Conservatives and the Path Toward Freedom

So back in the 1930s and 40s, New Deal liberals were so hostile to liberty that a coalition of disaffected progressives, socialists, anarchists, classical liberals, radicals and pacifists emerged: what was later misnamed “the Old Right.” For decades, the Democrats with their center-left fascism forced various versions of this coalition to persist in opposition. A lot of individualists feared communism so much they hung around the conservatives, and pretty much everyone of a pro-freedom bent saw a massive threat in the domestic ambitions of the FDR-Truman-LBJ types.

From Nixon the Bush I, libertarians saw time and again why conservatism would be hostile to liberty, but the end of the Cold War and what seemed at the time to be a superlative tyranny in Clintonianism kept the conservative-libertarian fusionism going. Then came George W. Bush, and I figured we all learned our lesson about the right once and for all.

I cheered on Ron Paul, whom I saw as the last gasp of Old Right fusionism, the swan song of classical liberal minarchism, the requiem for the republican myth. But apparently rightwing libertarianism is still alive, and I’m frankly a bit scared it will keep going on forever.

Here’s the thing: We might say the state’s core tools of power are war making, policing, imprisoning, borders, taxation, the money monopoly, and schools. The conservatives are mildly critical, on some level, of a few of these, but few people are as gung-ho about the atom bomb, the barbed-wire fence, and the electric chair as are conservatives. So long as this is the case, we can’t even move on to other issues. If you think the two best things the US government has done in fifty years are Vietnam and Iraq, you are not just wrong, but as wrong as you can be. If you think the worst thing Obama has done has been to gut the military or weaken border security, you are as wrong as can be. If you think the biggest problem with the drug war is it’s a waste of money, you are as wrong as you can be.

Liberty means liberation, and there are further areas where conservatives seem to get a lot wrong. Of course, there are questions of domestic policy and culture where they might grasp something better than the state liberals. And many allegedly conservative social values are not just compatible with, but are best served, by freedom.

But if the best you can do in defending due process is saying our troops died to guarantee it (they most certainly didn’t), or if you want to throw immigrants under the bus to maintain an ugly coalition with a dying group of crotchety nativists, or if you’re going to ignore the biggest issues that actually hurt people, impoverish them, kill them, enslave them, and totally ruin them, you’re not really advancing liberty; you’re exploiting liberty as cheap rhetoric to whitewash just another partisan and culture-war circle jerk.

I want conservatives and liberals on the side of freedom. But conservatives need to abandon their fetish for nationalism, their attachment to state violence, their willingness to prop up social power structures they happen to like through brute force, and probably their incendiary animosity toward cultural groups that make them uncomfortable. They need to stop being conservatives as it’s usually defined, in short. We shouldn’t be glad they’re willing to pal around with us once again—we’ve palled around with them before and all it got us was Cambodia, the EPA, wage and price controls, gun confiscations, unprecedented deficits, Iran-Contra, the biggest prison population on earth, Ruby Ridge, Abu Ghraib, No Child Left Behind, the TSA, Guantánamo, and TARP. And they have still given no indication at all that they wouldn’t go along with another round of American fascism the second their think tanks and talk radio leaders tell them to.

I’m an anarchist libertarian, but I still have some remaining affinity to the conservatarian milieu because, like a lot of libertarians, I used to be in it myself. But it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy when libertarians say, “We get more people from the right; let’s reach out to the right.” Yes, we got more people from the right, and then 80% of them caved when Bush told them it was time to draw Afghan blood.

It’s not like we’re facing a choice between FDR vs. America First, communism vs. the West, or even LBJ vs. Goldwater any more. The next Republican president will almost surely be worse than Obama in at least some important ways, unless somehow he has just run out of the money to do what he wants.

It’s time to turn against hate, and turn against the state. Anyone is free to join the battle, but in 2013 we should finally get this much: Conservatism is categorically the ideology of the past. Liberty is humanity’s future. We’ll get there faster if we stop ignoring the kids being shot by cops in the streets all so we can sound more palatable to people who want to cut food stamps—but not their precious Social Security!—and reduce the deficit by 5% a year.

3 comments… add one

  • Conservatism is categorically the ideology of the past. Liberty is humanity’s future.

    This observation has a profound impact applied to political strategy on social issues. The easiest alliance to make is always with the minority opinion on an issue where the majority is enforcing their will on everyone. On many social issues, it starts with the left arguing for the freedom to do something if they want while the conservative majority uses the power of the state to enforce their will upon everyone. Then slowly the liberal view gains in popularity, becomes a majority and suddenly it’s no longer about letting people choose, it’s about using the state to impose their vision of society upon everyone.

    That’s exactly how segregation and Jim Crow laws played out. It went straight from government mandated segregation to a government ban on segregation. If enough libertarians had been out in front of the issue, perhaps a liberal-libertarian alliance could have overturned Jim Crow laws without simultaneously imposing laws that restricted property rights.

    I see a similar situation playing out with gay marriage right now. If libertarians were working with the left to overturn state laws and constitutional amendments defining marriage as between a man and a woman, we have an opportunity to help shape the new marriage laws in a libertarian way. If we wait, 20 years from now libertarians are going to end up being lumped in with conservatives and labeled bigots for thinking that churches shouldn’t have to perform a gay wedding if they don’t want to just like Rand Paul was criticized for taking the libertarian position on the Civil Rights Act.

    Reply
  • “That’s exactly how segregation and Jim Crow laws played out. It went straight from government mandated segregation to a government ban on segregation. If enough libertarians had been out in front of the issue, perhaps a liberal-libertarian alliance could have overturned Jim Crow laws without simultaneously imposing laws that restricted property rights.”

    This is exactly right. We had better get our act together and lead the charge on liberating workers, immigrants, transgendered people and so forth, and showing how these liberal concerns are best served by liberty. We let the left lead the charge of civil rights for the last century and now we’re stuck with a bunch of racists opposing discrimination laws.

    Reply
  • I very much agree with this post. And I’m glad I’ve found this blog — to which I intend to return often. It’s a rare breath of fresh air.

    As a libertarian lesbian who also happens to be a (Episcopalian) Christian, I’m well aware that there are a growing number of churches that will solemnize same-sex unions. We don’t need the government forcing churches to perform them.

    I happen to regard the Religious Right as the closest thing to an Antichrist human history has ever seen. I don’t care if they don’t accept gays. Given their beliefs about a lot of other matters, if they did accept us, it wouldn’t mean much.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.