Political Animal


April 01, 2013 12:58 PM “Libertarian” Doesn’t Mean “Liberal”

By Ed Kilgore

An exchange between New York’s Kevin Roose and Liberty University president Jerry Falwell, Jr., casts an interesting light on the big media meme that conservatism is being increasingly dominated by “libertarians” at the expense of the Christian Right. Asked about rumored weakening of opposition to marriage equality, Falwell the Younger had this to say about political trends at Liberty, one of the Christian Right’s primary training camps:

As you know…most of our faculty, staff and students are very conservative politically and theologically. I do not see that changing at all. For example, in Liberty’s voting precinct, Romney won 93% of the vote and that precinct had, by far, the highest turnout in the area. Students still are very much pro-life and pro-traditional marriage just like they have always been and the ones who voted for Romney indicated those two issues were the main reasons they supported Romney over Obama. The only shift I have noticed in recent years has been more support among conservative Christians, especially young ones, for libertarians. In Virginia, only Romney and Ron Paul were on the ballot in the Republican primary and Ron Paul won at the campus precinct. So, if anything, our students are becoming more conservative on the issue of limiting the size and scope of government while remaining conservative on the social issues.

What Falwell is describing, of course, is the world-view that dominates the Tea Party Movement: hard-core opposition to government “interference” in the economy combined with hard-core conservative cultural views. But it’s a world-view that’s been aborning for a long time. For the gazillions of words written about the steadily growing influence of the Christian Right within the conservative movement and the Republican Party over the last few decades, far less has been written about the equally important incorporation of “libertarian” economic and role-of-governnent extremism by the Christian Right itself.

The proto-Christian-Right of the old-timey southern conservative evangelicals of the period prior to the establishment of the Moral Majority in the late 1970s often reflected reactionary views on issues remote from central cultural concerns: hostility to labor unions, defense of segregation and neo-segregation (via church-based separatist private schools designed to circumvent school desegregation), celebration of godly “self-made-men” who had accumulated vast wealth, etc. But once the institutional Christian Right entered into what might have once been called a “marriage of convenience,” it has steadily acclimated itself to secular conservative private-property absolutism in all its forms (most notably hostility to environmentalism, often described as “pagan”). And one of the most distinctive features of the Tea Party faith has been the divinization of such views, often via idolatry aimed at the Declaration of Independence, thought to reflect a theocratic charter for America making pervasive property rights, strictly limited government and the “rights of the unborn” and “traditional marriage” the only legitimate governing tenets for the country. Libertarians, of course, share some if not all of this agenda. So a growing warmth for libertarianism within the Christian Right is not a problem for its leaders, and does not necessarily mean a growing warmth for any kind of cultural liberalism.

Indeed, as Falwell notes, this “teavangelical” coalition (as some have called it) has a common enemy:

Rand Paul wrote a column recently about his father’s legacy and he noted that the two universities that gave his father the most enthusiastic reception were UC-Berkeley and Liberty. His point was that there is support on the left and the right for more limited government and expanded individual liberties and freedom. I think he is right and I think the Republicans will continue to lose if they keep running candidates who try to move toward the middle to attract the “independent” voters.

Arguably, then, Christian Right interest in “libertarianism” is a sign of hardening, not softening, ideological bonds. And if, as appears entirely possible, Rand Paul becomes a maximum leader of conservative extremism in all its forms, that could become much more apparent.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on April 01, 2013 1:30 PM:

    So, the Christian religious loons, are finding some common ground with the Tea Party loons.

    And why not?
    After all, as we all know, after God gave Moses the text to the Declaration of Independence, and after Jesus proofread it, he gave it to Thomas Jefferson, who copied it down.

    And after all, there were 10 Commandments, and 10 Amendments.
    I think not!!!

    A loon is a loon - regardless of labels.

  • Yastreblyansky on April 01, 2013 1:32 PM:

    Corroborating evidence would be the increasing use of "libertine" to mark, and exclude, libertarians who believe that rights should extend to women.

  • Mark_NC on April 01, 2013 2:06 PM:

    "And if, as appears entirely possible, Rand Paul becomes a maximum leader of conservative extremism in all its forms, that could become much more apparent."

    GOOD. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

  • Shane Taylor on April 01, 2013 2:07 PM:

    There is already a gospel song for the "teavangelical" coalition, about an invisible hand:


  • lou on April 01, 2013 2:16 PM:

    Add anti science, anti evolution, denialism, guns and dystopian millenialism and ... well it ain't looking up for the human species unless up is the world after this one

    We may need to start measuring progress in negatives for what progress we are losing.

