Conservatism, Libertarianism and the Liberal Party

I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism”.

Thus spoke President Ronald Reagan, without doubt one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century. He continued “I think conservatism is really a misnomer just as liberalism is a misnomer for the liberals–if we were back in the days of the Revolution, so-called conservatives today would be the Liberals and the liberals would be the Tories. The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is.”

True conservatism, at its heart, is libertarian. It is for this reason that conservatives throughout the 20th century stood up to big government. It is for this reason that the Liberal Party was formed. It is for this reason so many of us became interested in politics.

Thus it pains me greatly to see some self-proclaimed conservatives these days spitting on the legacy of great men like President Reagan and attacking libertarianism. Instead of true conservative beliefs – those of small government, individual freedom, and free markets, they preach social authoritarianism and government control. Casting aside the ideology of the ‘founding fathers’ of what is now considered conservative thought –  great thinkers from John Locke and Thomas Jefferson to Milton Friedman and FA Von Hayek, they instead replace it with a statist regime little different to that of the socialists. Rather than trying to minimise the size and scope of government, they instead seek to use it to their own ends.

Seeking to use government to achieve your desired aims is certainly not without intellectual underpinnings. It is something many philosophers have argued in favour of for centuries. It certainly is not without some intellectual merit, although I vociferously disagree. One thing you can NOT call it, however, is conservative.

This new brand of statist social authoritarians style themselves as conservatives and attack libertarians for believing in the very things that conservative have argued in favour of for generations. Sure, there have been differences between conservatives and libertarians, drug prohibition being probably the greatest of the last two decades, but, at the core, both ideologies shared the same desire for freedom, and this is what made fusionism work.

Indeed, while conservatives and libertarians certainly can disagree on some issues, these are at the periphery. It is our shared view on the size and scope of government that unites us. Thus it is especially distressing that this new mould of faux-conservatives, who wish to impose their extreme and radical personal world-view upon society, seem so hostile to libertarian thought. I do not need to start listing examples of anti-freedom things such people propose, although adopting Obama’s ‘compulsory volunteerism’ conscription plan and supporting internet censorship come to mind. Nor do I need to remind people on how these people have shown no interest in free markets or supporting private enterprise. All I need to say is that conservatives previously – even social conservatives – accepted the notion of small government.

It was, after all, never laissez-faire government that led to the social outcomes that these people now so decry. It was not an absence of government regulation that led to the attack on the family unity, and social breakdown. Rather, it was – consistently and without exception – government intervention that caused such things. It always was, is, and will be, the actions of the government that have led to the outcomes that social conservatives now decry. Even on matters as divisive as abortion, many libertarians have supported the socially conservative position . Traditional social conservatives recognised this, and recognised that they, like libertarians, would have their outcomes achieved by a reduction of the power of the state. Alas no longer.

It is for this reason that rise of the Christian Left in the Liberal Party disturbs me greatly (and I use the term “Christian” loosely, and only as is the self-styled moniker of those who preach this mantra – their actions, let alone their theology, I find little Christian about). I joined the Liberal Party because, like Menzies, like Howard I believed in individual freedom – and I’ll be damned if some extremist social democrats hijack the party I love, and turn it into no more than a socially authoritarian labor whilst trumpeting their self-proclaimed conservative values.

The fact that there are now these faux-conservatives who argue for greater government regulation, greater responsibilities for the State and greater control over peoples lives, is nothing more than an insult to the memories of the true conservative heroes. It is not conservatism, but socialism in drag, and it is a disgrace.

If you want to be a social authoritarian statist, that’s fine. We live in a free country, and you have the right to be wrong. But please, please, don’t you dare call yourself a conservative.

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36 Responses to “Conservatism, Libertarianism and the Liberal Party”

  1. Tim Humphries Says:

    It’s like you’re channeling my thought processes in some kind of Spock styled mind-meld, but in article form! Go Tim! heh

  2. Bee Says:

    YOU ARE AMAZING I LOVE YOU FOREVER AND EVER FOR POSTING THIS.

    No, seriously, this was incredibly well thought out and 100% correct. I hope this gets spread far and wide so people realise what an insidious cancer such faux-conservatism really is.

