Resurgent Libertas!


By David Beilstein

Garret Quinn over at good ol’ libertarian stalwart Reason provided a thoughtful report on the rise of libertarian-minded governors across the fruited plain.  Quinn’s piece centred on Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

“Walker’s victory in a hotly contested June recall election secured his position as one of the leading governors in the country when it comes to public sector labor reforms. Walker says he sees a growing class of libertarian governors across the country. ‘”You see several governors out there who not only have a libertarian view but a federalism view of government, the power of the Tenth Amendment,” he said. “They have a view that when you invoke the Tenth it’s not just about the rights but also of the people, and that’s a part that’s often left out.'”

Federalism is a fibrous slice of philosophical principals. In too many ideological discussions and policies within American conservatism, conservatives are destitute a healthy sensibility of Federalism’s great protection of liberatas. If the American public is to survive being a nation of factions united to a creed — if conservatism is going to march into the future with the honours of war at its back  — it must use Federalism to protect state and individual sovereignty.

After the onrush of the late 1960s and 1970s saw an undiluted moral decay, the rise of the moral majority and religious right tried to put a stop to the bleeding by embracing “conservatism”. In this schema, conservatism became hostage to political thought and applications  opposed to conservatism’s historical conception of limited government power and state sovereignty. Instead of camping out on the perch of state politics and localism, the conservative movement looked to Washington, DC to put gauze to the wound of political blood loss.

But if there is anything that illustrates the successes of the conservative movement it’s not a more limited government enabling more expressive individual autonomy. Conservative politics, held captive to the religious right and moral majority for almost 40 years, has gained tremendous political power — yet this unfortunate union birthed by fear, has yielded little expansion of conservative policy ideals of limited government and expansion of personal liberty.

I can only conclude, therefore, this is the main reason why our culture does not look to the polarities of conservative thought and politics as “animator” of personal individuality and liberties. In taking on the reactions of the religious right and moral majority, the American conservative movement fell for much of the premises evinced by the progressive left — that is, politics being used for moral vision and cultivation of uniform-by-majority disposition imposed on diverse peoples.

Such philosophy must restrict individual freedoms somewhere. Once a group of people desire to use government to create certain kinds of people — outside of the rule of law — liberties will be impugned. It is here the libertarian spirit over at Reason and the Cato Institute is most helpful in sharpening the conservative polemical knife past barn-yard fundamentalist tripe.

The problem with seeing political conservatism as morality — or traditional ethical positions — is it cannot be honestly defended based on the source of all good American conservatism: The U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Constitution is not a moral document other than a basic formulation of the Declaration of Independence’s ethical presupposition of “unalienable” rights of men and women. Within the structure of the U.S. Constitution, one clearly discerns an architectural concept of governance based on limiting tyrannical power — not morality.

Certainly, conservatism in America is about more than the conservation of the U.S. Constitution — it’s also based on a ‘wisdom gained through the ages’ which does have ethical considerations. Those considerations, however, do not usurp the Constitutional architecture and its preservation. Neither is morality the concern of the U.S. Constitution, generally. The concern, I think, is a legal document which sets up and preserves separated powers and limitation on government over society.

The Founding Fathers wisely foresaw moralising from atop the mesa of Federal Power being necessarily restrictive of personal liberties. Consequently, they saw the need for an orderly society where the natural order of morality could be preserved and animated. This is were localism — something libertarian politics have expressed stridently — reveals itself. Federalism allows for localism to come forth — to multiply in diversity, locally. It introduces the concept of laws affecting the moral character of a community of people are best left to states and counties.

It seems to me, the libertarian cause of our time is one in keeping conservatism in America honest. Conservatism has too often morphed into traditional moralistic platitudes — a hint of the early 20th century progressive movement — rather than ideological concerns of preserving the most personal liberty for the most people. The public policy of too many conservative politicians has, in fact, worked against this most important virtue.

If there is a criticism to be levelled at the libertarian movement in our day — at least it’s popular apologia — it’s in application, not its philosophical ideas. The consistent conservative intellectually and in action is always best when they are conserving classical liberalism, which means conserving libertarian ideas about individuals — of minds and markets — and the limitation based on enumerated restrictions of the Federal State.



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