Jim Gourdie of Conservatives on Fire, recently published a post entitled "Seeking Common Ground - A Fusion of Conservatives and Libertarians," saying:
I strongly believe that, for the benefit of both groups and for America, conservatives and libertarians need to seek out common ground and join forces so that together we can turn this ship of state around and hopefully avoid the terrible disaster that the Obama administration is leading this country toward today. As I said the other day, the two groups are stronger together than apart.
Because I too am sympathetic to Frank Meyer's libertarian/conservative "fusionism," and believe Jim to be sincere, this post marks the beginning of our attempt to find a bridge.
I used to call myself a conservative. Looking back, I'm not sure why, other than perhaps tradition. My grandfathers were both conservative. My parents too. But then again, the conservatism of my grandfathers generation is far removed from the conservatism of today. In fact, their conservatism would be ridiculed as radically libertarian today.
My grandpa on my father's side introduced me to the cruelty of the state, when a large chunk of his land - land my father grew up on no less - was taken via eminent domain. My other grandpa, an old school German Lutheran, in sharing stories about the beer gardens his church held each Sunday during the dark years of prohibition, taught me the importance of keeping the state within its boundaries. They didn't like the state anymore than I do, and I hate the State!
Even though I'm a natural libertarian (when you think about it, traditionally libertarian too), I'm culturally conservative - as in I live my life according to traditional standards and mores. Over the years, however, I've found that being politically conservative often comes at the expense of cultural conservatism, and that libertarianism is the only way to defend it. More on this later (in a future post).
Breaking Up Is Not So Hard To Do
Despite having important philosophical differences (which we won't get into now), there was a time when libertarians and conservatives had much on which they agreed. Today however, not so much. In fact I'd say that I didn't so much leave the conservative movement, as the conservative movement left me.
Long gone is the contemplative conservatism of Russell Kirk, Robert Nisbet, Richard Weaver, Garet Garrett, Frank Chodorov, and Robert A. Taft. Gone too is the principled activism desperately needed to make a genuine difference. A movement birthed in reaction to the radical changes forced upon America in the Progressive Era declaring "Our Enemy, The State," has castrated itself and morphed into a compliant, non-threatening group focused exclusively on electing Republicans.
How did this happen? How did my grandfather's conservative and prudent distrust of power devolve into a mere hatred of Democrats? I tried developing a clear definition of conservative in hope of finding an answer, but it still remains unclear exactly what the definition of conservative is. The result of which, I think, leaves conservatives rudderless, thus easily pushed whichever way the wind blows.
The 11th Commandment: "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican"
In my almost 43 years, conservatives have always proclaimed to understand the limits of government and how the state undermines the family and civil society. Their libertarian rhetoric of "limited government," "free markets," and "liberty" seemed to match those beliefs too. But the cat is now out of the bag ... Conservatives waved the white flag conceding defeat in the battle against Big Government. Electing Republicans (and supporting whatever they do) is the only thing that seems to matter anymore. Well that, and "Oh, Glorious War!"
The same people who heroically gave Barry Goldwater the Republican nomination, turned tail and supported "Tricky Dick" Nixon just a few years later. Twice. For their efforts, Nixon wrought upon us nationalized railroads, a $700 million Lockheed bailout, a universal healthcare proposal, the EPA, OSHA, federal affirmative action, wage and price controls, and the severance of the nation from the international gold standard, leading to runaway inflation and endless bailouts to come.
Conservatives found their old spirit once again in Ronald Reagan's seductive libertarian rhetoric, thus handed him the White House in a landslide victory. Rhetorically, Reagan sounded like he was fighting Big Government, but he never actually challenged the New Deal and Great Society in practice. During Reagan's 8 years in office, federal spending increased 69%, with the annual deficit increasing from $79 billion to $212 billion in his first term alone.
Reagan, in fact, signed bills into law that increased taxes each year of his presidency but the first and the last. The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 was, at the time, the largest tax increase in US history. By the end of Reagan's two terms, the unconstitutional war on drugs had been greatly escalated, Roe v. Wade was further entrenched, the welfare state was stronger than ever, and the nation's annual tax load was 65% higher than the day he was first sworn in. So much for limited government, huh?
Yet despite Reagan's actual record, the same conservatives who once railed against the state, couldn't find it within themselves to criticize him. So conservative principles had to take a backseat to Reagan's rhetoric, a move camouflaged by the "Reagan Revolution" fantasy. The movement would never again be the same.
In Search Of Monsters To Destroy
Not once has the Republican Party been an honest friend to conservatives. It stabs them in the back time and time again. So, maybe it was a psychological defense mechanism, kinda like battered-wife syndrome, where the abused has an irrational belief that the abuser is not to blame. But conservatives became convinced that there must be a reason Republican politicians expand the size and scope of government every bit as much as the left. Somebody else must be to blame.
By now, anti-communism had completely replaced anti-statism (the state being the original enemy) within the conservative movement. The state was deemed good, provided their team was in charge. But when the communist USSR fell under its own weight (as all worthwhile economists predicted), the movement, already without a limited government agenda to get behind, was now left without an enemy to rally against too. In other words, a new distraction was needed. Target: President Bill Clinton.
That the federal government was spending about 20 times more than it was when the conservative movement began in earnest, that vast new regulatory agencies were growing, and that federal law was becoming so draconian that almost anything was a crime no longer seemed to matter to conservatives. Because the only thing that mattered was replacing Clinton with a Republican (any Republican).
