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.