This year the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) will feature a panel titled, “Can Libertarians and Social Conservatives Ever Get Along?” This could get interesting quickly considering the tension that between these groups in the past.
Can libertarians and social conservatives find common ground?
It’s important to define what it means to be a libertarian. Libertarianism is solely a political philosophy that deals with the role of government. Generally speaking, libertarians want the government out of both economic and personal affairs. Libertarians believe that government has no business telling anyone how to live their own life.
A popular misconception, or stereotype, is that libertarians are just morally bankrupt pot smoking Republicans or “low tax liberals.” But libertarians are far too diverse for such simplistic pigeonholing. Some libertarians are personally socially conservative. Others are personally socially moderate or liberal.
What brings us together is we all believe that government should not punish victimless “crimes.” Our commonality is our focus on the proper limits of the state.
My story is probably not unlike many other libertarians.
I went from a self-identified conservative to a libertarian. During my progression, I did not change my personal views on social issues. I still believe that drug use can wreck someone’s life and strong families are the foundation of our society.
However, I no longer believe that the government is the answer to solving society’s ills.
Libertarians and conservatives are able to find common ground on many economic issues and increasingly, foreign policy. Both groups should work together to advance economic freedom by getting the government out of the way wherever possible.
But when it comes to social issues, they frequently split ways.
Some libertarians may agree with social conservatives on the moral problems America faces. The difference is that libertarians do not call for more laws. If the “solutions” social conservatives are proposing lead to bigger government—you can count libertarians out.
Take for instance, government outlawing drugs. Social conservatives have historically supported drug prohibition. While nearly all libertarians advocate for drug legalization and/or decriminalization.
Does that mean that all libertarians endorse drug use? No, it does not.
Libertarians simply believe that the government should not punish peaceful people who put substances into their own bodies. Many libertarians think using drugs is unwise and dangerous.
But isn’t being able to make dumb decisions part of freedom? Aren’t the concepts of personal responsibility and facing the consequences of one’s actions simply part of being free?
Another reason libertarians oppose the War on Drugs is the cost to taxpayers. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world—more than half of its six million prisoners are in jail for drug convictions, with 80% in for drug possession.
Many social conservatives do not want to pay for welfare benefits for illicit drug users. It should follow that they don’t want to pay for their food, clothing, housing, medical care, and everything else that comes with imprisonment either.
If we ended the mass imprisonment of non-violent drug offenders, we wouldn’t have to pay for any of this. The War on Drugs has also done nothing to actually reduce drug use. What it has accomplished is preventing people from seeking help for fear that they may get arrested.
Another perceived issue of disagreement between libertarians and social conservatives is gay marriage. Most libertarians ideally want the government completely out of marriage (some are pro-gay marriage laws as long as government is in the marriage business). While social conservatives generally want the government to regulate marriage in order to preserve its sanctity.
Libertarians certainly have different views on marriage and homosexuality. But unlike many social conservatives, they do not believe that the government should be involved in something so deeply personal. Libertarians certainly don’t want the federal government being involved, as groups on both sides of this issue have often lobbied for.
Why does marriage necessarily need to be between a man, a woman—and Uncle Sam?
Can libertarians and social conservatives ever get along? It depends. Both groups could begin to focus on what they have in common more than where they disagree.
A good start would be to stop looking to government to validate our personal beliefs or solve every problem.