I suspect that most people would argue that liberty and democracy are tightly bound together -- that if you lack democracy, then liberty is in trouble at best and before long, it will be lost. Well, lost for all except those in the most powerful and privileged positions. Curiously, this seems to be what's at the heart of some libertarians' beliefs: that democracy is so bad that liberty must be "protected" from it.
We can see hints of some of this when libertarians promote illiberal and unfree states simply because they have or had lower taxes than contemporary America -- for example, when the Confederate government is lauded. Some openly and proudly argue that democracy is a "failed" experiment that should be abandoned. There's no question about where they stand and no mistakes of interpretation.
The libertarian movement has been conspicuously absent from the campaigns for civil rights for nonwhites, women, gays and lesbians. Most, if not all, libertarians support sexual and reproductive freedom (though Rand Paul has expressed doubts about federal civil rights legislation). But civil libertarian activists are found overwhelmingly on the left. Their right-wing brethren have been concerned with issues more important than civil rights, voting rights, abuses by police and the military, and the subordination of politics to religion -- issues like the campaign to expand human freedom by turning highways over to toll-extracting private corporations and the crusade to funnel money from Social Security to Wall Street brokerage firms.
While progressives betray their principles when they apologize for autocracy, libertarians do not. Today's libertarians claim to be the heirs of the classical liberals of the 19th century. Without exception the great thinkers of classical liberalism, like Benjamin Constant, Thomas Babington Macaulay and John Stuart Mill, viewed universal suffrage democracy as a threat to property rights and capitalism. Mill favored educational qualifications for voters, like the "literacy tests" used to disfranchise most blacks and many whites in the South before the 1960s. After the Civil War, Lord Acton wrote to Robert E. Lee, commiserating with him on the defeat of the Confederacy. ...
The history of democratic nation-states since the 19th century proves that Macaulay, and von Mises, and Hayek, as well as lesser lights like Patri Friedman, have been right to argue that democracy is incompatible with libertarianism. Every modern, advanced democracy, including the United States, devotes between a third and half of its GDP to government, in both direct spending on public services like defense and transfer payments. Given the power to vote, most populations will not only vote for some system of government-backed social insurance, but also for all sorts of interventions in individual behavior that libertarians object to, from laws banning nudity in public to laws mandating that people support their children, do not torture or neglect their pets and water their lawns during droughts according to scheduled rationing.
Unfortunately for libertarians who, like Hayek, prefer libertarian dictatorships to welfare-state democracies, even modern authoritarians reject the small-government creed. The most successful authoritarian capitalist regimes, such as today's China and South Korea and Taiwan before their recent transitions to democracy, have been highly interventionist in economics, promoting economic growth by means of state-controlled banking, state-owned enterprises, government promotion of cartels, suppression of wages and consumption, tariffs and nontariff barriers to imports, toleration of intellectual piracy, massive infrastructure projects to help industry, and subsidies to manufacturers in the form of artificially cheap raw materials, energy and land.
The libertarians who at least consider democracy suspect, if not outright reject it, are not a few marginal and irrelevant voices. The anti-democracy strand of thinking may not dominate with every libertarian thinker, but it plays a real role in the thinking and behavior of quite a few prominent libertarians. What's more, anti-democratic thinking has been accepted as legitimate by libertarian institutions like Cato. So this is an issue that's relevant and needs to be dealt with -- especially by libertarians themselves.
There is, perhaps, an easy test to apply. It was first suggested by David Boaz, a vice-president of Cato (which means that it can't be simply dismissed). He could no longer hold his tongue at the extent to which the Confederacy and Jefferson Davis were being praised by libertarians and he wrote an essay for Reason magazine in 2010 to explain that the Confederacy was not a free society and this shouldn't be considered more important than the fact that it had lower taxation.
Boaz asked a very direct and pointed question of fellow libertarians: "If you had to choose, would you rather live in a country with a department of labor and even an income tax or a Dred Scott decision and a Fugitive Slave Act?" This question apparently created some controversy among libertarians, which already tells us something. We can perhaps simplify the question a bit: "would you sacrifice democracy and even some liberty for unpopular minorities in exchange for very low taxes, very low tariffs, and a very small government?"
That the question even needs to be asked, and that the answer is in doubt, is already a problem.