One of the things that totally befuddle conservatives is the unwavering commitment to principles which characterizes libertarians. Conservatives just don’t get it. When it comes to the matter of principle, conservatives have one great big blind spot.
Many years ago, when I discovered libertarianism, one of the first essays I read was entitled “Drowning in a Sea of Buts” by Leonard E. Read. Read pointed out that everyone favors freedom except for this and except for that. By the time one adds up all the buts, society has drowned in a sea of buts.
Consider the most popular mantra employed by conservatives: “Individual liberty, free enterprise, private property, and limited government.” They’ll rarely give a speech without that mantra included in it. It’s also found on their websites, in their articles, and in their books.
Now, let’s consider all the conservative buts or exceptions that come with that conservative mantra:
We conservatives believe in individual liberty, free enterprise, private property, and limited government … except for the following areas:
- Retirement (Social Security).
- Healthcare (Medicare, Medicaid, regulation, and licensure).
- Education (public schooling, charter schools, licensed private schools, vouchers, grants).
- Farm subsidies.
- Economic activity (economic regulations).
- Monopolies (Postal Service).
- Foreign aid (including to foreign dictatorships, such as Egypt).
- Corporate bailouts.
- Monetary policy (Federal Reserve System, FDIC, fiat money, banking regulations).
- Drug laws.
- Immigration controls.
- Trade restrictions.
- Sanctions and embargoes.
- Permanent standing military establishment.
- Overseas empire of military bases.
- National-security state.
- Foreign interventionism.
- Regime-change operations.
- Secret surveillance.
- Indefinite detention without trial.
- Secret prisons.
Undoubtedly, I have missed a lot more exceptions, but do you get my point? By the time you add up all the exceptions, everyone is now living under a regime of omnipotent government, even while conservatives keep convincing telling themselves and everyone else how committed they are to “individual liberty, free enterprise, private property, and limited government.”
Needless to say, libertarians have no exceptions when it comes to the principles of individual liberty, free enterprise, private property, and limited government. We oppose all those exceptions that conservatives embrace. We would dismantle them all.
But what conservatives just don’t get is that the reason we don’t have exceptions to freedom is because of our commitment to principle.
The core principle of libertarianism is the nonaggression principle — that it’s morally wrong to initiate force against another person. Thus, we hold it’s morally wrong to murder, rob, steal, burglarize, rape, or do anything else that violates the rights of another person.
Conservative, of course believe that too. But the rub comes in the form of government. If government is doing any of these things, libertarians hold that the action continues to be morally wrong. Not so with conservatives. They say that if it’s the government doing it, it becomes holy and sacrosanct. That’s why, for example, they exalt the government’s assassination of people. Murder is wrong when it’s committed by private individuals but in the eyes of conservatives, it becomes a holy act when committed by the troops or the CIA.
Or consider welfare programs, such as Social Security, Medicare, farm subsidies, or public schooling. If a thief robs a person of $10,000 and gives it all away to seniors, the poor, people who need medical care, or people whose children need an education, conservatives, like libertarians, would say that that’s morally wrong. The guy is a thief even if he uses the money for good.
When the government forcibly takes money from people and gives it to seniors, the poor, people who need healthcare, or public schooling districts, libertarians continue to uphold the immorality of the action. Not conservatives. They love it and believe that it has become a moral, compassionate act given that the government is doing it.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of libertarians is our unwavering commitment to principle. That confounds conservatives because they threw in the towel on principles generations ago, for the sake of popularity, credibility, votes, money, and power. Conservatives would love nothing more than to have libertarians become like them. We libertarian must never do that. We must never become like them. We must continue to hew to principle. It is the only way to achieve individual liberty, free enterprise, private property, and limited government. And it’s the right thing to do.