Bryan Caplan  

The Improbably Awful Conservative Coincidence

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Why is it the case that conservatives are most passionate about the two issues - immigration and war - where they are least libertarian?  It seems like an improbably awful coincidence.


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COMMENTS (20 to date)
Scott Miller writes:

Don't forget social conservative issues.
When you actually look at the issues side by side, the conservatives/Repubs really are only pseudo-libertarian when it comes to taxes and fiscal issues.

Sonic Charmer writes:

Is what you claim to be the case really the case?

Are they really more passionate on those things than on: taxes?

Jody writes:

Disputing the premise, because the behavior is being observed by a libertarian, which strongly colors what is perceived as the biggest differences between groups.

For instance, compare the intensity of immigrant / war to the intensity of the pro-life segment of conservatives (an ambiguous position for libertarians that depends on how you define human life). Back when it was more of an issue, conservatives also cared ALOT about law and order in the Giulliani-sense of broken windows.

Sam Schulman writes:

Apart from the criticisms of Jody and Charmer, which accuse you, no doubt accurately, of bias - we all find people who seem otherwise reasonable to be "emotional" or "passionate" shading into irrationality on questions where they don't - there is another reason.
Conservatives understand that libertarianism can only flourish in a nation/state that can protect its own citizens from those who would unwind all law, and in a nation/state in which its laws are given legitimacy by the consent of the governed. Libertarians believe that these considerations are otiose. To a conservative like me, your observation that my concern for national security and a coherent citizenry (actually I, like many conservatives, am pro-immigration) is un-libertarian is like observing that a philosopher's precautions against contracting a mortal disease is unphilosophical.
Both observations are strictly accurate descriptions - but if one thinks that one can only philosophize while one remains in existence, and that a libertarian way of life can only exist when grounded in a society whose citizens are more-or-less protected from invasion and dissolution, they are trivial observations and infra dignare - and unworthy of your attention (though not, evidently, of mine!).

Douglass Holmes writes:

Rand Paul managed to win a Senate seat in Kentucky even though his position on the war was not in line with the majority of conservatives. He was perceived as being someone who would hold the line on spending (and consequently, taxing) even if some of his other positions were not really conservative.

But, I'm with Bryan on the immigration issue. I don't understand why every proposal to reform immigration is greeted with "NO AMNESTY" from the conservatives. They come across as just not wanting to have a reasoned discussion of the issue.

ziel writes:

There are pro-war/anti-immigration conservatives in the punditry, but not a lot of them - and mostly of the Beck/Limbaugh variety. National Review editors are mildly anti-immigration. Derbyshire is the exception, and he has become much less pro-war.

Generally, I'd say conservative pundits who are most passionately anti-immigration are anti-war. The most passionately pro-war - the neo-conservatives - tend to be pro-immigration. Steve Sailer even invented a slogan for them - "Invade the world/Invite the world!".

Rank-and-file conservatives I'm guessing do fit your pattern though - but they are not in any way doctrinaire libertarians. Like just about everyone else in the world, they want the government to stay out of their lives while heavily controlling the lives of others.

So I guess I don't think your premise is really valid.

JoeInNewOrleans writes:

The contradictions embraced by conservatives are nothing less than obvious and abundant: almost all conservatives, Republicans, and Libertarians are quite comfortable with the government's treatment of Jose Padilla, a case where President Bush simply "signed away" the rights of a U.S. citizen; the recent political fad to focus on the deficits ignores the on-going costs of the conservative-supported Iraq War, which is predicted to cost THREE TRILLION dollars in the long-term; most conservatives embrace their right to divorce as many times as they wish, but deny gay or lesbian U.S. citizens from being married even once; "small government" conservatives have no qualms telling a woman that she must bring a pregnancy to term, regardless of the circumstances of the conception. And if I may go one step further: the anti-immigrants perhaps will have no issue with paying $8 for a head of iceberg lettuce? U.S. citizens, while dealing with the problems associated with immigration, are also the beneficiaries of the productivity of those same immigrants. True conservatives looking to the Republican party must walk away wanting; there's nothing there for them anymore.

Carl writes:

They're racist nationalist.

John Thacker writes:

As far as being "pseudo-libertarian" goes, the Republicans had a distinct lack of actual anti-immigration achievements when in power (and Bush came closer to getting a larger pro-immigration bill than happened in the last two years), as well as a lack of other social conservative achievements. Libertarians are not alone in feeling that Republican politicians mouth rhetoric but don't follow through-- so-cons feel the same way, and some argue that the GOP's so-con rhetoric is just a front for pro-business policies.

In reality, I suspect that there's only so much movement from the current consensus that can be achieved in our democratic system of checks and balances.

Is it begging the question to note simply that anti-immigration and pro-war views are more popular with the populace as a whole as well?

Conservative politicians tend to be louder on their pro-war and anti-immigration positions than on libertarian economic positions because the former win votes and the latter loses votes, on balance. This is, naturally, because of those biases Bryan has written about. There are more moderates who are anti-libertarian on war, immigration, and economics than libertarians.