Bingo! Now I saw it all too clearly ... If N. believed "liberals" were opposing Bush's attack on civil liberties, he was going to support it. And I thought about how any questioning of the Administration was always met with cries of "Support the Troops!" -- as if all those who didn't fall in line were '60s radicals spitting on returning soldiers and calling them "baby killers." The struggle isn't against "Islamofascism" (minted by Christopher Hitchens to baby-talk fellow Leftists into backing the war) or terrorism or even al-Qaeda. The imperative ... is to "Sock it to the Left!" The "conservatism" of today isn't that of Taft or Goldwater. It arguably isn't even that of a "Religious Right," since it seeks, not to serve any God, but only to stomp its Devil. Behold the Spite Right.
The Spite Right was born, not in the reflection of Read or Chodorov or Garrett, but in the confrontationalism of Up from Liberalism. Its progeny include Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter, Goldberg, Gallagher, Malkin, Ingraham, Savage, O'Reilly, Beck -- self-scribbled caricatures who dwell in their own political cartoon, where there are only intrinsically evil "liberals" (Mr. Limbaugh adduces Ed Koch and William Kunstler on the same page) vs. "conservatives" whose goodness derives solely from fighting them. Such "liberals" are the Spite Right's Left, and once that Left was deemed "anti-war," pro-war was deemed anti-Left, i.e., the Good. Thereafter, the only matter of duty was to defend that war from this "liberal" assault. That meant fighting any and all "liberal lies" that challenged Administration Truth, which was Truth because it stood in opposition to those "lies."
Spite Right relativism is as metaphysical as it is moral. Because the only reality is of "liberal" harm, there is no consideration of what harm might come from the anti-"liberal" forces, who will consequently continue to aim their fire -- no matter what those blasts actually hit. Any admission of error would be, not a matter of intellectual honesty, but only a concession of right to the Left -- to the Devil. And that can never be.
I don't require warnings that there is indeed a real Left with real evil -- no libertarian does. But the Spite Right is not alerting but numbing us to that evil. When the wolf is said to be everywhere, people soon come to believe there's no wolf at all -- the most vulnerable state to find ourselves when it actually does appear. The sober response to the Spite Right terror of "liberals" was demonstrated by H. L. Mencken with regard to Communists who acted in support of black Americans: "The way to dispose of their chicaneries is not to fight them when they are right." The whole of morality -- and truth -- cannot consist of waiting for a Howard Dean (or a Nancy Pelosi) to make a pronouncement.
"Sock It to the Rest!"
On September 11, 2001, America was brutally attacked by 15 Saudi Wahhabis, 2 from the United Arab Emirates, one from Lebanon, all led by an Egyptian Muslim Brother. In mourning and outraged, most Americans were in full support of a retaliatory war for purposes of defense, restitution, and most importantly, to restore peace. But using our grief and abusing our trust, the Ruling Class gave us something altogether different instead.
Victory and defeat in war is both obvious and undeniable. Winners enjoy their traditions in peace, while losers mourn their soon to be forgotten past. Therefore, when then-Senator Joe Biden's Omnibus Counterterrorism Act of 1995 was shoved through Congress under a new Orwellian name - The USA PATRIOT Act - it was more than understandable that so many Americans felt the unique trusts and habits that made American life so unique, were under attack not of jihadists, but of our own Washington, DC, regime.
Lie after lie after lie ... the war propaganda never ceased changing. The 9/11 victims were never avenged and not a penny collected in restitution, yet the "war on terror" kept expanding across the globe while the "homeland security" state tightened its grip and pressed it's jackboots on American citizen throats. Once the masters of government, "We the People" officially became the serfs. America's long traditions have been completely turned upside down.
Conservatives would hear none of this of course. Forget prudent restraints on power, "Our Commander-in-Chief" needs more power! Nevermind human decency, "Our Leaders" must torture at will! Soon, foreign policy came to define America herself. "Benevolent Global Hegemon," the gnostic utopian scheme of permanent revolution, magically transformed into a calling from God Himself. Only "our" enemies - those "intrinsically evil 'liberals'" - could possibly disagree.
In 2003, the creepy statist sycophant David Frum, penned his now infamous essay "Unpatriotic Conservatives," providing license for the conservative movement to "sock it to the rest." Paleoconservatives (traditional conservative) and libertarians were added to the axis of evil along with the Democrats. Like the state they now adored, the Spite Right expanded their war (against fellow Americans) at home too.
It didn't matter that George W. Bush expanded the welfare state to such extreme he made LBJ look like a piker. Record debt? No problem. Deficits don't even matter. Liberty? Not "essential." Individuals? Family? Community? The nation-state matters more. Social problems? Only the state's brute force can save your soul. The president, especially "our" president, is the saving grace of everything good and right about America.
And so it became for conservatives ... Those who consider blowback, "blames America First!" Those who disagree with foreign policy, "hates America!" And anyone who doesn't support foreign "aid" and the federal government's "benevolent global hegemon," is an "anti-Semite!"
Toward a New Fusionism
We've come along way since the days of the original fusionism. While libertarians remained the same, conservatives learned to love the state.
How do we bridge this growing gap? I don't know. I don't have a clue. But telling the story the way we see it, honestly, is a good place to start.
This was my telling. I look forward to Jim sharing his.
Coming soon ...
Part 2: How to Argue with a Libertarian if You Must