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Liberals, Conservatives, and Libertarians: What’s the Difference?

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People sometimes ask what the differences are between liberals, conservatives, and libertarians.

The primary differences are moral and philosophical.

Libertarians believe that people should be free to live their lives any way they choose, so long as their conduct is peaceful.

Liberals and conservatives believe that people should be free to live their lives any way they choose, so long as their conduct is responsible.

Libertarians believe that the primary purposes of government are to protect people from the violence of others (e.g., murderers, rapists, thieves, and invaders) and to provide a forum (i.e., a judiciary) in which people can peacefully resolve their disputes.

Liberals and conservatives believe that the primary purposes of government are to take care of people, to regulate and control peoples activities and to manage the economy, and to police the world through an extensive military empire.

To demonstrate the practical differences between liberals, conservatives, and libertarians, here is where most liberals, conservatives, and libertarians stand on a variety of governmental programs, departments, and agencies.

(Of course, its always possible to find exceptions within each group. For example, Bill Buckley, a conservative, opposed the drug war but everyone would agree that most Republicans in Congress support it. Liberals Glenn Greenwald and the ACLU oppose infringements on civil liberties but everyone would agree that most Democrats in Congress support them. Moreover, while liberals and conservatives agree on the programs and departments, there might be vehement disagreements between them as to who should run them and how they should be run.)

Liberals & Conservatives Libertarians
Social Security Support Oppose
Medicare Support Oppose
Medicaid Support Oppose
Public Schooling Support Oppose
Income Taxes & the IRS Support Oppose
Welfare Support Oppose
Food Stamps Support Oppose
Subsidies Support Oppose
Bailouts Support Oppose
Foreign Aid Support Oppose
Occupational Licensure Support Oppose
Minimum Wage Support Oppose
Economic Regulations Support Oppose
The Postal Monopoly Support Oppose
Trade Restrictions Support Oppose
Immigration Controls Support Oppose
Public Works Support Oppose
Paper Money Support Oppose
Legal Tender Laws Support Oppose
The War on Drugs Support Oppose
Gun Control Support Oppose
The War on Terrorism Support Oppose
Foreign Wars Support Oppose
Wars of Aggression Support Oppose
Undeclared Wars Support Oppose
The Standing Army Support Oppose
The Military-Industrial Complex Support Oppose
Overseas Military Empire Support Oppose
Coups Support Oppose
Assassination Support Oppose
Torture Support Oppose
Immunity for Illegal Surveillance Support Oppose
Friendly Foreign Dictatorships Support Oppose
Infringements on Civil Liberties Support Oppose
The Patriot Act Support Oppose
Military Tribunals Support Oppose
Occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan Support Oppose
Department of Education Support Oppose
Department of Commerce Support Oppose
Department of Health and Human Services Support Oppose
Department of Energy Support Oppose
Department of Homeland Security Support Oppose
Department of HUD Support Oppose
Department of Labor Support Oppose
Department of the Interior Support Oppose
Department of Agriculture Support Oppose
Department of Transportation Support Oppose
Department of National Intelligence Support Oppose
The CIA Support Oppose
The FBI Support Oppose
The IRS Support Oppose
The DEA Support Oppose
The Federal Reserve Support Oppose
The Border Patrol Support Oppose

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.