To illustrate the distinction further, consider Ayn Rand, the thinker and novelist lionized by many libertarians, and her view of the family. Conservatives consider the family to be perhaps the most precious unit of civil society and a necessity for individual freedom. Rand saw forced familial relations as a shackle on the individual. In Atlas Shrugged, she portrays steel tycoon Hank Reardon’s family – his cloying wife, his scolding mother, his leech of a brother – as an irritating obstacle to his success, “an unreality that would not become real to him” for whom he feels nothing but “the merciless zero of indifference.” Elsewhere Rand derided “the worship of the family” as “merely racism” and something that “places the accident of birth above a man’s valor and duty to the tribe above a man’s right to his own life.”

Many conservatives would shudder upon reading those quotes. So why have so many of them flirted with libertarianism and even embraced Rand?

Because, given our current problems, these differences seem abstract. Our most immediate political issue is a rampaging federal government burying its citizens in debt. This gives conservatives common cause with libertarians. We may have different philosophical foundations, but right now our houses are on the same side of the street. And when Republicans set our garage on fire, libertarians helped with the hoses, muttering acerbically.