The Eclectic Iconoclast has a very good post about Libertarianism that I highly recommend. This post started out as a comment I was going to make on it, but it got too long.
EI writes that Libertarians “elevate the rights inherent in property ownership above and ahead of the rights of individuals.” I take issue with this. Most Libertarians certainly do allow that you can’t just kill people for trespassing, for example. The reason they object to government intervention to say, tell white business owners that they have to let black people into their stores is simply as a matter of the precedent it sets. If the state can intervene against a person’s right to control their property in the interest of letting another person occupy that property, it means the government it means, in broad outlines, that the government may violate a person’s rights when it determines that it is in the service of the greater good.
Now, of course, this is a basic function of government. As EI points out, most Libertarians acknowledge this. Everyone would agree that the government can violate someone’s right to move about the country freely if that someone has, for example, murdered a bunch of people. Nevertheless, Libertarians are uneasy with this idea. They certainly would say the government should intervene to stop the murderous activities of the Ku Klux Klan, but should they intervene to say that “you must serve all customers, regardless of race, at your restaurant”?
I freely admit that the ultimate effect of the libertarian policy is to say that in this case, we value the proprietors right over the potential customers right, but this is not actually the Libertarian objective. The Libertarian objective is to minimize government intervention. Why? Because it can lead to giving the government too much power, and that can be dangerous.
The Libertarian logic is basically that government is either (and sometimes both) evil and totalitarian, or at best inefficient, incompetent, and corrupt. Therefore, you want it to have as little power as possible.
Now, the Iconoclast does make a compelling argument that the Libertarians are, in fact, wrong in their view of the role of government. I am unsure about this aspect of the issue myself–on the one hand, I think the government is inefficient and corrupt, but on the other hand, I don’t know that the private market is really any better.