One of the fundamental differences between conservatives and libertarians is with respect to reforming the welfare-warfare state way of life versus striving for a genuinely free society. Conservatives aim for reform. Libertarians strive for freedom.
The way that one can usually tell whether a particular book, article, or speech is conservative or libertarian is by examining its conclusion. If the conclusion says something like, “The system needs reform” or if it calls for a specific reform of the government program it’s complaining about, it is a virtual certainty that the author or speaker is a conservative. If instead the conclusion calls for a repeal, dismantling, or abolition of the program, there is a high likelihood that the author or speaker is a libertarian.
The difference between reform and abolition is night and day. By advocating reform, conservatives have made peace with the welfare-warfare state way of life. They have given up any hope of attaining a genuinely free society. Their only aim is to make the serfdom under which people live in a welfare-warfare state more palatable or more comfortable.
Imagine you lived in Alabama in 1855. Conservatives would likely be dedicating their lives to improving the plight of the slaves through such reforms as fewer lashings, shorter work hours, and better healthcare. Libertarians would be striving to abolish, end, or repeal slavery. Our goal would be freedom, not reform.
While libertarians have nothing against conservative (or liberal) reforms that might improve the lives of the serfs under a welfare-warfare state, that is not our goal. Our goal is a genuinely free society, which necessarily entails a lifting of infringements on freedom. We hold that if all we do is reform or improve infringements on liberty, we have failed to achieve our goal of a free society.
Let’s consider some real-world examples.
Education. Conservatives, like liberals, have come to accept the inevitability of state control over the education of children in American society. Thus, they have come to embrace educational reform, which consists of school vouchers. In fact, they even claim that their reforms will improve public schooling.
Not libertarians. We understand that a free society necessarily presupposes the separation of school and state, just as our ancestors understood that a free society presupposes the separation of church and state. Thus, we oppose vouchers as just another welfare-state program, one that in this case actually embeds the state more deeply into education. We libertarians say: Repeal compulsory school-attendance laws and school taxes and end all state involvement in education.
Monetary policy. Conservatives, like liberals, believe in the Federal Reserve System, which is nothing more than a socialist system of monetary central planning. Conservatives think that if they can just get conservatives appointed to the Fed, they will be better central planners than liberals. A good example is President Trump’s appointment of conservative Stephen Moore to the Fed. Moore is fighting hard against the personal attacks being leveled against him in his quest to become a member of the Fed and move it in a conservative direction, which, he says, entails maintaining low interest rates to boost the economy.
Not libertarians. We understand that monetary freedom and sound money necessarily presuppose an abolition or end of the Fed. As the Nobel Prize winning economist Friedrich Hayek put it, freedom entails the “denationalization of money” — a free-market monetary system in which the government plays no role whatsoever.
Borders. Conservatives, like liberals, believe in government-controlled borders, at least with respect to international borders. At best, they want the government to “let in” more immigrants, so long as they are “qualified” and “safe.” At worst, they want the government to build a Berlin Wall along the border and convert the borderlands into an even fiercer police state.
Not libertarians. We understand that an immigration system of border controls is one based on socialist central planning, which is why there has been a decades-long immigration crisis. We say: Open the borders to the free movements of goods, people, and services, just as we have open borders between the states. A genuinely free society necessarily presupposes open borders.
Social Security and Medicare. Conservatives, like liberals, believe in these two socialist programs, the crown jewels of the welfare state. And like liberals, they are committed to reform, so long as both programs are left intact.
Not libertarians. We understand that a system of coerced charity is incompatible with the principles of a free society. In a genuinely free society, people are free to keep everything they earn and decide for themselves what to do with it. No mandatory charity whatsoever.
Drug laws. Conservatives believe in putting people into jail and fining them for ingesting what some consider to be harmful or destructive substances. At best, they support minor reforms of drug laws, such as lowering sentences for possessing marijuana or reforming asset-forfeiture laws.
Not libertarians. We hold that a free society necessarily presupposes the right to ingest whatever a person chooses to ingest, no matter how harmful or destructive. If the state can punish a person for ingesting something in the privacy of his own home, that’s definitely not a free society.
Thus, once he discovers libertarianism, every American is faced with a choice: Go with conservatives and liberals and their reforms of the welfare-warfare state way of life, or join up with us libertarians in our quest to achieve the genuinely free society on our lifetime.