Why I Am No Longer a Libertarian

I spent much of my time in college rebelling against the conservatism of my upbringing. I took on a new view of how we should conduct ourselves politically, and I found that it was strangely popular among people my age. I became a libertarian. I have since returned from a prodigal’s pig sty to re-embrace conservatism.

The reason young conservatives are attracted to libertarianism makes sense. They share many common views on how government should relate to the governed. They cheer for minimal regulation, limited government, and are quick to remind that “taxation is theft.” Liberals are much more tolerant of libertarians for the reason that a benign position on markets and limited government ignores much of the social policies that surround questions of self-government. Young conservatives, seeking friends and approval, find libertarianism to be a convenient compromise with liberals. There is the rested hope that liberals too may become libertarians!

But before crossing the aisle to become libertarian, I hope that the young conservative will understand that libertarian prescriptions for political issues do not have libertarian outcomes.

Consider the libertarian position on same-sex marriage. During the debate over whether it should be legalized in all 50 states, many libertarians, including the Libertarian party of America, took a “live and let live” response to those wishing to marry. “You should be able to marry whoever you want, and it is none of the government’s business,” they uttered. Enough people seemed to be convinced by this, and the institution of marriage was transformed in a 5-4 vote on the supreme court.

Consider now how the state’s new position is not being used as libertarians expected. Catholic adoption agencies, wedding cake bakers, and many others, will soon be compelled by the state to recognize the validity of an institution that does not abide to their religious viewpoint. Even if the courts side with the baker now, it is only a matter of time before they do not. 

History will soon show that the “neutral” state position on could same-sex marriage was but a Trojan Horse to advance a liberal agenda. Sure! Everyone may soon acknowledge one view of marriage at the expense of another. Minds may change on same-sex marriage, and maybe everyone will eventually share the liberal view for how marriage should be defined! But you cannot say that the libertarian prescription to same-sex marriage successfully curtailed the state’s influence on what marriage is and how it is defined. Libertarians must see that the “live and let live” principle is not a successful governing policy because there are factions in the republic who will not allow people to “live and let live.”

Consider also the libertarian position on drug laws. It turns out that when you legalize drugs people will still be addicted to them! Most countries with liberal drug laws now have state funded drug intake centers. Tax dollars are used to fund continued addiction, albeit in a safer way. Although I am inclined to cheer this on for its net benefits, no libertarian worth his salt can look at state funded heroine centers as a victory for limited government.

The list goes on, as an unsuccessful libertarian prescription has the potential to influence nearly every realm of social policy.

I recommend that the best thing for a young conservative to ponder is not the libertarian request for human beings to govern themselves, but rather where self-government comes from and how it has emerged in political life. 

Self-government is not a slogan that is true at the outset. It comes from institutions, supported privately and publically, that form the character and temperament of an individual, teaching self-reliance and virtue. Families, churches, community organizations, and schools do much more to foster self-government than markets and low taxes. Markets and low taxes are merely the egg of the chicken. Of course, there is much debate as to what these institutions should look like. But liberals and conservatives can at least agree they do not emerge spontaneously absent the support of civil society and the state.

Allow me to close with a reference to Lip Gallagher from the hit series Shameless. When asked if he is a libertarian, Lip quips, “Every libertarian is born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.” The more I think about third base means (and it has more to do than money), the more conservative I become.

If young conservatives did that a bit more, they would probably re-think becoming a libertarian.