WHY ARE MOST SELF DESCRIBED LIBERTARIANS UNABLE TO ARTICULATELY DESCRIBE LIBERTARIANISM?
There is a reason that the term ‘libertarian’ often cannot be explained by advocates, and it’s the reason social democrats cannot explain marxist theory (which is extremely elaborate.) Libertarianism can refer to:
1) A sentiment (the preference for liberty above all other moral ambitions).
2) A moral conviction that liberty produces ‘goods’.
3) A political preference – which is the minimization or elimination of bureaucracy because all bureaucracy becomes self serving. It can refer to an economic model that suggests liberty will provide the most competitive and wealthiest economy for all.
4) It can refer to a political model, such as Classical Liberalism, Private government or Anarcho Capitalism.
5) It can refer to a specific and rigid philosophical doctrine that states that all exchanges must be voluntary and devoid of fraud theft or violence. And in the classical liberal model, additionally, that transactions may not cause externalities (external involuntary transfers), and that norms and the commons are forms of property we must pay for through forgone opportunities for self gratification. Libertarianism is, aside from marxism, the most analytically rigorous political theory that exists. But whether anarchic or classical liberal, or anything in between, the guiding principle is that all statements about rights can be reduced to statements about property rights, and the only ‘rights’ we can possess are those that are reducible to statements about property rights.
So a person who refers to himself as a libertarian, may be correct in that he prefers less government and more personal liberty, for anything from a sentimental desire, to a fully and rationally articulated philosophical, economic and political model.
And if someone doesn’t know how to explain what ‘libertarianism is” that’s because you’re talking to people with sentimental attraction rather than something more rationally chosen. Or you’re talking to a set of people who express their sentiment in a broad spectrum from intuitively emotive, to fully rationally articulated. And you’re unable to identify the similarities.