What's the difference between small-l libertarians and conservatives?

(I’m just trying to hone my thoughts, sharpen my understanding of politics. What do I know, I’m a young guy. So if I’m way off base here, I wouldn’t be surprised…I’m just trying to better understand the groups people identify with here in America.)

Some Republicans say they’re libertarian. But they’re not the Murray Rothbard, Ayn Rand, Reason Magazine, Ron Paul, sort. They’re not for blowing up the Fed, burning the welfare state with fire, et al. But they’re “fiscally conservative” and “socially liberal.” Let’s call them “small-l libertarians.”

What does it mean to be socially liberal in this country? The only issues I’ve pinned down are gay marriage and legalizing prostitution (National Review has long been skeptical of the drug war, so it wouldn’t be fair to divide conservatives from libertarians using that issue). You might say abortion…But many libertarians – even big-L Libertarians – are not pro-choice.

I guess a small-l libertarian would also differ from a conservative in emphasis. The conservative’s all about traditional values, the libertarian about liberty.

A friend pointed out to me that small-l libertarians also are likely to differ from conservatives on foreign policy. These days, small-l libertarians would be more likely to be for scaling back more military operations, while conservatives would want a tough international presence.

Do I have the basic gist of the differences here or am I way off base?

There’s no one answer to this, as there wouldn’t be if you asked what “progressives” think. But, in general:

Pro-SSM (and polygamy), or just get the state out of the marriage business altogether
Legalized drugs (or at lest pot)
Dovish (anti-Iraq war, for example)
Pro-legalized prostitution
Much loser licensing laws (why does someone need a license to cut hair?), although this might not be “socially liberal”
Anti-sodomy laws (for straights and gays)
Those are what I can think of off the top of my head. Basically, letting people do what they want if they’re not hurting anyone else.

*Although there are religious libertarians who are pro-life. The thing is, though, if religion creeps too much into other things, then you cease being a libertarian

I’ve labeled myself “Social Libertarian”.

Pretty much I believe the government should largely stay the fuck out of our private lives. Equality for everyone means no discrimination for any reason, no laws harming or limiting gays or religious minorities, no ‘hate crimes’, no ‘protected classes’, no any of that shit. I’m pro-choice on abortion, but I think leaving it to the States rather than the Feds means better Democracy. I’m for the legalization of most drugs. I’m a firm supporter of the 2nd amendment. Sodomy laws? Utterly absurd. The government has no business in anyone’s bedrooms.

So in those respects, I am a “Libertarian”.

But when it comes to interacting with Society, I think we have a reason to protect each other and work together. Taxes, schools, roads, safety laws and inspections, business regulations, all of that have a firm place in protecting all of us from each other and allowing us to go about our private lives. Some more radical libertarians have this idea that everything should be privatized. I think that’s moronic and unworkable.

I have no issue with welfare. I believe that we need to take care of people that can’t take care of themselves. Sure, there’s fraud. There’s fraud in every aspect of life. The existence of welfare fraud should no more mean we shut down the entire program than the existence of Bernie Madoff should mean we shut down investment banks.

That same logic can be extended to almost everything else about Human Society - there is and will always be harmful things and events. There are bad people, and shit happens. Attempting to limit them through every stricter laws and regulations is really only trying to stop Humans from being Humans and stop Reality from being Reality.

As I’ve said before, the beauty of being Human is that we have the ability to conceive of things like Justice, and fairness, and the ability to make our world a better place than the uncaring and unmerciful universe we live in. But creating Justice and beauty in the world cannot be done by shoving everyone in a box and forcing them to stop being Human in the name of a false sense of security.

Federalism doesn’t really have anything to do with Libertarianism. You can can have either with or without the other. But you do find that many libertarians have strong federalist leanings, too.


True enough. There are some things I don’t necessarily like the feds messing around with, and then there are things that I do. Overarching protections for one example, work very nicely thank you very much. :slight_smile:

Other people’s opinions vary, and I’m happy that they do.

Really though, I don’t have a strong self-identity as a Libertarian or try to speak for the ideal, so I’d like to hear from people who do.

