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A Libertarian Isn’t Fiscally Conservative and Socially Liberal

Gary Johnson, in spreading the “fiscally conservative and socially liberal” myth, only made libertarianism even less attractive.

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By Ryan Lau | @agorisms

We heard the watered down message, repeated like a scratchy old Monkees record stuck on the same song. Just when even the staunchest supporters couldn’t stand it anymore, there it was once again, straight from the mouth of Gary Johnson in 2016. “Libertarians are fiscally conservative and socially liberal!” The old rhetoric spewed its way onto the podium of American discussion, forever tainting the very idea of liberty.

Eventually, after enough people gave the former governor a fair bit of criticism on his little slogan, he modified it slightly. Over time, “socially liberal” evolved to “socially whatever you want”. Though closer to accurate, this never fully replaced the original label. Throughout his 2016 Presidential campaign, Gary Johnson fervently declared the idea of being fiscally conservative and socially liberal. This was a way of grabbing voters from both the conservative and liberal camps. However, he failed in both arenas. Instead, his magnet of ideas turned repulsive, shunning many who were strongly by his side.

The Flaw of Being Socially Liberal

On its surface, social liberalism sounds like an incredible libertarian ideal. It allows for consenting adults to act liberally if they so choose, right? Well, not necessarily. Often times, the modern liberal movement has thrown a number of wrenches into true social freedom.

A prime example of such action is the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. In general, American liberals showed disdain for the business after it refused service to a gay couple. With a clear stance, they fought hard to ensure that the business owners would need to serve all customers to avoid discrimination. Yet, this position falls in stark contrast to the idea of social freedom. Forcing a cake owner to make a cake gives him or her a positive obligation to provide for someone else.

This runs opposed to the libertarian doctrine, which states that nobody must do anything for another. It, of course, strongly suggests that individuals help and serve each other out of human compassion. But once a mandate exists, the action is no longer free. On the other hand, the gay couple is still free to buy a cake from anyone else in town. Though the owner committed an immoral action, he did not in any way limit their freedom. Social liberalism, thus, can run counter to the notion of freedom.

An Unappealing Doctrine

Clearly, libertarians believe in social freedom, rather than liberalism. The latter, though, makes libertarianism very unattractive to personal social conservatives. Many who may flock to libertarianism are wary of drugs, homosexuality, or prostitution, for example. Despite this, they may recognize the right for all of the above to be legal. Though they do not approve, they view it not in their power to stop these actions.

Surely, social freedom keeps with these beliefs. It alone allows people of vastly different beliefs and backgrounds to coexist without harming each other. Unfortunately, social liberalism does not do the same. Though perhaps permissible by personal social liberals, it simply is not okay to the personal social conservative to forcefully push a liberal social agenda. Thus, social liberalism will leave out many people willing to accept actions they do not approve of.

Fiscally Conservative: Just as Bad

Upon hearing the words “fiscally conservative”, many may think of very limited spending. After all, Republicans have tried for decades to paint a picture of small government. But, beneath it all is a warped image of debt.

In name, many Republicans oppose spending increases, but does this mean they are for serious cuts? Usually, this isn’t the case. In the modern Republican Party, Senator Rand Paul is a radical. A strong voice against government spending, many view him as the most fiscally conservative member of the chamber. Upon further scrutiny, though, he does not value economic freedom. In his 2016 Presidential campaign, Paul vowed a 14.5% flat income tax on all Americans, with nothing on the first $50,000. He supported a strong military and a sizable social safety net.

Most of the other Republicans were, thus, even less fiscally conservative. Libertarians want nothing to do with this. Opponents of all wasteful spending, they oppose a bloated military and, generally, social safety nets too. Fiddling with the progressive tax code, as most conservatives do, is not fiscally responsible.

What is a Libertarian?

Without a doubt, a libertarian is not fiscally conservative and socially liberal. In fact, a pure libertarian is neither of these things. Rather than the minute tweaking of budgets, they support drastic overhauls of the federal budget and an elimination of the deficit. Rather than social pressure on conservatives, they support the freedom of all. Johnson began to make progress when saying “Socially whatever you want”. But nonetheless, there was a considerable way to go.

Rather than separating fiscal and social issues, it is simpler to examine them together. One key principle binds libertarians; they believe one may do as he or she pleases, as long as the action does not directly prevent another from doing the same. Economic restriction and heavy government spending, thus, are inadequate. Social limitation on conservatives and liberals alike are also unjust. Libertarians are not some form of watered-down blend of the two parties. They are not a moderate group that takes the best of both worlds; such an idea suggests that either world has much good in it. All in all, a libertarian, both fiscally and socially, is but one thing: free.


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