@SerenaDante asked a very fair question in her blog title. I responded with a comment, but I think a fuller treatment of the subject is worthwhile. When I was in college I started becoming more politically aware and my views got much more complex. One of the things I stumbled upon early in the process of my expanding political awareness was a wide variety of libertarian political philosophies. As is my wont, I researched a wide variety of these philosophies to understand them better. And at that point, I was working nights with a computer in front of me in a place where nothing was happening, so I had lots of homework and reading time.
First, we need to understand some basic distinctions. Second, we need to do some reading. I’ll make the distinctions, and you are welcome to do the reading. I already have.
It helps to make a distinction between the Libertarian Party in the U.S. and libertarian thought in general. The Libertarian Party in the U.S. tends towards ending corporate welfare and social welfare in an effort to establish free-market capitalism and tends to favor what in the U.S. would be described as socially liberal policies (i.e. an emphasis on civil liberties, drug legalization, etc.), though they tend to be very divided on the issue of abortion in my experience. Their approach to government is generally that government has the function of enforcing the minimum laws necessary to protect our rights and providing for the common defense. They also tend to favor a strong Separation of Church and State, though there are differences of opinion about what that means on a practical level.
Many libertarians in the U.S. are paleolibertarian, which for the uninitiated means that they are culturally conservative while being in the political sphere what we might describe as socially liberal in terms of their emphasis on civil rights and equality of opportunity. Many are also Christian libertarian. This reactionary and/or religious element to the Libertarian Party is probably why conservatives and Libertarians in the U.S. tend to get along better than liberals and Libertarians in the U.S.
Sadly, my experience has been that folks who describe themselves as libertarians in the U.S. often have no idea how useless a term that is without making some basic distinctions. Of course, there are also the folks who think that believing we should legalize marijuana and believing in lots of conspiracy theories makes them libertarian. Those people make me facepalm.
On the other hand, the full breadth of libertarian thought in general is quite staggering, including a wide variety of anarchist perspectives (i.e. anarcho-communism, anarcho-socialism, anarcho-syndicalism, anarcho-capitalism, anarcho-primitivism, etc.) and a wide variety of positions that are more moderate and fall broadly into the left libertarian and right libertarian approaches without advocating the complete absence of rulers (i.e. Marxist libertarianism, minarchism). I think it’s fair to say that among academics in the U.S. and Europe left-libertarian thought is more popular and that right libertarian thought has significantly more grassroots popularity in the U.S. than in Europe.
It’s also been my experience that among people who identify as libertarian and actually understand the term, there’s an astounding amount of fighting over economics, justice, and the meaning of freedom. It seems very confusing simply because it is. It’s possible that if the various groups of libertarians got together more often and worked toward meaningful social change they might be able to move our societies in a more libertarian direction generally, but the constant back and forth over economics and philosophical quibbling make it hard to really accomplish anything terribly useful.