In a recent Reddit discussion an avowed liberal posed the following question, “Why do libertarians criticize liberals more than conservatives?” As a libertarian I have noticed this trend myself but from a different angle. Why did I have to argue with liberals more than conservatives? It comes down to a difference in equivocation on both sides.
In general a conservative sees the government as a tool to advance an agenda which tries to keep the status quo. The policies generally trend towards things which are perceived as negatively impacting individuals. For example, many conservatives are opposed to gay marriage. As libertarians when we argue against these policies we are making the case that the idea itself is wrong, therefore government should not be engaging in that behavior. It is pretty straightforward and clear, government should not do bad things.
Contrast that with the general perception of liberal policies. Liberals tend to see government as a tool with which to progress society, to benefit people. For example, public education for all. As libertarians when we argue against those policies we are making the case that the idea is laudable, but not one which government should engage. Compared to when we’re arguing against conservatives this is a far trickier argument to make. This is because many liberals will conflate the notion of good with the notion that government must therefore do it. Conversely when libertarians attack the notion that government should do it we’re being seen as attacking the base idea as also being bad. As a result we have to expend far more effort first pointing out that we agree it is a good idea, just disagree in the implementation.
That is why I often have to take much more effort in arguing against liberals. I can’t just leave it as, “That’s a bad idea therefore government shouldn’t do it.” No, I have to go through the hoops of saying, “Government shouldn’t do that. No, it’s a good idea. No, I agree with it. I’m a fan of that idea. But, no, it does not follow that government should do it. No, really, that’s a great idea. Seriously, I agree with you that it’s a great idea. I’d love to see more people gain benefit from that idea. No, not through government. No, really.”