Conservatives and libertarians supposedly agree with each other on economic issues, but disagree to some extent on social issues and foreign policy.
This is generally accurate. Principled conservatives (as opposed to the Bush/Rove variety) believe in limited government and free enterprise, so there is agreement on the economic side.
And there is disagreement on social issues, at least in terms of victimless crimes such as drugs, gambling and prostitution (though I actually think the disagreement could be bridged if libertarians went out of their way to explain that legalizing the aforementioned activities is not the same as personally approving of their abuse and if conservatives went out of their way to do a cost-benefit analysis to see whether criminalization makes matters worse rather than better).
But there may be a more fundamental difference between conservatives and libertarians (notice I said difference, which is not the same as disagreement). A column in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal looks at the Tea Party movement and uses survey data to conclude that the protests against big government are driven by moral concerns.
…the passion of the tea-party movement is, in fact, a moral passion. It can be summarized in one word: not liberty, but karma. The notion of karma comes with lots of new-age baggage, but it is an old and very conservative idea. It is the Sanskrit word for “deed” or “action,” and the law of karma says that for every action, there is an equal and morally commensurate reaction. Kindness, honesty and hard work will (eventually) bring good fortune; cruelty, deceit and laziness will (eventually) bring suffering. No divine intervention is required; it’s just a law of the universe, like gravity.
So what does this have to do with libertarians and conservatives? Well, according to this research, there are some big differences between the two groups.
Last year my colleagues and I placed a nearly identical statement on our research site, YourMorals.org: “Everyone should be free to do as they choose, so long as they don’t infringe upon the equal freedom of others.” Responses from 3,600 Americans showed that self-described libertarians agreed with the statement most strongly, but liberals were right behind them. Social conservatives, who, according to national polls, make up the bulk of the tea party, were more tepid in their endorsement. …In our survey for YourMorals.org, we asked Americans how much they agreed with a variety of statements about fairness and liberty, including this one: “Ideally, everyone in society would end up with roughly the same amount of money.” Liberals were evenly divided on it, but conservatives and libertarians firmly rejected it. On more karmic notions of fairness, however, conservatives and libertarians begin to split apart. Here’s a statement about the positive side of karma: “Employees who work the hardest should be paid the most.” Everyone agrees, but conservatives agree more enthusiastically than liberals and libertarians, whose responses were identical. And here’s a statement about the negative side of karma: “Whenever possible, a criminal should be made to suffer in the same way that his victim suffered.” Liberals reject this harsh notion, and libertarians mildly reject it. But conservatives are slightly positive about it. …Libertarians are closer to conservatives on two of the five main psychological “foundations” of morality that we study—concerns about care and fairness (as described above). But on the other three psychological foundations—group loyalty, respect for authority and spiritual sanctity—libertarians are indistinguishable from liberals and far apart from conservatives. …When you think about morality as a way of binding individuals together, it’s no wonder that libertarians (who prize individual liberty above all else) part company with conservatives. …The tea-party movement is a blend of libertarians and conservatives, but it is far from an equal blend, and it’s not clear how long it can stay blended. …The rank-and-file tea partiers think that liberals turned America upside down in the 1960s and 1970s, and they want to reverse many of those changes. …they want to live in a country in which hard work and personal responsibility pay off and laziness, cheating and irresponsibility bring people to ruin. Give them liberty, sure, but more than that: Give them karma.
This is all quite interesting, but I think it overstates the potential for disagreement between libertarians and conservatives. Unless I’m missing something, varying opinions on group loyalty, respect for authority, and spiritual sanctity shouldn’t be a hindrance to a coalition against subsidies, handouts, and bailouts.