Dad and I have had discussions over the years as to whether we are conservatives or libertarians. It’s been very interesting, because while at times we have defined ourselves differently, we have voted in ways that stretched those categories. Also, we’ve been known to switch labels at different times. But here’s me pinning myself to the wall with a definitive statement: there is a difference between those labels, and I am conservative.
Common sense and a boatload of bad experiences both require me to give a definition. Requirements be hanged. Both labels point towards broad movements, not narrow, concrete parties. If this was “why I vote Republican,” we might have definitions. Unfortunately, it’s not, and neither conservatism nor libertarianism have party platforms so much as tendencies.
So let me start with one tendency: views on authority. Libertarianism is all about liberty, liberty wherever it can be found. Authority is viewed with suspicion, and it is all delegated from the hands of the individual. Conservatism is not thusly. Conservatism does begin with fundamental rights and individual freedoms, but with those freedoms come responsibilities. And here’s the key—those responsibilities aren’t just to take care of yourself.
Libertarians, in my experience, tend to hop on a bandwagon I’m fond of—verbal beatdowns of government welfare, even Social Security and Medicare. But they then go a few steps farther, and defend the right of everybody to do what they want as long as it doesn’t very directly hurt anyone else. There’s a tendency there to define everything in terms of individuals and protecting them from other individuals. The government exists as a referee.
Conservatives beat the same drum with regards to redistribution of wealth, but play things a little different. Conservatives are big on family values, on civic responsibility and patriotism. A conservative will ostentatiously wave his Bible as much as his Constitution. There is a tendency in conservative talk to point outside the individual and talk about his relationship to the rest of the world.
This sometimes has tangible results, but not always on a policy level. Conservatives, regardless of their view on a given war, are far more likely to rally for our troops than libertarians. I have known conservatives (I’m one of them) whose greatest objection to the anti-war crowd is not necessarily what they say about the war itself, it’s their attitude towards the troops. Regardless of whether a given war is a good idea, we certainly owe a debt of gratitude to the soldiers who stick their necks out for us. That sense of thankfulness and honor can be missing in libertarians.
Now that whole little schpiel on war could create a reaction from a lot of libertarians (“yeah, but my position is really what’s best for the troops!”), but that simply makes the point. There is a difference in emphasis between conservatives and libertarians. One movement has a culture that thanks those who serve the community, one has a culture that is more concerned with critiquing the context in which they serve.
Back to views of authority. Now, I’m not the sort of guy who likes to be bossed around, even by people who have the right to do so. I’m just ornery that way. But I do think that we live in a world that has legitimate authorities, and we have to obey them even if they are wrong. Within reason. We cannot obey commands to sin, but we can obey commands to be stupid. We pay taxes, despite the enormous amount of stupid involved there. I think it should stay that way.
Here’s the problem with all this: the lines are fuzzy. Both movements love freedom more than the current establishment. Both movements can find support in the Bible and can bow the knee to Christ Both movements (despite allowing for Antifederalists) support the Constitution as the law of the land.
The haziness gets worse. I am taking my stand with conservatism because that movement has a place for rightful authority, and because it has a stronger sense of community, and because it tends to believe in a world where interpersonal relations are not based merely on the” as-long-as-they-aren’t-hurting-anyone-it’s-okay” principle. But there are side effects.
Back to the military thing. Conservatives look at our troops with rose-colored glasses and tend to see our wars with an aura of heroism that isn’t always there. And we turn a blind eye to a lot of things in a way we shouldn’t. Libertarians (despite a tendency to screechiness) pare things down to cold logic and cut right through all of that. In short, there are problems conservatism has that libertarianism doesn’t.
And here’s why I don’t care. Conservatism has problems, but those problems are more consistent with the world God made. We may go giddy with thankfulness, but we are right to be thankful. We may have lower standards for politicians, but that’s because we look at them with grace and a sense of priorities. We may sometimes be too loyal to our nation, but at least we understand loyalty at all. We may submit to authority more often than strictly necessary, but at least we can submit when we should.
This is not to excuse our problems. They are real, and nobody like a jingoistic goose-stepper. But it is to say that you have problems wherever you go, and sometimes they’re worth it. If I can be thankful, submit to authority, contribute to a community, and have a morality beyond my own orneriness, it’s all worth the price of having to make sure I don’t overdo it.
So that’s me venturing into the grey area. The contrasts honestly would not be so stark if I wasn’t, well, you know, contrasting. But they are important, and I hope my thoughts were helpful in you sorting out yours.
Have a blessed day.