What is a "Conservatarian" Anyway?

Conservative + Libertarian = Conservatarian

Rand Paul
Senador Rand Paul considers himself a fusion of conservative and libertarian.

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On the right, there have always been labels to describe various factions of Republicans and conservatives. There are the "Reagan Republicans" and the "Main Street Republicans" and the neoconservatives. In 2010, we saw the rise of the tea party conservatives, a group of newly active citizens with a decidedly more anti-establishment and populist tilt. But they were necessarily more conservative than other factions. Enter Conservatarianism.

A conservatarian is a blend of conservatism and libertarianism. In a way, modern conservatism has often led to big government. George W. Bush campaigned on big government "compassionate conservatism" and many good conservatives went along for the ride. Pushing a conservative agenda - even as it led to bigger government - seemingly became the GOP way. Libertarians have long been, rightly or wrongly, labeled as pro-drug, anti-government, and beyond too far beyond the mainstream. They have been described as fiscally conservative, socially liberal, and internationally isolationist. There is no easy ideological line going from point A to point B on the right, but there is a pretty big divide between libertarians and conservatives. And that's where the modern conservatarian comes in. The end result is a small government conservative who will push more hot-button issues to the states and fight for a smaller role of the federal government.

Pro-business but anti-cronyism

Conservatarians are often laissez-faire capitalists. Both the Republicans and Democrats have long been engaged in big deals and favoritism with big business. The Republicans have rightly favored creating pro-business policies including reductions in corporate taxation and tax reduction overall. The Democrats irrationally blame and target big business for everything that's wrong in the world. But at the end of the day, both Democrats and Republicans have favored setting up favorable deals with business allies, offered specialized tax incentives and subsidies, and pushed policies that favor business allies rather than let businesses compete and grow fairly and on their own. Even good conservatives use the hand of government far too often. Using the excuse that subsidies or specialized tax breaks are "pro-business," conservatives and liberals selectively choose who gets what and why. They choose the winners and losers.

Conservatarians have, for instance, turned against subsidizing industries to give them an artificial advantage over competing interests. Recently, "Green Energy" subsidies have been a favorite of the Obama administration and liberal investors have benefited the most at the taxpayers' expense. Conservatarians would argue in favor of a system were businesses are free to compete without the corporate welfare and without the government choosing the winners and losers. During the 2012 presidential primary campaign, even the more moderate Mitt Romney campaigned against sugar subsidies in Florida and against ethanol subsidies while in Iowa. Primary competitors including Newt Gingrich still favored such subsidies.

Focused on State and Local Empowerment

Conservatives have always favored stronger state and local government control over a large centralized government. But that has not always been the case with many social issues such as gay marriage and recreational or medicinal marijuana use. Conservatarians tend to believe that those issues should be handled at the state level. Conservative/conservatarian Michelle Malkin has been an advocate for medical marijuana use. Many who oppose gay marriage say it's a state's rights issue and that each state should decide the issue.

Usually Pro-Life but Often Socially Indifferent

While libertarians are often pro-choice and have adopted the "government can't tell someone what to do" talking points of the left, conservatarians have tended to fall on the pro-life side, and often argue from a pro-science stance over a religious one. On social issues, conservatarians may hold conservative beliefs on social issues like gay marriage or be indifferent, but argue that it is up to each state to decide. While libertarians typically outright favor drug legalization of many forms and conservatives oppose it, conservatarians are more open to legalized marijuana for medicinal and, often, recreational purposes.

"Peace Through Strength" Foreign Policy

One of the big turns on the right may have been on foreign policy. There are rarely easy answers on issues of the American role in the world. Following the aftermath of Iraq and Afghanistan, many conservative hawks became less so. Conservative hawks all too often seem eager to intervene every time an international crisis. Libertarians often want to do nothing. What's the right balance? While this is hard to define, I think the conservatarians might argue that intervention should be limited, that the use of ground troops in battle should be almost non-existent, but that the US must be strong and ready to attack or defend when needed.

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Your Citation
Hawkins, Marcus. "What is a "Conservatarian" Anyway?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-is-a-conservatarian-anyway-3303624. Hawkins, Marcus. (2020, August 28). What is a "Conservatarian" Anyway? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-conservatarian-anyway-3303624 Hawkins, Marcus. "What is a "Conservatarian" Anyway?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-conservatarian-anyway-3303624 (accessed March 25, 2023).