If you ask a Libertarian what it means to be a Libertarian, he will likely reply that it means being fiscally conservative and socially liberal. There is little question that “fiscal conservatism” is appropriate to the Libertarian movement. Fiscal conservatism requires that a government impose low taxes and that it be prudent with how those taxes are spent. Note that fiscal conservatism is a conservative, or right-wing, idea. It is about “conserving” what we and our ancestors have built by limiting the deleterious effects of a social welfare state.
Social liberalism, on the other hand, is promoted by Libertarians “in the know” as a natural extension to the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP). The theory goes that as long as a man’s actions do not harm another man, then the state cannot prevent those actions. That is why Libertarians often think that they need to be socially liberal; i.e., most anything goes. For example, some believe that a “real” Libertarian needs to support the freedom of prostitutes and pimps to openly conduct business, or for people to engage in unlimited drug manufacturing and use. The theory is that the market will work it out leading to greater peace and prosperity.
What about the prohibition or punishment of actions that do not strictly violate the NAP, but are nonetheless reprehensible? The theory goes that in a pure private property society, people could expel unwanted individuals from their land. With all land under private ownership, an individual could be effectively expelled from society.
These ideas are fine in theory. However, the problem is that Libertarianism is, at its core, a fiscally and socially conservative movement. After all, Libertarianism was created to fill the void that was left decades ago when when politicians, academics and powerful, social meddlers adopted progressive, leftist ideals: Ideals that were meant to specifically destroy capitalism, entrepreneurship, invention and private property rights.
As far as I can tell, the vast majority of Libertarians are conservative in nature. They do not rely on the NAP to provide guidance to their moral behaviour, nor to help them define what is good or evil or what actions should be punished, or not, by the state. For that they rely on their culture and their religion. To many, the NAP is the equivalent of the Christian commandment, “thou shalt not steal”, full stop.
By claiming that the Libertarian movement is “socially liberal”, the very people who should be brought into the Libertarian fold are alienated. (And there is little to be gained in attracting leftist progressives into the movement because they fundamentally abhor the notions of small government.)
For example, a recent media campaign by the Libertarian Party of Canada proclaimed support for “gay couples to defend their marijuana plants with guns”. What an absurd notion and complete rejection of true Libertarianism which is conservative in nature. No wonder Libertarians attract about 1% of the vote come election time. If one was to draw the Venn diagram of those who support the aforementioned ad campaign, the common overlap would probably equate to 1% of the population. Brilliant.
A Libertarian on Facebook recently wrote that he tries to attract gun owners to the movement. Good luck to him. Can you imagine how many run away as fast as they can once they find out that Libertarians actively promote radical, progressive ideals?
By standing by the notions of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism, don’t Libertarians waste their time attempting to court not only the progressive on the left, but also the conservatives on the right who will always see the movement as degenerate and lost?
Let’s be honest: As Libertarians, we must accept the notion that the NAP is useful as a political principle meant to constrain the state. It is not a moral code. The moral code of most Libertarians is a conservative one – one that is defined by Christian tradition and beliefs. By rejecting the fundamental reality that Libertarianism is a conservative, right-wing movement, Libertarians will continue to alienate the very people who really do belong in the fold.
Isn’t it time to reject the ideas that have perverted the movement into one which now has no audience? Isn’t it time to grow the Libertarian movement, rather than having it languish in the doldrums until the end of time? Isn’t it time to stop wasting our time and money if this doesn’t happen?