We’re Not Conservatives

by Natasha Petrova

Note: In my view, this is a silly article. The author does to conservatism just what the more brain dead conservatives do to libertarianism – that is, to pick out one strand from a cluster of movements, and to take that as representative of the whole. There are conservative objections to war and to moral regulation. Indeed, the moral regulation of the Victorian Age was mostly brought in by “liberals” against Tory opposition. And the most prominent calls for a negotiated end to the Great War came from within the Tory aristocracy. As for point 3), there are conservative defences of tradition that are not at all incompatible with libertarianism. I give this one out of five on the grounds that the author got her spelling right. SIG

We’re Not Conservatives

The identification of libertarians with conservatives seems never ending. At the recent International Students for Liberty conference Justin Amash equated the two. Many leftists make similar equations with the intent of demonizing libertarians as right-wingers. What is the truth of the matter? We’re most definitely not conservatives. Liberty is a radical and revolutionary idea. One whose promise has yet to be fully realized.

Let’s do a point by point comparison of conservatism and libertarianism.

1) The warfare state is an issue where there is a major divide between libertarians and conservatives. We seek to eliminate war and abolish the nation-state. Conservatives often seek to preserve both as the record of Republican presidents on war demonstrates. The loyalty to traditional notions of family, god and country trump individual rights for many conservatives. We libertarians are not handicapped by such a perspective.

2) The War on Drugs and morality police is another area where conservatives and libertarians diverge. We libertarians seek to end the persecution of cultural dissidents, while many conservatives seek to uphold it in the name of the traditional values. Liberty demands variety and experimentation. Conservatives demand uniformity and conformity.

3) The preservation of the state itself is one area where conservatives and radical libertarians often take different sides. Conservatives are hidebound by their respect for authority and traditional order. The state represents the keeper of law and order to many conservatives. We libertarians see it as destructive of freedom in all its expressions. It is not a necessary instrument for the realization of beneficent order or law.

4) The question of civil liberties often, also, sees libertarians and conservatives on different sides. The conservatives are more likely to surrender civil liberties when patriotism or nationalism is invoked. Libertarians believe in no such nonsense and do not readily surrender their individual rights upon the altar of statism. The record of the Bush administration is enough to prove this point.

5) A final area of discrepancy between left-libertarians and conservatives is on the character of their economic proposals. Left-libertarians seek a world without bosses or corporatist overlords. Conservatives fetishize traditional hierarchies and can therefore demand no such thing. Conservatives are more predisposed to celebrate the existing economic actors on top while left-libertarians champion the underdog.

I hope the reader has been persuaded of the clear difference between left-libertarianism and conservatism. They are two different ideologies with mutually incompatible goals.

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10 thoughts on “We’re Not Conservatives

  1. Silly Brit nonsense.

    a) All organizations require decision makers: the Iron law of oligarchy. Even if those organizations are purely voluntary. The question is only whether elites rotate on merit, where merit is the service of others in the market. Or whether some OTHER scheme is used for the rotation of elites.

    b) I have yet to hear a definition of left libertarianism. I understand RIGHT libertarianism – the use of organized violence to obtain liberty. But I don’t understand left libertarianism, which is somehow based upon what?

  2. The only major item of government spending that has declined as proportion of the economy over the last 50 years is MILITARY spending – in every large Western nation (including the United States – where the military took more than a tenth of the economy – and now takes less than half of that).

    As for an aggressive Imperial policy – that was historically OPPOSED by conservatives (including American ones).

    Pitt the Elder (the main war-for-trade)) person in 18th century Britain was not a conservative.

    “Radical Joe” Chamberlain – was opposed by the conservative Lord Salisbury in the policy disputes of the 19th century Britain.

    “Teddy” Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson (the great defenders of the “warfare state” in 20th century America) were both ardent Progressives – OPPOSED by conservatives.

    So the lady has no true understanding of history – but there is one more factor to be considered. What the conservative “Old Whig” Edmund Burke called “armed doctrines”.

    Conservatives have traditionally believed that when an “armed doctrine” seeks to take over the world (including one’s own country) that armed doctrine should be opposed – opposed with military force.

    For example for more than a thousand years the forces of Islam launched armed attacks upon Europe. Only an idiot (not a “libertarian”) would hold that the expansion of Islam (an armed doctrine) should not be opposed – force opposing force.

    Also Philip II of Spain claimed the armed right to invade any European state (including England) to impose the Catholic Church – this military doctrine had to be opposed (by military force) , not just in England but in the Low Countries (with English aid).

    In the late 17th and early 18th century the “armed doctrine” was the rule of the “Sun King” (Louis XIV) with his aim of taking over more and more of Europe – and this armed doctrine could not be successfully opposed just by defending Britain directly (armed aid had to be sent to other lands that the Sun King threatened).

    In the late 18th century and early 19th century the great threat (the “armed doctrine”) was the French Revolution. Which was NOT just a French internal matter – it had, from the start, unlimited external aims. Which had to be opposed – if Britain was not to be isolated and destroyed.

    In the early 20th century Imperial Germany had unlimited external aims (it was an armed doctrine) – as Mises (and others who knew the German politicians and academics) testified. German Imperialism had to be opposed – because it was a threat to Britain. Germany could not be allowed to take over Europe – because then it would have used this position to take over the United Kingdom also.

    Later in the 20th century both National Socialism and Marxism were classic “armed doctrines” seeking world domination by conquest.

    They had to be opposed – not as a “warfare start” or as “war for trade and corporate profits”, but as a basic defence.

    Those who claim that the National Socialists and the Marxists (both classic examples of “armed doctrines” seeking world conquest) need not have been opposed with military means, simply do not know what they are talking about.

