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Libertarian conservatism, or conservative libertarianism, is a political philosophy and ideology that combines right-libertarian politics and conservative values. Libertarian conservatism advocates the greatest possible economic liberty and the least possible government regulation of social life, mirroring laissez-faire liberalism, but harnesses this to a belief in a more traditional and conservative social philosophy emphasizing authority and duty. Libertarian conservatism prioritizes liberty, promoting free expression, freedom of choice and laissez-faire capitalism to achieve socially and culturally conservative ends and rejects liberal social engineering. Libertarian conservatism can also be understood as promoting civil society through conservative institutions and authority—such as family, country, religion and education—in the libertarian quest to reduce state power.
In political science, the term libertarian conservatism refers to ideologies that combine the advocacy of economic principles such as fiscal discipline, respect for contracts, defense of private property and free markets and the traditional conservative stress on self-help and freedom of choice under a laissez-faire and economically liberal capitalist society with social tenets such as the importance of religion and the value of traditional morality through a framework of limited, constitutional, representative government. For Margaret Randall, libertarian conservatism began as an expression of individualism and the demand for personal freedom.
Freedom and Virtue: The Conservative/Libertarian Debate, edited by George W. Carey, contains essays which describe "the tension between liberty and morality" as "the main fault line dividing the two philosophies".
Nelson Hultberg wrote that there is "philosophical common ground" between libertarians and conservatives. According to Hultberg, "[t]he true conservative movement was, from the start, a blend of political libertarianism, cultural conservatism, and non-interventionism abroad bequeathed to us via the Founding Fathers". He said that such libertarian conservatism was "hijacked" by neoconservatism, "by the very enemies it was formed to fight – Fabians, New Dealers, welfarists, progressives, globalists, interventionists, militarists, nation builders, and all the rest of the collectivist ilk that was assiduously working to destroy the Founders' Republic of States".
Thomas DiLorenzo wrote that libertarian conservative constitutionalists believe that the way to limit government is to enforce the United States Constitution. However, DiLorenzo criticized them by writing: "The fatal flaw in the thinking of the libertarian/conservative constitutionalists stems from their unawareness or willful ignorance of how the founders themselves believed the Constitution could be enforced: by the citizens of the free, independent, and sovereign states, not the federal judiciary". He wrote that the powers accrued to the federal government during the American Civil War overthrew the Constitution of 1787.
In the 1990s, Lew Rockwell, Murray Rothbard and others described their libertarian conservative views as paleolibertarianism. They continued libertarian opposition to "all forms of government intervention – economic, cultural, social, international", but also upholding cultural conservatism in social thought and behavior. They opposed a licentious libertarianism which advocated "freedom from bourgeois morality, and social authority". Rockwell later stated that they dropped that self-description because people confused it with paleoconservatism which they rejected.
California Governor Ronald Reagan appealed to American libertarians in a 1975 interview with Reason when he said: "I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism". However, President Reagan turned the United States' big trade deficit into debt and the United States became a debtor nation for the first time since World War I under the Reagan administration.
Edward Feser emphasized that libertarianism does not require individuals to reject traditional conservative values. Libertarianism supports the ideas of liberty, privacy and ending the war on marijuana at the legal level without changing personal values.
Libertarian conservatism subscribes to the libertarian idea of laissez-faire capitalism, advocating minimal to no government interference in the market. A number of libertarian conservatives favor Austrian economics and are critical of fiat money. Libertarian conservatives also support wherever possible privatizing services traditionally run or provided by the government, from airports and air traffic control systems to toll roads and toll booths.
Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman, Richard Posner, Walter E. Williams, Richard Epstein and Albert Jay Nock have been described as libertarian conservatives. Former Congressman Ron Paul and his son Senator Rand Paul have been described as combining conservative and libertarian small government ideas and showing how the Constitution of the United States defends the individual and most libertarian views.