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Libertarians: Friends or Foes?

Libertarians have largely been categorized as passionate, convicted, extreme, and more often than not, eccentric.  In my humble opinion, I think these accusations are rightly assigned – and I love them all the more for it!  They consistently denounce big government, whether on the right or on the left, and they never fail to call out crony capitalism when they see it.  They are rather refreshingly blunt in their support for unrestricted free-markets and place full, unyielding confidence in the Invisible Hand rather than Big Brother.  Libertarians are also the most passionate and outspoken group of people I have ever met.  But there is a ‘but’ — and several at that. As much as libertarians love to tout their ‘conservative purity’ and self-righteous idealism, I find several unfortunate flaws in their ideology.

Libertarians will tell you that Ron Paul is the greatest thing that ever happened to the libertarian movement. In some respects, this is absolutely true.  While still technically in the Republican Party, he has greatly contributed to libertarians’ platform. He is their platform. Ron Paul has also given libertarians a national voice, and has especially captivated the hearts of young people across the nation.  These zealous supporters have practically married themselves to this man and infidelity would be akin to treason. Writing for the National Review magazine, Kevin Williamson composed an amusingly brilliant article this past September entitled “Ron Paul’s Last Crusade.” In his article he satirizes Paul’s beloved supporters, calling them a “raging personality cult” comprising of “85% sensible American classical liberalism and 15% conspiracy-kook lunacy.”  Williamson notes the crazed, almost frightening level of allegiance that Paul supporters display. In this way, libertarians are a lot like Obama-worshippers. They have one candidate in whom they put all their hope to bring forth change. Conservatives aren’t so quick to create such a messianic-like leader; or at least they shouldn’t.

Libertarians’ fanatic Ron Paul worship is just a symptom of the true issue to be explored. At its core, conservatism is opposed to libertarianism because the latter is a man-contrived ideology while the former is a code of divinely revealed principles.  Conservatives will lose every battle in the war of ideas if we allow the argument between ourselves and libertarians to be framed as “conservative v. more conservative.” Libertarians are not more conservative. Libertarianism is a philosophy that does not rest on eternal truth; rather it is founded on political abstractions that are just as utopian in nature as that of the socialist left. Conservative historian Russell Kirk explains,

“By definition, ‘ideology’ means servitude to political dogmas, abstract ideas not founded upon historical experience. Ideology is inverted religion, and the ideology is the sort of person whom the historian Jacob Burckhardt called the ‘terrible simplifier.’ Communism, fascism, and anarchism have been the most powerful of these ideologies. The simplistic appeal of ideological slogans continues to menace the more human social orders of our time. The American order of our day was not founded upon ideology. It was not manufactured: rather, it grew.” (The Roots of American Order, page 9)

Kirk maintains that the American order was not simply drawn out of thin air; it was the fruition of knowledge possessed by an assembly of ‘demigods’ who reflected upon the human condition, history, morality, and human nature for weeks on end, never ceasing in prayer and petition. The American Order was not derived from abstractions, but rather concrete truths that we perceive to be “self-evident” and divinely instituted among men. Libertarianism, while consistent with most of the values of conservative thought, tends to have characteristics of an ideology, such as its politically manufactured nature and its adherents who tend to be erratic, “terrible simplifiers” who worship Ron Paul as their one and only savior.

On the economic front, libertarians are fantastic.  I’d say their keen interest in monetary policy has largely set the outcry against the Federal Reserve for artificially inflating our currency into motion. In this respect, I think libertarians are better at recognizing and articulating the ideals of free-market capitalism and individual liberty than many partisans on the Right.

Their whining complaints on issues of national security, however, seem to be eerily similar of the anti-American Left. Their strict isolationism is perhaps a healthy check on Republican expansionism, but it is obviously bankrupt of historical precedent and ripped from its proper context.  The founding fathers, alleged to be ‘isolationists’ by libertarians, spoke towards the young nation’s immediate need for peace when calling for neutrality, rather than setting forth an immovable and unchanging systematic approach to foreign policy. Keep in mind that Americans had just undergone a traumatic military experience during the Revolution when the Continental Congress refused to fund our starving troops.  Also, the U.S. did not even have a navy at the time of it’s independence.  How could we retaliate against a foreign threat?  Just look into how Thomas Jefferson dealt with the Barbary pirates off the coast of Tripoli once he was provided with the resources to defend America’s interest.  History will quickly put to rest any ideas of a ‘pacifist Jefferson.’