  3. No Ian – the article is not valid from a American perspective.

    Remember even President George Walker Bush was NOT a conservative – he was a Progressive who supported (indeed created) “No Child Left Behind” and Medicare Part D. and believed in “war for democracy” (the classic Progressive form of war).

    Bush did not support opposing Islam as an armed doctrine – on the contrary he claimed that Islam was lovely (a “religion of peace”) and that if a few nasty terrorists and dictators were defeated, the great mass of good Muslims would be friends.

    A less conservative attitude would be hard to think of.

  4. One out of five, I think you’re being generous,

    The arguments used are not even tenuous!

    Regards and best wishes

    Will Scribe

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  5. “Left libertarians seek a world without bosses or corporate overlords”.

    Then go set up your business lady – perhaps cleaning widows, or doing gardening. And if your local government is too restrictive with “licensing” and other nonsense – then hit the road to a place with less of this.

    Or, if you want a communal life, then join either a nunnery or (if you are an atheist) a secular commune.

    Unless. of course, you want to use FORCE an end private business – and you think being a private employee of an employer makes someone “unfree”.

    If that be the case, well lady, you are no libertarian at all – no more than Rousseau was.

    “Left libertarian” means NOT libertarian.

  6. First, kudos to Sean for giving points on the most important thing: at least she spells good. *g*

    Second: Each of her points assigns a position to “many” or “most” conservatives. (In Points 3 and 4 she writes something on the order of “conservatives and radical libertarians often take different sides.”)

    Three: After all this allowance that she’s not ascribing a given position to ALL conservatives (nor in some cases to all libertarians either, which is encouraging), she concludes:

    “I hope the reader has been persuaded of the clear difference between left-libertarianism and conservatism. They are two different ideologies with mutually incompatible goals.”

    Well, first, she’s been talking about “libertarianism,” not so-called left-libertarianism (a contradiction in terms). But leaving that aside, all she’s said is that many conservatives hold values or principles or aims different from those of many libertarians. That may be true, but it’s not necessarily true of all her examples of such positions, and it also is too weak a statement to bear the weight of the conclusion that libertarianism and conservatism are mutually incompatible.

    As for example, from here I can hit with a cyberspatial stone at least two of us who are both “libertarian” (though distinctly not leftish) and conservative.

    . . .

    It seems to me that properly speaking, the one thing that conservatives, or at least those who hold their positions after careful thought–the only kind I’m talking about here, have in common is a reluctance to throw out the baby with the bath-water. We are reluctant to “jump from the frying pan into the fire.” We tend to want to “look before we leap.” We tend to be unwilling to “burn our bridges” or “close our doors behind us” unless and until the smart money says that we really will be putting ourselves in a better position.

    As such, I would distinguish between a conservative and a traditionalist. A conservative, I think, values traditions insofar as he believes they serve well himself and whatever he finds valuable in his cultural (or private or family) heritage. But he’s not automatically nor philosophically opposed to “change” or to dropping a tradition. Whereas to the extent that a person is a traditionalist, he values and wants to hold onto tradition just because it is tradition, regardless of the consequences of holding to it.

    A conservative simply believes that some of the “wisdom of the ages” might actually have a grain of wisdom to it.

    A libertarian, on the other hand, basically believes “you don’t get to boss other people around.” (Which is why it can’t be leftish. — This, by the way, prompts me to observe that any form of Progressivism is leftish, in today’s understanding–such as it is–of the meaning of “leftism.”)

    And political philosophies and philosophies of ethics aim, for the libertarian, to find the boundaries and the kinds of deeds, actions, behavior that will realize that belief insofar as is humanly possible.

    Which is not at all in basic conflict with conservatism as I understand it–see above.

  7. Paul posted while I was writing. “Great minds” and all that *g*. But his comment does prompt me to say explicitly, yet again, what I should think most the regular LA readership knows by now:

    “You don’t get to boss other people around” could better be written, still in little-kid/folksy style, as,

    “You don’t get to boss other people around without their say-so.

    If I accept a job with an employer, then he DOES get to boss me around to the extent of the job description and whatever other conditions we find mutually satisfactory. In that case, whatever I get out of our deal is, to me, worth whatever loss of autonomy I give up. There’s nothing un-libertarian about that because I have not given up my FUNDAMENTAL autonomy: The right to reject the contract, or even to break it if it turns out to make demands on me that in all honesty I did not expect and that I cannot accept. (Note that this can happen without any dishonesty and without any lack of “due diligence,” i.e. rational investigation and evaluation of the deal, on the part of either the employer or the prospective employee.)

    And neither force nor deceit (including but not limited to outright fraud) nor extortion entitles anyone, including the government or the prospective employer or the neighbors or some other person or group, to boss me around–except as justice demands given that I’ve already illegitimately acted against somebody else.

  8. “Right” libertarianism is “the use of organized violence to obtain liberty”? Good grief!

    Maybe things are different elsewhere on the globe, but none of my libertarian-ish friends (who are commonly cast as being “right-wing”–a debatable characterization) is in favor of “violence,” organized or not, “to obtain liberty”; save only in the case where “a long train of usurpations, &c.” plus the carefully reasoned lack of any means other than violent revolution to achieve a better approximation (at least) to liberty, make that virtually the only course. (Example: the American Revolutionary War is, as seen by many Americans and even some others, one such.)

    Anyway, “right” libertarianism probably doesn’t mean much except for distinguishing it from any libertarianism claimed (dishonestly) by leftists–see above.

  9. I give this article 9/10. For more on the true libertarianism and the framework of law that already exists to protect it, see:

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