By Sam Clovis
The libertarian way of thinking can be summed up in just four words—minimum government, maximum freedom. In a recent interview on our station, Carla Howell, executive director of the Libertarian National Committee, constantly invoked the notion that less government was way better than what is currently the case in America today. Who could argue with that?
In comparing libertarianism with conservatism, there are many areas of congruence. Perhaps the most compelling area of agreement concerns the Constitution. Both libertarians and conservatives believe in the sanctity of the Constitution as a controlling document in outlining what kind of government the nation should expect. The Constitution was written to limit the power of government through its systems of checks and balances and the separation of powers between branches and levels of government. The fact that a Congress driven by special interests, an executive branch compelled to seek imperial power and a judiciary that appears accountable to no one indicates that the original intent of the Constitution has been violated. And indeed the evolution of our central government has been one of constantly pre-empting state prerogatives and growing itself by constantly nationalizing every issue that comes into the vision of Congress.
The central government found a way to fund itself with the ratification of the 16th Amendment to the Constitution. The ability to impose taxes also seemed to validate the need for a national banking system and a Federal Reserve Board to control monetary policy in the country. Though the nation had gotten along fine without a national bank since 1836, the Congress, supporting newly elected Woodrow Wilson, passed the Federal Reserve Act in 1913. American federalism has not been the same since.
Both conservatives and libertarians agree that with every law passed by Congress and signed by the president, American citizens lose a bit more freedom. As individual freedom is the absolute bedrock of being an American, one’s own government seems bent on taking that freedom away.
The next area of congruence deals with conservative and libertarian views on governmental fiscal responsibility. Though conservatives acknowledge the need for a certain amount of government—certainly more than most libertarians would like to see—each devotee expects the government to operate within its means. Subsequently, both conservatives and libertarians would advocate for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution. Though there is considerable overlap in conservative and libertarian views on government spending, there are also some differences.
Libertarians mean it when they say minimum government. While conservatives might acknowledge some government action in support of economic activity, the libertarians do not. The marketplace will correct itself without help from government. Subsequently, all economic activity should be left to free markets, including privatization of what has become welfare support in this country. If free markets are to work appropriately, there should be no subsidies, tax credits, direct payments or any other form of market interference. Free markets means just that.
The divergence in views between libertarians and conservatives can probably be seen most vividly in relation to foreign affairs. Though there are some conservatives (the neo-cons) who believe that America should be nation building and policing the world, most conservatives see the value of a large capable military as being as much deterrent as it is an instrument of national political power. Having a presence around the world is a necessary condition for protecting national interests. Libertarians do not see it that way. They believe that having a strong military is fine, but that each country should pay its own way and that the United States should not be involved in “foreign entanglements.” Legacy bases around the world should be closed and those forces should be brought home. Then, better decisions can be made about the size of the military that is here to protect the homeland.
The differences between libertarians and conservatives on social issues is a mixed bag. Conservatives strongly believe in the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, the primacy of faith and the voluntary membership in community. With this commitment to a social contract, there are expectations about behaviors and accountability. Each individual must do his or her part to do their best to contribute to supporting and defending that social contract. Any behaviors that impose stress or cost on society should be avoided. Otherwise, the individual is not supporting the covenant.
Libertarians see the individual as being sovereign unto him or herself. That sovereignty is ceded to no one or any institution unless the individual chooses to do so. Thus, any behavior that does not impose itself on someone else is fine. True individual freedom comes only when each individual is able to do as he or she sees fit for the respective individual.
Though the contrasts on social issues may seem subtle, the differences, I think, are quite significant. Behaviors have consequences, and those consequences that impose costs, either directly or indirectly on society, must be examined more closely.
As one can see, there is far more agreement on issues between conservatives and libertarians than there seems to be disagreement. As uneasy as many conservatives are with the aggressive nature of this current strain of libertarianism in the party, there is far more to be concerned about with moderates in the party who are far too comfortable with special interest politics and big government.
In the next installment, I will compare and contrast conservatism and the moderate strain of political philosophy that we find resident in good numbers in the RPI. In the final segment, I will outline what I see as our own set of checks and balances that will allow the RPI to concentrate on the main goal of defeating Barack Obama and other progressives in the November elections.
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