  3. Josh Says:

    Thatcher, Reagan and the Howard Governments are some of the most effective and popular in history.

    And when you try and put Raw permissive libertarianism on one side and raw authoritarian conservatism on the other you have had neither kinds of success because of extremes.

    Only if you have them on the same side with both pushing and pulling will you get good policy and good governments and a meeting in the middle with a mainstream party with Small Government – Liberal Conservatives.

    Let us not splinter the Conservative wings past success with fusionism, let us instead work together.

  4. Tim Andrews Says:

    Fusionism is exactly that – Libertarians and Conservatives working together!

  5. Tim Andrews Says:

    But yes Josh, generally I agree – hence why I describe myself as a conservative libertarian.

  6. Chris Says:

    Tim, good article.

    But why do you think there is need, then, for parties like the Liberal Democrats in Australia and the Libertarians in the US? Sure, the Liberal party may have an inclination towards small government, but there seem to be a lot of people out there that disagree with your assertion that conservatism and libertarianism are compatible, if not one and the same, to the point that they will form new political parties to accentuate that separation.

    Secondly, compare some individual members of the Liberal party – Kevin Andrews and Andrew Robb. Tony Abbott and Nick Minchin. The separation is clear, which is something I’ve always thought of as the liberal/libertarian – conservative split. Would you therefore describe that as something else?

  7. Josh Says:

    I suggest all those that support the essence of this article become fans of Cory Bernardi http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cory-Bernardi/57693928215?ref=ts as well as read about Nick Minchin.

    Both great Conservatives and ardent supporters of small government, individual freedom, and free markets.

  8. Manny Says:

    Correct.

  9. Luke Says:

    You people can describe yourself at Facist Freedom Fighting Flip Flopping Fools for all the use it brings. Actions speak louder then words, wheres all the employed libertarianism activities? What are any of you doing to better this place? Rather than shooting semantic shit over facebook?

  10. Anonski Says:

    Luke, you’re an idiot, sorry to say.

    I think you’ll find libertarians in the most surprising places. Indeed, I think you’ll find Tim himself works for a thinktank designed to do *exactly that.*

    (Also, please try and write in English instead of Moron next time. Thanks.)

  11. ... Says:

    It’s funny that at least one person commenting in support of this entry espouses the very ideology Tim is condemning in it.

  12. Chris Rath Says:

    The Liberal Party must remember the Howard Legacy and stay true the basic ideology of economic liberalism and social conservatism. These two strands are not contradictory and are best when fused.
    For example, the best weapon to combat the welfare state is the family unit.
    The Liberal party is not for fascists or anarchists, it is for conservatives.

  13. Libertarianism and Conservatism « Catholicism and Liberty Says:

    […] 16, 2009 This blog post by Tim Andrews is one of the best on the Australian Liberal Party I have seen yet. It is a stark […]

  14. Rationalist Says:

    He didn’t seem to get the budget in order with his voodoo economics unfortunately.

  15. Catriona Rafael Says:

    Because you really DO know what you’re talking about, don’t you, Chris Rath m’boy.

    Tim, I have said this repeatedly. I love you for this.

  16. Mark Says:

    Well done Tim! Spot on.

    We NEED to get rid of these superstious characters. Our very name demands us to believe in libertarian thought.

    Burn them in their churches, let liberty reign!

  17. Robert Candelori Says:

    Chris,

    The family unit was decidedly exploded in the case of that poor young 12-year-old girl who has fallen pregnant to her 15-year-old boyfriend, whilst her mother slept in the next room.

    Food for thought.

  18. Robert's mum Says:

    Robert Candelori, you are not helping us!

    That example was a broken home, the mother is mentally ill, and the father was/is attempting to get custody of the 12 yr-old. Chris is talking about promoting a (whole) family unit.

    That example supports his case that government inaction and libertarian permissive social culture leads to these examples happening.

    *Can someone get Robert out of the room*

  19. Robert Candelori Says:

    The point was that the family unit as it has been traditionally conceived in our minds is no longer reflective of reality.

