Editor’s Note: Our publication is LiberalResistance.net, but we are open to viewpoints beyond just liberalism. One of these is libertarianism. While most of us here do not support this particular philosophy, we also wish to keep in mind that it can be as opposed to Trump as we are. Jay Chambers has, therefore, given us this piece defining what libertarianism is, and how it differs from conservatism, national conservatism, and Ayn Rand’s Objectivism.
The libertarian philosophy is plagued by misunderstanding. Many people who support and oppose libertarian ideals have an incorrect or an incomplete understanding of libertarianism.
This issue stems—at least in part—from using the wrong source material. Ayn Rand is commonly cited as the mother of libertarianism. But, the roots of libertarianism are more accurately represented by Adam Smith.
His book The Wealth of Nations, while not a direct argument for libertarian ideology, lays much of the economic groundwork for what would several decades later become American libertarianism.
Rose Wilder Lane and Isabel Paterson also offer less problematic views of objectivism and libertarianism than Ayn Rand, though not entirely perfect.
However—and although Ayn Rand’s philosophy has racially and environmentally problematic tenets—she drew a clear line between libertarianism and anarchy, which is very valuable for assessing how a proper libertarian would view the conservative American ideology.
Contrary to popular belief, libertarianism does have rules:
An individual cannot violate another individual’s right to life (i.e. murder).
An individual cannot violate another individual’s right of free will (i.e. theft or forced labor).
The application of these rules is where most people (even libertarians themselves) get libertarianism wrong. One of the most common misunderstandings is the use of force (violence) for keeping yourself safe. Using lethal force for this purpose would seem to violate the first tenet.
However, these two rules condemn the initiation of force. Using force to retain your right to life or right of free will is a non-issue, so long as the use of force ceases as soon as the threat to your life or free will ceases.
As you may have guessed, a true libertarian society would have some laws. Just not as many as we have now. The discussion about which laws would be acceptable and which wouldn’t is long, and outside the bounds of what we’re discussing here.
But, although many modern libertarians may support conservative measures, politically, the core tenets of libertarianism represent a stark departure from consertative ideology.
Libertarianism vs conservatism
Generally speaking, the differences between libertarianism and conservatism boil down to the use of authority. Libertarianism is, in most cases, opposed to authoritarian methods. Whereas most modern conservatives are rather authoritarian.
Many assume that libertarians are inherently right wing. However, a true libertarian stance can be socially left or right.
For example, a libertarian could easily oppose gay marriage and LBGQT rights. But, that same libertarian would not support laws against gay marriage and LBGQT people, because that would be a violation of other people’s free will. Whereas a conservative would most likely support laws against marriages and relationships they disagree with.
By the same token, the libertarian philosophy would also oppose laws that restricted straight marriage and relationships, if there were any.
So, even though some libertarians might internally oppose LBGQT rights, in order to be true libertarians, they would have to support a left leaning approach to LBGQT laws. And, a libertarian could easily support LBGQT rights without being inconsistent with their libertarian ideals.
A similar situation arises in regard to things like taxes. When libertarians say, “taxation is theft” it’s not because they think taxes and national cooperation are bad. The issue is that the taxes are compulsory.
If taxes were paid voluntarily, and people could opt-out at any time (and lose access to the services that taxes pay for), they would be almost completely in line with the libertarian philosophy.
Of course, military spending would also be an issue since the military is often used for the initiation of force, and likely violates a lot of people’s rights to life and free will.
Conservatives, on the other hand, oppose taxation because the goal is a smaller public sector, and a larger, less regulated private sector. And, a large contingent of the conservative population supports military spending.
So, true libertarians might agree or disagree with conservative goals.
However, on almost every front, a libertarian would disagree with the conservative tendency toward using authority and the threat of violence to enforce their agenda (unfortunately, all laws in the United States and many other nations are supported by the threat of violence, even the laws you like).
And, while these examples of applied libertarianism help clarify the philosophy, the misunderstanding of libertarianism is still problematic.
Back to the original misunderstanding
Here’s the main issue: libertarianism and conservatism get conflated. A lot.
Many assume that since libertarians oppose compulsory taxation and conservatives oppose taxation, they must be in the same boat.
The same confusion occurs over other issues.
This leads many conservatives and moderate conservatives to identify as libertarians. And, likewise, libertarians to support conservative politicians and conservative politicians masquerading as libertarians.
On a smaller scale, this misunderstanding derails conversations between conservatives, libertarians, and liberals simply because people often address the political label more than the ideas being discussed. This is problematic when people are often politically mislabeled.
But, to clearly address the main point here, a proper libertarian perspective of national conservatism would be that the conservative movement is too authoritarian in it’s methods.
At the ground level, this means that speaking with someone who claims a libertarian position requires determining if they’re truly libertarian, or if they’re a confused conservative.
So, speak carefully and discuss inquisitively.