservatism and modern liberalism, libertarianism is not at all difficult to define. Highly ideological in nature, it hinges upon the fundamental belief that the government should play absolutely no role in either the social or fiscal aspects of one’s private life. Technically a form of minarchism, minimalist anarchism, it also holds firm that the federal government should not expand its reach, or even exist, beyond the most basic of its textually designated constitutional roles.
Often the subject of derision by those on the left and right alike, libertarians, generally speaking, incorporate the most radical of conservatism’s laissez-faire economical ideas with modern liberalism’s decidedly noninterventionist stances on social matters. While its core principles have been in existence for centuries, the libertarian political philosophy rose to prominence in the United States during the 1970s, in which scores of mostly young men and women, disillusioned with the results of the previous decade’s social revolution, opted to seek a bold new alternative to what was being offered in the American political arena. Despite initially attracting an impressive amount of attention and managing to retain the interest of millions as the years passed, it never did attain a significant amount of electoral power in the twentieth century.
In the latter half of the 2000s, however, these bad fortunes experienced a dramatic turnaround as a massive outcry about fiscal mismanagement in the public sector developed. A large number of conservatives running on libertarian fiscal platforms found success in the 2010 midterm elections; some even argued that libertarianism was on the verge of replacing traditionalist conservatism as the dominant force in right-of-center politics. Whether or not this is true remains to be seen, but factoring in libertarianism’s quizzical peacenik-isolationist national security planks, it would seem highly unlikely.
Perhaps it can be said that libertarianism’s greatest strengths are also its most crucial weaknesses. For instance, a zero-tolerance policy against government regulation of the economy at any level might sound attractive in theory, but one must wonder where we would be as a country without antitrust laws, which were designed to prevent destructive monopolies created by large multinational corporations. Also, without efficient, effective programs put in place to combat the threats posed to us by enemies both at home and abroad, how could any focus be put on building a functional, dynamic economy? It would be tremendously difficult to do such a thing while our well being is at the mercy of hostile powers. In a nutshell, libertarianism is surely a breath of fresh air for the often rank American political process, but nonetheless dangerously immature in far too many regards to be the school of thought needed to restore comprehensive prosperity for the United States.