Home History & Politics Libertarian vs Republican – What’s the Difference Between the Two?

In the current divided political environment of the United States, it might be tempting to view everything as left vs. right. However, things are more complicated than simple right vs. left.

Take Libertarian vs. Republican – some might view the two as similar or almost the same, thinking that Republican is “right” and Libertarian is “far right.”

Libertarians wouldn’t look at it that way at all. Some might even feel they are further “left” than Democrats!

Many Libertarians don’t see the political “spectrum” as a simple line at all, but rather a square or diamond. How?

What Are Democrats, Republicans, and Libertarians?

Let us first back up and define, loosely, what a Democrat, Libertarian, and Republican is.

1. Democrats: Pro Big Government (Especially for Social Programs)

Democrats are typically in favor of bigger government, especially when it comes to social programs like welfare, public education, and the arts.

They are generally against bigger government for the military – that is, at least, the rank and file Democrats. (Many progressive Democrats would claim that mainstream Democrat politicians are only against the military in words and not action.)


Democrats are OK with higher taxes to pay for more government.

Democrats want less governmental laws when it comes to social issues, such as abortion and sexuality issues.

2. Republicans: For Smaller Government (Well, Sort of)

Traditionally, Republicans are for lower taxes and smaller government, especially when it comes to social programs like welfare, etc.

However, they are usually OK with the federal government spending money on the military, since they believe that it one of the few things the federal government should be doing – protecting the country and its borders.


Republicans are also often OK with more government laws and intervention on social issues such as drug enforcement policy, although that is changing.

3. Libertarians: The Less Government the Better

Libertarians want less government, period. This includes less government for social welfare programs, less government spending on the military, and less government interfering in social issues.

Very radical Libertarians can be veritable anarchists, who want no government at all.


Libertarians can be socially liberal (pro-choice and pro-gay marriage) or social conservatives who simply believe things like gay marriage are not the government’s business. (A true libertarian position on gay marriage would be to get the government out of marriage entirely, gay or straight.)

So Why Libertarian vs Republican?

When you look at the actual positions of Libertarians vs. Republicans, you can see that they aren’t actually the same thing at all.

So why do people conflate the two these days?

1. The Republican Party is Becoming More Libertarian

The Republican Party of today is not the same as it was during President Ronald Reagan’s time. The “Moral Majority” of the 1990s that focused heavily on social issues is no more.

Many young Republicans are more Libertarian in mindset and don’t care so much about social issues. Some may not be in favor of gay marriage but really don’t care as long as they can live their lives in peace. Some may even be socially liberal but fiscal conservatives who simply want a smaller government.

2. Some of the Most Famous Libertarians Are “Republicans”

In recent years, some Libertarian politicians have chosen to run as Republicans in order to have a chance at winning a major seat.

Former U.S. Representative Ron Paul, who also ran for president, was the first major Libertarian to have a prominent place in the Republican Party.

He has now been succeeded by his son, U.S. Senator Rand Paul (representing Kentucky), who has also run for President.

Are You a Libertarian?

So, let’s look again at the political spectrum. Traditionally, it has been “left” vs. “right.” However, what exactly does “left” or “right” mean? Does left simply mean “more government”? If so, that would mean that the farther left you go, the more of a totalitarian dictatorship you would get.

That probably wouldn’t sit right with a lot of Democrats.

Does going further “right” mean you want no government at all? That probably wouldn’t sit “right” with a lot of Republicans.

The Nolan Chart is a more accurate way of looking at the political spectrum. A square – or rather, a diamond, as it stands on a point – has “left” (Democrat) and “right” (Republican) across the horizontal plane, and “Libertarian” and “Statist” on the vertical plane. Therefore, you can be a Statist Democrat or a Statist Republican, or a Libertarian Democrat or a Libertarian Republican.

You can find your spot on the Nolan Chart by taking a simple quiz.

Libertarian vs. Republican: More Than Meets the Eye

As you can see, Republicans and Libertarians really aren’t the same. And of course, they are both different from Democrats. Where do you fall along the Nolan spectrum?


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