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  • Felix Ling

A Six-Step Program for Fiscally Conservative Social Liberals

Joe Biden standing with a microphone in his hand.

A few years ago, the esteemed Chuck McGlawn argued against the temptation for libertarians to let someone pigeonhole our beliefs as being fiscally conservative and socially liberal. I do like his framing and also agree that it is important not to fall into the trap of letting our rather arcane and arbitrary two-party system dictate the terms. I also, however, think it is important for libertarians to make it easier for Democrats and Republicans to relate to us, and redefining other people's stances in our own terms can be more adversarial than necessary. So, here's an alternate method that may also work well.

Let me explain... no, there is too much. Let me sum up. Step one is to be able to define your own ideology concisely. Me, I say I stand for limiting the power, size, and influence of the government because I believe power corrupts. You are welcome to borrow that, but I strongly suggest you come up with something as simple but more personal to you (how you say something is often more important than what you say).

Step two is to come up with your own definition of conservative and liberal thinking in a way that would not offend them. Make sure you have separate definitions for the fiscal/economic and social aspects of the philosophy (I honestly don't know how you can coherently define them any other way, what with both parties being coalitions of unlikely bedfellows). And if you are having trouble with this, here is my stab at it.

Step three is to engage in a friendly conversation with a non-libertarian who may not be familiar with libertarianism. And step four (optional but highly recommended) is to build a relationship with them strong enough to survive disagreement (if you don’t know how to do this, well, I’m probably the wrong person to ask about that, but I hear that there are books on the topic).

Finally, step five is to talk to them about politics. I suggest stressing your areas of agreement first before highlighting any disagreements, but when you think you are ready to push things a bit further, start asking them questions to get a better sense of why they believe what they do on an issue. Next, ask further questions to see where they stand on other related issues. If they are a typical Democrat or Republican, the collection of opinions won't seem coherent, so you can honestly express some confusion and gently ask them to succinctly define their political ideology in a way that ties it all together.

If they give you a simplistic campaign slogan like "Hope and change" or "Make America Great," then you can point out that everybody agrees with such broad goals and say that you want to understand why they believe their favored policy reforms will achieve these goals. If they struggle or refuse to give a definition, or if their definition contradicts one of their positions, do NOT mock them, of course! Instead, gently inquire about any apparent contradictions, and if and when a good opportunity presents itself, volunteer your own definition from step 2 to see if they agree.

And when it comes time to explain your philosophy, you can introduce it as a combination of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism but go on to explain how you prefer to define it using your definition from step one. If you want to continue into criticisms of the two-party system here, go ahead, but it should already be rather apparent that your philosophy is more coherent than theirs. Of course, step six is to not be an asshat about that.

And there you go! A way to present yourself in a relatable fashion without letting the two parties off the hook for being incoherent coalitions of contradictions, and in only half the number of steps as a 12-step program. Have fun storming the castle!

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily the views of the Libertarian Party of Orange County.

Felix Ling earned a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences from UC Berkeley, a M.A. in Applied Economics from San Jose State University, and has had a career that inconceivably includes both software engineering and teaching economics. Currently, he is part of a financial advisory team and lives in Southern California with his wife and two sons.

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