Ever since the TEA Party took America by storm, organizing massive grassroots efforts to shake up the political establishment in Washington and to take Congress back from the big spending politicians, libertarianism has been “in.” The last couple of Ron Paul campaigns have been composed of thoroughly energized supporters, and their sentiment is alive and well in the camps of his proteges like son Rand (KY), and Senators Ted Cruz (TX) and Mike Lee (UT). With the ever detrimental expansion of government, manifesting itself in increased debt and ongoing violations of civil liberties, libertarianism is increasingly finding appeal in many Americans’ eyes. But it is paramount that we identify “libertarianism,” because I think there has been a bit of a mixup.
In short, libertarianism, in contemporary American politics, refers to the political philosophy of limited government and expanded roles of individual freedom. In a purely primitive understanding, one might say that libertarianism is the philosophy of: let me do what I want as I long as I don’t hurt anybody else. In fact, some loosely associate it with a strand of anarchy. It has occurred to me that this is the understanding of libertarianism that is taking hold, and it’s one that is insufficient, or better yet, a bit misguided.
What I believe many people are mistakenly doing is forsaking the purely legal understanding of libertarianism for the comprehensive understanding of libertarianism. What I mean by that is as follows. Traditionally, libertarians have argued that the Federal Government ought to actually follow the Constitution, and limit itself to the expressed powers granted to it in our founding document, specifically those mentioned in Article I, Section 8. Those powers not granted to Congress and the Federal Government are left to the states, as clearly stated in the 10th amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
I believe this is where libertarians ought to stop being “libertarians.” The most important part of the libertarian or constitutionalist movement is the argument for rightfully giving the power back to the states. But once that is done, and individual states are dealing with their own issues, we should remain conservatives! Virtually all libertarians also identify as conservative, but if they will not vote for conservative positions even in their states, what makes them conservative?
Let us look at a couple of examples. Libertarians and many conservatives agree that abortion, not being mentioned at all in the Constitution, is a 10th amendment issue and should be left to the individual states to decide its legality or criminality. Moreover, both of these groups would likely agree that abortion is morally reprehensible and ought to be restricted. Conservatives, who are strictly legal libertarians (meaning, libertarian on a federal/constitutional basis) would surely vote for abortion restrictions and limitations within their states. This is because as individuals, we believe abortion to be immoral, unethical, and undeserving of the place it currently holds in our society. Additionally, they would vote to preserve the traditional definition of marriage, and to pass heavy restrictions on illicit drugs, pornography, and prostitution. An individual has every right to vote for a policy that is consistent with his belief systems, be they religious or secular. People have the right to live in a society they feel to be best suited to their every day lives.
It has become ever more clear to me that self described libertarians are voting “libertarian” even in the state! In essence, they are voting like liberals. They are bringing their libertarian stances that played such a meaningful (and constitutional) role on a federal level, and bringing in it to the state, creating a situation completely anathema to the conservative cause. Yes, they argue that they’re just being consistent: they preach for increased individual liberties nationally and statewide. But the reason why they want a limited federal government is because of the constitution, and that same document did not necessarily call for a limited state government.
The fact of the matter is the Constitution limits the powers of the Federal Government with the intent to limit the possibility of tyranny and enhanced centralized rule. Our founders knew that it was imperative that the central government not become too powerful. States on the other hand, were given much more leeway, given that citizens enjoy much more control over their government, thereby making state government more easily replaceable. There was a never a legitimate concern that a state government would become tyrannical simply because it is but one legislature in a much greater Union; the reality simply wouldn’t come to fruition. After all, the Bill of Rights were not even applied to the states until the Supreme Court determined so in a series of mid-20th century decisions.
Thus, the Founders knew that the people of the individuals states would vote for laws they thought would create the best society. I think it is clear that conservatives believe that a society where things such as abortion, marijuana, pornography, and prostitution are restricted and limited, and one which promotes traditional values is the best society. We should be voting for laws based on our own values system. Liberals do that, and so should we. We must abandon this misguided and misunderstand notion of libertarianism in the state. For the sake of liberty, be a libertarian on a federal level, but for the sake of creating a healthy and moral society, be a conservative.