The Differences Between Conservatives And Libertarians

October 21, 2012

I adhere to a very different viewpoint than my conservative friends. But still, we often are in agreement on politics. In fact, since Obama has been in office, most of my attention has been focusing on Obama’s failures, and this has led to more agreement with conservatives than ever — though this could change if a Republican takes office.

Regardless, we both agree that Obama is a tyrant, that spending is out of control, that capitalism is great, that taxes should be cut, that regulations are destroying the country, that the nanny state is out of control, that we should stop foreign aid, that the government is responsible for the financial crisis, and well as plenty of other topics.

In general, if a conservative believes the government is going too far in an area, a libertarian completely agrees. So what’s the difference between the two philosophies? Several actually. Namely, libertarianism just takes the general principles of liberty and follows them all the way through without exception.

What Is Conservatism?

In general, conservatism is rooted in a desire to conserve traditional values. This is why conservatives are generally for traditional marriage, religion, and the general economic system they’ve become used to.

There are many branches of conservatism, with some emphasizing that change should just be slow, to others emphasizing a religious foundation of enforcing a religious standard of right and wrong on others. I’m a strong Christian, and I grew up in a community of religious conservatives.

Conservatism, oddly as it might sound, is a changing philosophy (albeit slowly). Depending on when you live, the “conservatives” believe in entirely different things. Conservatives in Rome would have believed in conquering the world, conservatives in 50 years could be defending Obamacare, and conservatives now often defend what were Democrat ideas from just a few decades ago. Still, there are some fundamental principles that conservatives use — but overall, it’s about keeping things the way they’ve been rather than a specific extreme ideology.

Some conservatives adhere to a philosophy that is almost indiscernible from libertarianism. For example, Ron Paul is often labeled a “paleoconservative”, and several of my friends constantly remind me that not all conservatives believe in a big government. This allows for great discussions comparing the two.

What Is Libertarianism?

Libertarianism is structurally different than other political philosophies. Libertarianism is the philosophy that using force is only justified to protect and/or enforce natural law. In other words, if someone isn’t violating your rights to life, liberty, property, or aren’t violating a contract, then you can’t use violence against them.

Don’t confuse libertarianism with the Libertarian Party. You can be a Republican libertarian. Ron Paul did this for decades, and Rand Paul is doing it now. 

Some libertarians believe in a small, limited government. Other libertarians believe we should abolish government entirely. These two camps argue constantly. There are just as many branches to libertarianism as there are to conservatism — and, of course, every branch claims they’re the “true” libertarians and everyone else is a fraud.

The implications of libertarianism mean that everyone is free, even if we don’t like what they’ll do with their freedom. This means businessmen are free to do businesses without being shut down by angry leftists. It means that if someone wants to smoke pot on their property, that’s perfectly fine so long as they don’t violate the rights of others. The root word of libertarianism is just “liberty”. That’s the philosophy.

Under a libertarian system, wealth becomes more abundant through the sheer lack of taxes and government destruction of the economy. If you saw your taxes drastically cut, would you be better off? Libertarianism applies that philosophy to everything.

Differences Between Conservatism And Libertarianism

The differences between the two groups are that libertarians don’t concede ground when it comes to the rights of the people. For example, conservatives often defend programs they fought against just a few years ago. Medicare, welfare, huge military spending, etc.

Conservatives are also fine with locking people in prison because of fears of a cultural change. Until just recently, it was actually illegal in many states to be an active homesexual. Not just disapproved — it was actually illegal.

Right now, over a quarter of a million people are in jails and prisons because of the war on drugs — the impacts of this is extremely severe, and it has completely failed. Drugs are still plentiful for the reasons guns don’t go away when you ban guns. The only impact to the war on drugs is a rising police state, drugs being even more dangerous and poorly manufactured, and many lives ruined for what could just be an immature phase one goes through.

Libertarians also take the philosophy of capitalism and just run with it. We believe in absolutely no violations of the free market, even if someone thinks it’ll “fix” something. Governments can’t fix markets. It’s economically impossible — the market functions the way it does for a reason, and every violation of it violates the rights of the people involved and destroys wealth over time.

The Case For Libertarianism

Libertarianism begins by looking at a politician and his military, and asking whether they have any special moral ability to hurt our families because of their “political” status. Is it wrong for a soldier to beat up your daughter? Is it wrong for a politician to rape a constituent? Of course. But why?

