My own attitude toward politics began to form in junior high school. A recent convert to the fortress of atheism, deciding that the best we hairless apes could do was to help each other out and give justice on Earth to those with none, I naturally gravitated to socialism. There may have been no Heavenly Father, but we could still act as brothers and sisters to those in need, doing our best to create a heaven in this life. A cursory look at all the various political postures suggested that all those who championed similar causes were leftists. UNICEF, the Peace Corps, local charities-- filled with leftists. Sincere leftists want to relieve suffering and misery in a world where suffering and misery are ubiquitous. But for those that seek rational causes of the economic and social ills that plague society and gravitate toward economics and political science, government itself is eventually seen to be the destructive Golem churning civil society for its own sake. Thusly paved is the path from socialism to libertarianism. Centralized socialism doesn't work well, while free markets are organic, spontaneous networks of cooperation that benefit all actors at any level of society.
Still, there seem to be considerable gaps for those maintaining a steady eye on social justice. Market failures occur. Poverty cannot be solved by markets alone; there will be uninsured, addicts, children born in conditions difficult to escape from. There are many elegant arguments for why these problems can often be traced to government intervention, or why private mechanisms will naturally, of their own accord, help those at the margins that don't succeed. But this remains an obscure gray region in the typical libertarian orthodoxy, and a glaring chasm to leftists. Realizing that markets work doesn't mean we suddenly have a free society in which there are no losers. There are people on the bottom, people suffering at this very moment who need help. There is a tendency among libertarians who have gone through a bleeding heart progressive phase to be eviscerated by the libertarian vision, just as a Rapture Christian sees no need to improve the world when the eschaton is just around the corner. There is a pervasive tendency to armchair activism. Those suffering under the current system want to better themselves before they care to understand the economic causes of poverty. That in the long run people will be better off with less government does not relieve present suffering and doesn't, in itself, provide a vision of what will replace the safety net.
Though there are some
Instead of waiting for people to "wake up", it is time to realize it will not happen. There will not be an ideological revolution divorced from practical considerations. Economics is not called the dismal science for nothing; political theorizing and arcane moral deontologies don't resonate with the masses. People want to see local, tangible improvement in their lives and in the lives of others. What is needed is a practical revolution. If people have not tasted a voluntary society for themselves, how can they hunger for it?
A free society must grow from the ground up. Rather than an ideological crusade, a practical, concrete activism needs to be nurtured. This means working in soup kitchens and homeless shelters, creating voluntary mutual aid networks, supporting charter school movements locally, delivering groceries to poor families, cleaning up the dirty parts of the city. This means getting your hands dirty and giving practical freedom to other people. Sometimes it may mean going to a city council meeting or supporting a political cause or even voting in local elections. It will mean working with leftists, the religious right and people of various ideologies on voluntary solutions to tangible problems. The hell of government interference will only be rejected when there is at least a practical, malleable purgatory available as a substitute.
Addendum: In response to a commentator, this site has not been hacked. The point is not that the socialist critique of the free market model is correct per se, nor that families prove socialism could work on a large scale. My overall suggestion is that not only is ecumenicism theoretically possible between libertarians and leftists, but that it is practically possible right now. Many socialist visions do not strictly contradict a free market society and in fact are assumed by most libertarians as necessary organizational models on local levels to "fill the gaps" where markets are not desirable or practicable. The challenge then, is to acknowledge that there are gaps right now that need attention by volunteers, especially those conscious that it is better to create a voluntary, responsive system than to depend on government. There are a great many practical steps toward a free society that might be taken independent of the current level of government interference, including the most simple volunteering and working for the poor on local levels. This is work that needs to be done in a libertarian society as much as the current one and should be considered by the libertarian as a pure free market activity.