The relationship between conservatives and libertarians is sometimes a confrontational one.

A reader recently forwarded to me a response to one of my articles critical of conservatism. To paraphrase, simplify, and summarize: “How dare Mr. Vance compare conservative Republicans to Hillary Clinton! There are plenty of differences between them. Doesn’t he know that they like chocolate ice cream and she likes vanilla?” That is the extent of the guy’s argument. I’m sure he could come up with a hundred differences between Republicans and Clinton. And so could I. But when the two are compared on issues of substance—foreign aid, welfare, foreign policy, Social Security, health care, education, victimless crimes, the drug war, the military, taxes—their views are basically identical.

Sometimes it is conservatives who initiate the criticism. Conservative icon Russell Kirk famously called libertarians “chirping sectaries.” Other conservatives have not been so kind. And this is aside from the epithets that deem libertarianism to be irreligious, libertine, licentious, hedonistic, materialistic, antinomian, selfish, utopian, immoral, and/or naïve and the canards that libertarianism discounts human nature, is inimical to tradition, is indifferent to the plight of the poor, considers greed a virtue, is all about alternative lifestyles, and can be reduced to “survival of the fittest.”

Although there are some serious issues that we libertarians have with conservatives, I want to focus on just one—and it is a big one. One of the major problems with conservatives is that they don’t follow the Constitution they claim to admire, revere, and hold sacred.

Now, libertarians are not generally big fans of the Constitution. They believe that the fears the Anti-federalists had about the Constitution allowing the national government to become too centralized and too powerful were correct. The power the Constitution grants to the federal government to tax and take property is troubling. The ambiguous clauses in the Constitution such as the “general welfare” clause, the “commerce” clause, and the “necessary and proper” clause have been abused almost from the very beginning. The Constitution means only what the Supreme Court interprets it to mean. The Constitution has utterly failed to limit the size and scope of the federal government. In fact, the Constitution was designed to expand government power, not to limit it. And as Lew Rockwell reminds us in Against the State: “The Constitution creates a government that is the judge of its own powers.”

Yet, in spite of the issues libertarians have with the Constitution, they would generally agree with the sentiment, “Although the Constitution isn’t perfect, following it would be a lot better than the situation we have now.” If conservatives would just follow their own Constitution, libertarians might just leave them alone. If Republicans would stop talking about how they are the “party of the Constitution” and act like it, we could almost get along.

Under the Constitution, the United States was set up with a federal system of government where the states granted a limited number of powers to a central government. As James Madison succinctly explained in Federalist No. 45:

The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the Federal Government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.

In article I, section 8, of the Constitution, there are eighteen paragraphs that enumerate the limited powers granted to Congress. Four of them concern taxes and money. One concerns commerce. One concerns naturalization and bankruptcies. One concerns post offices and post roads. One concerns copyrights and patents. One concerns the federal courts. One concerns maritime crimes. Six concern the military and the militia. Once concerns the governance of the District of Columbia. And the last one gives Congress the power “to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers.” That’s it. Everything else is reserved to the states. And just in case anyone had any doubt, the Tenth Amendment confirms this.

So why don’t conservatives follow their own Constitution? It doesn’t seem like a difficult thing to do. Consider the following twenty things:

  1. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to take money from those who work and give it to those who don’t via unemployment benefits? Of course it doesn’t.
  2. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to have a Social Security program so that the young can have their wealth transferred to the aged? Of course it doesn’t.
  3. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to take money from Americans and use it to provide disaster relief in foreign countries? Of course it doesn’t.
  4. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to have a Medicaid program so that some Americans can pay for the health care of other Americans? Of course it doesn’t.
  5. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to have socialized medicine for the aged if it is called Medicare? Of course it doesn’t.
  6. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to take money from Americans and use it to provide foreign aid to other countries? Of course it doesn’t.
  7. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to ban organ sales? Of course it doesn’t.
  8. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to subsidize agriculture? Of course it doesn’t.
  9. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to build military bases overseas? Of course it doesn’t.
  10. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to outlaw most forms of gambling? Of course it doesn’t.
  11. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to have a Head Start program? Of course it doesn’t.
  12. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to provide the poor with food stamps? Of course it doesn’t.
  13. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to transfer money from some Americans to other Americans if it is called SSI? Of course it doesn’t.
  14. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to pay for the breakfast, lunch, and snacks of children in school? Of course it doesn’t.
  15. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to undertake, or pay for the private sector to undertake, space travel and exploration? Of course it doesn’t.
  16. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to make any federal gun control laws? Of course it doesn’t.
  17. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to subsidize any American’s housing? Of course it doesn’t.
  18. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to take cash from some Americans and give it to other Americans if it is called TANF? Of course it doesn’t.
  19. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to have a Department of Homeland Security when it already has a Department of Defense? Of course it doesn’t.
  20. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to set a minimum wage? Of course it doesn’t.

