Is Conservatism a self-contradictory Ideology?

I am inclined to answer the question as yes.  American conservatives tend to have three main pillars that there ideology is built upon:

1.  Keep government small and unobtrusive, and markets free.
2.  Limit the personal freedom of others, to protect “traditional”/Judeochristian” values.
3.  Pursue massive military build ups to be used for aggressive international intervention in pursuit of self interest.

It should be obvious to anyone (as Murray Rothbard once pointed out) that number 1 is completely incompatible with 2 and 3.  Also when forced to choose, self-proclaimed conservatives in practice always pursue numbers 2 and 3 when in power at the expense of number 1.  To be clear massive militarism and international intervention are complete violations of the free market.  The military build up directs resources away from being used to fulfill peoples needs and desires as expressed in the market and is largely a form of corporate welfare.  Furthermore international intervention, all to often involves killing civilians, supporting dictators, or generally imposing coercion on a foreign population.  It is also the basis for fighting civil liberties at home and expanding the surveillance state.  All of this requires a government that is big, overbearing and intrusive.

This same problem is true of the puritanical authoritarians of the social aspects of the conservative movement.  Government promotion of religion and “traditional values” are just as intrusive and incompatible with a free exchange as anything liberals or progressives propose.   A government involved in regulating or promoting marriage, state mandated or sponsored prayer, outlawing prostitution or pursuing a drug war is completely incompatible with a land of the free.  As such I find it absurd when someone claims they are a libertarian on economic issues, but a conservative on social issues.  This is impossible, as the social side of life is part of the economic side, and wanting to use coercion to limit freedom of consenting adults in any area is incompatible with a free society.

Of course, in practice self-proclaimed conservatives have great difficulty understanding the difference promoting a free market and simply intervening on behalf of big business.  Promoting such things as intellectual property, expanding corporate limited liability, handing government land to oil companies and (as Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush did) tripling the government’s debt through corporate welfare are completely incompatible with small governments or free markets.

Of course conservatives are not a lone in this, liberals and conservatives tend to be almost exactly alike on many of these issues while in office and many self-proclaimed libertarians seem to have little problem with at least some of the things I bring up here.  Overall I see the biggest problem with conservatives and liberals is that they are both too willing to use force to create the type of society they want.  The only difference is that they want to create slightly different types of societies.  Liberals seem to be more straight forward about this, while conservatives pretend to be for small government and what not, making their actions and ideology self-contradictory.

Note:  I know this does critique does not apply to all strains of conservationism, such as Burkean conservatism, but it does apply to the mainstream establishment of the conservative movement.  Additionally, I know there are some libertarians who favor same sort of traditional values as conservatives, however these tend to prefer using non-coercive means of promoting these values, so while I disagree with them, they are not the subject of my criticism here.

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One Response to Is Conservatism a self-contradictory Ideology?

  1. PermReader says:

    I partially agree, that the limitation of freedom according to the conservative,mainly Christian values, contradict the principle of individual freedom. Though, accusation of imperialism and militarism is wrong,I think, as the democracy and free trade in the world of authoritarian and tyrannical regimes demands the active defence.

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