Many Americans are familiar with the political philosophies of the United States’ two major parties, but fewer are aware of the philosophies of minor parties. The Libertarian Party is the third-largest political party in the United States. This guide will focus on key similarities and differences between Libertarianism and Republicanism.
The political philosophies of Libertarianism and Republicanism have both similarities and differences.
Libertarianism is a political philosophy that emphasizes individual liberty and limited government. Libertarians argue that state power and intervention should be kept to a minimum. Individuals should have the right to make their own choices, both in economics and social issues. This belief in the individual’s freedom of choice comes with a strong belief in personal responsibility.
Republicanism also emphasizes individual liberty and limited government, but not to the same extent. Republicanism promotes the idea of a republic and representative democracy. Adherents tend to focus on the economic aspect of individual liberty, concentrating on the central role of free markets. Republicanism often emphasizes traditional social values and a strong national defense.
Compared to the Republican Party, the Libertarian Party is a relatively new political party. The Republican Party was founded in 1854 during the build-up to the Civil War. The Republican Party united nineteenth-century Americans behind the promise to abolish slavery. Abraham Lincoln was the nation’s first Republican president, winning election in 1860. However, the term “Republican” goes back a century further.
In 1792, supporters of Thomas Jefferson adopted the term “Republican” to describe their political views. Jefferson’s supporters endorsed the principle of a limited and decentralized government. Soon, though, this faction became known as the Democratic-Republican Party, and would eventually become the modern Democratic Party.
The Republican Party has gone through important shifts since then. Today, Republicanism still stands for limited government, but the issues facing Americans, as well as the strategies for dealing with those issues, have changed dramatically.
The Libertarian Party was established in 1971 in Westminster, Colorado. Libertarianism united Americans who found themselves disenchanted with the two major parties. In 1972, the party endorsed its first presidential candidate.
By 1980, the Libertarian Party had made it onto the ballot in all 50 states. Since then, Libertarian candidates have continued to run for a variety of offices. The United States has yet to elect a Libertarian president, but Libertarians have often been elected to local offices.
The following sections cover the nuances of Libertarianism and Republicanism. It is important to note that individual Libertarians and Republicans may vary in their personal views and principles. The following descriptions refer to the two political philosophies and parties generally.
Libertarians and Republicans are similar in their shared focus on limited government. Both parties hold that the government should not unnecessarily interfere in the lives of its citizens.
Republicans generally favor a smaller federal government, reduced regulation, and lower taxes. In regard to technological progress, the Republican Party’s 2016 platform puts it this way: “We envision government at all levels as a partner with individuals and industries in technological progress, not a meddlesome monitor.”
Libertarianism goes further than Republicanism in minimizing government involvement in citizens’ lives. The Libertarian Party’s platform describes it like this: “We seek a world of liberty: a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and are not forced to sacrifice their values for the benefit of others.” Libertarians favor deregulation and privatization in areas including education, health care, and retirement planning.
Both Libertarianism and Republicanism advocate for limited government intervention in daily life, though Libertarianism takes a more extreme stance on the role of government.
Economic policy is another area of overlap between Libertarianism and Republicanism. Both philosophies emphasize the power of the free market. Both groups advocate for individuals to be able to make their own economic decisions. However, as with their stance on the role of government, Libertarians often go farther than Republicans in stressing individual economic liberty.
Republicanism prioritizes lower taxes, both for corporations and individuals. Coupled with that idea is support for reduced government spending. Republicans tend to be fiscally conservative, seeking to reduce the federal debt and keep government spending low. Republicans also often favor the deregulation of business, arguing that too much government interference can get in the way of innovation and development.
Libertarianism is similar in its advocacy for lowering taxes and reducing government spending. Some Libertarians would even argue for the elimination of taxation. By phasing out government programs like Social Security, the Libertarian Party could dramatically reduce the government’s economic footprint. Finally, Libertarians urge the need for sound monetary policy and the elimination of federal debt.
Libertarianism and Republicanism agree in many areas of economic policy. Libertarians go further than Republicans in their commitment to deregulation and reduced spending.
Libertarianism and Republicanism diverge when it comes to social and cultural issues.
