The central tenet of libertarian theory is the non-aggression axiom. It is wrong for a person or group to initiate violence against another. Violence is only permitted in self defense. Since the essence of government is coercion, the legitimate functions of government are in self defense and administering justice against violent criminals only (rapists, murderers, thieves, and those who commit fraud). Government is appointed by the people to act as their agent in performing these tasks. The people are the masters and government their servant.
Libertarians don't have as much in common with conservatives as [many believe]. First, libertarians do not support an aggressive foreign policy of embargoes, covert operations, bribery ("foreign aid"), and preemptive military strikes. Second, libertarians do not support "political capitalism" where the Enrons, Bechtels, Boeings, and Halliburtons of the world have bureaucrats in DC doing their bidding. Third, true libertarians do not support the Federal Reserve intervening in the price of credit (the "stimulus" of low interest rates) in order to goose the economy before the next election. Fourth, true libertarians do not support "free trade" agreements which in reality promote politically managed trade, regulatory red tape, an international trade bureaucracy, and endless legal conflicts.
Libertarians do not (or should not) worship at the alter of competition over cooperation. In this respect, they may have more in common with liberals than [most] think. Libertarians believe that trade - as long as it is peaceful and voluntary - only takes place if both sides benefit. This could involve trading labor for a wage, money for a meal, time to be with loved ones, a smile for a smile in return, or time and money for charitable causes. Each party is motivated by "self interest" and each benefits from the exchange. Even in the competitive business environment, there are plenty of examples of cooperation. Electronics firms may band together to develop standards. Professionals in the same industry often get together to exchange ideas.
Libertarians believe all people are motivated by self interest, even "public servants". Businessmen risk their own money and are accountable to their consumers, employees, and shareholders. Politicians spend other peoples' money and are accountable primarily to the special interests who are on the receiving end of the government's largesse. When a government taxes $2.5 trillion from its citizens each year and the recipients finance the politicians' election campaigns, the conflict of interest is obvious. A businessman doesn't necessarily become Charles Manson when he puts on his pinstripes, just as a politician doesn't magically become a choir boy when he gets inside the Beltway.
~ Kevin Duffy, Bearing Asset Management, January 26, 2004