NOTE: This will be rambling post, I'll address various issues as they come to me - It is by no means, 'complete'...
Libertarianism, to me (and I really speak for no one else), is grounded in the belief that the pursuit of individual freedom (of action or thought) is the highest moral value. It's as much a personal philosophy or lifestyle as it is a political agenda-based affiliation. Obstacles to the exercising of such freedom - such as the authority demanded by The State, are inherently dangerous and to be avoided when possible. The State cannot be completely avoided - so anarchy is not a solution - Good Government requires an acknowledgment that individual rights and freedoms (especially property rights) must be protected.
To me, libertarianism should generally advocate the freedom of thought and action with few exceptions. One (major) exception is that the actions of an individual should not infringe upon the freedom of any other person. This is a very simplistic definition, because - sooner or later - we have to tackle the subject of “Who Decides” what constitutes 'infringement'. Later. Please.
I believe 'Liberty', defined here as 'non-interference', is the only thing that can be legitimately demanded of others as a matter of legal or political right: the Freedom to choose and act in accordance with one's own judgment. I believe recognition of individual property rights (and the economic liberty that follows from their consistent recognition) are critical to respecting individual liberty and freedom.
I believe 'social awareness' develops out of a respect for individual liberty. I believe the only legitimate use of coercion (by the State) is defensive in nature or to rectify an error. I believe governments (and individuals acting on behlaf of the government) are bound by the same moral principles as individuals. I believe that, historically, governments have acted improperly by utilizing force for the purposes of plunder, aggression, redistribution, and other objectives which are beyond the protection of individual freedom and liberty.
I think government's primary justification is to provide a court (justice) system, police / military forces (for national defense), and manage the legislative (law / regulation) system. The first question that should always be asked - “Is this action a 'proper' function of government?” Typically, the answer will be NO. It is NOT the function of government to determine how to best promote liberty or freedom - but, instead, to insure the 'playing field is level' and to provide ONLY those (legitimate) services which CANNOT be provided by individuals, or independent groups. Above all else, Government should never be empowered to the extent that the goods and property of the effort s by one individual is confiscated, using the taxation and police power of the State, for the direct benefit of another.
Property rights are extremely tricky, simply because there are som many variations on the theme. I advocate granting strong private ownership rights. This includes freedom from 'unjustified' search and seizure, as well as clearly defined 'civil liberties', such as freedom of the press. (Note that being free to express one's opinion does NOT include mandatory access to the means by which to do so.) I can get along with Ayn Rand's Objectivism philosophy, although it does have its issues when applied to the current realities of the Real World. I believe in and support strong personal rights to private property, vis-a-vis free-market capitalism, including property in the means of production. I think the goals of minimal government regulation of property and minimal taxation of property are Good Things, and all within the context of The Rule of Law.
I consider private matters - such as sexual relationships and, in some cases, personal drug use - to be just that: Private Matters. They should not enter the realm of law enforcement or the legal system (unless, of course, exercising those actions interfere with the rights of others). The state should not regulate or interfere in personal choices EXCEPT to protect against aggression, breach of contract or fraud (or the freedom of others).
I disagree with the concept of compulsory military service, although such a personal sacrifice as serving in the armed forces as a volunteer should be encouraged, not discouraged.
I think it is best for government to avoid centralization and to maintain the distribution of power among the various federal, state and local levels. In this, I am more in line with Jefferson than most Founding Fathers (although Tom and I still have our differences).
As all this relates to current politics and political thought...
I don't want Americans to be detached from the workings of their government. Nor do I want Democrats and Republicans jockeying to score political points while accomplishing nothing. What I would prefer is two (or more) parties that understand that the government which governs least, governs best. When it comes to government programs, I defer back to good ol' Adam Smith who observed government should be able to finance those projects which have little potential profit to individuals, generally take time to complete, but which have great benefits to the society as a whole.
The Founding Fathers assigned Congress to finance post offices and post roads, but also included the rather vague phrase, "promote the general welfare". I must admit Roosevelt and the New Deal built TVA and Hoover Dam, built in a timely manner and producing energy, which were critical resources when World War II broke out. The TVA dam at Muscle Shoals was built to generate power for nitrogen fixing - needed to make nitric acid and various nitrates - the basis of high explosives. The 'surplus' power from the Department of War requirements was sold as power to the public. It can be argued several New Deal projects actually produced some useful infrastructure. (Even a blind pig finds an acorn every now and then.) We can argue over the desirability of government programs and whether such things should be left to the market. But if government is going to borrow money and spend it, the end result ought to be something useful, not just spent money. I completely reject the Keynesian argument that the remedy for recession is spending money - spending borrowed money doesn't work.
Now, a man who has landed a job as a carpenter might see a need to borrow money to buy his basic tool kit, or even to buy a car for transportation to and from work. It makes little to no sense for that man to borrow money to take a trip across country for vacation and relaxation, or to buy frivolities. Everyone knows this except, apparently, the government we have today. Today, we borrow money to (a) fund invented entitlements, (b) build useless demonstration projects, such as local museums that no one is going to visit, (c) increase salaries of government workers and/or hire new government workers whose funding will then fall on the local community, etc., etc., etc. Spending borrowed money without a very specific purpose - and a measurable, tangible and carefully monitored goal - is nonsense.
The nation has become so disgusted with government as an entity that a return to the big spending days doesn't look likely. Thank God. But never fear, friend Chris, the Republican party will not get back into the White House this November, and for a year or so they'll have to act like they know what they are doing, while most of what they propose will be dead on arrival at the White House. Or we can throw those rascals out and look for (more) new ones.
Interesting times lie ahead.