Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


What's the difference between Neo-Conservatives and Libertarians?
September 9, 2005 6:40 AM   Subscribe

What's the difference between Neo-Conservatives and Libertarians?

I'm from the UK and over here we have Conservatives (Tories, ranging from right-of-centre to the far right-wing) and (left) Libertarians. I am aware that in the States there are Neo-Conservatives, Conservatives and (right) Libertarians (like SF author David Brin). But what are the differences between them?
posted by xpermanentx to Society & Culture (39 answers total)
 
Neo-conservatives believe in a strong government, one that is muscular in dealing with America's perceived enemies. Libertarians believe in a government that exists only to protect us from foreign enemies and preserve order here at home. That's the main difference.
Neo-cons are opposed to classic conservatives in that classic conservatives favor isolation, and neo-cons favor engagement. If you look at Iraq, that was a policy pretty much driven by neo-cons. Libertarians, in general, opposed it due to the fact that it's a massive governmental expendature of their tax dollars.
Like many things, there are shades of grey and overlaps, but that's the general idea.
posted by klangklangston at 6:57 AM on September 9, 2005


What do neoconservatives believe?
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:59 AM on September 9, 2005


this is a good run down of american libertarians, ideally advocating a system with no taxes whatsoever.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 7:13 AM on September 9, 2005


What I've generally heard is that libertarians would be called "liberal" in Europe; I don't know if this is exactly up-to-date though because American usage (which uses "liberal" to mean "progressive" or something like a Social Democrat party) tends to have a great deal of influence over language.
posted by dagnyscott at 7:21 AM on September 9, 2005


If you're interested in learning more about Neo-Conservatism, I'd recommend this book . It presents a fairly balanced non-partisan look at neo-conservatism in the US
posted by Mave_80 at 7:32 AM on September 9, 2005


I've always thought one of the central ideas of neo-conservatism is a revival of the idea of a class of ruling elites, who know better than everyone else, and hence are justified in using measures to gain control of the populace. Hence, the idea of supporting the war on Iraq even if the weapons never existed because the WMD excuse, while a known lie, was successful at rallying the populace to support the war. Since the war was necessary to the neo-conservative idea of a strong government that controls its supplies and resources with military force, lies are completely justified if they serve the end purpose.
posted by odinsdream at 7:33 AM on September 9, 2005


One thing to keep in mind in sussing this all out is that there's chic value in calling oneself a libertarian, so a variety of Republicans will apply the more independent-sounding label to themselves.
posted by johngoren at 7:36 AM on September 9, 2005


While we're doing book recommendations...

(Rovinsky's review of it is a couse in neoconservative philosophy all on its own...)

But, to the question; libertarians and neoconservatives are very much opposites. If we look at the ever-popular, two-axis political spectrum that looks at both economic and personal freedom as separate dimensions, then we see the American left and right as inverses. The right favors economic, but not personal, freedom; the left favors personal, but not economic, freedom. Libertarians favor both personal and economic freedom, while authoritarians favor neither.

Neoconservatives migrated from the left during the Cold War, and preserved their distaste for the dimension of economic freedom, but have since combined that with a general skepticism of personal freedom, as well. Thus, the neoconservative migration was a migration from the left to the authoritarian apex of the compass--positioning them as opposites of libertarians.
posted by jefgodesky at 7:43 AM on September 9, 2005


In my experience, nothing.
posted by scratch at 7:45 AM on September 9, 2005


*gets out popcorn and settles in*
posted by wheelieman at 8:19 AM on September 9, 2005


odinsdream writes "I've always thought one of the central ideas of neo-conservatism is a revival of the idea of a class of ruling elites, who know better than everyone else, and hence are justified in using measures to gain control of the populace. Hence, the idea of supporting the war on Iraq even if the weapons never existed because the WMD excuse, while a known lie, was successful at rallying the populace to support the war. Since the war was necessary to the neo-conservative idea of a strong government that controls its supplies and resources with military force, lies are completely justified if they serve the end purpose."

I agree with this, and think it's correct. This comes from the Leo Strauss well-spring of thought about exoteric and esoteric readings. A good case study for this is Allan Bloom's essay in defense of Plato's Republic (which after all is all about ruling elites), published as the afterward to his translation of the same.

Incidentally, links to Amazon that don't include the book title are a pain in the butt, since you have to click through to even know if you've heard of or read the book. If you like the book enough to recommend it, you should take the time to make its title the link.
posted by OmieWise at 8:34 AM on September 9, 2005


For one thing, Neoconservatism is defined by foreign policy and economic policy. Neocons and Libertarians would mostly agree on economic policy, but Libertarians have a more extreme vision of Lasis-Fair economics then Neocons do.

