In thinking of libertarianism, what comes most readily to mind is a thoroughly individualistic, atomistic, freedom-loving, don’t-tread-on-me mentality which exalts the autonomous self and the unregulated free market and vilifies government as a form of coercion or nannyism. In this sense libertarianism tends to be strikingly different from conservatism, particularly traditionalist conservatism, with its emphasis upon the authority of religion, inherited beliefs, codes of moral restraint, and customary institutions and usages—to libertarians, forms of imprisonment all.
Yet despite their differences, the two “isms” have to a surprising degree made common cause in the United States in the years since World War II. Such unity, based in large measure on a shared opposition to the threat of Communism abroad and statist liberalism at home, did not come easily or without conflict. Were it not for the efforts of shrewd and skillful leaders—notably William F. Buckley, Jr., whose National Review became the principal forum for libertarian/traditionalist exchange—the postwar conservative movement would certainly have divided, and been rendered ineffective.