There is much common ground that unites conservatives (small c) and libertarians (small l) – both in a way the true inheritors of a pure liberalism; the bonds that unite are indeed more significant than the fractures that divide, yet members of both groups frequently focus only on the differences rather than the similarities. Whilst conservatives look back to Edmund Burke and libertarians to John Stuart Mill, neither would give that black dog Rousseau house-room. And what else?
Both oppose the intervention of government, and in particular of powerful central government, into our social, economic and intellectual lives. This shared anti-Statism also leads the intellectual right – perhaps counter-intuitively – to be anti-war. Placing the nation on a war footing inevitably means the sacrifice of freedoms and liberties to the State which once surrendered are almost impossible to recover. The response of conservatives to nation and patriotism should never be mistaken for Jingoism or war-mindedness.
Both share a view of what equality should mean; both condemn the ‘equality of outcome’ of the Socialists, both support a legal equality, equality before the law, as being vital to ensure and safeguard personal freedom.
Both share a belief in freedom, and in particular in economic freedom. Hayek, von Mises and Adam Smith rather than JM Keynes inform our opinion. Both oppose the travesty that passes today for ‘liberalism’ and which is more correctly welfarism, coercion, censorship, forced equality of result and unforgivable trespass on natural rights.
As for those things that mark the differences between conservatives and libertarians, those things that make the posts and particularly the comment threads here on OoL such a reward to follow, and which I believe makes this site pivotal in the evolution of a novel intellectual political base, let it flow. I’ll end with a suitably provocative quote from my favourite Sociologist – Robert Nisbet. Tuck in!
On balance, I would hazard the guess that for libertarians individual freedom, in almost every conceivable domain, is the highest of all social values – irrespective of what forms and levels of moral, aesthetic, and spiritual debasement may prove to be the unintended consequences of such freedom. For the conservative, on the other hand, freedom, while important, is but one of several necessary values in the good or just society, and not only may but should be restricted when such freedom shows signs of weakening or endangering national security, of doing violence to the moral order and the social fabric. The enemy common to libertarians and to conservatives is what Burke called arbitrary power, but from the conservative viewpoint this kind of power becomes almost inevitable when a population comes to resemble that of Rome during the decades leading up to the accession of Augustus in 31 B.C.; of London in the period prior to Puritan and then Cromwellian rule; of Paris prior to the accession of Napoleon as ruler of France; of Berlin during most of Weimar; and, some would say, New York City of the 1970s. It is not liberty but chaos and license which, conservatives would and do say, come to dominate when moral and social authorities – those of family, neighbourhood, local community, job, and religion have lost their appeal to human beings. Is it likely that the present age, that of, say, the last forty years and, so far as we can now see, the next couple of decades at very minimum, will ever be pronounced by later historians as a major age of culture? Hardly. And can it seriously be thought in this age of The Naked Lunch, Oh! Calcutta, The Hustler, and Broadway Sex Live and Explicit that our decadent mediocrity as a culture will ever be accounted for in terms of excessive social and moral authority? (Nisbet, 1979)