tar and water?

Are libertarians conservative?

More properly, are libertarians included -- and should they be? -- within the rubric of the word "conservative"?

This is not an idle question, as there is a fierce ongoing debate (linked by Glenn Reynolds earlier) about the Tea Party Movement, and it seems to me that this debate goes to the essence of the nature and definition of conservatism.

Perhaps it is my bias showing, but the Tea Party Movement strikes me as more libertarian than conservative. That's because its primary thrust is economic -- opposition to socialism, to massive taxation, to government bailouts. I don't think many will disagree with me that libertarians have had a better record of opposing these things than conservatives -- especially if conservatives are defined as those in the leadership of the Republican Party during the last decade.

As I've pointed out in countless posts, I don't consider myself a reliable conservative, mainly because I disagree with the philosophy of so many of the standard bearers who use the "c" word like a bludgeon. And I support the Tea Party Movement wholeheartedly, without worrying about whether it is or should be called a strictly conservative movement. But now I'm wondering, should I be worried? Aren't these just labels and definitions? Shouldn't what matters involve whether I agree with the goals? Seen this way, it should not matter to me whether individuals I disagree with are involved. Rick Moran is upset that Glenn Beck is involved. Hey, I'm no fan of Beck, Coulter, or Gingrich. But if they think (as I) that socialism and endless bailouts suck, that does not destroy the truth of the central premise. I might not want to be listening to one of their harangues, but I hardly think their harangues are what the Tea Party Movement is about.

More likely, they're glomming onto it because they're celebrities who don't want to be left out. And if they happen to agree, fine. But suppose -- just suppose -- the Newt Gingrich showed up at a Tea Party protest and delivered a pro-Drug War diatribe. I would not like it, but would it debase the central premise of the Tea Party Movement? Unless Gingrich gets to define the Tea Party Movement as "conservative" and the word "conservative" as meaning agreement with him, I don't see how.

Still, I'd like to see the word "libertarian" included in more of these discussions and debates. I thought it was a bit odd that while Robert Stacy McCain praised prominent thinkers who are near and dear to (if not formative of) the libertarian philosophy -- Mises and Hayek and Ayn Rand -- he almost went out of his way not to use the word "libertarian" at all.

Why? Is the word becoming taboo or divisive?

In another long and thoughtful discussion, Pam Meister argues that its "Time for Conservatives to Unite and Fight" -- that "Individualists must overcome their distrust of mass movements and rallies in order to combat the socialist tide." She sees conservatives and libertarians as "close cousins" -- with individualism as the common glue.

I love individualism, and consider myself an individualist. To the extent individualism is conservatism, I'd have to call myself a conservative. However, over the years I have seen many attacks on individualism, from communitarians on the left -- and communitarians on the right. I know that I am not a liberal, because liberalism is almost always communitarian. But what about communitarian conservatism? It's easy to find people who would define themselves that way -- David Brooks being a perfect example. (And I suspect Andrew Sullivan would too.) While Brooks is considered a RINO and Sullivan's conservatism is suspect, what about those on the hard right -- especially social conservatives who condemn individualism routinely and in the strongest possible terms? Even if we put all labels aside, my worry is that it is unreasonable to expect them to find common cause with individualists.

I've struggled over the definition of conservatism for a long time. Right now I'm thinking about individualist conservatism versus communitarian conservatism.

Is it too divisive to ask which "side" better defines conservatism?

Fortunately, the Tea Party Movement strikes me as anything but communitarian, so perhaps the question is not an urgent one.

On the other hand, a Tea Party by implies almost by definition something more than a lone individual affair. Unless, of course, you live in Ann Arbor like yours truly.

My Tea Party would go like this:

I had a little Tea Party, this afternoon at three,

'Twas very small, three guests in all,

Just I, myself, and me!

Nothing communitarian about that!

posted by Eric on 04.10.09 at 11:35 AM










Comments

It seems possible to over-package 'conservatism' or 'libetarianism.'

There is a core belief that can be shared though.. and that is the belief in minimal government. We can argue about how minimal, but the intent and concept is for less and not more control and intrusion.

Tea Parties are the manifestation of government overstepping its control. We can probably come together on that one!

MAS1916   ·  April 10, 2009 12:30 PM

Conservatives seek to conserve the principles upon which the greatest nation in human history was founded. They are superior criteria for judging political and social choices in Freedom. They are Judeo-Christian - not man-made.

Libertarians seek freedom to make their own choices. However, they rarely name their personal criteria for choice. They seek license in freedom. They apparently reject criteria for fear it will inhibit their "liberty."

"No one is smarter than their criteria." jfb

semper fidelis

Jim Baxter   ·  April 10, 2009 7:38 PM

Conservatives seek to conserve the principles upon which the greatest nation in human history was founded. They are superior criteria for judging political and social choices in Freedom. They are Judeo-Christian - not man-made.

Libertarians seek freedom to make their own choices. However, they rarely name their personal criteria for choice. They seek license in freedom. They apparently reject criteria for fear it will inhibit their "liberty."

