People love to fight on the internet. Right now in the Libertarian party and the republican party, there is a fight occurring between paleo-conservative, the neoconservatives, libertarians, and pretty much everyone else. I thought it would be interesting to provide brief breakdowns of the various groupings within the conservative-libertarian movement as someone who has started off as a mainstream conservative but is now more libertarian.
Three Pillars of The Conservative Movement
For the past seventy or so years, the conservatism in the United States has been a coalition of three ideologies under the banner of the Republican party. Political science would say there are three main pillars to conservatism. They have been the neoconservatives like Bill Kristol, the paleoconservatives like Pat Buchanan, and the libertarians like Milton Friedman. These are the three legs to the stool of American conservatism that have preached limited government against the American left.
Libertarianism goes way back. Libertarianism is very much an Enlightenment political philosophy. The classical liberal tenants of life, liberty, and private property echo throughout the libertarian literature. Individual liberty, economic freedom, and the nonaggression principle(NAP) are the cornerstones.
Interestingly, early on libertarianism was heavily associated with anarchism and the left. It wasn’t until the mid-1900s that libertarianism in the United States America became associated with the right-wing.
Libertarianism despises statist authoritarians. Most libertarians would argue that both political parties are for big government given how much government intervention and government regulation both parties have instituted in the United States. On foreign policy, libertarians are isolationist.
Some of the most prominent libertarian thought leaders are Ludwig von Mises, FA Hayek, Murray Rothbard, Ron Paul, and to a lesser degree Rand Paul(It’s questionable how libertarian he actually is). All of whom are schooled in the Austrian School of Economics. The Austrian School of Economics and Libertarianism are very much intertwined.
The most famous American paleoconservative is Pat Buchanan. This tells you a lot about what you need to know about this ideology. It’s been derided as racist and is considered controversial. It is often connected to the alt-right. All of this is unfair. Paleoconservatism is a perfectly reasonable ideology. It just has poor branding, mostly because of William F Buckley.
Paleoconservative beliefs can be characterized as nationalist or patriotic. They believe in restricted immigration, trade tariffs, and isolationism. All while emphasizing traditional social teachings. Paleoconservatism advocates for morality. Where Libertarians argue for reason above all things, paleoconservatives would argue for natural law. Paleoconservatives are traditional, while libertarians are logical.
Fusionism Leads To The Neo-Cons
Fusionism is the best place to start as it isn’t quite Libertarianism. It’s in fact what starts this whole coalition. Fusionism was developed by Frank Meyer and William F Buckley, the founder of the National Review. It sought to bring together libertarians, traditional conservatives, and anti-communist neo-conservatives. If anything it could be described as libertarian-conservatism.
Ronald Reagan is the most famous fusionist. Since Fusionisms height in the American political scene in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan, its fusing has not been as strong.
Shortly after Reagan left office the United States entered a 20-year phase of neo-liberalism from 1988 to 2008. The Bush(both) and Clinton administrations were essentially neo-conservative. Bill Clinton was a democrat, but he had a republican congress. And governed in a way that was very consistent with neo-conservative values. The case can even be made that Barrack Obama’s presidency was a continuation of this legacy, but I think it was slightly different.
This period of neo-conservative rule led to resentment by the other two pillars of the conservative movement: Paleoconservative and Libertarians. Here some of the notable occurrences in the conservative movement that showed the fall of neoconservatives.
In the 1990s Murray Rothbard, a prominent libertarian, and Pat Buchanan, a prominent paleoconservative team up to form Paleolibertarianism. In the 2000s, the Ron Paul campaigns gained tremendous notoriety. The tea party movement sweeps the country after the John McCain presidential loss(He would have been another neoconservative). And finally there was the election of Donald Trump in 2016. A president who got elected by exposing a lot of paleoconservative views: isolationism, closing the border, tariffs.
Neoconservatism was sufficiently crushed. Prominent neoconservatives all denounced him: John McCain, Mitt Romney, Bill Kristol, The Weekly Standard, The National Review. This left an ideological vacuum in the conservative movement. That has been filled by the other two pillars and their amalgams.
Conservative libertarians sit between the pillars of libertarianism and one of the other pillars(paleoconservatism or neoconservatism). In its broadest strokes, conservative libertarians combine laissez-faire beliefs on economics with conservative/traditional values in some way.
Libertarians have a habit of subdividing themselves. As Russel Kirk once put it, Libertarians are “an ideological clique forever splitting into sects still smaller and odder, but rarely conjugating.” But there are a few main types that are relevant today that wield some political power in the GOP and Libertarian party. And wield power in shaping the ideologies of the conservative movement.
Beltway libertarianism is a bit of a pejorative, but who cares. No one likes them. Probably because they are the most powerful and have used that power to shape the public policy of the Republican Party. The Cato Institute is probably the most famous Beltway Libertarian public policy nonprofit. If you’ve heard of the Koch Brothers, this is where they fall. When you rarely see a libertarian op-ed in the New York Times it’s usually from a beltway libertarian.
When people think of libertarians being hedonistic, they’re referring to Beltway libertarians. The fiscally conservative socially liberal types tend to fall into this camp. This brand of Libertarianism promotes advocacy of open borders and free trade deals. If they take a stand on abortion it is usually pro-choice.
Beltway libertarians heavily aligned themselves with the neoconservatives. And like the neoconservatives have been out of power and have been very critical of Trump.
Paleolibertarianism is named after the temporary alliance between Murray Rothbard and Pat Buchanan in the 90s. Paleo-libertarianism believes in the free market and the Non-Aggression Principle(NAP) while believing in some of the paleoconservative beliefs around closed borders, nationalism, and tradition. One of the more prominent writers is Hans Hermann Hoppe.
Currently, there are several prominent paleo-libertarians in the libertarian movement. Tom Woods, Dave Smtih, and Lew Rockwell are all loud voices. The Mises Institute is the nonprofit most closely associated with this type of libertarian.
Also known as an-Caps. These are the diehards. They are anarchists who don’t believe in the state. They believe that markets can and will solve every problem, and they make a compelling point. From immigration to healthcare, to the military it can all be solved through markets, contracts, and the freedom of choice.
Murray Rothbard is the intellectual and writer most associated with Anarcho-capitalism. Yes, Murray Rothbard is associated with several schools of libertarian thought. He was a prolific writer and had a long career. In general, early Rothbard was more Anarcho-Capitalist, while later Murray Rothbard was more paleo-libertarian.
There really is no central nonprofit associated with Anarcho-Capitalism, which is fitting.
I’ll be honest. This is pretty much what republican shills who don’t want to call themselves republican call themselves. The most prominent person that calls themself a classical liberal is Dave Rubin.
There are several other schools of libertarian thought. There’s objectivist, which is a school of thought inspired by Ayn Rand. Minarchism, which is Anarchism with a little bit of government. And then there’s neo-classical libertarianism which is what Hayek was.
As Russell Kirk said libertarians love to subdivide themselves. Libertarians love to infight more than any group except for maybe Marxists. But this post should give you some insight into right-wing libertarianism. Libertarianism is a school of thought with a which history and some fantastic authors. Hopefully, this post has inspired you to learn more about liberty and freedom.