One of the roots of disagreement between libertarians and conservatives is the extent to which one believes that people, pursuing their self-interest, collectively bring about the common good.
One view, echoed in Madison and Adam Smith, is that if a society is properly structured, by pursuing individual self-interest the common good can come about “as if by a visible hand.” Madison in particular seems to say that by counter-balancing self-interests, the evil of faction will be exhausted and only the most just and widely supported policies will likely make it through the hurdles of divided government.
Another, found in Burke and Adams and in Catholic Social Thought, is that self-interest alone cannot do the job. It theorizes that men are not motivated merely by reason, but by some combination of reason, appetities, and more middling feelings (like patriotism or love of justice). These latter feelings can be a great bulwark of the state and society, or its greatest enemy. If the latter are not well harnessed and tutored, mere appetites and reason will permit the greatest evils by moral imbeciles.
I think both of these philosophies have a lot to recommend. But the question becomes, “Is self-interst all that is needed?” Can these systems work well in an age of ideologically motivated men, who can publicly and shameless announce their intentions to support some abstract principle over the society they ostensibly serve? Does it work well, for example, if individuals in free markets generally are not motivated (or at least hindered) by notions of patriotism or honor? Finally, and most directly, does any of this work well if people are not educated about and loyal to the idea of a free society? That is to say, does this Rube Goldberg contraption that is a free market or a constitutionally-limited government (the combination of which we generally think of as a free society), need some external infusion of public-spiritedness to work?
I suggest it does, and I believe the Founders would agree. And I think that many “Classical Liberal” thinkers would likely agree as well. What part of self-interest, for example, says not to steal when I can get away with it? Or seek government subsidies? Or to help another nation undermine my own (so long as I am well rewarded)? Is it not some internal chain, some epiphenomenon of a moral education, that says these actions are beneath my dignity and simply wrong? Does a free society not depend on something more than well-structured institutions and self-interested actvity, but instead on some abstract commitment to the end of a free society as well?