[M]ost conservatives are not libertarians, even if they like to use libertarian rhetoric now and then.
Think about it: the modern Republican party may be the party of deregulation and low taxes, but it’s also the party of social illiberalism. Someone like Rick Santorum firmly believes that the government has no right to tell business owners what they can do in the workplace, but has every right to tell ordinary citizens what they can do in the bedroom. William Buckley’s God and Man at Yale was in large part a diatribe against the notion that colleges were teaching students about unemployment and how to fight it; but what Buckley wanted was, in effect, for those colleges to get back to their proper role, which was religious indoctrination. In its heyday National Review
was a staunch supporter of free markets; but it was also a staunch supporter of Jim Crow — which wasn’t just about the right of white business owners to discriminate against blacks, it was about a system of laws designed to protect white privilege.All of this makes no sense if you think of liberalism versus conservatism as a simple argument about the size and role of the state
Now, there are some real libertarians out there, particularly in the realm of economics bloggers, but they have no real power base
. Even when politicians claim to be libertarian, there are telltale giveaways: the two R. Pauls, father and son, may be unusual in questioning the national security state, but they both have a remarkable tendency to cater to and/or employ white supremacists.
Paul Krugman, “Conservatives Are (Mostly) Not Libertarians,” The New York Times, August 17, 2013
This is really important in two ways. First, no, there are actually really very few libertarians in existence. They are entirely marginal to mainstream politics and very few people are interested in their ideas. The purest, most honest libertarians are fairly hostile to democracy, both because they recognize that democratic systems of governance are designed to act as a counterbalance to the power of the propertied (and therefore with the best opportunity to exploit property rights) and because the demos is actively hostile to their prescriptions, regardless of any conservative fantasies regarding “libertarian populism.”
It’s no mistake that, of all the wacky ideological minorities out there — libertarians, communists, Five Percenters, LaRouchers — the only ones to get real play amongst the punditry are those who predominantly belong to the same social caste as political reporters: white, urbane, male, upper-middle class.
The other important point is that it’s easy to exaggerate the crossover between libertarianism and conservatism by pretending conservatism actually cares about the dorky philosophical arguments libertarians have regarding what freedom really means. It doesn’t. Our collective persuasion that it does is both a credit to conservative rhetoric and symptomatic of the way too many academics and political journalists think that just because they have libertarian friends, so does everyone else.