Why is avoiding coercion a supreme end that dominates all other ends? What makes noncoercion superior to justice, equality, freedom, security, happiness, and other values? If any of these ends are superior to noncoercion, then would not coercion be justified if it were the sole means in some situations for achieving the superior value? Alternatively, if one believes that the world of values is not dominated by a single absolute end but is a pluralistic universe, then one must make judgments about trade-offs between coercion and other values.
Libertarians and libertarianism want to minimize coercion by the state. The state should do as little as possible in order to respect individual freedom. In the U.S., there are many conservatives who hold libertarian views, but there’s also an independent libertarian movement, separate from conservatives and liberals. Liberals are usually criticized by libertarians for being too “statist”, for relying too much on the state to improve people’s lives, to deliver equal healthcare and social justice, and for ignoring individual freedom and self-responsibility.
A main worry of libertarians is the state’s disrespect for private property. The liberal goals of social justice, redistribution of wealth and the provision of healthcare imply taxation, big government and other kinds of attacks on property and freedom. For the libertarian, an invidual is the sovereign over his life, his liberty, his body and the products of his body (aka his property). The only possible limit on this sovereignty is the equal sovereignty of others; the only limit on freedom is the equal freedom of others. The state should not limit one’s freedom for other reasons, such as redistribution. The problem, of course, is how people without or with insufficient property can be said to be free (see this post).
I’ve stated my personal views on the precise role of the state regarding redistribution of property and social justice here. These views incorporate the importance of self-reliance, but do not turn this into an absolute value. And here I defend the importance of private property. Whereas many of the concerns of libertarians are important, they tend to be heartless and blind to the requirements of justice and equality, especially equality of opportunities. In general, you run into problems when you elevate one value to the summit of the moral universe.
One of the most famous libertarians is Robert Nozick.
According to him, any distribution of goods, however unequal, is just as long as it is brought about by free exchanges by consenting adults and is made from a just starting position. To redistribute wealth is to treat people merely as a means, as if they are only sources of money.
Another famous libertarian (although there’s some dispute about this) was Ayn Rand.
Rand advocated strict individualism, anti-statism and laissez-faire capitalism, rejecting socialism and altruism. She opposed charity and all forms of government aid. She opposed any government activity not directed at protecting individual rights.
The pursuit of [an individual's] own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.