Simply stated, conservatives have wisely chosen the route of practical self-preservation, while libertarians have chosen the route of utopian isolation. Indeed, libertarians do bring some good ideas to the table, such as expressing the need to protect privacy rights in wartime and warning against being the policeman of the world.  However, they always run with these ideas to the extreme.  To a libertarian, three types of foreign policy exist: a progressive expansionist like Theodore Roosevelt, a collectivist utopian like Woodrow Wilson, or RON PAUL.  However, there is a lot more to foreign policy.

Libertarians are divided on social issues. Most of them support leaving social issues to the states (as do most conservatives). Virtually all libertarians are pro-second amendment rights. Some are pro-life and support traditional marriage (such as Ron Paul) and some are more liberal.  However, there is no need for conservatives to ‘call a truce’ on these social issues as Gov. Mitch Daniels and Fox News analyst Margaret Hoover have suggested.  Conservatives need  to frame the argument in such a way so as to ensure libertarians that we are defending others’ rights to life and religious liberty.  The civil society has bound this nation together at its core.  Faith and family are sacred institutions that should be defended by the state from secular progressives who seek to redefine the social fabric of our country through political manipulation and legal trickery. However, issues can become muddled if one tries to force a square peg of a political issue down a round hole of an ideology, even if well-intentioned.

I think it is safe to say that libertarians are most definitely friends, not foes. However, conservatives need to refine the definition of the relationship between the two set of beliefs.  We would do well to learn from their boldness and ability to articulate their beliefs. We don’t need to compromise, only to adapt and differentiate.  As Ron Paul slowly inches toward retirement, conservatives would be wise to tap into his reservoir of youthful energy. We need to redirect that passion away from the pot legalizing, anti-war, utopian idealism and to reinforce them instead with the founding principles of liberty.

Alan Groves // Hillsdale College // @AlanGroves2

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Comments

  1. I get the impression that most of the “libertarians” you know are just kids your own age, many of whom might not even really understand what libertarianism is. It really doesn’t have anything to do with creating a pot-smoking, anti-war utopia, and much of what you’ve written here is indicative of your own apparent narrow understanding. Many libertarians support Ron Paul because he’s the best known figure (and for ages was the only national figure) who represented our ideals. People who think of Ron Paul supporters as members of a cult of personality don’t seem to know many Ron Paul supporters. Talk to a few and you’ll find that most of us disagree strongly with Dr. Paul about certain specific issues. This type of dismissive ignorance only serves to alienate your conservative base from the libertarian field you hope to harvest when Paul retires. And, as a libertarian who supports Ron Paul, I’d absolutely love for you to presume to lecture me on the “founding principles of liberty,” son.

  2. Alan,
    “At its core, conservatism is opposed to libertarianism because the latter is a man-contrived ideology while the former is a code of divinely revealed principles.”

    I think this nugget in your piece is excellent!

  3. …but Ron Paul is not just a libertarian, he’s a small-government constitutionalist, so unfortunately the argument with Paul vs. the other GOP candidates truly is conservative vs. more conservative. at least for 2012.

  4. Well written article but I have a few issues with it. I think it’s pretty much true in a vacuum or purely academic setting. I believe the problem comes from the “human” element of politics.

    A little background. I’m 36 and have been through undergrad and law school and now run my own business. I was always conservative even during my UNC years. However, what I have come to understand is that while “Conservatism” may be based on “divinely revealed principles” that principle is not used by the conservatives in office today.

