Libertarian conservatism

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Libertarian conservatism, also known as conservative libertarianism or conservatarianism, is a political philosophy that combines conservatism and libertarianism, representing the libertarian wing of conservatism and vice versa. Libertarian conservatism advocates the greatest possible economic liberty and the least possible government regulation of social life, mirroring laissez-faire classical liberalism, but it harnesses this to a belief in a more social conservative philosophy emphasizing authority and duty.[1]

Originating and developing in the United States, libertarian conservatism prioritizes liberty, promoting free expression, freedom of choice and free-market capitalism to achieve conservative ends and rejects liberal social engineering.[2]

Libertarian conservatism can also be understood as promoting civil society through conservative institutions and authority—such as family, country, religion and education—in the libertarian quest to reduce state power.[3]


In political science, the term libertarian conservatism refers to ideologies that combine the advocacy of economic principles such as fiscal discipline, respect for contracts, defense of private property and free markets[4] and the traditionalist conservative stress on self-help and freedom of choice under a laissez-faire and economically liberal capitalist society with social tenets such as the importance of religion and the value of religious morality[5] through a framework of limited, constitutional, representative government.[6] For Margaret Randall, libertarian conservatism began as an expression of individualism and the demand for personal freedom.[7][8]

Freedom and Virtue: The Conservative/Libertarian Debate, edited by George W. Carey, contains essays which describe "the tension between liberty and morality" as "the main fault line dividing the two philosophies".[9]

Nelson Hultberg wrote that there is "philosophical common ground" between libertarians and conservatives. According to Hultberg, "[t]he true conservative movement was, from the start, a blend of political libertarianism, cultural conservatism, and non-interventionism abroad bequeathed to us via the Founding Fathers". He said that such libertarian conservatism was "hijacked" by neoconservatism, "by the very enemies it was formed to fight – Fabians, New Dealers, welfarists, progressives, globalists, interventionists, militarists, nation builders, and all the rest of the collectivist ilk that was assiduously working to destroy the Founders' Republic of States".[10]

Thomas DiLorenzo wrote that libertarian conservative constitutionalists believe that the way to limit government is to enforce the United States Constitution. However, DiLorenzo criticized them by writing: "The fatal flaw in the thinking of the libertarian/conservative constitutionalists stems from their unawareness or willful ignorance of how the founders themselves believed the Constitution could be enforced: by the citizens of the free, independent, and sovereign states, not the federal judiciary". He wrote that the powers accrued to the federal government during the American Civil War overthrew the Constitution of 1787.[11]

In the 1950s, Frank Meyer, a prominent contributor to the National Review, called his own combination of libertarianism and conservatism fusionism.[12][13]

In the 1990s, Lew Rockwell, Murray Rothbard and others described their libertarian conservative views as paleolibertarianism.[14] They continued libertarian opposition to "all forms of government intervention – economic, cultural, social, international", but also upholding cultural conservatism in social thought and behavior. They opposed a licentious libertarianism which advocated "freedom from bourgeois morality, and social authority".[14] Rockwell later stated that they dropped that self-description because people confused it with paleoconservatism which they rejected.[15][16]

California Governor Ronald Reagan appealed to American libertarians in a 1975 interview with Reason when he said: "I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism".[17] However, President Reagan turned the United States' big trade deficit into debt and the United States became a debtor nation for the first time since World War I under the Reagan administration.[18][19]

Edward Feser emphasized that libertarianism does not require individuals to reject traditional conservative values. Libertarianism supports the ideas of liberty, privacy and ending the war on marijuana at the legal level without changing personal values.[12]


Libertarian conservatism subscribes to the libertarian idea of free-market capitalism, advocating minimal to no government interference in the market. A number of libertarian conservatives favor Austrian economics and are critical of fiat money. Libertarian conservatives also support wherever possible privatizing services traditionally run or provided by the government, from airports and air traffic control systems to toll roads and toll booths.[1][2]

Notable people[edit]

Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman, Richard Posner, Walter E. Williams, Richard Epstein, Thomas Sowell and Albert Jay Nock have been described as libertarian conservatives.[2][20] Former Congressman Ron Paul and his son Senator Rand Paul have been described as combining conservative and libertarian small government ideas and showing how the Constitution of the United States defends the individual and most libertarian views.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Heywood 2015, p. 37.
  2. ^ a b c Piper, J. Richard (1997). Ideologies and Institutions: American Conservative and Liberal Governance Prescriptions Since 1933. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 110–111. ISBN 0847684598. ISBN 9780847684595.
  3. ^ Hoppe, Hans, Hermann (2018). Getting Libertarianism Right. Mises Institute Publishing. ISBN 9781610166904.
  4. ^ Johnston 2007, pp. 154–156.
  5. ^ Johnston 2007, p. 154.
  6. ^ Johnston 2007, pp. 154–155.
  7. ^ Schlesinger, Arthur (September 1933) [1933]. "48". The Rise of the City: 1878-1898. The Academy of Political Science. pp. 454–456.
  8. ^ Randall, Margaret (January 14, 2018) [1995]. "Preface". Sandino's Daughters: Testimonies of Nicaraguan Women in Struggle. Rutgers University Press. pp. ii.
  9. ^ Carey, George W., ed. (1998). Freedom & Virtue: The Conservative Libertarian Debate. Intercollegiate Studies Institute. ISBN 1882926196.
  10. ^ Hultberg, Nelson (December 20, 2006). "True Conservatism vs. Neo-Conservatism". Americans for a Free Republic. Archived August 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved August 20, 2008.
  11. ^ DiLorenzo, Thomas (July 21, 2004). "Constitutional Futility". Lew Retrieved July 2, 2008.
  12. ^ a b Feser, Edward (December 22, 2001). "What Libertarianism Isn't". Lew Retrieved December 22, 2001.
  13. ^ Raico, Ralph (Fall 1964). "Is Libertarianism Amoral?". New Individualist Review. 3 (3): 29–36.
  14. ^ a b Rockwell, Lew. "The Case for Paleo-libertarianism" (PDF). Liberty (January 1990): 34–38. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 7, 2018. Retrieved November 20, 2018..
  15. ^ Rockwell, Llewellyn H. (May 2, 2002). "What I Learned From Paleoism". Lew Retrieved July 2, 2008.
  16. ^ Johnsson, Kenny (May 25, 2007). "Do You Consider Yourself a Libertarian?". Lew Retrieved July 2, 2008.
  17. ^ Klausner, Manuel (July 1975). "Inside Ronald Reagan". Reason. Retrieved May 2, 2020.
  18. ^ Kilborn, Peter T. (September 17, 1985). "U.S. Turns Into Debtor Nation". The New York times. Retrieved May 2, 2020.
  19. ^ Johnston, Oswald (September 17, 1985). "Big Trade Deficit Turns U.S. Into Debtor Nation : First Time Since 1914". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 2, 2020.
  20. ^ Rockwell, Lew; Tucker, Jeffrey (1991). "Cultural Thought of Ludwig von Mises". Journal of Libertarian Studies. Mises Institute. 10' (1): 23–52.
  21. ^ Mafaldo, Lucas (October 10, 2007). "The Conservative Case for Ron Paul". Lew Archived from the original on October 11, 2007. Retrieved July 2, 2008.


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