Thursday, December 26, 2013

Are libertarianism and conservatism totally different?

We occasionally see some rather poorly informed claims to the effect that libertarianism and conservatism are totally different -- e.g. an article by Walter Block here.  I think therefore that a little clarification is required.  The truth can be very simply put:  Libertarianism is ONE ELEMENT in conservative thinking.  More precisely, Libertarians and conservatives share an attachment to individual liberty.

Libertarians are in some ways like Leftists.  Leftists tend to have very simple formulas for what is wrong with the world.  Ask them and they will say:  inequality, poverty and (more amusingly) intolerance.  When you realize that leading Leftists are usually well-off and are totally intolerant of dissent, you can see how uninsightful and oversimplified leftist reasoning is.   And aside from being mostly poor, libertarians are like that too.  They oversimplify enormously:  Get government out of the way and a  new Eden will dawn.

Conservatives, on the other hand see everything as complex.  They see that there can be other influences on human welfare than freedom.  For instance, when a country seems threatened by foreign aggression (as Britain was in WWII) a conservative may see national security as an important consideration that may need balancing against individual liberty  - hence conservative governments may introduce a whole range of "wartime measures" that reduce the liberties of citizens to some extent.  Conservatives try to balance competing principles.

Another revelatory case is immigration.  Since libertarians dislike governments and their restrictions, they usually favour open borders.  If libertarians had their way, most of Mexico would end up in the USA.  But conservatives see other issues as being involved -- such as pressure on welfare programs and other systems,  and the importation of the dumb political ideologies that have kept most of the Americas South of the Rio Grande mired in poverty.  What the immigrants have in their heads is important, not just the fact that they are a person. And conservatives also see it as a matter of property rights. If I have the right to say whom I will have living with me in my own home, surely groups of people (nations) also have the right to say who will live among them?

Libertarians also tend to ignore genetics.  When proposing remedies for poverty,  Leftists will say: "give the poor more money" while libertarians will say "Give the poor no money".  Neither system will usually be practical so conservatives tend to say:  "The poor ye always have with you".  With no ideology to explain everything, conservatives can simply accept reality.  As one of Britain's most prominent Conservatives recently said, some people are equipped mentally to do well and some are not.  Leftists usually cry "racism" when genetics are mentioned so the conservative response is usually implicit rather than explicit these days.  That people are born different underlies a lot of conservative thinking even though it can be risky to say that out loud.

Similarly with homosexual "marriage".  Leftists see it simply  as an equality issue, libertarians see it simply as a liberty issue while conservatives see it as impacting on many other things  -- such as morality and the family and a general devaluation of marriage.

So conservatives try to align their thinking with the complexity of reality while libertarians have a "one size fits all" explanation and solution for all problems.  Conservatives value liberty but don't think it is the answer to everything.  And the  only liberty Leftists value is your liberty to do what they say

Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).


Doom said...

For my part, as a conservative libertarian, I would say you did a fine job of sorting, snipping, and pasting.

There are left and right libertarians and conservatives. You really have to look closely to see.

I consider the left side, of both, and some of the right, to be merely more (or less) socialist spoilers who don't honestly know what they are OR they are knowingly political doppelgangers. Meant to cause a rift in the party, or feed on the brand's success.

Unfortunately neither Republican nor Libertarian parties have a means of filtering. And to a degree, don't care, so long as the letter on the candidate is theirs. Politics is business, of and by itself, for good or ill.

Joe Dokes said...


I ask this as a truly puzzled, pretty consistent con with not a few sympathies with some aspects of libertarianism:

WHO are the "Marijuana and Homosexual Marriage (and maybe unrestricted abortion) are All We Know!" libertarians who've been in abundance the past several years? At a glance an outsider would honestly think they represent the majority of libertarians simply because THEY'RE SO LOUD, but I suspect they don't.

So exactly who are they?

talis said...

Libertarians are deluded tools. Somewhat like sovereigns.
"I’ve said all of this before and I’ll say it again.

The problem with Libertarianism is that while a great many of its adherents have their hearts in the right place – wanting a responsive, accountable, honest government that works for all – they have their heads in the wrong place. While they have planks in the party platform that civil libertarians find attractive like privacy or legalization or marijuana or reigning in the clearly out of control tax code, the core ideology is wrong both as to the proper function and role of government in modern society as well as being anti-democratic, anti-social and playing to the hands of corporatists and fascists to privatize and monetize everything for personal/corporate profits. The ideology is schizophrenic as well – selectively picking and choosing which parts of the Constitution it likes and which part to ignore when it conflicts with their ideology. Libertarianism is a threat to democracy and is no more “scary” than any other threat to democracy. It is as much a threat to our nation as the duopoly of corporatists/fascists who have taken control of the RNC and DNC. It’s just more openly Aynish than the RNC and DNC.

If you find any of this offensive?


Being offended is often the first step to re-evaluating beliefs and preconceptions. If you don’t like being offended or having your worldview challenged, I suggest that a free speech forum is always going to upset and offend you and that if you want simply to have your confirmation biases massaged then such a forum might not be for you.

We need other political party alternatives without doubt, but Libertarianism is neither a good alternative nor viable in application of principles that ultimately encourage social discord and anarchy as well as economic tyranny."

Doom said...


Huh? Offended? Well, if you smoked mary jane before you wrote that, maybe. Clean and clear that, and I might try to work with it. I wish I could be offended but that just... well... are you ten? That was a terrible attempt at communication.


I think there is some group of those who are, at the lower ranks, liberals who have figured out that being liberal won't get them what they want but aren't quite smart enough to figure out that what they are doing is the problem, no matter the politics. At the higher levels, they are liberal operatives. Probably of the communist/socialist populist sorts.

These people, even if they got to power, would never give what they promise. At least, once they gain enough power to not have to worry about elections. That is why communists and such always go after their own first, once they take power. Gulags were filled with believers. Believers who wanted to collect on the promises. Then again, Catholics were simply murdered outright, so it isn't an absolute rule.

It reminds me of the the "activists" who want to force the Redskins to change their name, in spite of the fact that most Indians either don't care or outright approve of the name. AstroTurfing.


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