Lately over the last year or so we've been hearing a lot about Libertarianism in the media, most notably from Ron and Rand Paul, who take a libertarian stance on many social issues. All this idiotic teabagger bullshit started when Ron Paul ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, and thus a lot of the Tea Party people identify themselves as "libertarian." In real life they are merely re-branded conservatives, but that's not what we're talking about here.
According to Wikipedia, the Libertarian party of the United states asserts this to be the core belief of Libertarianism:
"Libertarians support maximum liberty in both personal and economic matters. They advocate a much smaller government; one that is limited to protecting individuals from coercion and violence. Libertarians tend to embrace individual responsibility, oppose government bureaucracy and taxes, promote private charity, tolerate diverse lifestyles, support the free market, and defend civil liberties."
Let's take a look exactly at what this all means. We always hear people on the right talking about "smaller government," but what exactly do they mean by this? Well to people like Rand Paul, "Smaller government" means cutting any and all entitlement, social assistance, or welfare programs. That means no Medicare or Medicaid, no food stamps, no unemployment, nothing. Even a program like Social Security, where people pay into a pool over dozens of years and don't take benefits until a certain age, even this is too much government involvement. If the libertarians get in charge you can kiss any kind of help from Uncle Sam goodbye.
The elimination of any and all types of social assistance is however consistent with libertarian philosophy, which is more than most political movements can claim. Libertarian philosophy asserts that people are only responsible for themselves and their immediate family, they completely reject any notion that the individual should contribute to a larger society or should take advantage of the benefits of such a society. This is why you see the followers of Rand Paul talk so much about "States Rights"and the 10th amendment. In fact recently there's been a growing movement of "Tenthers" splintering off from the Teabagger people who are attempting to use the 10th amendment to do things like reverse the health care bill. This is great provided you are a reasonably healthy individual capable of finding work and taking care of yourself - but In real life there are millions of people out there who are not, for one reason or another, often times though no fault of their own.
The problems that our nation faces seem more and more stem from the exact policies which the conservative forces in our government have enacted over the last 30 year - deregulating banking, removing environmental restrictions, cutting taxes on the wealthy, and so on. Stripping away the social safety net and removing worker protections is the exact opposite of what needs to be done in order to preserve our middle class and general American prosperity.
Libertarianism is also an inadequate and ineffectual philosophy when dealing with modern nation states. We live in an era where for good or ill nation states tend to cooperate economically and militarily, where capital is not restricted by international borders, where people born half a world a way have the ability to travel and settle long distances, Where the resource rich areas of the globe are also some of the most backward and war torn, usually as a result of extracting said resources for Western consumption, where small groups of determined individuals are capable of causing mass destruction unlike any other time in history. It is increasingly apparent that it is in our best interest to work towards stability in some of the more vital areas of the world. When people in South America have jobs, people in Africa are fed, when Pakistan has a stable government, or Nuclear weapons are restricted from North Korea we benefit as well. The Libertarian isolationist world view of an America with closed borders, no international aid, and zero involvement in world affairs except to drop bombs on people who directly threaten us is a recipe for disaster. America cannot economically, politically, socially, and militarily afford an isolationist policy. Globalization is here to stay, for good or ill, there is no going back.
The Libertarian tirade against "government control" ignores the inherent flaw with a profit-driven model. An entity which puts profits over the well being of people should not be allowed to control such vital sectors of society without stringent oversight. Over the past decade due to such policies we've seen companies such as Enron and Worldcom fold and take the retirements savings of their workers with them, we've seen banks and investment firms build up and pop bubble after bubble - Tech stocks, oil, wheat futures, - finally accumulating in the collapse of the housing market which nearly took our entire economy with it. All of this occurred because of a LACK of regulation, not TOO MUCH OF IT.
Those countries which are most successful in regards to keeping their people healthy, educated, safe, and employed use a mixture of socialized industries along with capital entrepreneurship. In general, those sectors of the economy which benefit the citizen directly tend to be socialized - health care, medicine, law enforcement, fire, military, Utilities such as water, electricity, etc. The exact mixture to get the maximum benefit yet retain the greatest amount of liberty I think has yet to be determined. Maybe we don't need 100% socialized medicine. Maybe it's good to let certain industries take risks without restrictions. But the fact remains we are all part of a larger society, and in order to keep that society working we are obligated to contribute. The Libertarian ideal of "I'm not sharing" may work great on a neighborhood level, but when taken into a national context is highly immature and practically unworkable.