    For 99% of the people in Washington the parties are now based on a “I am divine must help myself” principles. So, while the definitions you use are pretty much right on the current real world aspect of things is wholly different in my opinion. Just as the labels of the parties have changed over the past 140 years so too have the basic reasons for political service. It’s gone from public service to personal service. To err is human right?

    I’d say that your quote from Kirk is spot on for the year it was first published (1974). The party lines were not blurred or less blurred then. We had fundamentals and those who served in the House or Senate were more akin to political servants. Would true Conservative have voted for TARP like Mr. Bush? I personally don’t think so. Times have changed and what I have seen we need to get back to the fundamentals and the only way back from what I’ve seen is a Libertarian. (no not Ron Paul)

    However in real world 2010 terms I think your article makes a lot of assumptions about what a Libertarian is and you come across as assuming that Ron Paul is someone that all Libertarians follow with dogmatic fervor. That’s a bit short sited. I certainly don’t agree with every one of his ideas but consider myself more of a Libertarian than a Conservative. In my opinion the Libertarians of today are more in line with the founders of this great nation. The founders ran from an oppressive and big government, big taxes, and fought for their individual freedoms and personal responsibility. The Founders also founded this nation where faith and family was important.

    Interestingly, Even though 97% of the founding fathers were Christians you won’t find the word God in the Constitution. (Lord is referenced in relation to the year) “In God We Trust” came about in 1956 and “One Nation Under God” was in 1892 I think. So, see how the tides ebb and flow??? Remember, just because a Libertarian does not push God does not mean that he/she does not want what is best for the Country and understand that this Country was founded on basic Christian principles and that should never change. As a Christian/Attorney I understand the brilliance and confusion of separation of Church and State. The founders had seen how powerfully corrupt Church states had become so keeping Christian fundamentals while limiting the Church’s power was magnificent.

    What’s the difference really between individual liberty and what the Founders wanted? Check out this link http://www.lp.org/platform. Or just google “founding fathers libertarian?” Don’t listen to me read it for yourself!!! I’m not saying the founders were strict libertarians but I think their methodology was much more libertarian than it was the conservative or democratic parties of today.

    Whatever you decide I think we could agree that I if you want your defined principles to become a reality again you need to focus on de-incentivising politics and reliance on the government. 1) Everyone should get on the term-limits band wagon. It used to be that people left their communities to serve the people for a few years. They went to Washington to make things better for the community they had to go back to. Now they can stay forever essentially. What’s their incentive to make hard decisions and help people back home by making hard choices? None- they just want to be re-elected. 2) Congressman should not be able to hold stock while in office. They make Martha Stewart look like Mr. Rogers. 3) de-incentivise welfare and 99 weeks for unemployment really?

    Just remember don’t trust them and question everything.

  5. “At its core, conservatism is opposed to libertarianism because the latter is a man-contrived ideology while the former is a code of divinely revealed principles.”

    Are you serious? So logically, everyone who disagrees with your political ideology is also going against God. This is some deeply disturbed thinking on your part, I shudder at the resulting worldview you must have.

  6. Very interesting article! says:

    Alan, the above comments are very good, and I know you appreciate the opinions of others.

  7. The problem I have with this article is that it was written with bias. I’m guessing it’s an opinion article not necessarily based on fact. Just because the writer can quote a conservative historian doesn’t make everything else ring true. I see name-calling as the author refers to Libertarians as whiny. Why is Ron Paul a target in the article as if he is the only Libertarian that ever existed? Apparently the author has his mind made up as to the way he regards Libertarians of today. This doesn’t appear to be a compare and contrast piece but a smear campaign. I voted Republican for the last 3 elections (since I could vote). I’m tired of voting for the lesser of two evils. Same old puppets in charge of the state of affairs. Who is pulling the puppets strings? Lobbyists, big business, unions, the mob, and/or foreign powers? Albert Einstein said that the very definition of Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. How many do-overs do you think our beloved nation is going to get? I don’t agree with everything that Ron Paul say either but we need to try to scale back. Hell, some if us took a chance and forced Obama on us for 3 years now. The world hasn’t ended, yet. Let’s give Ron Paul or an equivalent a chance. No more RHINOs. No more lesser of two evils.

