While I think it would be cool to produce an actual map image, here’s a general breakdown of my understanding of the various sectors of the American libertarian movement. It is by no means completely comprehensive, but touches on some of the main groups. Sometimes these groups overlap and an individual can be seen as having multiple tendencies, and at other times they’ve also been known to have fights between each other.
Paleo-Libertarians – This is the socially conservative wing of the libertarian movement. Their big distinctive issues are immigration control, racial politics, opposing the U.N., fundamentalist Christian-western identity, and opposing democracy. This group also has some overlap with the anarcho-capitalists associated with Lew Rockwell and Hans Hoppe. This is where the white nationalists and assorted conservative cranks can safely overlap with libertarianism, as a political ideology designed in such a way as to potentially enable their causes.
To a certain extent, this is what the left-libertarians are fighting against within libertarianism and where I think their best and most effective internal criticism is focused. I know that when I was a left-lib, these people were my most common target of criticism. I was greatly dissapointed to find that most libertarians are sideline sitters and denialists on this controversy, and that for the most part only some left-libs were the ones willing to speak up about it.
Bleeding Heart Libertarians – While this is in reference to a particular blog, many of the most visible authors of that blog seem to represent a certain kind of libertarian that’s broader than the blog. The defining feature of these libertarians is that they are academic elitists, often with a moderate liberal bent and usually minarchist in orientation. Some try to square libertarianism with Rawls and other aspects of modern liberal political philosophy. Compared to the left-libertarians, they tend to be fairly vanilla. But they also can be found weaving nuanced philosophical tales over the top of obvious moral conundrums – bleeding heart fascists.
In a way they represent the closest you can get to mainstream libertarianism within the university. IMO, most of their work comes off as technical philosophic hair-splitting that amounts to nothing of import, and overall the premise of the site comes off as a weak PR campaign with a leftward veering eye. They will never be the kind of libertarians that can particularly appeal to people outside academia. The most radical voices are the handful of left-libertarians who are occasionally featured as writers.
Molyneuvians – These are those libertarians who are followers of Stefan Molyneux. Consider it a new spin on Randian cultism. This is about hanging one’s hat on the words of Molyneux and goes much further than standard libertarian philosophy, in that it binds one to particular ideas about psychology, metaphysics, morality, religion, and human relationships. To be a true follower of Molyneux is to accept a very rigid, all-encompassing philosophy of everything. The libertarianism of Molyneux naturally appeals most to people with childhood issues, and it overlaps with the ideas of anti-schooling and criticism of traditional parenting.
Those who are truly dedicated to Molyneux are essentially online cult members who have substituted Molyneux for their parents. While Molyneux has gotten into controversy and has former cult members who are detractors, he has remained a staple in the libertarian movement and is perhaps the prime example of a libertarian individual achieving a high amount of media traffic and status through the internet.
Neo-Objectivists – You can’t talk about the Molyneuvians without talking about the Neo-Objectivists. This is a group of libertarians and ancaps who either are former Objectivists (followers of Ayn Rand) or otherwise people who integrate Objectivism into their libertarianism. Since there’s a lot that’s wrong with Objectivism, this introduces its own interesting problems. In some cases, it leads some libertarians to take stances very much like that of neo-conservatives when it comes to foreign policy and domestic police power.
For others, it’s more about the philosophic grounding of libertarianism in certain ethical and cultural terms – it’s centered around supporting property rights and markets in Aristotilean terms of “flourishing” and a culture of enlightened self-interested individualism, leading us into a special twist on bizarro-land. Rand’s philosophy has been prodded mercilessly and found wanting by a lot of people for good reason.
Left-Libertarians – The left libertarians are an odd bunch. The left libertarians are somewhat multi-tendency, but I think it would be accurate to say that the general two tendencies are (1) the fusing of libertarianism with “the cultural left” and (2) the attempt to either reclaim or reformulate libertarianism as to be anti-capitalist or non-capitalist. In my opinion, as has been spread about through various posts on this blog, the left-libertarians have mainly succeeded at the former (while also bringing along some of the negative baggage of the existing cultural left) but failed at the latter. It’s also true that the majority define themselves as anarchists and dominantly use individualist anarchism as their linchpin (which, while perhaps useful, is a limited cut-off point).
The problem is that contemporary American libertarian ideology *is* capitalistic, the bulk of the anarchist movement in the world is anarchist-but-not-libertarian (an important distinction), and that to really start to belong to the economic left the left-libertarians would have to basically cease to be libertarians in their views on markets.
Beltway Libertarians – These are those libertarians who are heavily involved in conventional politics or represent the official Libertarian Party themselves (as a side note: there are times I wonder if BHL should really stand for “Beltway Heart Libertarians”). The layperson of this group is the person who wants an alternative to the two parties so they vote libertarian and get involved in it at the level of conventional politics, and most likely they are light on the philosophy side of it, or at least stick to a pretty vanilla minarchism.
The big players of this group are the libertarian politicians, lawyers, lobbyists, journalists, and vanilla libertarian organizations that basically amount to Republican light. This is also where the most money is for libertarian youth outreach (read: grooming people ideologically as the next generation of libertarian talking heads and academics). Think of it as the libertarian attempt to take on the lambasted role of the Marxists in the university.
Tin Foil Hat Libertarians – This is the libertarian whose main draw is through conspiracy theory and sensationalism. They freely mix their libertarianism with conspiracies and tabloid style journalism. The reptilian Illuminati Jewish Rothschild bankers from outer space are coming! Think of it as the paleo-libertarian view on a large dose of acid, and after perhaps taking a Robert Anton Wilson book a little too seriously. It has never ceased to amaze me how many people like this actually exist out there. They always visibly existed mixed in as mutual friends of libertarians on social networking, in my experience. I didn’t realize how many nutters I had non-thinkingly accepted friend requests from until I decided to clean house.
Geolibertarians – These libertarians typically take after Henry George and their pet peeve issue is land. They are libertarians who rightly perceive that there is a distinct issue about land property, though they’re also ideologically tied to a particular solution. Aside from this one issue of land, it says very little about the given libertarian. I also always found interaction with geolibertarians to often feel odd in that they struck me as obsessed with this one issue, seemingly bringing it into discussion of everything as the one solution to politics. There are a number of geolibertarians I’ve interacted with who seemed like fairly vanilla libertarians otherwise, and sometimes even surprisingly on the more conservative side of things overall. It’s a single-issue position.