Confusion abounds, these days, about what makes one a social conservative and what makes another a libertarian. This confusion is being stirred up almost solely by social conservatives, because they are losing the battle for the soul of the political Right. Few seem willing to be honest about the crucial dividing line between the two factions.
This is my definition. It is frequently challenged. Some do so out of genuine confusion; they are honest people, but there’s so much befoggery out there now that they really don’t understand the differences between one conservative camp and another. Others, however, sow this confusion out of dishonesty. They are destined to lose the struggle once people of good will have grasped the truth.
What makes one a social conservative is not one’s personal religious piety — there are even Leftist progressives who are very solid people of faith. Nor is it an ability to behave oneself along traditionally moral lines (many on the Left do this, too — quite a number of them better than many who boast about their “social conservatism”). Because I strive to live honestly and the best way I can, though I am gay, many self-satisfied soc-cons would automatically assume I could not — by this standard — be one of them. They are very wrong.
What separates a social conservative from a libertarian, in my opinion, is that the former values liberty more for himself than for those with whom he disagrees. The latter values liberty for everybody.
If you believe yourself justified in using government force to achieve your objectives, then you are a social conservative. It doesn’t matter one jot or tittle how right you think you are, or how wrong you believe your adversaries to be. You are NOT a libertarian, and if you persist in calling yourself one, you are either very confused or you are lying.
You should also distance yourself from the Tea Party movement. Its stated aims are libertarian. Yours are not.
Libertarians do not believe in using government force to make others comply with their vision of the good society. This does not mean that they don’t believe the government should do anything. They do believe, for example, that bad policies and laws should be rescinded — or replaced with better ones. This is why, to cite one specific example, they support the revocation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” To get rid of that policy is to cease using government force in support of a rule requiring people to lie and using “principles” totally at odds with the American tradition of jurisprudence.
If you support “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” you are a social conservative. You are also, by definition, a statist. To be a social conservative — according to the way I define the term — is, indeed, to be a statist. It is to advocate using government-backed force (people blanch when I say violence, though that’s exactly what it is) against your fellow Americans in a way that curtails their liberty for the sake of the short-sighted exercise of your own.
Ultimately, to attack the liberty of others is to attack your own. There simply is no way to foster an atmosphere in which anyone’s liberty is endangered without also endangering your own. Libertarians understand this. I hope more social conservatives come to understand it as well.