  8. Your comments about Ron Paul’s foreign policy would carry some water IF what we have been doing in the past/currently was working. Oh and Thomas Jefferson dealt with the Barbary pirates BECAUSE they were attacking AMERICAN ships. Are you saying that Ron Paul would not defend American ships?

  9. This piece seems bias at best. Frightening in its implications at worst.

    What right do you have to claim your ideology is divinely given? How can you challenge the separation of church and state as a fundamental part of your world view?

  10. I’ve seen Ron Paul’s “cult” clearly. Just watch YouTube videos of Ron Paul and you’ll see hundreds of comments that run from “Ron Paul is our savior” to our “grandfather of liberty,” however that got started.

    It is so annoying when they yell that Paul is our “only hope” and that we’ll all die without his guidence. Really?

    Great article by the way. :)

  11. Jordan Hanson says:

    it’s pretty convenient to base a flimsy argument on sweeping generalizations, isn’t it?

  12. Exotic Electron says:

    Projecting fear and guilt is not considered reasoned or logical. Disappointing to read this from a youth that considers himself conservative, especially in the context of blatant war mongering which historically is anti conservative.

  13. Hugh G. Rekzhon says:

    “At its core, conservatism is opposed to libertarianism because the latter is a man-contrived ideology while the former is a code of divinely revealed principles.”

    Divinely? Please explain.

  14. merechristian55Tim Stone says:

    To those who attack the author as “claiming” some sort of “divine endorsement” or what not, you are missing the point. I have my own opinions that are going to REMAIN my own. I only want to clarify the discussion from this point.

    One can view the world in several different ways when it comes to rights. One view is called Natural Law/Natural Rights Theory. The other theory is man-made law. Natural Law/Natural Rights theory essentially says that our liberties and freedoms, as well as the principles this country was founded on, are given to us by God. Government can only protect these rights, liberties, and principles. It has no right to take them away from us, or alter them, because the state is not their author. God is. This is the “conservative positions” in political theory and jurisprudence.

    The other main theory is that rights are able to be changed and altered as the needs of society dictate. The state, as the representative of society as a whole, can change rights as it sees fit. This is what the socialists believe.

    The key to the second opinion is the denial that God is the author of our rights and liberties. The author is assuming that Paul, and libertarian beliefs in general, do not credit the Creator, but the men at the time as sources of our liberties, freedoms and principles. Therefore, he says that conservative ideas are “divinely inspired”. That is the way to look at it if you believe God to be the author of freedoms that government can only protect, never alter.

    Now, I agree with the “conservative position”. I have NO CLUE what Ron Paul believes, and this could all be a quite unfair besmirching of his character, for all the author knows. But at heart, that is the difference. Do you believe that God or Man is behind our principles. That is the genesis of the author’s statements that have generated so much ire. NOT our modern movements, but our HISTORICAL rights and principles are either God-, or Man-, given. Which one is the argument. Hope that clears it up.

    Please don’t attack me as I’ve very carefully avoided saying anything pro- or con- about the Congressman. I simply wanted to clear up a misunderstanding. God bless you all. Merry Christmas. :)