I think you have the main differences pegged. Conservatives tend to be more focused on religious things, libertarians more on limited government. Conservatism likes to parade around as wanting limited government but they don’t really. Libertarians are usually pretty serious about it.

I think that “conservatives” are also much more prone to view military actions favorably. To me, this a huge difference. I’m someone who identifies with a lot of “small l” libertarianism, which inform not only my views on legalizing SSM, but was a key part of why I was unconditionally against the Iraq war (WMDs or no WMDs).

Those favoring social liberties (SSM, legalizing “victimless crimes” etc.) will find more company on the left than on the right.

Often those favoring big military spending and actions are those opposing big government economic regulations, and vice versa. Perhaps most libertarians opposed Iraq War, etc., but some didn’t. Best may be to treat military/foreign policy issues as orthogonal to libertarianism.

What are we left with? The size of government, and the scope of regulations. I’d really like to hear what serious “moderate libertarians” think. Most seem to accept police, food and drug inspection, air traffic control, etc. John Mace offers one example:

  • " Much loser licensing laws (why does someone need a license to cut hair?) "

I didn’t know barber licenses were mandated, but wonder if this is more due to lobbyists than a left-wing “urge to regulate.” Does anyone object to licensing doctors? pilots? automobile drivers?

There are a lot of libertarian ideas (school vouchers, no minimum wage) which sound smart in the abstract but which would be devastating to the lower classes if applied in today’s America.

We can all think of examples where government rules are annoying. But the same can be said of some private business rules.

Call me crazy, but I don’t see a reason for licensing automobile drivers anymore than licensing horse riders 150 years ago. It may have made sense in 1910 when these “new fangled” devices came on the scene, but they are sufficiently common that people can learn themselves nowadays.

Somebody already mentioned the difference between requiring barbers get a license and requiring doctors get a license. I’d say this is the same principle - the degree of consequences.

Getting a bad surgical operation is much more serious than getting a bad haircut - so a lot of people will accept the idea of requiring doctors to have a license while not caring about unlicensed barbers.

And the consequences of driving a car can be more serious than the consequences of riding a horse. No matter how drunk or incompetent you are, you’re going to have a hard time killing anyone else while riding a horse. But you can easily kill other people while driving a car. So a lot of people feel it’s reasonable to require drivers to show some basic competence and responsibility while giving riders a pass.

I don’t think that it is unreasonable, or the hallmark of tyranny, to require a drivers license. I think that the training part of it is overstated. When I was 16, I took my test. I had three chances to parallel park in a space big enough for a railroad car, and barely passed on the third try. My driving test consisted of driving about 3/4 of a mile to the adjacent parking lot and back, and I ran the only stop sign on the course. (D’oh!) The cop said that he would pass me anyways because I did good. :slight_smile:

Also, when my grandmother died at age 88, and blind as a bat, she held a valid drivers license, yet hadn’t driven since she passed her original test at age 25.

I would be surprised if the elimination of licensing laws added a significant number of accidents.

I wouldn’t.

Hell, I’d like to force people to redo the road test every 10 years, every 5 after the age of 70.

Oh wait, your phone rang during the test and you checked out your texts? FAIL.

You were given a license even though you hadn’t really demonstrated any particular competence during your driving test. The state just assumed you were a competent driver as the de facto default.

But some people aren’t competent drivers. Licensing laws allows the state to withdraw their driving privileges. If there were no licensing laws, there would be no means to stop bad drivers from driving.

It’s the equivalent of innocent until proven guilty. You can have a driving license until you demonstrate you’re a bad driver.

The one libertarian I knew would have abolished all government institutions except the military and the police force. Although how the police would have operated without any public streets or highways isn’t clear to me now. Essentially, the only social “right” that he would enforce is property and personal safety. It was the fact of no public streets (if you wanted a road in front of your property, you could build it and charge a toll for anyone who wanted to use it) that seemed incoherent to me. I think it all came directly from Ayn Rand, although I never cared enough to check that. Needless to say, all alcohol, drugs, firearms laws were out.

All Human Ideologies have gaping logic holes and depend on Humans not being Human.