As I've written about several times, our labels are losing their meanings -- mainly because political groups fight for dominance through the avenues of our interventionist/statist system of government. When everyone is fighting for political power, labels beceom meaningless. Sometimes, it gets so confusing I have to drill down to whether the issue at hand is one of coercion or non-coercion. In debate, it's always difficult to stay within the strict boundaries of conservative, libertarian, progressive or whatever label is applicable. For instance, we can argue for limited government from all three positions, conservative, libertarian and progressive. Perhaps the most pertinent distinction we can make between political philosophies is whether we're working from a coercive or non-coercive principle. And, even then, even from the libertarian viewpoint, sometimes government coercion is justified.
From a conservative standpoint, if conserve means what Dictionary.com defines as "to prevent injury, decay, waste, or loss of", then I want to conserve the Constitution. I want to conserve the principles of limited government, economic liberty, anti-statism, non-interventionism. I want to conserve these principles to the extent of rejecting government's regulation of marriage, drug use, pornography and moral behavior in general. It's not that I'm an immoral libertine -- it only means I believe that morality has to be freely chosen if it's to have any meaning, and unless a person's behavior violates the rights of others, then government has no business controlling the behavior. There are many philisophical conundrums involved in the libertarian stance, such as pornography and drug use where children are concerned, and these can be worked out while maintaining the integrity of the principle, but this is the idea in broad strokes. Discussing these conundrums leads us to a richer understanding, not dead ends that force us to turn back to an all-powerful State for forced solutions. So, it's not so simple in the political realm when a Conservative promotes "small government" or when the Progressive argues for a "smart" government -- we must consider what limits to place on government power, regardless how big or small or smart the government might be.
So, I can be conservative when wanting to conserve Constitutional rights, yet libertarian when it comes to believing that moral/social issues be dealt with in the free market of ideas. The Progressive might say that as a people we should help those who can't help themselves, and I agree, thus making me simpatico with a Progressive position. I also agree with Progressives that we should protect our environment. I'm not afraid to make such a normative argument. It's really a no brainer that in a successful, wealthy nation, there's no reason for a poor child to go without a good education, or an old person to go without food, or for a handicapped person to suffer in neglect, or for big corporations to freely pollute our air and water, so on and so forth.
Conservative, Libertarian and Progressive positions collide when it comes to how to go about fighting for or against progressive change. Do we embrace an all-powerful State to do our bidding, forcing others to act as we would have them act, or do we, as free people, work in the private realm to create the change we seek? Again, if, say, a corporate action violates our basic rights, then that's easy if it's a clear violation-- it's why we have rule-of-law, to protect our rights, so, yes, our government has the duty to protect our rights from the violating corporation. If, however, poverty and hunger are the issues, as a libertarian, I believe it will be much more beneficial to the poor and hungry if solutions are found in the private realm, rather than blaming the rich and demanding redistribution of wealth through government actions. It's much better from my perspective to cooperate with wealthy corporations in the private realm, voluntarily, to find innovative, dynamic solutions. An all-powerful State can't be trusted with unlimited power -- power mongers use the welfare State to perpetuate power and control, and government programs eventually erode from lack of competition, devolving into dehumanizing dependence. Am I right? I'm willing to argue this case with grownups in a free society.
A Conservative would likely say that helping others should reach toward the goals of independence, self-responsibility and self-respect. Even the Conservative can want a Progressive society, although she might not call it Progressive, yet disagree with the means of Modern Liberals/Progressives. Many churches today are involved in dealing with social issues such as poverty and hunger. To me this is Progressive, although it could be seen as conserving the traditional role of Churches as they attend to the poor and needy. Conservative hunters join conservation efforts to protect the environment. When we restore meaning to the labels, and we look at rational solutions in the private realm, it lessens the political impact of partisan battling for control over our statist/interventionist government system. It doesn't eradicate labels or beliefs, just transforms them into cooperating forces/sets of ideas searching for the betterment of society in freedom.
It's mainly the politicization of America that keeps us neatly divided between, or trapped within, Conservative, Libertarian or Liberal/Progressive. These labels and concepts have meaning, and I'm not joining the No-Labels crowd. I'm saying that from my perspective what's important is the difference between coercion and non-coercion, statism and anti-statism, force and voluntarism, interventionism and non-interventionism. Once we've settled that limits must be placed on government power, and we've broken the cronyistic protection of corporate power, then the rest is a matter of free, diverse people persuading each other in a free market of ideas. Conceiveably, once the battle over statist power has ended, labels will have to be re-assessed, because the the labels under discussion are primarily related to politics. This is the ideal, of course, and cynics will say that people can't work out their own issues without control and regulation and, somtimes, brutal enforcement, from the power elite. Surely this isn't true. Surely we're capable of living freely without Big Brother telling us how it should be done.
If I had my way -- if the original principles of limited government had prevailed over the Hamiltonians -- Conservatives, Libertarians and Progressives wouldn't fight in the public/political realm for power and control, because, basically, the only decisions to make would be which government will best protect our border, police our streets and settle disputes in courts of law. The private sector would be the arena in which we work out issues regarding the means of conservation, the responsibilities of liberty and the costs and benefits of progress.