Neocons as a movement don't care about social policy, but have aligned themselves with christian conservatives, who disagree with Libertarians on social issues. Classical Libertarianism is opposed to forien adventureism as well.

The modern libertarian party is a pretty diverse group, from people who only care about Legalizing marijuana to people who want to totaly deregulate big-bussness.
posted by delmoi at 8:37 AM on September 9, 2005


Neoconservatives migrated from the left during the Cold War, and preserved their distaste for the dimension of economic freedom

Whoa, wait a second. I was under the impression that the bulk of the current administration falls under the 'neocon' label, and yet they've been exceedingly successful at increasing economic freedom. At least, for large corporations; removing regulation left and right, and doing everything in their power to assist corporations become larger and wealthier.

What specifically do you mean by 'economic freedom'? I'm probably misconstruing it.
posted by cyrusdogstar at 8:38 AM on September 9, 2005


Dagnyscott: What I've generally heard is that libertarians would be called "liberal" in Europe;
This is true, at least in France. However, I suspect that even French "liberals" would be considered largely pro-state in a US context. "True" libertarians just don't exist here, at least no significantly. I guess that this has to do less with politics than with the fact that the entire history of the country is a long, bloody, slow evolution from being a bunch of warlord-run territories to one, single, sovereign country where the concept of state can no longer be dissociated from the one of nation.
posted by elgilito at 8:45 AM on September 9, 2005


Neocons and Libertarians would mostly agree on economic policy

I disagree. In practice, neocons are for high government spending. Neocons also support tax cuts, which makes them somewhat bipolar imho.
posted by malp at 8:52 AM on September 9, 2005


I disagree. In practice, neocons are for high government spending. Neocons also support tax cuts, which makes them somewhat bipolar imho.

No, no. Neocons Idiologicaly belive in low government spending, around the whole world. They just hapen to be willing to bankrupt the US government in the process.
posted by delmoi at 8:55 AM on September 9, 2005


I'd quible with this statement a little bit, odinsdream.

The idea that lying to the public for their own good (because you know better) was a Straussian idea, and he seems to have been very influential in neo-conservative circles. But I don't see that idea as necessary for the neo-conservative movement. It's more a pragmatic, strategic decision rather than a philosophical one, so it could, in theory, be jettisoned by a neocon.

An example of this Straussian idea, though, is that many neocons are not very religious at all, or are even atheists, but they have no problem aligning themselves with, and paying lip service to, the Christian right in order to gain support for their platform.

And the movement sprung from leftists, some of them were even Trotskyites, if I remember correctly, so their economic theory is a strange mix, having been integrated into the very libertarian-minded Republican economic political strategy. It's also worth pointing out that many Republicans are libertarian economic thinkers for pragmatic reasons as well, and only pay lip service to the philosophy behind it.
posted by teece at 9:02 AM on September 9, 2005


My impression is neo-cons are puritanic authoritarians motivated by apocalyptic evangelical Christian end-times notions. Libertarianism has two sides and those who discuss it often focus on one and ignore the other: Social and Economic. Economic Libertarians are really into Ayn Rand and want everything privatized; whereas Social Libertarians want all laws involving prohibitions eliminated.
posted by Rash at 9:11 AM on September 9, 2005


My impression is neo-cons are puritanic authoritarians motivated by apocalyptic evangelical Christian end-times notions.

This strikes me as a very false image of neo-conservative. That sounds like a fundamentalist Chrstian conservative cum Republican, of which there are many. Those people are currently allied with neo-cons, but they are not the same.

Rumsfeld in a neo-con. He is not a puritanical or an end-times goof-ball. He is someone that thinks America needs to project its power and create a new world order. The Project for a New American Century provides the document that is the quintessential neo-con charter, and it has little or nothing of the end-times stuff. It's mostly an attempt to secure American security through projection of power in the belief that America should never be challenged abroad.
posted by teece at 9:44 AM on September 9, 2005


Libertarians usually aim for increased personal liberty and responsibility, decentralization of authority and influence, and genuinely free trade between autonomous individuals.

Neocons are sophistic cryptofascist slime. They have no qualms about using any amount of public funds in pursuit of their worldwide plans for control, but bitch about public funds being used for disaster relief.

Check out John Gray's "Al-Qaeda and What it Means to be Modern."

The only broadly coherent belief among neocons is that of unwavering loyalty. They have a mental tribe, and anyone who is not in the tribe is the enemy.

Just my utterly biased opinion.
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:57 AM on September 9, 2005


The term "neoconservative" started out as an insult and is still used that way.
posted by thomcatspike at 10:14 AM on September 9, 2005


Just my utterly biased opinion.

"Please limit comments to answers or help in finding an answer."

