Politics in Minutes (2016)

Liberal and libertarian conservatism

Originally, in the 19th and early 20th century, ‘liberal conservatism’ referred to a combination of conservative social values – a respect for tradition, authority and religion – with a laissez-faire attitude to economics. This, said Edmund Burke, a founding figure of British conservatism, is a classically conservative stance: ‘The laws of commerce are the laws of Nature, and therefore the laws of God.’ As economic liberalism became part of the ideology of almost all mainstream conservatism, the word ‘liberal’ was increasingly dropped. It rose again in the mid-20th century, but this time it referred to the strand that adopted some measure of social (as opposed to economic) liberalism, moving somewhat to the left on issues such as welfare, civil rights and the environment. Confusingly, another strand of conservatism emerged, based on even stricter laissez-faire economic policies, and described as ‘libertarian conservatism’. Advocating completely free and unregulated markets, libertarian conservatives are also socially right-wing, opposing redistribution of wealth through taxes.