I’ve been thinking about the libertarian/conservative divide a lot recently, and Elizabeth Marcello’s column last week on libertarianism spurred me to finally write this article. I don’t intend to oppose what she wrote and I agreed with what she was saying, but I’m not sure that libertarians are necessarily socially liberal.
The first problem arises from what is defined as a social issue. Gay marriage and abortion are usually what people think about when describing their social views, but that does not paint an accurate picture. Nor does saying libertarians are fiscally conservative and socially liberal paint an accurate picture. My senator, Senator Mark Kirk, is considered socially liberal and fiscally conservative, but I would hardly consider him a libertarian.
To answer my own question, I decided to compare the views of two politicians, one who is often mentioned as being socially conservative, and one who is known for being a libertarian. I picked former Governor Mike Huckabee to represent the social conservative crowd because he received overwhelming support from Evangelical Christians in the 2008 Iowa primary, and Ron Paul to represent the libertarians because he one of the most well-known libertarian leaders. Perhaps I am already biasing this experiment because I have a good idea of what each believes, but I decided to look at the issues of abortion, gay-marriage, guns, religious freedom, and education. Education is included because homeschooling tends to be practiced more by socially conservative people than liberals.
First, I’ll discuss abortion. Both Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul are pro-life. However, the 2012 Libertarian platform said that “Recognizing that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on all sides, we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration.” At first glance, this is obviously a pro-choice position. But the platform does not call for government funding of abortions (i.e. Planned Parenthood). Nor does the platform call for federal abortion laws; the Libertarian Party supports states rights and would probably be okay with state legislation on abortion (which means Texas would not face federal challenges to their abortion law). Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul differ on same-sex marriage. Mike Huckabee opposes same-sex marriage, but Ron Paul opposes having the federal government defining marriage. He believes the issue should be left up to the states, but would prefer more that government not define any marriage.
So on the two most mentioned social issues, gay marriage and abortion, we see nuanced views. The libertarians and liberals don’t really agree on gay marriage. And libertarians wouldn’t support laws like ENDA, which they believe violate property rights and individual conscience. In the same vein, social conservatives and libertarians agree on religious freedom. Social liberals support ideas like the HHS contraception mandate; libertarians and conservatives agree that it is a violation of freedom of religion and individual conscience to force a company to buy something they have an opposition to. Libertarians in general oppose any government mandate.
On guns, libertarians and conservatives both are defenders of the Second Amendment. There is little doubt on that.
Finally we come to education. With education there is again no doubt that conservatives and libertarians agree. Both sides want limited federal government involvement and want state and localities to control education. Mike Huckabee was endorsed by the Home School Legal Defense Association Fund in his 2008 run for the GOP nomination for President. Ron Paul is developing his own homeschool curriculum and supports school choice.
To answer my own question, no, libertarians are not socially liberal. Libertarians believe in individual freedom, which sometimes clashes with conservative positions (such as drugs or gay marriage) and sometimes aligns well (guns, states rights on abortion, schooling). They aren’t socially liberal or conservative, they are libertarian.
Matthew Lamb | Loyola University | @mlmb24