by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
[C]onservatives tend to be libertarian, but libertarians tend not to be conservative.
And self-described libertarians are very keen on emphasizing that distinction. They justifiably point to the areas, many of them quite significant, where the bulk of libertarians depart from the conservative consensus: foreign policy, drugs, gay rights, etc. Of course, the demarcations between these different camps are not hard and clearly defined. Many conservatives now — and even more in the past — hold the same convictions as libertarians on foreign policy and drugs and, to a lesser extent, on issues such as gay rights. But as a generalization, libertarians want to have their own identity, separate and distinct from that of conservatism. They’re a bit like the Canadians you meet abroad who go to almost obsessive lengths to show everyone that they aren’t American.
Some conservatives feel the same way about libertarianism, but few are passionate about it. Conservative figures from William F. Buckley Jr. (who described himself in the subtitle of one of his last books as a “libertarian journalist”) and Frank Meyer to Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, straight down to our own Charles C. W. Cooke, author of the recent Conservatarian Manifesto, have worked assiduously to find common ground and common purpose with our libertarian comrades.
Most famously, Meyer created an entire philosophical project called “fusionism” to explain why conservatism and libertarianism should remain joined at the hip. In brief, he said that a virtuous society must be a free society, because acts not freely chosen are not virtuous. National Review remains an essentially fusionist enterprise. But while it’s easy to find conservatives who want to keep this marriage going, it’s much harder to find prominent libertarians who do. As a matter of cultural identity, the libertarian outlook on conservatism is “We’re just not that into you.”