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Libertarians and Conservatives, how much do they really have in common?

May 22, 2009

In a 1975 interview with Reason, Ronald Reagan said, “If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. […] The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is.” Today there is a lot of discussion about Libertarians and Republicans setting aside their differences and, in a sense, joining forces.  At their core, it might appear that they see eye to eye, but as you branch out further into each ideology, the gap in similarities grows.

Both Parties claim to be for limited government, but they don’t quite agree on what “limited” means. The GOP believes government should be smaller than it is, but realizes that there is a need for government programs, entitlements, and subsidies. They wouldn’t not get rid of the IRS or “all federal programs and services not required under the U.S. Constitution.” as the Libertarian Party Platform states they would.  The Republican Party would like to increase oversight and “gradually shrink the size of government while using technology to increase its effectiveness and reshape the way agencies do business.” as its Party Platform states. Libertarians would like to see most of what we think of as “government” abolished and a small government in place to simply maintain order and turn over most of the current government responsibility to the free market system.

When it comes to crime and criminals the parties are very different in their views on how they should be handled.

Government exists to protect the rights of every individual including life, liberty and property. Criminal laws should be limited to violation of the rights of others through force or fraud, or deliberate actions that place others involuntarily at significant risk of harm. Individuals retain the right to voluntarily assume risk of harm to themselves. We support restitution of the victim to the fullest degree possible at the expense of the criminal or the negligent wrongdoer. We oppose reduction of constitutional safeguards of the rights of the criminally accused. The rights of due process, a speedy trial, legal counsel, trial by jury, and the legal presumption of innocence until proven guilty, must not be denied. We assert the common-law right of juries to judge not only the facts but also the justice of the law. -Libertarian Party Platform (1.5)

The GOP platform is not so cut and dry, as Republicans have a tendency to want to regulate “morality” by criminalizing things they deem “immoral” or harmful to families and communities such as internet gambling:

“Millions of Americans suffer from problem or pathological gambling that can destroy families.  We support the law prohibiting gambling over the Internet.”-GOP Party Platform

The Republican Party is also in favor of increasing support to law enforcement agencies to fight against illegal drugs, increase education about the harmful effects of drugs, and additional support to those struggling with addiction problems. The Libertarian Party has a different view of “illegal drugs” as they view their use for medicinal or recreational uses as a victimless crime. They believe only crimes that “infringe on the rights of others can properly be termed crimes.”

The issue of “same-sex marriage” is one issue where there is no gray area between the parties. The GOP is firm in their stance that they are in favor of a constitutional amendment that protects the word “marriage” as between a man and a woman. The Libertarian Party believes that government has no right to  restricts the choices of consenting adults, that they “should be free to choose their own sexual practices and personal relationships. Government does not have the authority to define, license or restrict personal relationships.”

Abortion is another hot button issue on all sides of the aisle, and once again the two parties do not quite agree. According to the Libertarian Party Platform, Libertarians believe the government should not be making a decision on abortion, that its best to leave it up to personal choice. The GOP is adamantly against abortion, and believe that the government needs to step in and outlaw abortion for the sake of preserving the sanctity of human life.

Foreign affairs is another issue where Republicans and Libertarians do not see eye to eye, they’re actually not even in the same state. Libertarians are against all foreign intervention, including aid to other countries. This would eliminate the necessity of the FBI and CIA as we would no longer need them, but they do believe in a strong defense to protect American citizens from foreign attacks. The GOP has a polar opposite view, they believe that if we provide aid to countries in turmoil, they too will see prosperity and freedom as America has. The Republican Party also believes in intervening in the matters of other countries as it pertains to our safety as a country and to protect our interests and the interests of our allies.

I’ve only begun to scratch the surface on the differences and similarities of these two parties, but I do believe that a lot can be determined from these few examples. Closer examination shows that there are many things Libertarians and Republicans do not agree on, but its true that they both value personal responsibility and limited government, even if they cannot agree on the extent.

**It should be noted that there are various types of people who consider themselves a Republican or a Libertarian and the ideas in this post are those of the parties themselves, not all individuals within those parties.**

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Anarcho-capitalist permalink
    December 1, 2010 5:30 pm

    “The Republican Party also believes in intervening in the matters of other countries as it pertains to our safety as a country and to protect our interests and the interests of our allies.”

    No politician will ever define what “interests” means, because they know they would be scorned if they were truthful and tacked on the word business in front of it. People would ask, is that really worth dying for?

    Smedley Butler was a Major General in the U.S. Marine Corps, and at the time of his death the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. He is one of 19 people to twice receive the Medal of Honor. He said,

    “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class thug for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902–1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

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