"No one is smarter than their criteria." jfb

semper fidelis

Jim Baxter   ·  April 10, 2009 7:41 PM

Conservatives and Libertarians have far more in common than they have differences. We need to work together for the greater goal of reducing the size of government, defending the free-market, reducing the tax burden, protecting individual rights, and promoting personal responsibility.

As far as labels go, I have been struggling with this myself. I used to consider myself a Republican and a conservative. As of the last year or so, as I watch so-called conservatives sell out this country and their own beliefs, I realized that calling myself a Republican or a Conservative no longer accurately described me. As of late, though I disagree with the Libertarian Party on some of their foreign policy ideas, I have began calling myself a Libertarian.

Mike   ·  April 10, 2009 7:51 PM

In a word, no. We are, usually, co-belligerents in that we tend to have many of the same enemies, but our views of the good society are wildly different. To be sure, there are fissures within each camp, and I can point out such similarities and differences as well as you can, but the only reason we sometimes seem to be united is that our mutual enemies are in control and we are on the outside complaining about much of the same crap.
Libertarians and conservatives as natural allies otherwise? Just bring up the Libertarian Party's views on religion or foreign policy at a conservative powwow or vice versa. Then run like Hell.

Bleepless   ·  April 10, 2009 10:23 PM

Some conservatives have an annoying tendency to read "libertarian" as a synonym for "libertine." Some libertarians have an annoying tendency to consider social conservatives to be wild-eyed cultists.

Yes, there are some libertarians that are libertines as well. And yes, there are some conservatives who are wild-eyed cultists. But I hope and believe that they are outnumbered (if not always out-shouted) by people of true goodwill who see the wisdom in free markets and limited government.

Instead of trying to marginalize each other, it would be a really, really, really good idea for conservatives and libertarians (and liberals who still think freedom and liberty are good ideas) to start coming together, before it truly is too late to stop something really bad from happening.

What's needed, I think, is some new way to talk about liberty--some way of connecting the political ideals of the American Revolution with the man/woman in the street of the early 21st Century.

And no, I don't know how to do that. But I strongly suspect that throwing labels and stereotypes back and forth at each other is probably not a winning strategy.

filbert   ·  April 11, 2009 12:11 AM

When what conservatives say they're seeking to conserve is approximately what the Constitution says, as Reagan did, and the Congressional class of 1994 did, they seem to win elections easily, presumably on an otherwise-silent libertarian vote. (There's no statistical evidence that "Reagan Democrats" exist; they're a handful of overpublicized anecdotes.)

When Republicans don't do the libertarian things they run on, or when they run on something else, like McCain did, they lose that bloc's votes -- and they lose. Remember, McCain most underperformed the GOP average in the most "red," most economically free states.

Even if merely winning were the GOP's priority, it would be an almost libertarian party. It isn't. That's not where their money comes from. It comes from "social conservatives."

Unless and until that group is to invited by the GOP to leave and rejoin the Progressive movement it came from, or another conservative party supplants the Republicans, individualists have no one to vote for. So they don't.

A poll of Tea Partiers would show an unusually large percentage, for a protest group, of non-voters, I'd bet.

guy on internet   ·  April 11, 2009 3:30 AM

From the Libertarian website: lp.org

"Libertarians believe in, and pursue, personal freedom while maintaining personal responsibility. The Libertarian Party itself serves a much larger pro-liberty community with the specific mission of electing Libertarians to public office...

Unlike liberals or conservatives, Libertarians advocate a high degree of both personal and economic liberty. For example, Libertarians advocate freedom in economic matters, so we're in favor of lowering taxes, slashing bureaucratic regulation of business, and charitable -- rather than government -- welfare. But Libertarians are also socially tolerant. We won't demand laws or restrictions on other people who we may not agree because of personal actions or lifestyles."

In other words, conservative in most respects: individual freedoms, personal responsibility, less gov't regulation and intrusion, and I suspect overall decentralization of political power. But that last sentence is totally weak. Grammatically and otherwise. Somebody send a letter.

model_1066   ·  April 11, 2009 4:41 AM

From the Libertarian website: lp.org

"Libertarians believe in, and pursue, personal freedom while maintaining personal responsibility. The Libertarian Party itself serves a much larger pro-liberty community with the specific mission of electing Libertarians to public office...

Unlike liberals or conservatives, Libertarians advocate a high degree of both personal and economic liberty. For example, Libertarians advocate freedom in economic matters, so we're in favor of lowering taxes, slashing bureaucratic regulation of business, and charitable -- rather than government -- welfare. But Libertarians are also socially tolerant. We won't demand laws or restrictions on other people who we may not agree because of personal actions or lifestyles.

Think of us as a group of people with a "live and let live" mentality and a balanced checkbook."

In other words, conservative in most respects: individual freedoms, personal responsibility, less gov't regulation and intrusion, and I suspect overall decentralization of political power. Without the negative religious associations that are unfortunately part of the left's (mostly) successful portrayal of the right as the superstitious, inbred oafs clinging to guns and Christianity. That sinister religious right, as helpful a bogeyman to the left as Israel is to Arab Muslims.

