Stossel Show: Libertarians versus Conservatives

Hayek freedom

I used to consider myself a “conservative” but I don’t any longer. The essay by FA Hayek, “Why I am not a Conservative” influenced my full conversion years ago.

This brings me to the first point on which the conservative and the liberal dispositions differ radically. As has often been acknowledged by conservative writers, one of the fundamental traits of the conservative attitude is a fear of change, a timid distrust of the new as such,[5] while the liberal position is based on courage and confidence, on a preparedness to let change run its course even if we cannot predict where it will lead. There would not be much to object to if the conservatives merely disliked too rapid change in institutions and public policy; here the case for caution and slow process is indeed strong. But the conservatives are inclined to use the powers of government to prevent change or to limit its rate to whatever appeals to the more timid mind. In looking forward, they lack the faith in the spontaneous forces of adjustment which makes the liberal accept changes without apprehension, even though he does not know how the necessary adaptations will be brought about. It is, indeed, part of the liberal attitude to assume that, especially in the economic field, the self-regulating forces of the market will somehow bring about the required adjustments to new conditions, although no one can foretell how they will do this in a particular instance. There is perhaps no single factor contributing so much to people’s frequent reluctance to let the market work as their inability to conceive how some necessary balance, between demand and supply, between  exports and imports, or the like, will be brought about without deliberate control. The conservative feels safe and content only if he is assured that some higher wisdom watches and supervises change, only if he knows that some authority is charged with keeping the  change “orderly.”

Conservatives and libertarians do have much in common and on many things have shared political goals. Indeed the Tea Party is comprised of a libertarian/conservative coalition. Taxed Enough Already, libertarians and conservatives can definitely agree on that. And the coalition is an increasingly powerful force that is changing the country for the better (on the whole). Libertarians and conservatives can do much good working together.

But there are important distinctions between the camps too. Vital differences. John Stossel dedicated a recent show to exploring these differences.