Capitalist Libertarianism

  • Posted on: 28 July 2017
  • By: benfell

Capitalist libertarians advocate an extremely limited role for government and have complete faith in the so-called “free market.” Government should also refrain from intruding on matters of personal morality; hence, capitalist libertarians should, in theory, and sometimes do, oppose censorship and prohibitions on abortion, contraception, etc.1

[Moses] Harman’s [individualist] anarchism, like Benjamin Tucker’s, was based on the law of equal freedom, the “Spencerian formula” that each individual ought to be free to do anything she chooses insofar as she leaves all others equally free. Harman believed that invasions of individual sovereignty and privacy in all matters—from sex to economics—were degenerative to moral edification and to genuine personal development.2

Nonetheless, capitalist libertarians are usually aligned with traditionalist conservatives and with authoritarian populists, with the latter adopting the economic but generally not the social portion of the capitalist libertarian agenda. This may arise from an understanding of capitalist libertarianism attributed to Frank Meyer that “was primarily concerned with the ability of the individual to find the virtuous path within ‘an objective moral order based on ontological foundations’ best expressed in Western civilization.”3 In other words, conservatives may expect that given the freedom rather than the compulsion to do so, capitalist libertarians will adopt a socially conservative morality system of their own accord.

Social Injustice

The capitalist libertarian economic agenda has developed into neoliberalism and in arguing for neoliberalism, capitalist libertarians avoid morality.4 The timing in which neoliberalism came to be accepted as political orthodoxy suggests that credit for its hegemony may more properly belong to neoconservatives.5

The neoliberal insistence on viewing the market as a solution for most problems, even non-economic ones,6 requires that one overlook power discrepancies that capitalist exchanges exacerbate.7 Capitalist libertarians must therefore insist that people–especially subaltern people–are more powerful than they in fact are. This leads to remarkable dissonances, as when, for example, Fred Reed holds a generalized “you,” referring to “Americans,” meaning U.S. citizens, especially authoritarian populists, responsible for the actions of their government on immigration and deportation policies that they, especially authoritarian populists, may oppose.8

Capitalist libertarians also generally do not acknowledge that some wages are too low to live on. Rather, they hold that compensation and working conditions should be set by an agreement between the employer and the employee, regardless of power discrepancies. While, especially under a neoliberal regime, employers may be organized as corporations, capitalist libertarians detest unions, meaning that employees may not organize.


Capitalist libertarians may be the most likely school of conservatism to break away from the fusionist conservative alliance.9 The tensions run both ways. Traditionalist conservatives qualify their support for free market capitalism and Paul Miller has written a cogent critique of capitalist libertarianism in the Imaginative Conservative.10

On the part of capitalist libertarians, Gary North dismisses all other species of conservatives as Keynesian.11 Brink Lindsey of the Cato Institute has criticized the capitalist libertarian alliance with other conservatives and suggested that capitalist libertarians might do better to ally with bleeding-heart liberals.12

Capitalist libertarians often join traditionalist conservatives and paleoconservatives in opposing war,13 and hence neoconservatives.

There is some indication that capitalist libertarians themselves may split along a line between a purist capitalist libertarianism and neoconservative-endorsed neoliberalism. The question about this is whether so-called “regime libertarians” can more properly be considered neoconservatives:

The regime libertarian believes in the market economy, more or less. But talk about the Federal Reserve or Austrian business cycle theory and he gets fidgety. His magazine or institute would rather invite Janet Yellen for an exclusive cocktail event than Ron Paul for a lecture.

The regime libertarian loves the idea of reform – whether it’s the Fed, the tax code, government schools, whatever. He flees from the idea of abolition. Why, that just isn’t respectable! He spends his time advocating this or that “tax reform” effort, instead of simply pushing for a lowering or repeal of existing taxes. It’s too tough to be a libertarian when it comes to antidiscrimination law, given how much flak he’s liable to get, so he’ll side with left-liberals on that, even though it’s completely incompatible with his stated principles.

He is antiwar – sometimes, but certainly not as a general principle. He can be counted on to support the wars that have practically defined the American regime, and which remain popular among the general public. He sups in happy concord with supporters of the most egregiously unjust wars, but his blood boils in moral outrage at someone who told an off-color joke 25 years ago.14


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