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September 10, 2014

To L(l)ibertarian Or Not? That Is The Question

I never had much use for the GOP and have always identified as a conservative. But now I’m not so sure I’m even a political (which can be different from a philosophical) conservative by today’s standards. And so I’ve found myself flirting more and more with the recognition I may be more than a “libertarian leaning conservative” but an outright libertarian.

I still subscribe to the philosophical tenets of conservatism….man is inherently flawed and no amount of tinkering is going to change that, if you are going to change things be careful and realize things are the way they are for a reason and it’s impossible to know them or predict the events change may unleash and things like that.

To consider the contradictions between conservatism and libertarianism, as well as the areas of overlap, I talked to friend of the blog and podcast, Scott Lincicome. Scott is a self-identified libertarian (as opposed to a Libertarian for reasons we discuss) who is a lecturer at Duke Law and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute. I try to keep these one on one podcasts to 25-30 minutes but this one…got away from me. It’s closer to an hour.

Listen here

I wanted to have this discussion not just to help me clarify my personal thoughts but because much as there’s a fight for the soul and control of the GOP today there’s a similar fight (which overlaps in spots) to define the conservative political project.

Via Jason Hart, take for example this definition of conservatism from Jennifer Rubin (laugh all you will at her but she’s the mouthpiece for much for the GOP’s establishment wing).


However, his [John Kasich, Republican Governor of Ohio] expansion of Medicaid did not sit well with many conservatives. And he has been rapped for proposing a “round of tax increases; including higher taxes on tobacco products, e-cigarette/vapor products, higher oil and gas severance tax, and a hike in the Commercial Activity Tax (CAT). ” (Anti-tax groups nevertheless praised him for income-tax cuts.) In short, he illustrates the difference between a fiscal conservative and a libertarian. In contrast to the sort of tea party candidates who wiped out in the Senate primaries, Kasich doesn’t see government as the enemy. As a governor he’s been expected to improve government, not dismantle it. At a time when reform conservatives are getting attention, he may be in keeping with the current Zeitgeist in the GOP.

If this big government version of conservatism wins the day, then I’m clearly not a conservative.

On the other hand, there is a more libertarian strain battling back against the statists masquerading as conservatives.

It is no accident that unlike most Libertarian Party candidates, every libertarian-leaning Republican elected over the past several years—including Mike Lee in Utah, Justin Amash in Michigan and Thomas Massie in Kentucky—is strongly pro-life. Their brand of heartland libertarianism is not at odds with limited government conservatism or Christian belief; instead it accepts the Lockean view of natural rights at the basis of the American founding. Ron Paul himself made this view explicit in a 2012 ad campaign, arguing that “unless… we understand that we must protect life, we can’t protect liberty.” This is a view of natural rights and the Declaration of Independence that eliminates a litmus-test issue that would bar many Christian conservatives from voting for a candidate like Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson, the pro-choice former governor of New Mexico. It is an approach that expands the appeal of libertarianism, attracting supporters who in prior generations might have been lock-step Republicans and traditional churchgoing social conservatives, but have instead reconsidered whether compassionate conservatism and nation building was a good idea after all.

This is big-tent libertarianism. It is not just about a number of Republican politicians accepting traditional libertarian objections to the drug war or the overreach of the security state or the militarization of police forces. It is also about localism and federalism and self-government, welcoming home-schoolers and urban homesteaders and yes, even raw-milk aficionados – anyone who rejects the progressive-lite technocracy of compassionate conservatism in favor of the view that unadulterated liberty is more compassionate than the false promise of a new government program or a moderately reformed Great Society.

Of course, the voices within the Republican Party who stubbornly advocate for a progressive-lite strategy are still the ones constructing candidate platforms. So as the 2016 primary gets underway, you should absolutely expect to see Republican candidates with their heads in the sand, advocating for more aggressive foreign interventionism, for government agencies to subsidize wages of certain employees, for unending jobless benefits, for “conservative” proposals to achieve universal health-care coverage and perhaps even for Keynesian infrastructure packages as an economic boost.

To me this battle for the soul of “conservatism” and control of the GOP is far more important than any election this fall. It’s why I can’t see myself voting for any big government/establishment Republican. They are as much my political foe as any Democrat.

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posted by DrewM. at 11:19 AM

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