One of the Seattle’s silly quirks is that if you’re a conservative, people will often think you’re a libertarian, and libertarians oftentimes consider themselves to be conservatives. From what I can tell, this confusion comes from Seattle’s (and the Left’s) strong record of vicious fighting against social conservatism, which makes conservatives terrified about taking social stances in public, which leads to something similar to libertarianism (as libertarianism is a combination between liberalism’s severely limited control upon sexual/substance morality and conservatism’s supposedly lax business standards). But even beside differences in social liberalism, it’s easy to see that libertarianism and conservatism are irreconcilably different in too many ways to even consider them similar.
Because of these differences and the fact that libertarianism seems to be gaining serious ground in the Republican party, our knowledge about the two governmental philosophies is absolutely essential: we must be clear about what we want, and what we mean when we use words like “conservative.” So for my many wonderful libertarian friends who think they’re conservative, and my other friends who think I’m a libertarian, here is a quick primer on the philosophical differences between the two.
First off, libertarians are interested in one thing: liberty from the state, and they seek liberty by giving people the right to commit (what they define as) tolerable actions. Supposedly, you can decide which behaviors are intolerable, because they will invariably harm someone 100% of the time. These banned behaviors are the obvious no-no’s like as rape, murder, theft, and assault. But as I’ve mentioned in my other writings, as soon as the potential for harm becomes less than 100%–say, with drunk driving or sex out of wedlock–libertarians have little say about whether the harm inflicted by a person warrants prohibition by the state: libertarians are forced to either take a stance of total permission toward the “might harm” behaviors, or have some people arbitrarily decide which harmful behaviors to ban. If libertarians decide to go with the second option, they cease to be truly libertarian, and begin to slide into either American liberalism (banning racist speech) or conservatism (strict divorce laws).
Conservatives are very different in this aspect. While we generally agree about banning the “will harm” behaviors, conservative morality is not solely teleological, but also from either cultural or theological foundations, as the conservative believes that proper government regulation can only come from a people united in their sense of cultural belonging and/or from God Himself. Because of a cultural basis for law, conservatives are relatively concise about social morality, and fully capable of dealing with drunk driving and sex out of wedlock: they do not need a 100% chance of an undefined harm to prohibit behaviors they already know to be immoral.
Educated conservatives are also completely aware that evil begins in the mind, which is why they ban the integrity-corroding vices (drug use, pornography, etc) which destroy a person in the privacy of their own home. After all, poor behavior doesn’t appear out of thin air, but rather as a result of certain patterns of thoughts and behaviors leading up to an offense. In the world of libertarianism, banning these character-corrosive behaviors is known as paternalism, something which the very core philosophy of libertarianism directly opposes.
In addition to this, conservatives also define liberty through the same cultural/theological lens with which they define morality. To the Christian conservative, a person has a right to liberty outside of a commonly defined evil: if having sexual relations out of wedlock is wrong, it is wrong, and conservatives have no problems banning it (along with many other interpersonal acts which were Biblically prohibited by law). Thus, while we must note that conservatism is rooted in historic peoples and an idea of universal morality, libertarianism is absolutely not. Rather, libertarianism is the result of secular humanism’s attempt to recreate the liberty of America’s originally conservative state without a sense of history, culture, or divine purpose, which leads to an inability to legitimize most actions of governmental authority.
And this leads us into the second major difference: true libertarians have no real legitimate basis for government. Because they usually will not governmentally prefer a culture or religion or social morality over another (this “non-stance” will be shown later to be dishonest), they cannot make a reasonable claim to political existence. When someone asks the libertarian why their undefined “liberty” is preferable to or more correct than morality which is theological, the libertarian can only say that they are unwilling to impose values which others do not like. This is silly, because all morals are for the people who don’t like them, and the moral stance to ban cultural preferences is imposed upon others. And of course, the moment a libertarian states that their call to a defend liberty comes from God, they are imposing a theological standard upon others, an act which is intrinsically conservative.
Conservatives do not believe that living in a moral void is possible. Although libertarians claim to espouse only moral laws which are universally enforced, conservatives see that a very real worldview is being enforced within every governmental structure, and that a legal structure of neutrality is not possible. From what I can see, this libertarian misconception is what allows them (and sometimes even liberals) to classify themselves as conservatives: they may view a conservative set of values as superior and universally valid, but are unwilling to admit that government enforcement or encouragement of those values would be moral. As such, the libertarian’s “neutral” stance toward vice behaviors is viewed by conservatives as being one of permission instead of neutrality.
The third difference between libertarians and conservatives is that conservatives allow restrictions on businesses. What conservatives do not appreciate is government intrusion into the economy, which destroys economies through stimulus acts, corporate welfare, and monetary policy (which robs the working class for the sake of bankers). Libertarians take the stance against economic management one step further, preferring to get rid of business regulations like mandatory breaks or minimal food safety/environmental regulations, stances which many conservatives would likely find regressive and/or dangerous.
These differences being stated, libertarianism is still light years ahead of liberalism in regard to the concept of liberty, because libertarians at the very least recognize that having sexual rights without property/economic/gun rights is silly (if someone can tell me how to fight tyrants with gay parades, I would like to know). And of course, the libertarian commitment to fiscal conservatism has been nothing but a blessing to the Republican party. But even though libertarians may be more Republican than what passes for Republicans these days, they are still not conservative, and the survival of conservatism necessitates that we be able to discern between the two.
So are you a conservative or a libertarian? If the answer to these questions is no, you’re probably a conservative.
-Should it be legal for children to be chained to desks at work, as long as their parents sign a contract to do so?
-In the 1800’s, Chicago had a problem due to their slaughterhouses dumping animal remains into the water, which lead to outbreaks in cholera and killed many people. Should the government be allowed to regulate where people dump animal remains?
-Should a woman be allowed to prostitute herself or become a stripper to pay for college?
-Would you like for your little brother or sister to be able to access dangerous narcotics such as cocaine from drug stores?
-Should the sale of pornography be banned, since it takes advantage of abused women and leads men to ignore their wives?
-Should there be no government authority ensuring that men take care of the children they create?
-Should pornographic ads be on billboards and on television?
-Should corporations become so big that they become monopolistic?
-Should dangerous chemicals be in toys?