In recent decades, Republicans have made their support of conservative social values a key component of their platform. The Republican Party’s 2016 platform highlights marriage equality as one issue they strongly opposed. The platform states that “traditional marriage and family, based on marriage between one man and one woman, is the foundation for a free society and has for millennia been entrusted with rearing children and instilling cultural values.” Americans can see the effects of this conservative stance in Republican legislation such as Florida’s controversial “Parental Rights in Education” bill, known by opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
The Republican Party also opposes the expansion of abortion rights. Finally, the Republican Party has supported stricter immigration policies and strong, well-funded law enforcement.
Libertarianism takes a different view on these issues. The Libertarian Party platform includes a section affirming marriage equality. This section states, “Sexual orientation, preference, gender, or gender identity should have no impact on the government’s treatment of individuals, such as in current marriage, child custody, adoption, immigration, or military service laws.” Also included in the Libertarian Party platform is the decriminalization of “‘crimes’ without victims.” These include gambling, drug use, and sex work. The platform does not include an official stance on abortion rights, as Libertarians vary in their views on this issue.
For many social and cultural issues, the typical Libertarian response is to allow individuals to make their own choices. Libertarianism differs from Republicanism in this aspect. Republicans often tolerate government intervention for the sake of promoting traditional values.
Foreign policy is another area where Libertarianism and Republicanism diverge.
Republicans often favor a strong military presence. They support a well-funded and well-equipped military ready to intervene in other countries to support American interests. Combatting terrorism, promoting democracy abroad, and protecting American economic interests are all reasons to intervene militarily. The Republican Party has historically valued long-standing alliances with other nations, especially its alliance with the nation of Israel. Free trade agreements are also important to Republican foreign policy.
Libertarianism leans toward a non-interventionist foreign policy. Favoring the principle of non-aggression, Libertarians are often more hesitant to deploy military forces abroad. Libertarians do not seek to intervene unnecessarily in the affairs of other countries. They are also more skeptical of long-term alliances with foreign countries. As you might guess, Libertarians argue for reduced military spending. Like Republicanism, Libertarianism supports free trade. Unlike Republicanism, Libertarianism more strongly opposes protectionism, trade wars, and economic sanctions on other nations.
To recap, here are some key issues on which Libertarians and Republicans agree and disagree:
Reduced taxation and economic regulation
Social and cultural issues, such as LGBTQ+ rights
National defense and foreign policy
Overall, Republicanism has had a wider-reaching influence than Libertarianism on American politics. After all, the United States has seen 19 Republican presidents, compared to zero Libertarian presidents. The Republican Party has also often held the majority in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. The Libertarian Party has remained a minor party.
Libertarianism has still had an impact on American politics, though. Many members of both the Republican and Democratic parties have been elected who have shared Libertarian values. One of the most prominent of these officials is U.S. Senator Rand Paul. Libertarianism has also played a role in drawing attention to third-party politics.
All political ideologies have critics, and Libertarianism and Republicanism are no exceptions. Below are some of the main critiques made against the two philosophies and parties:
Too socially conservative: Critics often focus on the Republican Party’s opposition to the expansion of LGBTQ+ and abortion rights.
Not enough focus on climate: Critics point out how little emphasis Republicanism puts on addressing the environmental crisis.
Discriminatory practices: Some argue that the Republican Party engages in voter suppression, especially of minority communities.
Too limited: Critics hold that Republicanism’s embrace of limited government can leave vulnerable members of the population at risk. Greater government involvement could create more stable social safety nets.
Not practical enough: Many critics argue that while Libertarian ideals may look good on paper, they may not be able to hold up under the pressure and complexity of real governance.
Minority groups: Critics often point to the vulnerability of minority groups and the lack of a social safety net.
Too optimistic: Some contend that Libertarianism takes too optimistic a view of human behavior. Citizens would not live up to Libertarianism’s high standard of personal responsibility.
Libertarianism and Republicanism have important similarities and differences. Both political philosophies, among others, have helped to shape our political landscape.
Understanding the differences between political philosophies is essential to being an informed voter. To keep learning about the differences between political philosophies and track their development, subscribe to Good Party’s newsletter.