Conservatism at its core is a noble ideology. There’s something meaningful about holding onto traditional values and institutions. At the core of conservative political philosophy is a devotion to individual rights, minimal government interference, and stability that comes with tradition – all great goals.
Conservative scholar Russell Kirk wrote an article for the Heritage Foundation on the ten core values of conservatism. All ten are important, but modern conservative policy consistently fails to uphold them. Libertarianism is a more robust ideology to protect Kirk’s keynote values.
One of the ten values is prudence – specifically legislative prudence. He writes “Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity.” Most rational people would agree that this is the right mindset, but far too many conservative policies run contrary to it.
Consider petty drug policy. Conservatives hoped the long-run consequences would be a drug-free America with increased safety and social harmony. This was not, however, the most probable long-run consequence – just the most idealistic. The most probable consequence of harsh drug law is the degeneration of society, not increased security.
Although this was not the intention of conservative policies, it was the outcome.
History shows us that prohibition doesn’t work. Beer and wine consumption rates dropped significantly during alcohol Prohibition as more dangerous, potent alcohols saw an increased consumption rate. Today, nonviolent drug offenders are being taken from their homes and their families to serve jail time for victimless crimes. Inner cities have suffered greatly from worsening public perception and losing working members of their community under these laws. Although this was not the intention of conservative policies, it was the outcome.
This hypocrisy extends far beyond drug policy. Military intervention in the Middle East breeds anti-American sentiment and actively arms terrorists. Security measures such as TSA screenings and the PATRIOT Act don’t make us meaningfully safer, they just pick taxpayer pockets. Immigration laws harm businesses and prevent individuals from coming to a country where they will work and pay taxes.
Kirk writes, “sudden and slashing reforms are as perilous as sudden and slashing surgery.” How can conservatives hold up the mirror of prudence to executive drone strikes, Muslim-majority country travel bans, and hasty Obamacare repeals with anything but disappointment?
Property and Ownership
Seventh on Kirk’s list is the idea that freedom and property are closely linked. Economically, conservatives champion this value well enough. They believe in free market solutions and individual choice. The problem with conservative views on property comes from their definition of the word itself.
It’s important that we uphold the ownership of ourselves, not just our worldly possessions.
A conservative might believe that their phone is their property, in addition to their gun, and their house. Libertarians instead prefer the original meaning of property, which is more like ownership or right of possession. A libertarian would argue they have property in their phone, gun, and house.
A libertarian would also argue that they have ownership of their body. This means that no other person or government entity has a right to tell them what they can and cannot do with their body so long as doing so doesn’t infringe on the rights of others. Just as the government can’t tell you not to plant potatoes in your garden, it should not be able to tell you not to drink alcohol, smoke plant matter, or love someone of the same sex.
Property and freedom are intertwined, but it’s important that we uphold the ownership of ourselves, not just our worldly possessions.
The Will of the People
Eighth on Kirk’s list is the idea of voluntary community. He writes, “A central administration … however well-intentioned, cannot confer justice and prosperity and tranquility.” He also remarks that the most important community decisions must be made locally. I wonder how conservatives reconcile this with federal US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers forcing compliance from local police departments that don’t want to deport people.
Conservative policy has deviated from conservative values and now threatens the very freedoms it would protect.
Sanctuary cities are under the gun in conservative states. The federal government is forcing these municipalities to comply with regulations that the people of the city disagree with. Additionally, conservatives that fight against states that have legalized marijuana are trying to use a central administration to deliberately disobey the will of the people. Pundits and politicians in DC do not know better than people living in these areas. To suggest otherwise is to disregard federalism.
Many of the values that conservatives want to uphold are worthwhile. Almost every American can agree that prudence, property, and voluntary community are key aspects of our nation’s identity. Unfortunately, conservative policy has deviated from conservative values and now threatens the very freedoms it would protect. Libertarianism, on the other hand, holds true to the Founders’ – and many of Russell Kirk’s – values. People that are keen on protecting those values should be proud to call themselves libertarians.