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.