I believe that a majority of people think of libertarianism as somewhere between the middle of the left and the right. However, this is simply not the case. This is the result of a misunderstanding of terms and their classical definitions. Because what it means to be politically left or right has changed over time, people have associated the terms of conservative and liberal to have the same meaning as right and left. People who call themselves politically conservative aren’t actually conservative at all in the classical sense. The following message is for people on the right. But as for people on the left, I also have a message for them I will present next week.
The term conservative, in the classical sense and in a rather broad definition, refers to a support for government. Originally, it represented support for the crown and for an authoritarian form of government not of and by the people, but rather of dictators, despots, and royalty – often totalitarian regimes. The modern day right presents itself as seeking out smaller and less intrusive government, more open markets, and claims ideals of freedom – especially economic freedom (lower taxes and less government programs). So, for people of the right, it is in your best interest to distance yourselves from the idea of classical conservatism. I don’t think it portrays the image you desire.
Beyond not recognizing that the modern right has selected the wrong term to describe itself, it also fails to recognize the disconnect it has in believing it represents seeking smaller government. Smaller government means placing the liberties of the individual above the interests of the collective. In other words, the right has its own ideas of collectivism apart from the left. The right believes itself to be anti-collectivist, but the problem is that it does not recognize many issues that it supports are collective in nature.
The right is very concerned with the loss of traditional ideals and the erosion thereof. For example, it is concerned with an erosion of the idea of traditional marriage. If one holds traditional marriage in an important regard, then the best way to protect that ideal is to ensure that you have the freedom from government intrusion into what is defined as marriage. If you believe that morals and traditional values should be held in high regard, then the best way to ensure they remain as such, is not to use government to define what those values and ideals are, but rather to ensure that a government cannot define those ideals for you. The government is a weapon that works in both directions. If you open the door to enforce a government definition of what ideals and values are good, and what morals represent good behavior, then you have opened the door to whatever is the general consensus of those ideals and values, regardless of what you believe that they are. In order to protect your ideals and values, you must protect the ideals and values of every other individual. Only by refusing government intrusion into your life, can you protect it fully.
The political right is also very concerned with safety and with threats of those who want to do harm to their nation. The only way that you can ensure true safety is to ensure that you have not sacrificed your rights in the process. Your rights, with which you were born, are far too precious to give away to a government entity, even in the name of safety. When you place your sacred rights into the hands of a government, you have also sacrificed your future safety by allowing a government to have dominion over you. If you erroneously place the government in charge of what you can do, when you can do it, and how you can do it, then you have given your safety to the government, which, by definition is not very concerned with individual safety at all.
Also, in the name of safety, the political right (although much increasingly the left as well) often deems foreign intervention and the forcible spread of western ideals into other nations as good policy to encourage greater safety. There is a certain point to this. It is better to fight a war on foreign soil than it is to fight one at home. However, the ideas can be taken too far. The key to it all is that you must understand that often in interference in the affairs of other nations, more enemies are created than destroyed. It is very difficult to discern which conflicts are necessary to actually preserve safety without creating new enemies, and which amount simply to interventionism, but it is essential to attempt this discernment. By limiting interventionism, you are also increasing your safety. And, by limiting expenditures into unnecessary interventionism, you are also decreasing taxation in terms of how much is necessary to operate the government.
There is a very serious disconnect in what it means to be “conservative,” even as how it is defined by the modern political right. As the right sees it, being “socially conservative” means supporting all the traditions and ideals as was previously mentioned. And, it sees safety as a paramount part of securing those traditions. It is extremely important for the right to understand that the social conservatism it seeks can only be achieved through limitation of government. The right needs to understand that by restricting government from defining freedoms, and restricting what government can do to guard safety, does in fact accomplish the goals the political right desires. The right, in large part, is absolutely correct in its goals. It just misunderstands how to achieve them.