On writing about the Left v. Right clash within libertarian circles, Christopher Cantwell makes an observation that conforms to my own experience as a former political conservative: Many mainstream Republicans would gladly embrace libertarian principles if it were an option on the table.
Take immigration as an example. Conservatives certainly have a tendency to harbor a certain amount of xenophobia, but if you talk to them about immigration many of them will tell you they would drop their biases if not for the welfare State. They are in large part concerned that immigration is a problem because the federal government will give food stamps and other subsidies to people who have not earned them, and this is not an entirely invalid concern…..
Take gay marriage as another. Conservatives do not today, at least in any politically significant numbers, propose that people be punished for their sexual activity. They do not in any politically significant numbers, seek to obstruct contracts between consenting adults as they pertain to sharing of property, transfer of titles, or the often touted issue of visiting loved ones in hospitals. They are primarily concerned with the government granting homosexuality the same status as heterosexuality in society, be it for religious concerns or whatever legitimacy they perceive for the State to make such judgements.
Conservatism and the State: An Unnatural Love Affair
I find this to be an accurate assessment of conservatives, who love nothing more than the story of the immigrant who makes something of himself in America. They eat those tales up, because it conforms to a tenet in the American Exceptionalism religion; if you work hard you can become whatever you want. I would venture to add that the primary concern of conservatives when it comes to gay marriage isn’t allowing gays to marry; it is that they will be forced to accept this definition at the point of a gun held by the state.
The truth is that conservatives do not like the state. Left with the choice of either being a victim of state violence or the perpetrator of state violence, however, it is only natural they choose the later. This isn’t to say there aren’t fake “limited government” conservatives masquerading as such, but I would venture as far as to say that a great deal if not a significant percentage of conservatives would choose the libertarian stance if they knew it wouldn’t result in political repercussions.
I can attest to this from my own personal political Odyssey from political conservatism. I never liked government, regarding it as a necessary evil. But many of the political positions I took were out of an either-or situation. Many a times during a debate with a leftist I would throw out the possibility that we could each practice what we wished and leave the other alone. Wouldn’t that solve the problem?
No, was always the response. One view has to be pushed, and it’s going to be mine.
Once I realized that the “leave each other alone” path was in fact a valid choice, the switch to libertarianism on many socially conservative issues was fairly effortless.
The creation of the Christian Right in the 1970s, and its eventual alliance with neoconservatism and other nationalistic ideologies, is particularly notable, as Christians have a long history of persecution at the hands of the state, starting with its origins within the Roman Empire. This unlikely love affair is what I consider to be a form of political pushback resulting from opposing leftist ideologies attempting to force their own social, cultural, and political views on these communities.
The political positions of many on the Right at odds with their own heritage, something Tom Woods has observed:
The Christian Right is despised by many libertarians to an extent that almost scares me. Now as anyone who reads or listens to me knows, I have been withering on these people: on their foreign policy, their nationalism, their blasphemous blending of Christian devotion with American patriotism and iconography, their support for mainstream political figures and strategies, etc. (There are some exceptions to this rule: Drew Ivers, for example, a Christian Right guy, is 100 percent for Ron Paul.) I don’t need to be lectured about where they are wrong; I know that all too well.
The Christian Right, though, will at least give me a hearing, which is more than I can say for most progressives. I can find plenty of common ground with them. They support homeschooling and local control of education, they oppose federal involvement in just about anything you can name (with some exceptions, to be sure), they believe in federalism (with more consistency than progressives do, that’s for sure), private property, etc. I at least have an entry point with them.
Obviously, I’m all for recruiting from any and all backgrounds to the libertarian camp, but I personally think there is a lot of potential for converts from mainstream conservatism, but unfortunately they are often scared off or confused about libertarianism by people who think libertarians are fiscally conservative liberals. Or, there are actual libertarians who think there is no room within the movement for social conservatives and advocate shunning them.