Some might claim because it doesn’t do the “most good”. But that just begs the question: should we put a spending limit on what people are able to spend, for the sake of channelling money to what government decides is the highest “good”? Should the government regulate your diet to make sure you don’t get obese and unhealthy?

The answer is of course not. All of those violate your basic rights of life, liberty, and property. That’s what libertarianism is. We begin and end our political theory with natural rights. No exceptions.

If natural rights exist, then they exist — they don’t disappear just because someone is gay, rich, or likes junk food. People have natural rights and we should respect those rights. That’s libertarianism.

The Policy Positions Of Libertarians:

The positions of libertarians depend partially on on the branch one adheres to in particular. Still, there’s generally enough common ground that a libertarian essentially always believes:

  • Taxes. Cut them. Some libertarians support a small amount of taxes, while others — like myself — don’t support any at all. Either way, conservatives and libertarians should find common ground when it comes to cutting current taxes. They’re too high no matter what you’re long-term goal is.
  • Regulations. The only time it’s justified to restrict a business activity is when it violates the rights of others. Polluting someone’s land, breaking a contract, falsely claiming your product can do what it can’t, etc.
  • Corporatism. Libertarians are against stealing from anyone to give it to a corporation. This means ending all corporate welfare. All of it — no exceptions. If a corporation is necessary, then the market will reward them justly. No bailouts, ever.
  • Socialism. Libertarians support ending every aspect of the welfare state. Welfare, Social Security, Medicaid, etc. Phase them all out into the private sector and make them voluntary.
  • Military. Libertarians debate about this among themselves. Some believe in a small military that is strong and powerful, and others are full-fledged anarchists.
  • Drugs. Legalize them, but if someone violates the rights of others  make them pay for it. Don’t confuse drug users with people who violate the rights of others. The same for alcohol.
  • Nanny state. Abolish it. All of it. The whole thing. Down with Bloomberg and Michelle Obama. We should be able to make our own choices without incompetent psychopaths in Washington dictating the terms of our lives.
  • Foreign Policy. Libertarian foreign policy is extremely misunderstood by the media. We believe that a strong defense is important, but that droning little girls overseas isn’t part of defense. We should only go to war when attacked or when defending ourselves from an immenent attack. This doesn’t mean we have to wait till the bullets are headed towards our faces — it means that we shouldn’t invade countries for reasons that have nothing to do with defending ourselves. This means no Iraq and no “saving” Africa. It means pretty much everything Obama has done has been wrong.

What Libertarianism Doesn’t Mean

Libertarianism is often confused with a libertine philosophy. A libertine philosophy is the idea that nothing is wrong unless it violates the rights of other people. This isn’t what libertarianism is about.

I’m a fundamentalist Christian, and so is the other admin of Capitalism Institute. We both attend church, believe in God, read our Bibles, and have a Christian approach to everything. But this doesn’t mean we think it’s justified to use violence against people just because their actions are sinful.

I might not agree with your life choices, but I’ll fight to the death for your right to make them. That’s libertarianism. That’s just liberty itself.

Are Libertarians And Conservatives Enemies?

In the grand scheme of things, libertarians have more in common with conservatives than libertarians. That’s why Ron Paul, Rand Paul, and Justin Amash are all in the Republican party. That’s where alliances with conservatives are forged.

We do have strong disagreements. When Bush was president, I protested the spending, the regulations, the “compassionate” socialism, the war on drugs, and the war in Iraq. I knew some extreme conservatives who agreed on many of those topics and they protested as well.

But conservatives have more in common with libertarians than leftists. Leftists want the state to regulate everything with a massive state that essentially becomes their God. Conservatives and libertarians both reject this, though libertarians go much further than most conservatives.

Still, occasionally we’ll find alliances in each others’ groups. For example, William F. Buckley, Jr., the founder of The National Review, actually believed in ending the war on marijuana, claiming it failed. This is the kind of common ground that can better off both conservatives and libertarians.

The great late activist Andrew Breitbart was right when he said:

“Conservatives, especially right now, have a hell of a lot more in common with libertarianism than Barack Obama and what the progressive left stand for.”

If you want to learn more, check out the first article I ever read about libertarianism, written in the 1950s. Make sure to also read our article on the definition of capitalism.

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