Libertarianism and the Conservative Party


Mark Wallace on ConservativeHome argues that based upon British Social Attitudes Survey the people of this country are becoming increasingly libertarian. This would certainly be a welcome development, which if it were to continue would leave the Conservative Party in need of another rebranding.

At present, those in positions of power within the Conservative Party are not keen to be associated with the perceived radicalism of many in the libertarian movement. Cameron’s speech writers have many times built up the straw man of libertarianism in order to try to sell an alternative compassionate communitarian message. Perhaps for electoral reasons they have had good reason to do this (although Thatcher’s success rather questions the logic of this position), but they may be advised by changes in social attitudes to alter their message.

How then could the Conservative Party join up the gaps between its present position and libertarian ideas? As this thoughtful article by David B. Klein sets out, an understanding of Adam Smith would guide the way. Klein argued that “The communitarians should give more consideration to the Invisible Hand, that is, to the beneficial decentralized processes whereby individuals and families choose voluntarily for themselves". As Alexis de Tocqueville learned from his studies of America, when the country was somewhat freer than it is today: “Local freedom, then, which leads a great number of citizens to value the affection of their neighbors and of their kindred, perpetually brings men together and forces them to help one another in spite of the propensities that sever them."

From the welfare state, to schooling, through to regulations and on to almost every facet of government action, the state undermines the community. Cameron’s post-bureaucratic age acknowledges this, but as the new quangos pile up, it looks set to require a lot of bureaucrats to administer. The Conservative Party need to instead embrace the communitarian results of libertarian policies, and build a party that can deliver real radical reform to reflect an increasingly libertarian electorate.