  20. Tim Andrews Says:

    Okay in turn!
    Chris Doig – sorry, don’t really follow your point, can you expand please?
    Josh A – I agree. Nick M is awesome, and really like Cory as well – he actually had a great article on his blog yesterday about politics/principle
    Luke – yeah, um, have to agree with Anonski about speaking English… huh?
    Chris Rath – yes I agree, hence why I call for fusionism; I’ll put up a post on how to achieve this in a way libertarians and conservatives can both be happy tomorrow hopefully
    Rob & Rob’s mum – On the family unit – it was government action that destroyed it. So called ‘permissive’ social culture was imposed from above, through our schools etc

  21. Chris Says:

    Tim, what I mean is that there are plenty of people who disagree with you. There are plenty of people in the US don’t think that Republican conservatism is compatible with libertarianism and so they vote for the Libertarian party. I personally am still working out where I stand on the issue.
    And secondly, it is difficult to throw support behind a party that can contain that which you believe in and that which you really don’t. I would hate to vote for an Abbott run government, but I’d choose a Minchin run government over my right arm. I know that in democracy we vote for the package rather than individual policies, but I think the big ideological split in the Liberal party can alienate a lot of people, and so I’m skeptical about this fusionism of which you speak.
    But, as I said, I’m still working through the ideas in my head, trying to figure out where I stand!

  22. The Leave Us Alone Coalition – A Way Forward For Conservative/Libertarian Fusionism « The musings of an Australian classical liberal in Washington DC Says:

    […] The musings of an Australian classical liberal in Washington DC 100% Legit & Fully Authorized! « Conservatism, Libertarianism and the Liberal Party […]

  23. Wallace Forman Says:

    Conservatives are hopeless:
    http://www.fahayek.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=46

  24. On rejecting Keith Preston | No Treason Says:

    […] Conservatism, Libertarianism and the Liberal Party « The musings … This entry was posted on Sunday, June 21st, 2009 at 6:09 am and is filed under Activism, Economics, Newspeak, Philosophy, Politics, Socialism. You can follow any comments to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a comment, or trackback from your own site. […]

  25. Why did Alex Hawke vote for the Alcopops tax? « Pimpin’ For Freedom Says:

    […] myself, am a very big fan of Alex. His (‘true’ as Tim Andrews would say) conservative credentials are impeccable and his devotion to small Government is so strong that his […]

  26. Tim Warner Says:

    The Fusion principle was also raised in Policy (CIS), where Charles Richardson looked at THE Fusion of 1909 – Free Trade & Protectionists to form ‘anti-Labor’. Don’t agree with all Charles said, but the way the two streams melded then have been the very set path of the last century, pro Private Enterprise rather than Free Enterprise.

    The other posting on the ‘Leave Us Alone Coalition’ is perhaps the clearest call to the limited government conservatives and the classical liberals (as I prefer to be called) to unite on a political project. That project being the reclamation of the Liberal & Republican Party’s.

    Good site and very worthwhile post.

  27. On factional fights, the joys of a real contest, and having the balls to command « Pimpin’ For Freedom Says:

    […] anything like a libertarian platform My first clue that something was up in NSW came from a Tim Andrews blog post arguing that libertarianism lay at the heart of conservatism, and lamenting the ’social […]

  28. My Blog: One Year On « The musings of an Australian classical liberal in Washington DC Says:

    […] Conservatism, Libertarianism, and the Liberal Party […]

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  31. Glenn Says:

    Truly backward article. it’s sad what Right-wing ideology does to the human mind. For your information there’s various types of conservatism, social or economic to start with. Our modern “conservatives” tend to be socially conservative and authoritarian, and economy radical in that they want a return to feudalism under the guise of corporatism. Libertarianism was only conservative when the rich ran government and society, and democracy was put down at every opportunity. Libertarianism now represent a radical, possibly unprecedented, social and economic regression to plutocracy and oligarchy.

  32. Freddy Says:

    I’m from Argentina. I’m a libertarian and catholic. The conservatism isn’t consistent because you can’t part the freedom and the others’ rights. Here, in Argentina the conservative people sponsored a military government with a laissez faire economy and conservative social rights. The consequence? Today all the parties are socialists and populism and poverty are devastating the country. Where’s the coherence when you want use the power of coercive power of the state against the gays ? If you allow that, then don’t blame when the socialist use the power of state against you. The bad seed that you are seeding is a democratic system where the majority has the power of determinate how the people must to live. That’s the start of the populism

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