I was at a diner this past Saturday with some of the New York Skeptics, and (even though "politics" is an officially-banned topic), libertarianism came up. And I trotted out the usual dismissal -- that in my experience, "libertarianism" usually means somebody who takes the attitude "I've got mine, screw you." or "As soon as I **get** mine, screw you." And a staunch defender of libertarianism (and long-time Ayn Rand admirer -- her "philosophy", you understand, not necessarily the lady herself ;-> ) and, ironically enough, the usual wielder of the "no politics!" ban-hammer, remonstrated vociferously with me. "No, Jim, that is **not** what libertarianism is. That is a straw man, a vicious distortion. Libertarianism is simply the principle that altruism must always be an act of free will, it must never be **extorted** from people using government force."[*] And then he went on to describe acts of voluntary altruism he had witnessed. I'm afraid neither of us managed to convince the other of much of anything, "rational discussion" notwithstanding. ;->
[*] In a way, that's a charming fantasy -- the idea that people could be taught to "do the right thing" without anybody ever having to be **forced** to do so. It reminds me of B. F. Skinner's fantasy that the whole world might be run on "positive reinforcement" without either "negative reinforcement" or "punishment" ever having to be used. Only in (some people's idea of) Heaven, I'm afraid. And with libertarianism, some pretty nasty characters get to hide behind that fantasy.Oh, how I find myself wishing I were there to put my two cents in!
As if it would be a person of the liberal left who would be oblivious to the good works done through charitable giving! As if the libertarian utopia of private contracts, duressed by unequal and mis-information, crony corruption, and the threat of starvation in a world without ongoing tax-supported public investments in education, consumer and worker protection, equal recourse to law, safety regulation, unemployment insurance and social security, nutritional assistance, and the rest would be in any real sense "voluntary""non-coercive" or "free"! The very concept of "extortion" applied by your libertarian colleague to taxes, depends for its legibility and force on the working context of laws, institutions, professional practices, all of which depend on educations, buildings, professionals supported by.... wait for it... taxes.
Of course, taxes aren't extorted charitable giving, but the price we the people pay for the public investments that maintain the material (energy, transportation, education, healthcare, police, ecosystem support) and normative (accountable and equitable recourse to law, rights culture, assembly and protest, predictable prices, credentialed professionalism) infrastructure alone within which voluntary and contractual relations can proceed in the informed, nonduressed consensual way libertarians claim to prioritize. (For a more concise yet elaborated formulation see my Ten Theses on Taxes and Democracy.)
Lots of people who have more or expect to have more (in your phrase, the "I've got mine" crowd) like to think they acquired and maintained it all on their own, when in fact they are extraordinary beneficiaries of a collective inheritance and shared maintained world of values that precede and exceed them. Your interlocutor decided to treat your recognition of this basic fact as an ad hominem attack and the conversation was probably already over before it began. It's rather like trying to talk about the impacts of structural racism with someone who thinks this must mean you are accusing them of racist animus.
It's funny, but I can't even say the fantasy that everybody could "do the right thing" without some feeling pressured or "forced" in some measure at least some of the time to do so (because of the enforcement of laws, peer pressure, material limits, all of which are, remember, artifactual and contingent) seems to me charming even as a daydream, really, since it tends to be premised on the idea that there is just one right thing to do in the first place, when the point of departure for politics properly so-called is the recognition that people who share the world are different from one another, see things differently, want different things from life, and so on.
I think the very same denial or possibly incomprehension of this pluralist point of departure for the political drives the endless libertarian daydreams of spontaneous orders -- whether fantasies of an optimally efficient and ethical "market" hampered in its mechanisms by violent government interference or of a mutualist, generous, nonviolent human nature hampered in its free expressions by social or more specifically plutocratic artifice -- "spontaneous orders," sometimes described as such explicitly and sometimes instead implied by anarchic faiths, both right and left (and as you know, I perhaps controversially contend that "left" anarchisms often and even inevitably conduce to the right in spite of themselves).
The denial (via "natural law" and the usual kinda-sorta-evolutionary or fetishitically-mathematical reductionisms, and so on) of the artificiality of normative affordances -- equity, consent, freedom, dignity -- and the ineradicability of stakeholder plurality (via faith in no "rational" conflicts of interest, utilitarian optimality, market efficiencies, righteous moralism, and so on) enables libertarian/anarchic formulations, it seems to me, and one finds oneself trying to talk "politics" with people who haven't even grasped what defines the domain of the political in the first place. Needless to say, those are hard conversations to have.