But the last two sentences get me wondering (grammar aside). Generalizing about personal actions or lifestyles is fine and good, but on a national level that sap leaves room for questions on sovereignty and security, particularly with the border(s).

model_1066   ·  April 11, 2009 5:04 AM

I'm unclear how Libertarians can advocate freedom in economic matters while at the same time pay for government funded stuff such as abortion at home and aboard or stem-cell cure-all for death or maintaining a bureaucratic Statist nightmare called same-sex marriage.

That aside; I think I'll stick with Conservatism or rather, traditional founding principles which are clearly defined in the Constitution.

The main reason I'm not drawn to Libertarianism is that 'Libertarian 'free-market' ideals are nothing more than doing dirty business dealings done dirt cheap with dictators, kleptocrats, plutocrats, and genocidal mass murders because the profit margin is greater. How can there be a 'free-market' when half the world is living under tyranny?

Making a profit is a wonderful thing, I am all for economic prosperity, however obtaining it through dishonest theft is no different than Liberalism's approach.

Libertarians speak 'free market' however their actions inevitably support Statism.

syn   ·  April 11, 2009 6:20 AM

Oh forgot to ask, how's Glenn Reynolds now mandatory (imposed by Statist, of course) billion mercury bulbs in America working out?

Did it end Islamic terrorism?

syn   ·  April 11, 2009 6:26 AM

And one more thing about those billion mercury light bulbs in America, they are manufactured by General Electric in COMMUNIST China.

America's Going Green through draconian Luddite laws while enriching tyrannical Chicoms, where's the Libertarian?

Most likely is offering praise about the wonders of Statist-run General Motors' over-priced electric golf carts sputtering around Knoxville, Tennessee.

Heh. How inspiring.

syn   ·  April 11, 2009 6:36 AM

Syn,

Instapundit has never suggested government imposed mandatory CFLs. He has always suggested that people buy them voluntarily. You know PRO CHOICE.

M. Simon   ·  April 11, 2009 7:29 AM

Bah! Too many are perpetually aggrieved of this or that to the detriment of us all. If there are commonalities amongst the groups then we must celebrate them. If we have common cause here then we must address the commonalities. We cannot let ourselves be divided by the Leftists (I do not use Liberal purposefully). The Leftists main tool is divisiveness. They seek to separate various polities into their separate groups, keep them divided and therefore control them and the dialog. It is a standard tactic of faction politics. Beware.

Robohobo   ·  April 12, 2009 1:42 AM

I've seen a lot of reports that suggest that the Tea Party participants are this or that. There is no evidence to support it. Without asking every person who attends, it is all speculation and popularity contents. Folks are looking for a philosophical mandate from the Tea Parties and they won't find one.

The only thing the Tea Party protesters seem to have in common is the idea that taxes and spending are too high. What program they'd throw under the bus to get the tax rates and spending down is a mystery.

If I thought I was attending a "libertarian protest" on April 15, I would not attend... since the platform of the group organizing the one in Dallas has been careful to be ideologically neutral, I'm looking forward to attending.

IMHO, the best way to kill the Tea Parties is for libertarians to make people believe that it IS an exclusively libertarian idea.

To suggest that libertarians and conservatives are closer rather than apart misses the point, I think. It would be like saying that teaching people about responsible sexual practices makes someone a supporter of Eugenics. WHY makes all the difference in the world.

It comes down to this:

Do you believe, as Jefferson and Madison did, that as long as the proper procedures are followed that The People have a right to enact laws that are equally applied and enforced?

How you decide what those laws should be is personal. It could be because of your religious beliefs, your reason, or your political philosophy.

With whom do you agree:

Lysander Spooner:

"The principle that the majority have a right to rule the minority, practically resolves all government into a mere contest between two bodies of men, as to which of them shall be masters, and which of them slaves; a contest, that -- however bloody -- can, in the nature of things, never be finally closed, so long as man refuses to be a slave."
"Our constitutions purport to be established by 'the people,' and, in theory, 'all the people' consent to such government as the constitutions authorize. But this consent of 'the people' exists only in theory. It has no existence in fact. Government is in reality established by the few; and these few assume the consent of all the rest, without any such consent being actually given."

Jefferson:

"The first principle of republicanism is that the lex majoris partis is the fundamental law of every society of individuals of equal rights; to consider the will of the society enounced by the majority of a single vote as sacred as if unanimous is the first of all lessons in importance, yet the last which is thoroughly learnt. This law once disregarded, no other remains but that of force, which ends necessarily in military despotism."

"Individuals are parts only of a society, subject to the laws of a whole."

Madison:

"The happy Union of these States is a wonder; their Constitution a miracle; their example the hope of Liberty throughout the world. Woe to the ambition that would meditate the destruction of either!"
Mrs. du Toit   ·  April 13, 2009 8:53 AM

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