Often, the conservative Christian who is interested in politics refuses to call himself a libertarian. He may very well consider himself a constitutionalist, but, in his mind, libertarianism might seem a little much. The purpose of this present article is to convince the conservative and Christian constitutionalist that he should consider himself a libertarian. I can relate to the struggle. While libertarians have come from the right and the left, my own background is from the right. And it is important to know that I have not had to change any of the principles that I grew up with in order to embrace a libertarian framework. In fact, the reason I am a libertarian is because I sought to apply my principles more completely and more consistently.
I am convinced, therefore, that a consistent application of the principles of many more conservative Christians will produce a solid libertarianism.
What libertarianism is not
Assuming for the moment that by liberalism we refer to the post progressive use of the term, rather than the so-called “classical liberalism,” we must make it plain that libertarianism is not liberalism. I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it here, that definitions are at the top of the totem pole of importance when it comes to articles such as this. So if we can, for the moment, agree that liberalism is marked by an ever-expanding Government, a rising welfare State, affirmative action, politically correct anti-free speech legislation, more regulations, bigger public schools, more monetary inflation, a government-subsidized green industry, unions and labor laws, etc, we can easily say that libertarianism is the antithesis of liberalism.
Thus, if the conservative Christian is hesitant to embrace libertarianism because it sounds liberal, be assured, the libertarians oppose such a leftism.
Secondly, libertarianism as a political philosophy has nothing to do with the moral philosophy of the libertines. There are many who might call themselves “lifestyle libertarians” and put forth their belief that libertarianism means that there are no personal standards and no divine system of ethics. But we would like to point out that libertarianism is strictly a political philosophy that narrowly answers the question: “what is the role of the State in society?” As for ethics and personal standards of a good and wholesome lifestyle, one must not look to political theory, but rather, should trust in the Word of God and find his standards in the Scriptures. Therefore, for those secular “libertarians” that are angry at the lifestyle standards of Christians, it is obvious that they are reaching outside of the parameters of libertarianism as a political theory in order to put forth their preferences.
Thus, libertarianism is in no way a detriment to Biblical morals. Everything we learn in Church and other settings when it comes to the way we ought to live, are still true and binding. That we hold to the belief in a “hands-off” government (how hands off is a worthy debate too!) in no way indicates that we hold to a “hands-off” God.
Libertarians, then, are not liberals and neither are we libertines.
What libertarianism is
Libertarianism is the political application of, basically, one simple standard that we teach at home: “Don’t aggress against your neighbor.” Don’t steal from him, don’t strike him, don’t murder him. And neither should you threaten to do these things either so as to manipulate the activity of your neighbors. That’s it. The so-called Non-agression principle (known as NAP).
Generally speaking, and whether or not he is consistent in his application of his principles, the conservative believes in a free-market and private property. He believes that we have rights, and much of the time those rights are said to have come from God. We are “Created in the image of God!” He might also believe that rights exist and are reflected in the principles: “Thou shall not steal” or “Thou shall not murder.” In fact, both of these unethical actions rely on an initiation of aggression against another individual who was created in God’s image.
It is not at all difficult to convince the conservative that the Constitution reflects previously existing rights, that is, rights that were first designed and imputed by God. Documents cannot create rights, only express them.
The Conservative is convicted, although he may not know why, of the fact that “Socialism doesn’t work!” He is therefore hesitant and suspicious about higher taxation. He knows that “redistributing the wealth” leads to bad results and hurts large populations of the community. Regulations too are harmful to small business and impede the market process. Leftist affirmative action efforts are usually excuses to increase bureaucracy and are fueled by special interests.
The Conservative agrees with all these things. We, as libertarians, only ask him to be a bit more consistent than he has been in the past.
The difference between conservatism, Constitutionalism and libertarianism
Is there a difference between the three? Yes, they are different categories, but not different theories of government. Constitutionalism is the belief that every action that the Federal Government takes should be in pursuit of the pure application of the Constitution. Interestingly, for all the talk of the Constitution from the right, it is extremely difficult to find someone who actually adheres purely to the Constitution. Ron Paul is one of the only constitutional purist that I can think of in politics as of recent. In the previous generation, we had people like Howard Buffett.
Conservatism, on the other hand, is a mindset and a personal tendency. Like Constitutionalism, it is not a philosophy of government. Whereas Constitutionalism relies, obviously, on the existence of a Constitution, Conservatism relies on the existence of a culture, or societal institutions, and societal structures. Conservatives are hesitant toward change, like things the way they are, and are skeptical about outside influence on the way things are.
Libertarianism, on the other hand, is an political ideology. It is a political theory that does not depend on culture or constitutions. It is libertarianism that provides that framework by which we can determine whether something is worth conserving and whether the constitution is worth keeping. This can be exemplified by noting that if the Constitution stated that it was the right of the Federal Government to hang Latinos on the second Tuesday of every month, nearly every single person would oppose this section of the Constitution. That is to say, we have a political theory that causes us to determine whether or not the document itself is good. And secondly, if it was commonplace or tradition in society, to burn liberals at the stake, nearly every single person today would not find this practice as something worth “conserving.” Our political theory therefore is the most important part of our political ideals. It tells us whether our conservatism and our constitutionalism is good and whether it is worth pursuing. Our ideology must be pure if it is able to do its job. Is the status quo worth conserving? Is the Constitution worth adhering to? We depend on our ideology to answer this question.
The point of this section is to show that one can be a conservative and a constitutionalist and a libertarian, depending on how all three are defined, at the same time simply because they are different categories. In other words, one does not have to give up his conservatism or constitutionalism at all. The only thing that must be done is to consider them in light of a solid political theory.
Two issues: public education and the drug war
Sometimes the conservative will support the existence of Public Schools. But doesn’t this, like “public health care,” rely on redistributing the wealth? Perhaps the conservative will point out that education is very important. I agree. But so is healthcare. The argument must be consistent here too. In fact, isn’t healthcare and education so very important that we must do all that we can to keep the government out?
If socialism means forceful redistribution of wealth, then health care is not the only industry in which socialism can take place. The conservative should be aware that socialism is all around us and when we focus only on the health industry, not only do we miss some great examples of socialism, but we also advocate for their existence. We must open our eyes and be more consistent.
To be a libertarian is to embrace private property rights across the boards.
Regarding the drug war, an issue that is a weakness for many conservatives, the issue is actually quite simple. Constitutionally, there is no justification for such a war. If conservative means that we ought to prefer “what was,” and the drug war is a twentieth century policy (started early, but became very ugly in the 80’s), then shouldn’t it be obvious that, at one point in American history, the war on drugs should have been seen as liberal? And if as a conservative I want to go back to a government that did not declare a war on a plant, doesn’t that make me more conservative than the drug war proponents? Thirdly, if we use the political philosophy mentioned above, the argument would be:
Every man has the right to his property.
It is wrong for the government to breach that right.
The war on drugs requires the government to breach the right of property.
Therefore, the war on drugs is wrong.
Conservative Christians ought not practice any form of ideology
If you are a Conservative Christian and your first response when there is a problem is to wonder how the government can help the situation, chances are that you struggle with an idolatry that emphasizes the role of the State over the influence of the Holy Spirit. Christians and Churches are called to help the poor and to be a light in the world. Why, then, have they in recent years lobbied the Federal Government to be that light?
Want to change the culture? Preach the Word! Want to increase the wealth? Let the people be free in the market!
Conservatives Christians have what it takes to be libertarians. They just need to wrap their minds around it.
Let freedom ring.