I have long thought of myself, and sometimes described myself, as a sort of libertarian. But when I hear what other people have to say about it, sometimes I wonder. Both critics and proponents of libertarianism always seem to be saying things about it that go way beyond my understanding of the position.
For example, my former co-blogger Zippy Catholic seems to associate libertarianism with the pursuit of absolute autonomy - of a society (if it could be called that) of "free and equal supermen." And my present co-blogger Jeff Culbreath apparently sees it as a sort of "cult" of the individual and of property.
On the other hand, "liberaltarians" like Brink Lindsey and Will Wilkinson seem to believe that it represents some sort of advance for libertarianism when people not only stop imposing various traditional mores by law, but actually start celebrating the transgression of those mores.
All this seems wrong to me. I don't find notions of absolute autonomy very compelling, or even very comprehensible, and I certainly don't pine for a world of free, let alone equal, supermen. Nor do I see anything sacred about "the individual" or "property," as such. And while I think that libertarianism requires one to leave everybody from neo-nazis to transvestites in peace, it certainly doesn't ask one to love, or even to tolerate, them, if that means anything beyond leaving them alone.
So I guess my idea of "libertarianism" must be relatively minimal - what one might call, with apologies to C. S. Lewis, "mere" libertarianism. I'd describe it kind of like this:
Libertarianism is a purely political doctrine according to which the state ought to be confined to, at most, a few essential functions - most notably police protection, enforcement of contracts, and national defense. Period. Full stop. That's all, folks.
It is compatible with a variety of metaphysical, ethical and religious worldviews, but does not entail any one in particular. One might endorse libertarian politics because one has bought into the theories of Ayn Rand, or Murray Rothbard, or Robert Nozick. For all I know, one might do so because the thought of a society of free and equal supermen floats ones boat, or because one entertains worshipful feelings towards the concepts of "the individual" and/or "property." One might even do so because one wants to be free to get stoned out of one's mind every day while dressing up in gender-bending outfits. But all of that goes beyond "mere" libertarianism - which, again is a purely political doctrine about the proper limits of state power.
Now obviously I have my own particular reasons for wanting state power strictly limited, and I suppose it's only fair to say what they are - but keep in mind that at this point I, too, am going beyond "mere" libertarianism.
In the end, I think that what it all comes down to is that I just have a very strong aversion to bullies and busybodies: I don't like people butting into my affairs without being asked, let alone trying to boss me around. Moreover, I tend to like and admire other people who share this aversion, and to dislike and scorn those who don't. Those who react to bullies and busybodies with subservient or sympathetic feelings strike me as, if anything, even worse and more contemptible than the bullies and busybodies themselves. Combine that set of personal tastes with the easily observable fact that any concentration of political power inevitably and invariably draws in bullies, busybodies, and those who love them as a magnet draws in iron filings, and, well - Robert's your father's brother. I was an instinctive libertarian long before I ever heard the word.
Over the years I've come across various more or less systematic attempts to provide libertarian political views with deep theoretical foundations in metaphysics and ethics, but I can't say that I've found any of them particularly persuasive. Not that they tend to be any worse than similar attempts to shore up the available alternatives, but still: no sale. In the end, my libertarian tendencies are, and will, I suspect, always remain, more emotional than rational - and perhaps all the stronger for that.