Why a conservative should be a libertarian

Briefly speaking, I’ll define a conservative as someone who wants to use state power to control the social and cultural dimensions of society, while allowing free rein to the economy, whereas a libertarian believes in complete abolition of state power, except for the punishment of force and fraud. The standard conservative objection to libertarianism is then that only certain social and cultural norms are conducive to a healthy society and that these norms cannot be left to the whims of civil society and voluntary association; they must be codified in law and rigidly enforced by government.

The main error in this way of thinking is┬áthe lack of faith it reveals in the power of one’s own culture. Let’s say there are objectively correct social norms. If some norms promote a healthier society than other norms, wouldn’t those norms prevail in free competition with other norms? If communities that follow conservative Christian teaching thrive, while others that follow socially liberal teaching fail, won’t the conservative communities grow and the liberal ones shrink?

One objection is that, in a quasi-Darwinian world of cultural competition, the culture that prevails may not be objectively the best, but merely the best at destroying competitors. For example, violent Islamists may just blow up peaceful Christians, even if Christianity is better. But libertarianism already addresses this in allowing for the right to defense of self and property. And if a culture doesn’t even allow self-defense, what exactly makes it so great? Or why should others shoulder the burden of defending it?


I like thinking about the tension between optimism and pessimism in forming a realistic outlook on life. For example, as Hans-Hermann Hoppe notes, the right-winger or conservative can be characterized as one who believes in mankind’s fundamental inequality, whereas the left-winger or progressive believes in man’s fundamental equality. But both appear to be true, even within Hoppe’s conservative form of libertarianism: even if people have different abilities, they all share in equal dignity, which in libertarian thought means in particular the right to be free from aggression against their persons and property.

So I can characterize myself as a pessimist in that I believe in humanity’s fundamental inequality and in the futility of trying to engineer equal outcomes, or even equal opportunity. If people are conceived and born with different abilities, even the most meritocratic society will sort them into a hierarchy, and this would true under a utopian libertarian regime where everything is organized by voluntary contract and association.

At the same time, I am optimistic in my belief that liberty and the abolition of the oppressive state will bring about a maximization of human flourishing. So I trust in humanity’s ability to work out optimal solutions for society’s problems when they are given the maximum freedom to do so. Having said that, I still believe that liberty is morally superior to statism, and that even if free individuals cannot always work out the best solutions, and even if it were possible to engineer the perfect society, it would be immoral to take away people’s liberty by force in order to achieve this.

Thoughts about liberty

So my preferred candidate in the GOP presidential race, Rand Paul, just declared the suspension of his candidacy. My understanding is that he has not yet formally withdrawn from the race, meaning that votes cast for him in the primary could still secure him delegates at the convention. But if he does formally withdraw his candidacy, I may have to think about my second choice.

There are arguments to made for several of them. Trump is rude and politically incorrect, but his nationalism is a refreshing change from the internationalist warmongering that sadly seems to define much of the GOP foreign policy consensus. That being said, Trump has made several bloodthirsty remarks on the campaign that shouldn’t be dismissed lightly, such as his support for retaliation against the families of terrorists.

Ted Cruz is the closest to Rand on most of the issues. His style is a bit too conservative and evangelical for many, but he has actually been much more forthright about protecting American civil liberties and adopting a more defensive and nationalist foreign policy than most other candidates, barring Paul and Trump. My main objections involve the evidence of his opportunism on issues ranging from foreign policy to immigration, as well as doubts about his constitutional eligibility for office, given the fact that he was born in Canada.

I know Ben Carson once endorsed Rand Paul, which makes me now want to give him another look, despite the fact that I’ve been very underwhelmed by his debate performances. While Marco Rubio is very conservative on certain issues, he is far too militaristic on the one hand, and too pro-amnesty on the other.