An overview of neoconservatism in America.
posted by armage at 10:19 AM on September 9, 2005


Sorry.
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:33 AM on September 9, 2005


That one could label Rumsfeld a neoconservative is the best possible evidence that neoconservativism doesn't really exist anymore, except as a not-particularly-effective political slur. ("Bad neoconservative" doesn't really excite the swing voters in Ohio.)

All the differences which distinguished neoconservatives from conservatives have mostly faded away. Neoconservatism was once a movement of (mostly) Jewish and (always) pro-Israel academics, many with origins in Socialist politics, at a time when these characteristics didn't have a comfortable home in the Republican Party.

The left wing has chased the neoconservatives out of the academy, while the Republican mainstream has completely embraced Israel and Jews. And as for Socialist origins, there's probably nobody younger than David Horowitz who answers to that call. The youthful icon of most of today's alleged neconservatives was Ronald Reagan, not Leon Trotsky.
posted by MattD at 11:09 AM on September 9, 2005


Economic Libertarians are really into Ayn Rand and want everything privatized; whereas Social Libertarians want all laws involving prohibitions eliminated.

This is somewhat important in the larger field of libertarianism-as-idea (that may be embraced by a variety of people), but most Rand-ites are atheists, so they won't go along with any Christian Right stuff, plus what good objectivist could resist the potential of a major above-ground marijuana industry? And if they're just in favor of eliminating prohibitions they'll probably go the easier route and vote Nader.
posted by dagnyscott at 11:48 AM on September 9, 2005


Just to give personal impressions:

Libertarians are essentially anti-authoritarians. Their ideals are an unrealistic fantasy, and what instead you find are that libertarians are people who want to be more free of government but don't particularly have a philosophy to push. They are usually transparently (if not proudly) selfish. They want to smoke pot or make money without paying taxes. They reject the idea of social obligation, or at least involuntary social obligation. Libertarianism appeals to educated blue collar people because it promises them more freedom and less responsibility. They want to own guns, smoke pot, not go to church. It also appeals to the highly privileged for the same reasons. They want to avoid taxes, to not feel guilty about their status. In both cases it's mostly a shield philosophy to screen self-interest and generally not caring about other stuff. A libertarian believes in social freedoms, but doesn't really feel that they're worth getting all excited about because they don't really feel the social injustice. Perceived personal injustice is what they mildly seethe about, and when confronted with real injustice to other people generally they downplay it all as hype and silliness, things couldn't possibly be so bad, probably it was the fault of whoever got in that situation, etc.

Hardcore libertarians believe that unbridled selfishness is the guiding life principal, but they would never acknowledge that it is in their best interest to be under a government that imposes involuntary obligations on its citizens. Despite this, libertarians are often quite bright, and have a sense of individual liberty and a distrust of politics as being less important than day-to-day local and personal affairs which makes them generally good people.

Neocons are essentially cold warriors cum imperialists. During the cold war you may have noticed that America developed a "win at any cost" style of foreign policy, justified (to whatever degree) by an anti-communist ideology, defenders of the free world, all that.

Neoconservatism is essentially an extension of that into the modern era, in many cases a very real extension because we're talking about the same flesh and blood people. Post cold-war, during the Clinton years they didn't have much to do because America seemed to lack a Great Enemy (although of course to the neocons Clinton himself was their great enemy). In fact it may have seemed as if they were on the way out and a new leaf had been turned in American relations in the world. But lucky for them now they can claim more justification for their worldviews, and go back to the MO where America gets involved in weird battles at weird places and of course it's about snapping up the economic assets because otherwise they would go to the enemy!

Neocons are at times both brutally pragmatic (and therefore amoral and deceptive), and breathtakingly naive, because many of them are fueled/blinded by a religious worship of their own country and the need to win. People who don't see the greatness of America are either stupid or lying. Hence both the balls to invade Iraq and the idiocy to not plan for it very well.

So to me neoconservatism really seems to mean Nixon-era conservative foreign policy given a new face. Or, a not so new face. They could be master strategists shaping the world for America's benefit. Or they could be the most dangerous kinds of idiots and war criminals. Or a bit of both.
posted by fleacircus at 11:53 AM on September 9, 2005


/me slaps hand, must not type 'essentially' so much
posted by fleacircus at 11:55 AM on September 9, 2005


They are usually transparently (if not proudly) selfish. They want to smoke pot or make money without paying taxes.

Yes, in my experience, there are two main flavours of libertarian - the ones described above, the worst of which are in it because they've found a philosophy that condones and even lauds their dominant (and often very pronounced) character flaws, providing a rightous retort to the dissapproving social norms.