Joe Manchin (D-WV) started his comeback in his Senate race that he won this year when he pointed out that his opponent had made statements that minimum wage laws were economically inefficient compared to other methods of helping the poor. In Colorado, Bennett (D) held on because his opponent, Buck, refused to criticize Obamacare's Medicare cuts (but criticized the rest of it), saying that restricting the growth of Medicare was needed. In a democracy, the surviving politicians are those that state positions that win elections.

In the long run, libertarian policies may win votes by being more efficient, but they rarely win in the short run (aside from a general distaste for raising taxes, but it's not like tax reform to more efficient taxes is popular either.)

Richard A. writes:
Why is it the case that conservatives are most passionate about the two issues - immigration and war - where they are least libertarian?

Like the Bush Administration?

Why do too many libertarians favor the free flow of indentured labor? I'm thinking for example guest worker visas for agriculture that allows for the importation of indentured labor--migrant labor that is unfree to sell its labor to the highest bidder while on US soil.

Brian Clendinen writes:

I happen to be a conservative and have become more open borders (partly form reading this blog). We need some sort of quota not based on nationality but given out based on winning a Dutch auction. Preferable based on a % of the population (citizens not residents) say 3%.

However, I think illegals should get in line with everyone else, and though’s who committed major fraud while illegal’s should be penalized. I don't know how one can be for amnesty, with-out major legal immigration reform, and claim to be for rule of law at the same time. Now this is not to say open borders means unsecured boarders as it stands now.

What I find irrational is the position that any institution which kills is wrong therefore for anyone who is for legalized killing is immoral. Some people because of their actions need to die, plan and simple. If the threat of death did not exist for certain types of behavior then much more of the behavior would exist. A type of Anarchy would then exist.

With the military, the problem is there is a lot of gray area which is subjective and can-not be objectively analyzed. Bryan I think you really only see tangibility of military actions, not the intangibility of the risk and reward tradeoffs, which is fundamental to military strategy. I understand the argument of why the U.S. should not be the world police force (except on the high seas, which someone needs to do and has been for thousands of years.)Not that I totally agree with it. I agree we should not be Germanys, Japans, and South Koreas main military force, they need to pay for their own.

However, not having any overseas forces stationed is a position of someone who is 100% ignorant of militarily logistics. The position we spend to much money on the military is non-sense, Military is the most important function the federal government performs to security therefore stability of this nation. Military spending should always be the largest item in any federal budget. The position we spend to much money in specific areas of the military is valid. I think most libertarians position on foreign policies are dangerously naive because they totally miss understand human nature. Also, I don’t understand how it is alright to look out for oneself, but for a nation to look out for its best interest is somehow immoral?

Christian Galgano writes:

That's a good point of differentiation between libertarians and full-blown conservatives, in-group moral proclivities: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1665934

Jon writes:

The literal answer is obvious: if conservatives were more libertarian on the issues they were most passionate about, they would be... libertarians.

In addition to the many answers I agree with above, I would add that conservatives are more "law and order" than any group, with the possible exception of dogmatic property rights-advocating libertarians. When seen through that lens, the stance on immigration and war becomes almost a forgone conclusion.

The next question becomes, why don't law and order libertarians take the same views on these issues? Is it because they have a different definition of law and order, or do they just prefer having less of it? (I lean towards the first explanation; Rothbard et al may lean towards the latter.)

Doc Merlin writes:

The Bush admin was very pro-immigration (so far as proposing several amnesty bills) and also pro-war. So, I think you are wrong here:

Neoconservatives: Pro-war and pro-immigration
Paleoconservatives: anti-war and anti-immigration
Libertarian Conservatives (Ron Paul faction): anti-war and pro-immigration (as it competes with the unionized labor) but against "illegal immigration."

Really the only thing that unites all these groups is that the left is just about worse on every one of these issues for all of them.

The left is against the war but isn't willing to actually end it, just hamstring the troops so they cannot effectively fight, thus making the war unwinnable and also impossible to get out of.

On immigration the left is in favor of amnesty and in favor of illegals, but against legal immigration (as it competes with unionized labor).

Richard A. writes:
On immigration the left is in favor of amnesty and in favor of illegals, but against legal immigration (as it competes with unionized labor).
The left does not appear to be against traditional immigration but rather guest worker programs that leave foreign workers indentured to employers. This noncompetitive indentured labor does not just compete with unionized labor.
Thomas writes:

It came as a bit of a surprise to me that I was so atypical.

I think the passion you are seeing is just a reaction to elite opinion. I'm guessing the conservatives you know don't like being called racists or xenophobes, so they react strongly. (Heck, I don't care much at all about immigration, but I do object strongly to the suggestion that all opposition to amnesty for illegal immigrants could only be motivated by bigotry.)

Christian Galgano writes:

Those are great points of differentiation between conservatives and libertarians, two issues driven by morally conservative in-group proclivities: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703673604575550243700895762.html

[not sure if my first post worked]

If borders are trivialities, wouldn't that mean the U.S. Army has just as much business in "foreign" lands as here?

Heh, good one, Joseph.

michael writes:

Joe, you must be new to the libertarian scene.

Of course the military has no business on foreign soil. People in other countries haven't paid for the US military's services.

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