Why Should Conservatives Like Libertarian Ideas?

Release Date
September 9, 2011

Topic

Role of Government
Description

Are you a conservative? If so, Dr. Stephen Davies suggests that it may be worth considering the ideas of libertarianism. For instance, conservatives tend to prefer institutions that have been tried and trusted, and want to maintain and uphold a traditionally established way of life. They also typically believe in an established or correct moral code. However, it does not logically follow that government should enforce all of these things. In fact, government enforcement of morals and traditions is often detrimental to both.

Why Should Conservatives Like Libertarian Ideas?
I’m here to argue why, if you’re a conservative, you should also be a libertarian. Now, as a conservative, you think that it’s better to stick to tried and trusted ways of doing things. You also want to maintain and uphold a traditional and established way of life, certain moral principles and practices that you regard as established or valuable or simply correct. Does this mean, though, that you should then use government to enforce and uphold those principles and impose them upon other people?
This is surely contrary to your own interests and principles. For one thing, it’s likely to be ineffective. Coerced, involuntary adherence to a set of moral values and codes is not pleasing to God, and it’s also simply likely to be ineffective. People who are coerced to adhere to a moral code are going to look for all kinds of opportunities to covertly flout them and break the regulation that you want them to adhere to. Far better that they do so voluntarily, out of honest conviction. So it’s simply is not in your interest in that regard.
Even more, however—the evidence is again simply overwhelming, I would say—that large and expansive government has a deeply morally corrupting effect, and it in fact destroys the kind of traditional moral values and principles that you, as a conservative, want to uphold. This is the great insight of Lord Acton, that all power tends to corrupt. Power does bad things to people. To the extent that power relations become widespread in human society, they’re going to destroy a whole range of moral behaviors amongst the people who participate in these relationships. A society based upon free and equal exchange between individuals is one which is much more likely to promote values of self restraint, self discipline, and adherence to moral standards, than one in which the government has a large and extensive role. And so, for all of these reasons, that’s why, if you are a traditionalist conservative or a conservative of any kind, you should also be a libertarian.