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A conservative case against libertarianism

A conservative case against libertarianism

A conservative case against libertarianism
March 02
12:00 2021

In the 2010s, the GOP saw an advent of libertarian ideals infiltrate their party. This has caused an existential question within the party: should it stick to its classical conservative roots, or move towards a socially liberal, fiscally conservative party? To understand that, we need to understand what libertarianism is as an ideology.

Libertarianism has three ideas at its core: the harm-principle, consent and the libertarian definition of freedom. The harm-principle is most central to libertarianism. It states that an individual’s ability to do whatever he wills should only be regulated as much as it harms someone else. This, contrary to popular understanding, was not devised to limit government, but to limit the influence of popular morality. John Stuart Mill recognized in his work On Liberty that “yoke of opinion is perhaps heavier, [and] that of law lighter,” and feared that these bitterly clung-to moral traditions would also eventually translate into government mandate.

The idea of consent, specifically a consent-based view of morality and association, states that consent and the willingness of a person to submit themselves to a moral tradition or association is where institutions and moral codes gain their legitimacy. This idea can be seen in John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government where he says that saying that children may join whatever society they wish and that the ultimate decision to consent to familial bonds is a mere matter of enjoying your ancestral inheritance. Not only that, but Locke applies consent to marriage itself, saying that it’s “reasonable to ask” why marriage shouldn’t be considered like any other consent-based contract that can be left voluntarily after child-bearing has been completed.

The libertarian view of freedom, as put by John Stuart Mill, is acting according to desire and doing whatever you will. This meshes with the idea of the harm-principle. The regulation against harmful actions only applies to others’ ability to harm you, not your ability to harm yourself. Not only that, but there is no concept of virtue in this definition. Your ability to act is unrestricted, regardless of how morally bankrupt and degenerate those actions might be.

The number of people who hold to libertarian ideology in the nation is scant. According to a study by Navigator Research, only five percent of 2020 election voters make up the libertarian-right on the political compass (socially liberal/progressive and fiscally conservative). This is about the same as their findings in the 2016 election, in which libertarians made up 3.8 percent of the voter base. It is also important to note that in 2016, the libertarian-right broke evenly for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and then broke heavily for Joe Biden in 2020.

This breakdown is supported by two-way and three-way polls in 2016, where both candidates suffered an even decrease in polling numbers when factoring in the Libertarian Party, and 2020, where Biden suffered from including Libertarian Party more than Trump.

Admittedly there exist discrepancies in the data, but it seems the data that makes a discrepancy between consistent libertarians and people who hold some libertarian beliefs show lower numbers for consistent libertarians. However, even if we grant the polls which are more favorable for libertarians and estimate them at 10-20 percent of the population, their consistent poor performances in elections both within the Republican Party (such as Ron and Rand Paul) and without (such as Gary Johnson and Jo Jorgensen), paired with the above data shows us that, if nothing else, libertarians generally do not vote.

From a conservative and Republican standpoint, it makes no sense whatsoever to adopt libertarian viewpoints. From an ideological view, conservatism is not in favor of unrestricted human agency, consent-based morality and association, and the libertarian concept of freedom. Conservatism is based on traditional limits on human agency imposed by objective morality, which binds us in local and overarching communities and culture in a pursuit of freedom which is synonymous with a pursuit of virtue.

How do the party and ideology of traditional morality and family values incorporate an ideology which aims to limit the influence of morality and downgrades marriage from a divine covenant to an arbitrary contract? How does an ideology which says with John Paul II that “freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought,” assent to the exact opposite definition? Not only that, but why would a party appeal to a voter base which practically doesn’t exist and doesn’t vote for them anyway?

It is clear that, despite the advent of libertarianism with conservative circles, libertarianism is not compatible with conservatism. As someone who frequents GOP circles, there are a good number of people I’ve met who are dispositionally conservative but claim libertarianism because they don’t know what it is. These conservatives need to understand that libertarianism is far from their views and that they should really decide whether or not these values are their values.

Featured Illustration by Miranda Thomas

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Jackson Sweet

Jackson Sweet

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1 Comment

  1. JD
    JD March 02, 12:12

    Looking forward to your next article “A Liberal Case Against Socialism”.

    Reply to this comment

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