We may hold it to be self evident, but there seems to be a great deal of confusion or misinformation as to what being a libertarian actually means. Here is what I see as the essence of the matter.
1. Libertarians believe in freedom of thought
Freedom of thought precedes the manifestation of all other parts of the libertarian philosophy. The telltale difference between libertarians and dictators is the latter will tell you what you should think, where libertarians will encourage you to think for yourselves.
2. Libertarians believe in individual choice
This is the fundamental tenet of the libertarian perspective. From an American point of view this is tipified by the first amendment. Individual choice necessitates avoiding inflicting your choices or the consequences of your actions upon others.
3. Libertarians believe in free expression of opinion
Freedom of expression is critical to the libertarian philosophy. This does not imply impugnity to say anything without consequence such as slander or libelous remarks. Facts can be either true or false, but scientifically an opinion cannot be right or wrong.
4. Libertarians can disagree
As in the first point, there can be differences in how libertarians interpret consequences. For example with smoking: On the one hand it is an individuals choice whether to smoke or not, however the smoke generated spreads throught the air and can impinge on other individuals choice of not smoking. Hence one can be libertarian and oppose smoking in public buildings for example as people may not have a choice in going there. Conversely it is incongruous for a libertarian to oppose smoking indoors on private property where people are present by choice and have the option of leaving.
5. There are degrees of libertarianism
Almost all libertarians are limited in their degree of professing the philosophy. To be 100% libertarian would also require being 100% anarchist as being governed by definition reduces liberty as does any form of rule of law. The are some pure libertarians, but from my personal experience I would say they are a minority.
Myths about libertarians:
1. Libertarians are pro-choice / pro-life
This is an issue not addressed by the libertarian philosophy in that libertarians can take either view depending on when they personally define human life as beginning. Depending on that view the issue of abortion laws can be seen as violating a womans right of choice or of an embryos right to life.
2. Libertarians believe in the abolition of taxation
Again a view taken by some, but not all. There is a general trend that libertarians lean towards a minimalist view of taxation, though almost all recognise the need for taxation to provide for the essential functions of society e.g. Courts, A treasury, Congress etc.
3. Libertarians oppose social safety nets
A commonly held belief amongst libertarians but not one that defines the philosophy. As mentioned previously the existence of a social structure requires taxation of either individuals or corporations to provide funding for essential services. What services are defined as essential are a question of individual beliefs and hence according to the fundamental tenet of libertarianism it is not for one individual to dictate what is or is not.
4. Libertarianism is a 'movement'
A philosophy is not a movement. Nor is any set of beliefs. The attempt to get a philosophy into the mainstream of political thought or media coverage can be considered a movement, but this should not be confused with the philosophy itself. There are unfortunately a sizeable number of people (particularly in their mid 20's) who call themselves libertarians because they wish for less government interference in their lives, yet insist on dictating their personal beliefs on what they see as the libertarian movement. They seem unable to grasp that when one person insists on inflicting their version of liberty on everyone else that is known as a dictatorship. Dictatorianism is by definition the exact opposite of libertarianism
5. Libertarianism is a system of government
Different libertarians believe in different systems of government. Most seem to prefer democracy, many are anarchists, some are monarchists etc. It is a matter of personal opinion. The most commonly held belief I have observed in libertarians regarding government is the need for a constitution defining the role of government and personal rights, though again this cannot be considered a requirement.
Libertarianism has no correlation to any other school of political thought, It is neither left nor right, conservative nor progressive, socialist or capitalist. The goal of all libertarians is the maximization of liberty for all. How this is acheived or what it specifically means is something that each libertarian defines for his or her self. Everything I have said is of course my own personal analysis and you the reader are free to disagree with any of it. If that is the case I would implore you to go through it point by point, exploring the logic of each and create your own logical argument to support your position.