  15. This is, by far, the WORST post to ever be published on this website. Though I usually don’t mind spending considerable time praising or critiquing posts on this site in detail, this is so horrible I do not have the time to do so here. Instead, I’ll hit the major points of problem (other than simply noting “every sentence”).
    1) Bias: Obviously everything has a bias to it. This, however, is dripping with bias to the point it was painful to read.
    2) Assumptions: You frequently cite a principle, position, or whatever and act as though it is fact. Ex. The “Jefferson and pirates” thing; citing some obscure example and then just opining utter bullshit based on it.
    3) Everything with this sentence: “At its core, conservatism is opposed to libertarianism because the latter is a man-contrived ideology while the former is a code of divinely revealed principles.” Like, words do not do justice the flawed thinking, terrible reasoning, and patently stupid argumentation. It is true that both are opposed at their respective cores. The opposition has literally nothing to do with man or G(g)od made ideals. It has to do with different beliefs in the role of government ; beliefs derived solely from autonomous, critically thinking individuals.
    4) Everything with this claim: “The civil society has bound this nation together at its core. Faith and family are sacred institutions that should be defended by the state from secular progressives who seek to redefine the social fabric of our country through political manipulation and legal trickery.” First, what civil society that bound this country together? Like, do you mean since our inception; because if so how can you claim that when we had slaves, a civil war, and the horrors of poverty during the ugly times of the industrial revolution. Do you mean in modernity; because if so how can you claim that when we had blacks unable to be treated fairly abused during the civil rights protests or the neglect we give to over 37 million beneath the poverty line now. Faith and family are clearly sacred to those people that care. Is a person’s family, a brother, mother, adopted or natural birth child somehow not sacred because that person has sex with another dude? Unless you contend that faith and family are not sacred to gay people, then how do you justify discrimination based on your personal beliefs?
    5) You espouse views for a limited government, but when something is contrary to YOUR view on an issue, you’ll toss your allegedly over-arching principle for your specific belief. Ex. Larger principle: government should be limited. Personal beliefs: gays shouldn’t marry. Your claim: the government should protect your limiting belief at the expense of less government intrusive and expansive beliefs.

    In short, you show your true type of thinking as being flawed and blinded by your own bias. The problem with conservatives, liberals, and libertarians (and everyone else) is that personal beliefs trump adherence to a principle on a frequent basis; and, far worse, rhetoric and dogma serve as substitutes for actual, critical thought.

    Again, for all the thought-provoking posts on the site, this one was utterly terrible and worthless start to finish.

  16. I agree with merechristian55Tim Stone in regards with his post but would like the add the following. Yes our country was founded based on Christian principles or Natural Law/Natural Rights. The founders though separated the Church and state because the history of Church corruption which still exists today. The founders created a limited government who actually granted more freedoms than that given by Natural Law/Natural Rights (or God Given Rights). A checks and balances were placed to protect the Man-Made Laws granted to us at the time. Over time man and its political parties have evolved. Let’s start with President Lincoln who freed the slaves. LIncoln was a Republican. Now over time the political parties have evolved. Need I mention the Blue Dog Democrats. Today, Democrats tout themselves as the African American party of choice. Some of the same families have endorsed the same parties for decades. Republicans once believed in a limited, small government. Not so much today. We now have independents. Those who vote with there hearts and minds not blindly because they are party affiliated. Both of the major parties appear to use fear mongering to further their objectives and corruption runs rampant. Republicans were able start an unjustifiable war claiming we had proof (manufactured or otherwise) and Democrats past socialistic healthcare. Not to mention both parties are responsible for bailing out the Big Banks. Don’t give me, “Too Big To Fail”. Majority of the politicians had money tied up in those banks so yes they bailed them out to save themselves. Libertarianism has evolved out of necessity just as the major parties have abused their powers. The title of the article should read, “Republicans: Friends or Foes”. How can one put Republican and Conservative in the same sentence? Republicans are responsible for the bigger government we have, not limited government. Fear was used to create Homeland Security and the TSA, a bloated waste of money. Republicans are responsible of the portion of the debt that has been racked up. Republicans are responsible for the violation of the Constitution of the United States (The Bill of Rights) with the Patriot Act and The National Defense Authorization Act. So I say to the author, go ahead and alienate us, the Libertarians. Majority of us are Independents anyway who are no longer ignorant nor blind to way foul ways of the major parties.

  17. Ronald Reagan said: “I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism”. Also, libertarianism is more conservative than conservatism. For example, if you look at any political graph…libertarianism is to the right of conservatism. Also, Ron Paul is not a isolationist…he is a noninterventist…there is a huge difference.

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  1. […] Libertarians: Friends or Foes? Libertarians have largely been categorized as passionate, convicted, extreme, and more often than not, eccentric.  In my humble opinion, I think these accusations are rightly assigned – and I lo… Source: thecollegeconservative.com […]

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