  • BuffOrpington on April 01, 2013 2:56 PM:

    This is nothing new or remarkable. "Traditional" conservatives, secular and religious alike, have always espoused a mix of economic libertarianism and social authoritarianism. Such is the nature of fascism - keep democratically-elected government out of the way of the big business interests who seek to dominate and control society, while relying upon the jackboot to keep the masses in line.

  • Peter C on April 01, 2013 2:59 PM:

    I suspect that most of Ron Paul's warm reception at Berkeley was attributable to his opposition to the Iraq war.

    If Republicans were ever to start another war, I don't think Rand would be as pricipled Ron was. Else, the Republican love affair with Libertarians would quickly fade. Ron and Rand really only became popular in Republican circles when Obama took over responsibility for military policy.

  • emjayay on April 01, 2013 4:03 PM:

    Not just his opposition to the Iraq war but to the whole imperial US armed forces with bases all over the world. I agree with Paul about this too. It's just all the other stuff where he mostly couldn't possibly be more wrong that's the problem. Has Rand ever taken a similar position concerning military spending and presence all over the world?

    I suppose Berkeley also had a certain number of junior Ryan's who hadn't gotten over Ayn Rand yet also.

  • Tomm Undergod on April 01, 2013 4:28 PM:

    William Buckley enjoyed inhaling wacky weed smoke on his yacht outside national waters, and the belief that government should keep its hands off all citizens-- even women-- mind their own business about sexytime behaviors, and stop being the cops of the world is actually more liberal in appeal because what goes with those views for soi-disant conservatives is opposition to Tom Dewey's idea of a broad "liberal" education rather than simple job-prep that leaves graduates as ill-prepared for life as graduating quarterbacks who major in underwater bird calls and go pro until they're abandoned, like polar bears, on the nearest ice floe.
    Berkeley students as a group are not big on denying the reality of global warming, evolution, genetics (blame that damn monk and his pea patch!), or rejecting similar lies "straight from the pit of hell," i.e. scientific observation and experimentation and the application of reason as a productive alternative to superstition.
    I doubt many of them believe slavery had many benefits for slaves themselves, spent much time arguing for the justness of the Confederate cause, or support god-ordained "rape by implement" in the name of freedom--for doctors, just so long as they don't write certain prescriptions and give only and always their best medical opinions except when public Victorians and morality police disagree. Then, no pain killers for you. Sorry your already dead fetus is going to kill you, but-- hey, Kismet! No, no, that is Sharia law. I mean it's God's will!
    The problem with libertarians as ideologues, at least for those in public office, is they have to follow instructions from the divine afflatus that drove Ayn Rand wild with fury. No ban on recreational drugs? Fine. No pounding the remnants of our national wealth down the five-sided rathole because patriotism is the first refuge of scoundrels? Fine.
    But kill all the gays after they are fired and evicted for what poet Housman referred to as "the color of their hair"? Ban the pill? End divorce. Teach ignorance so that the youngest and horniest and most ignorant among us keep our rate of unwed pregnancy sky high? Allelujah!
    Just because left and right agree on some areas where the government should mind its own business doesn't mean they all agree there is not plenty of government business that can and should be carried out because the results are what everyone agrees we should work together to achieve.
    Oddly, one part of that alleged confederation of opposites thinks we should all chip in to keep the poor from living in gutters and alleys, should combine efforts to get prompt, quality care to plague victims and others
    with health problems that might cause their night cries to disturb the sleep of our beautiful minds, or let them die on our doorsteps where no public officials would have the job of clearing away their rotting carcasses.
    Maybe this is all just wandering on my mind's part, but I do not see this happy happy joy joy of god-botherers and free-love practicing inhalers who don't feel the same need to subjugate others out of some mystical moral imperative left over from some pre-Copernican, even ante-deluvial time. If Falwell (and others inimicable to what Ayn Rand actually believed and loudly proclaimed) want to add that delusion to join the other beliefs of their cult of viciousness and denial, they're welcome to think so, but that is not evidence they are right.

  • SecularAnimist on April 01, 2013 6:06 PM:

    "Conservatism" in America today consists of whatever corporate-funded, Madison Avenue-scripted, pseudo-ideological bumper sticker slogans Fox News and Rush Limbaugh are spoon-feeding their audience on any given day.