Conservative support for the federal government doing these twenty things shows that they don’t follow their own Constitution. Oh, some of them may complain about the amount of money the federal government spends on these things, how inefficient some program is, how some particular program is operated, or how much waste and fraud is in some program. But they have no philosophical objection to the federal government doing any of these things even though they are not authorized by the Constitution. Not convinced yet? Here are twenty more:

  1. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to set CAFE standards? Of course it doesn’t.
  2. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to fight poverty? Of course it doesn’t.
  3. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to make child labor laws? Of course it doesn’t.
  4. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to help women, infants, and children if it is called WIC? Of course it doesn’t.
  5. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to have a State Children’s Health Insurance Program even if Republicans created it? Of course it doesn’t.
  6. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to issue nutrition guidelines? Of course it doesn’t.
  7. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to prevent private employers from hiring “illegals”? Of course it doesn’t.
  8. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to fund scientific research? Of course it doesn’t.
  9. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to issue clean water standards? Of course it doesn’t.
  10. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to fund medical research? Of course it doesn’t.
  11. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to fund HIV/AIDS prevention initiatives in Africa? Of course it doesn’t.
  12. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to provide home heating assistance? Of course it doesn’t.
  13. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to have federal job training programs? Of course it doesn’t.
  14. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to outlaw discrimination based on anything? Of course it doesn’t.
  15. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to give VA loans to veterans? Of course it doesn’t.
  16. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to issue student grants and loans? Of course it doesn’t.
  17. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to provide aid to state education programs? Of course it doesn’t.
  18. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to classify all drugs on a schedule? Of course it doesn’t.
  19. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to declare that certain drugs are illegal? Of course it doesn’t.
  20. Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to declare that any substance is illegal?

So why do conservatives support these things? And why do conservatives in Congress vote for these things? Why don’t conservatives follow their own Constitution? How hard can it be? The federal government is either authorized to do these things or it isn’t.

It’s time to answer the question: Why don’t conservatives follow their own Constitution? The simple and terrible truth is that most conservatives never met a federal program they didn’t like as long as it furthered their conservative agenda. Their idea of a limited government is a government limited to one controlled by conservatives.

Constitution, smonstitution.

Originally published on LewRockwell.com.

  • I concede that if America would more closely follow the Constitution, America would be in a better place than she is presently. However, this completely overlooks the fact that America is where she is now BECAUSE of the Constitution and its framers:

    “[B]ecause they have transgressed my covenant, and trespassed against my law … they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind….” (Hosea 8:1, 7)

    Today’s America is reaping the whirlwind as a result of the wind sown by the late 18th-century founders when they replaced the 17th-century Colonial governments of, by, and for God established upon His immutable moral law for their own humanistic government of, by, and for the people based upon capricious Enlightenment and Masonic concepts.

    Without the unchanging moral standard of God’s law (Psalm 19:7-11, etc.), it was inevitable that what began poorly (an understatement if ever there were one) would only devolve into something much worse.

    For more on these two polar opposite forms of government, see online Chapter 3 “The Preamble: WE THE PEOPLE vs. YAHWEH” of “Bible Law vs. the United States Constitution: The Christian Perspective” at http://www.bibleversusconstitution.org/BlvcOnline/biblelaw-constitutionalism-pt3.html.

  • Laurence doesn’t overlook such a fact, he advances the libertarian criticism of the Constitution in his exposition.

  • Hi Norman! I missed it or misunderstood him. Could you please point me to the statement of his you’re referring to.

  • Gregory Alan of Johnson

    Laurence Vance didn’t get the memo stating this land is now (since at least 1871) governed by a militarily-held democracy in the form of multiple municipal corporations with the hq in DC and is “authorized” by Article 1-Secion 8-clause 17. With the inclusion of ZIP (Zone Improvement Planning) codes (5 digits, plus 4 for the specific actual locale) EVERYTHING can now be federalized. This also means everyone, regardless of who they work for or how, is a federal employee per 26 USC 3401c. This is also why everyone must carry an “official” gov’t issued ID or risk arrest/jail/”kidnapping” for not being in compliance with ALL federal regulations/requirements for being a “citizen of the United States” per the 14 amendment. Anyone outside of all that is either a dissenter to be eliminated or a true “foreign-national” of another country (note that Colorado (et al) and STATE OF COLORADO (et al) are not the same).
    Since the Constitution (along with the rest of the founding docs) is a Masonic/international bankruptcy instrument, and the ensuing muni-corp in DC is a continuation of this economic trap for the whole populace, and all this is under the spiritual authority of Satan per Matthew 4:8-10, is it any wonder why Yahweh is finally blessing us with curses?
    Thanks for reading.

  • Bob

    The PROBLEM was there was NEVER a SOLID unmovable foundation. The Big ‘C’ was not nor could ever be IT. We had one, ONCE, resting in Jesus the Risen Messiah. we moved to the Flesh, from the spirit and are in an inevitable one way street headed to a dead end.

    What happens, without that solid foundation and following it’s laws… is that liken when you have a room full of people and one person writes down and reads into the ear of one individual and each person repeats what they think they hear – when it comes back to the originator – it’s very likely completely different. ADD TO THAT – mans desire to worship his own gods/idol set ups, etc – and fickle man, to please self – will substiture a mud pie for a Pecan Pie, every time.

  • Mark

    Good read.

    Until Christian conservatives quit seeing the Constitution as a nearly divine document, they will never be able to look at it critically and thus see, as Vance points out, that it’s a government expansion document.

    Thanks to the likes of Christian nationalists like David Barton, most Christians will simply wave the document around, claim to be “constitutionalists” and try to “Take Back America!”

    Sadly, that used to be my mantra…but no longer.