I would stereotype the other flavour as good-intentioned socially-niave economically-sheltered thinkers. An example would be a guy much closer to the Aspergers end of the gene pool than the touchy feely end, probably at university, with middle class to well-off parents, who has never lived in abject poverty, and most or all his friends are from a similar socio-economic background, also educated and flush with opportunity, such that poverty and disability and abuse are largely abstract concepts. Which is perfect, because the aspegers-leaning mindset to prefers to work with abstract concepts, overlooking the real-world consequences to people of some of the things they say, seeing mainly just the theoretical benefits.
I guess this is the libertarian equivalent of the campus marxist - they will get enthused about it because the shortfallings of libertarianism are right in the areas where this person is least likely to see them.

This later type can (and usually are) good people, and make for good friends, especially if you like geeks - being socially niave is hardly a major character flaw, and most grow out of it with a little life experience.

The first type however, are usually a write-off, poison to be around, not good friend material, highly likely to be the scum of humanity, and often of the assumption that everyone else, deep down, is as twisted as they.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:52 PM on September 9, 2005


I should clarify - the two flavours I'm talking are mainly economic libertarian. There are people more in the "social libertarian" area that aren't of either flavour. And there will always be exceptions to the rule :)
posted by -harlequin- at 1:04 PM on September 9, 2005


Which ones have the stars on their bellies?
posted by tetsuo at 2:40 PM on September 9, 2005


there are two main flavours of libertarian - the ones described above, the worst of which are in it because they've found a philosophy that condones and even lauds their dominant (and often very pronounced) character flaws, providing a rightous retort to the dissapproving social norms.

I would stereotype the other flavour as good-intentioned socially-niave economically-sheltered thinkers.
How nice it must be to be able to ascribe the appeal of any political philosophy one dislikes to personality flaws; why, otherwise, one might actually have to evaluate it on the basis of its intellectual merits, and heaven forbid we do that ...
posted by Goedel at 2:51 PM on September 9, 2005


They want to smoke pot or make money without paying taxes.

What's wrong with smoking pot? Do you also take offense at people who enjoy a drink now and then?
posted by mosch at 3:13 PM on September 9, 2005


IMHO, a neo-conservative (like the current administration) and a new democrat (of Bill Clinton's ilk) have a good deal in common. The key factor is being corrupt. A conservative or a progressive has certain principles that they don't comprimise, whereas a neo-con or a new-dem is willing to sell any principles to anyone who can get them re-elected. The key difference in the policies implemented by the two new groups is who gets to them first with the most money.
posted by jefeweiss at 3:23 PM on September 9, 2005


"Assuming either the Left Wing or the Right Wing gained control of the country, it would probably fly around in circles."
- Pat Paulsen
posted by pwally at 5:53 PM on September 9, 2005


odinsdream said
>I've always thought one of the central ideas of neo-conservatism is a revival of the idea of a class of ruling elites

That may be true of some of the intellectual precursors of today's neocons, but it surely is not true of today's neocons themselves. One of the common threads of neoconservative critiques, by a number of commentators from Robert Bork to Laura Ingraham, is their continual reference to "elites" as a slam against liberals. It's quite ironic, as just about everyone who uses it in that manner, both Bork and Ingraham included, is himself a member of the "elite".

I think that this propaganda technique had its start with George Wallace's ridiculing of "pointy-headed intellectuals".
posted by yclipse at 7:44 PM on September 9, 2005


Why do you think David Brin is libertarian, esp. right libertarian? Unusual political views I would have guessed, but libertarian is not how I ever would have imagined describing them, at least based on his books.
posted by advil at 8:39 PM on September 9, 2005


They want to smoke pot or make money without paying taxes.

I'm having trouble parsing this one... and anyway, I want to smoke pot AND make money without paying taxes. Which party should get my support?
posted by Rash at 10:15 PM on September 9, 2005


Dagnyscott: What I've generally heard is that libertarians would be called "liberal" in Europe;
This is true, at least in France


But, in the UK at least, 'liberal' would definitely include an implication of 'left-wing', which, again in the UK, would tend imply much that is at odds with libertarianism. I'm using the UK definition of 'left-wing' there, not the American one ;-)
posted by jack_mo at 5:26 AM on September 10, 2005


Goedel:

I've evaluated on it's intellectual merits (weak though they turned out to be), but that is and was irrelevant, as I was talking about the people who latch onto it, and there is BIG discrepancy between those who value it for it's intellectual merits, and those who value it as a justification for the things about themselves society finds repugnant.

Same way as at a protest, some people come because they think it is important to make the world better, some people come to use it as a excuse for some violence and vandalism.

My observations are based on my real-world experience of real people, some of which are very close friends, and at a time included myself. If the real world (over in my neck of the woods) doesn't sit nicely with what you would like libertarians to be like, that's your disconnect, not mine.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:34 PM on September 11, 2005


« Older I am being transferred from NY...   |  Photoshop CS refresh issues wi... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.