Libertarian Conservative’s Manifesto

By Jack Funk ‘12

The modern American political arena is often thought to be composed of two major philosophical factions: liberals and conservatives. Historically, these two groups, aligned with the Democratic and Republican parties respectively, represent the pseudo-moderate majority of the American populace. For instance, the conservatives of the Republican Party generally favor free market economic practices while clinging to social policies influenced by a Judeo-Christian morality. The liberal—a word now entirely devoid of meaning—Democratic Party, on the other hand, champions the welfare state, regulation of capitalism, and a lax approach to social regulation. Although Republican and Democratic politicians are more influenced by populism than political philosophy, the conservative-liberal distinction adequately represents the current American political establishment.

An increasingly prominent alternative to the aforementioned liberal-conservative dichotomy is the libertarian movement. At the risk of sounding rhetorical, the primary focus of this movement can best be described by a single word: freedom.

Libertarianism traces its origins to the political philosophy of liberalism, now better known as “classical liberalism.” The basic precepts of classical liberalism were contained within the ideas of Adam Smith, John Locke, and the American Founding Fathers. One need only glance at the Constitution to realize the tremendous influence that classical liberalism had upon the formation of the United States. The Constitution was structured in order to provide tremendous liberty to a society that had been subject to a long-standing despotism.

The modern libertarian movement seeks to revive the ideals of classical liberalism by restoring liberties to the American public.

The economic criteria of the libertarian movement will be familiar to most conservatives. Libertarians recognize the importance of an economy based upon capitalism. Under their ideals, the economy of a nation operates to the maximum benefit of the public when markets are left untouched by government regulation. Milton Friedman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and father of the modern libertarian movement, once said, “there is no alternative way, so far discovered, of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by a free enterprise system.”

Libertarians have a tremendous amount of faith (based on empirical evidence) that an economy composed of self-interested citizens and entities functions best when unmolested by government attempts at regulation. Although a free market may experience occasional inefficiencies, capitalism will inevitably correct these problems. Regardless of the noble intentions of lawmakers, government interference almost always results in greater market inefficiency and instability than the conditions it sought to correct. Taxes and regulation serve only to harm the productive energy of the free market while simultaneously failing to solve social and economic problems.

This economic doctrine is quite similar to the doctrine of fiscal conservatism occasionally advocated by the Republican Party in the Reagan era and since. The free market thinking championed by luminaries such as Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek represents the libertarian movement’s economic doctrine. The prominence of this view in Republican political discourse of the past several decades is why conservatism and libertarianism are generally viewed as similar. However, economic policy is the only major similarity between the two movements.

 

Social Libertarianism

 

In the field of social policy, the libertarian movement mirrors modern political liberalism more than conservatism. Since the inception of the Moral Majority, the conservative movement has advocated social policies revolving around an expressly Judeo-Christian ethic. For example, the Republican Party often takes a pro-life stance on abortion, favors maintaining the illegality of drugs, and supports the suspension of civil liberties for reasons of national interest.

On these issues, most libertarians would disagree. First and foremost, the sanctity of civil liberties is of the utmost importance to libertarians. Inviolable rights are one of the best ways to ensure the preservation of freedom against the encroachment of government. Therefore, libertarians favor the protection of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and its amendments. In the words of the late comedian George Carlin, “rights aren’t rights if someone can take them away.”

Indeed, any violation or suspension of the rights of American citizens is immediately opposed by libertarians as contrary to their goal of ensuring liberty for all citizens. In a similar vein, the libertarian movement ardently opposes any form of state-sponsored discrimination. While private individuals and businesses might be free to discriminate, the government cannot be allowed to discriminate between persons due to the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Beyond civil rights, the libertarian movement generally favors other policies that will increase or protect the liberty of American citizens. For instance, libertarians favor less restrictive gun and tobacco laws.

The libertarian movement is somewhat notorious for its support of legalization of drugs. According to libertarian doctrine, citizens should be free to decide how to lead their lives. The government has proven itself no better than the average citizen at deciding what is in his or her best interest. If a citizen wishes to use drugs recreationally, it is not the government’s responsibility to stop that citizen from doing so.

By the same token, the libertarian movement seeks to eliminate most welfare state entitlements. In the example of the prospective drug user, he or she would realize that the possible consequences/costs associated with recreational drug use would have to be faced by him or her alone. Perhaps this realization, rather than a government ban, would be a more effective manner of preventing harmful drug use.

 

Secularism & Liberty

 

Another major plank of libertarian social policy is the importance of a secular society. The First Amendment of the Constitution clearly states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” The classical liberalism-influenced Framers included this clause in order to ensure a clear separation of church and state. Libertarians recognize that the unique moralities of different religions cannot be allowed to influence public affairs. Government favoritism of a particular religion could lead to passionate civil unrest that the United States is not prepared to deal with. Therefore, in keeping  with their focus on the preservation of freedom, libertarians oppose any attempt to impose religious morality upon the public. This typically includes a pro-choice stance on abortion, opposition to prayer in public schools, and an aversion to religious monuments on public grounds. A secular society will help ensure a maximum amount of freedom for its citizens, including the right to worship in any manner desired.

 

A Movement for Our Time

 

In some ways, the libertarian movement represents a synthesis of liberal and conservative ideals. However, libertarians reject several key tenets of liberalism and conservatism due to their tendencies to limit liberty. As previously mentioned, libertarians seek a society and system of government that gives its citizens freedom above all else. A free market economy undisturbed by government regulation and restriction is central to a libertarian’s economic scheme. In the social realm, libertarians desire the protection of civil liberties/rights and the prevention of government interference in the lives of citizens.

Although his libertarian record is mixed at best, Ronald Reagan’s admonition that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem” certainly defines the movement quite well.

As the incompetency of the federal government continues to reveal itself in the years to come, the libertarian movement will surely gain even greater popularity.