If you believe in the non-aggression principle (basically, don’t hit) and private property rights (basically, don’t steal), and you believe in the logical implications of these principles, which includes the conclusion that government is a criminal organization because it continuously aggresses and steals, then you are a libertarian. Because government has a monopoly on the initiation of force within a particular geographic area, and uses its monopoly on force to minimize non-government criminal activity in that area, and is therefore the biggest criminal organization in that area, and is therefore the biggest enemy of liberty in that area, libertarians focus a lot of their effort criticizing governments. However, some people think that libertarians are only opposed to government criminality and not other criminality. But this isn’t true. Libertarians are opposed to all violations of the non-aggression principle and private property rights. Government may be the largest and most sophisticated criminal organization, but not all criminals are in government.
Another myth about libertarianism is that libertarians care only about violations of the non-aggression principle and private property, but do not regard any other behaviors to be immoral. This is also false. There are many ethical principles one can add to libertarianism to arrive at a more complete ethical theory. For instance, a Christian libertarian may believe that going to church on Sunday is morally good. This is consistent with libertarianism because it does not violate the non-aggression principle or private property rights. Of course, there are plenty of “ethical principles” one could add to libertarianism that would not make sense because they would contradict libertarianism. Believing that anyone who doesn’t go to church on Sunday should be imprisoned contradicts the non-aggression principle, and thus could not be added to libertarianism in a logically consistent way.
Both myths are present in this criticism of Ron Paul by Noah Smith. Noah believes that libertarians believe that “if your freedom is not being taken away by the biggest bully that exists, your freedom is not being taken away at all.” I don’t know if any “libertarians” believe this or not, but if they do, then they are not libertarians as defined here, who by definition believe in the non-aggression principle and private property rights and the implications of these principles. Any violation of these principles, whether by a government employee or someone else, is a crime. Libertarians believe that big bullies and small bullies may be different in size, but they are all bullies.
The second myth in this article is that libertarians don’t care about any immoral behavior that is consistent with libertarianism. For instance, suppose Person A lives in a house, and Person B, a rich jerk, buys up all the property around the house of Person A, and then forbids Person A from walking across the property of Person B to escape. (This example is not given in Noah’s article but captures the essence of the examples he does give.) Person B has thus “imprisoned” Person A in a manner consistent with libertarianism. This is true. In this rare but possible scenario, the only way Person A can escape is to criminally trespass on the property of Person B. However, there is at least one libertarian, myself (and presumably many others), who regard the behavior of Person B, the effective imprisonment of Person A, to be immoral. This position is consistent with libertarianism. Further, there are many non-violent means Person A could use to escape that are consistent with libertarianism, such as convincing a lot of people to boycott transactions with Person B until Person B relents. So long as these means are consistent with the non-aggression principle and private property rights, then they are consistent with libertarianism. This basic strategy works with any immoral action that someone commits that is technically consistent with libertarianism. In response to any such immoral action, one can employ reactions that are also consistent with libertarianism.
Libertarians regard the government to be a criminal organization because it violates the non-aggression principle and private property rights. Government happens to be the largest criminal organization, and thus libertarians focus their resources on criticizing it. However, there are many criminals who are not in government. It is a myth that libertarians regard only the government to violate the principles of libertarianism. Further, libertarians are free to have ethics that extend libertarianism. It is another myth that libertarians believe all actions consistent with libertarianism are morally acceptable. There are many different ethical systems one can construct with libertarianism at the base that are consistent with libertarianism.