Has anyone ever said something like this to you?
“Gee, libertarians sound a lot like conservatives on some issues, but then again you sound like liberals on some issues. What gives?”
It’s tempting to answer with, "Well, libertarians are conservative on economic issues and liberal on social issues." Please resist the temptation.
I don't agree with the idea that a libertarian is someone who is fiscally conservative and socially liberal. It is a mistake to define libertarians in terms of conservative or liberal. Here’s a much better way to respond to the question:
"The reason libertarians may sometimes sound like liberals, and sometimes sound like conservatives, is because on some issues liberals sound like libertarians and on some issues conservatives sound like libertarians."
For example, conservatives have a tendency to sound libertarian on economic liberties, because libertarians and conservatives take a liberty approach on economic issues. Conversely, libertarians and liberals take a liberty approach on personal liberties. This means that if you are a staunch Conservative, half of your agenda is libertarian. And it means if you are a staunch Liberal, half of your agenda is libertarian. Therefore, virtually everyone is libertarian on some issues.
There is some philosophical underpinning for this thinking. Inculcated into the thinking of both conservatives and liberals is that they are the smart ones and the educated ones. And if people just listened to them and begin taking their advice, the world would start getting better. This statement is HALF-TRUE for both conservatives and liberals. If everyone, I mean EVERYONE, took the liberty approach on economic liberties, things would be better. Or if everyone, I mean EVERYONE, took the liberty approach on personal liberties, things would get better.
However, inculcated into the thinking of libertarians is that we are not smart enough to tell other people how to best live their lives, but we are smart enough to have confidence that other individuals are smart enough to live their own lives. This is the liberty approach to both economic liberties and personal liberties. And if everyone--it wouldn’t take everyone--took the liberty approach to both economic liberties and personal liberties, the world would indeed begin to be a better place.
Chuck McGlawn became active with the Libertarian Party in the early 1980s and for several years published the Liberty Views Weekly Newsletter. He is currently an activist promoting liberty and the Libertarian Party in Orange County.
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or platform of the Libertarian Party.