The slogan of the national Libertarian Party is “Minimum Government, Maximum Freedom.” Yet, on the Introduction page, I read that “Government’s only role is to help individuals defend themselves from force and fraud.”
I can appreciate why many people could recognize those two ideas as synonymous, but they are not. The size of government does not correspond necessarily to the role that government takes within society. For example, a government that had the sole function of arresting pot smokers would be a very minimal government, but it would not be a just government, even according to Libertarian Party standards.
For people who believe that government should have a function within a society, the quantity of government is not the issue; the quality is. The problem with conflating those two ideas in the way the Libertarian Party has is that it paralyzes the effectiveness of a political organization, as has taken place within the LP for the past two decades or longer. The Republican and Democrat parties do not have the same difficulties because their aim is to expand the government’s control of society in one way or another.
Today, a major faction of the Libertarian Party is made of conservatives who want to reduce the scope of government. It could be that conservatives want to abolish laws prohibiting the murder of abortion doctors, as conservatives are looking to do in South Dakota. Meanwhile, traditional LP members are more accepting of different lifestyles and want to abolish government controls on marriage. While both factions want to reduce the role of government in some area or another, they are going to be in conflict because they disagree on what the proper role of government is. When they do agree on the proper role of government, they could very well disagreement with what freedom and justice are.
A limited-government libertarian, to remain consistent, has little place making arguments grounded in economic consequences, since economics is a value-neutral science. Economics cannot give insight as to what policies ought to pursued, only how to pursue them. In fact, emphasizing the societal benefits of a political policy at the exclusion of making the moral case concedes that the sovereignty of individuals is a secondary concern to the social consequences. The libertarian reasoning in determining the proper role of government, if it is going to have any impact at all, must be in achieving justice. My understanding of justice is going to have a different meaning as to the proper role of government, which I regard as none. Nonetheless, if there is going to be a government, the least worst form of government would be one that protects me from aggression to a greater extent than it participates in it.