Libertarians, Paleocons and the Old Right

Some people seem very confused over the relationship between paleoconservatives, libertarians and the old right. This has become even more confusing when you mix in the alt-right as a catch-all for these groups. In actuality they are not the same thing and many people who call themselves libertarian for convenience or for purposes of fitting in are further muddying the waters.

To start with, even though we now often use the term differently, the old right was “liberal” in the classical sense of the term, while the paleocons are not classically liberal. There is a reason why major figures of the old right never associated themselves with the paleocons. Goldwater, Matthias, Rockefeller, Baker, Ravenal, Fish, Dole – none of them wanted anything to do with Kirk or Buchanan or anyone like them.

Paleoconservative guru and gothic horror novelist, Russell Kirk admired the old right, but Kirk took paleoconservatism in a different direction. He wanted to separate the conservative and liberal traditions of the right. The clearly identifiable schism between the two is in the area of social issues and religion. The old right generally did not promote a religious or moralistic agenda and they associated with the more traditional, less evangelical religious sects. They were not nativists or puritanical moralists and generally not in favor of segregation or states rights. They believed in free enterprise, limited government and individual liberty.

The paleoconservatives followed Kirk’s lead and tend to be strong on states rights – which was traditioanlly a Democrat position. They are also often nativists in the Patrick Buchanan tradition. Again, a position borrowed from the populist Democrats of the early 1900s. They are also moralistic to the extent that many of them let “moral values” trump individual liberty or even the Bill of Rights. Plus they have become strongly isolationist and anti-globalist which is again a position borrowed from early 20th century Democrats.

Paleocons and the old right certainly share a lot of common beliefs, especially when it comes to economic issues, but in other areas they are very much at odds. If the old right still exists today it carries on in the libertarian movement, particularly among libertarians within the Republican Party. the Libertarian Party itself was very much in the old right tradition when it was founded, but has become heavily influenced by Paleoconservatives because of the influence of Ron Paul.

There are five key areas which differentiate paleocons from libertarians, specifically:

• Paleocons are nativist, libertarians are pro-immigration
• Paleocons favor states rights, libertarians favor individual rights
• Paleocons are socially conservative, libertarians believe in individual liberty
• Paleocons are protectionist, libertarians believe in free trade
• Paleocons tend to be isolationist and anti-globalist, libertarians believe in engagement and spreading liberty to everyone

Now obviously there are lots of people who fall somewhere between the two, including those who call themselves paleolibertarians. The two groups do have a lot in common when it comes to some economic issues and reducing the size of government. Clearly they can work together pretty effectively on issues of mutual concern, as demonstrated by the appeal practical politicians like Rand Paul.

The new problem we face is that the alt-right is exclusionary in its character, a characteristic it borrows from the fanaticism of the religious right. It doesn’t want to work with others and is willing to destroy potential allies if they are not ideologically pure enough. The idea that some issues are more important than others and that short term compromises are sensible is quickly vanishing from politics as people align more and more on single volatile issues which tend to polarize and isolate interest groups.

There are many camps and political sub-cultures, but if we all just voted for candidates who believe exactly like us we’d never get anyone elected. Politics is built on coalitions and the libertarian-paleocon coaltion has been an effective one. When we can all agree on the most important issues which impact every citizen it becomes possible to work together.


About Dave 536 Articles
Dave Nalle has worked as a magazine editor, a freelance writer, a capitol hill staffer, a game designer and taught college history for many years. He now designs fonts for a living and lives with his family in a small town just outside Austin where he is ex-president of the local Lions Club. He is on the board of the Republican Liberty Caucus and Politics Editor of Blogcritics Magazine. You can find his writings about fonts, art and graphic design at The Scriptorium. He also runs a conspiracy debunking site at

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