Litterarum, Novus Ordo Seclorum, Politics, Status quaestionis

SPLITTING HAIRS: REKINDLING THE OLD WHIG, CLASSICAL LIBERAL FUSION

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By David Beilstein

WHEN political parties lose elections, meaning big elections, they’re often sentenced to wander the wilderness, sifting through sundry political factions, and the resultant ideological detritus.

During such times, clarification is useful. But also, some realisation such a process is good for political movements focused on ideas to become codified, strengthened against less cogent and coherent polity movements.

Certainly, the state of the American way of life is not good, and a battle between ideologically similar systems—libertarianism and American Conservatism—might seem a waste of time.

Such battles, however, were apart of the fusion began long ago between libertarian ideas expressed by National Review founder Frank Meyer, libertarian, and William F. Buckley, Jr. Also true, William F Buckley, Jr and Meyer referred to himself as a libertarian.

Splitting hairs? Let’s dig deeper, shall we?

To that end, Jonah Goldberg, the big-brained Jew of National Review Online, weighed in with a gallant and insightful column about libertarians, their weaknesses, and the Conservative mind. Mr Goldberg’s most poignant observation revolves around whose acreage, between libertarians and Conservatives, is the ground made by F.A. Hayek—particularly since the great Classical Liberal wrote a primer on said philosophy called, “The Road To Serfdom”—but also, slipped and jabbed, deftly, with “Why I Am Not A Conservative”—an infamous bit of essay-ing, libertarians use to beat up American Conservatives—especially those libertarians over at Reason magazine.

Problem is, says Mr Goldberg,

For example, in the column I wrote that had Dieteman and Kantor spitting Diet Coke out their noses onto the computer screen, I said that Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom contributed to the “core of modern conservative philosophy.” I am about the 5,316th person to make this flatly factual assertion, and yet for every 5,316 times someone says this some libertarian somewhere kicks a cat.

Every serious telling of the modern conservative story says the same thing. For example, the very first chapter of The Conservative Intellectual Movement Since 1945 is entitled, “The Libertarians Revolt,” and the first story in that chapter is about —guess what? — The Road to Serfdom.

The libertarians respond that conservatives have no claim to Hayek because Hayek was a libertarian who wrote an essay titled “Why I am Not a Conservative.” Case closed as far as they see it. Even Milton Friedman has made this argument. What’s odd about all this is that Hayek was explicitly talking about pre-modern conservatives, European conservatives, and reactionaries.

In the essay Hayek consciously describes himself as an “Old Whig” just like Edmund Burke, the — ahem — father of modern conservatism. Hayek unabashedly describes himself as a classical liberal in the tradition of unabashedly describes himself as a classical liberal in the tradition of Alexis de Tocqueville. But nowhere does he say that he is a “libertarian” — in fact Hayek explicitly rejected that label.

It’s very odd; they say “Old Whig” should be interpreted broadly as “libertarian” but “conservative” must be taken narrowly to mean American conservatives. This is a deliberate misreading of the essay. Hayek says that in the United States you can “still” be a defender of liberty by defending long-standing institutions that were designed to preserve freedom. In other words, “conservatives” in America are — or can be —classical liberals.

Moreover, just because Hayek said he wasn’t a European or religious conservative, he didn’t share the bile and hatred that so many libertarians have for traditionalists.

If I could add something, here. I would submit “conservatives” (in America) should be, not can be, classical liberals; while I agree with Mr Goldberg’s basic premise, Crede, ut intelligas, has documented that much of what calls itself conservative—think Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann—cannot be ably said to be of a classical liberal thrust, without severe coughing.

I have thought long and hard what Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum portend in American politics, and I’ve decided on an apt term: paleo-progressives.  Progressive, because of the “evangelical” triumphalism and state-orientated character, riveting their politics. Paleo, because Santorum and Bachmann both reject key aspects of neo [or modern] progressive social, cultural “ethics”. Point being, both Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum would be comfortable with the progressivism animating the early 20th century, which used Christianity as a nationalist, earthly, civil religion to rally the troops, carrying with it prohibitionist attitudes as being the proper duties of the Federal Beast. In this progressive schema, the state should make the citizen and drive its citizens, by prohibiting sundry “taboo” consensual behaviour, from the public. This is all said and good but what is taboo changes like the wind and it empowers the state over the individual—empowering groups and the ruling class far beyond their Constitutional authority. I am not convinced, nor will I be so, that this is the proper expression of anything approaching classical liberalism, nor will it roll back the rabid statism enacted by miscreant tyrants like Barry H Obama.

Nevertheless, both Santorum and Bachmann wanted to redouble the Wilsonian democracy-building attitude of the Bush administration; one which goes beyond eliminating threats, to planting democracies within cultures with no history or ideological foundations of liberal societies. An arduous task, for sure. One that has single-handedly destroyed the GOP reputation on things war, and peace.

For paleo-progressives like Santorum and Bachmann, the problem with Obama’s version of Wilsonian foreign policy is A) Obama’s a Democrat, B) Obama’s anti-Israel stance.

Since much of popular conservatism is wrapped up in these ideological confusions—enter the libertarians. They grow in number and influence. And much of their numbers are former, dejected American conservatives of sensible foreign policy persuasion—think Goldwater—and libertarian/classical liberal in their view of the state.

Be it said, Goldberg’s criticism of thin skin, juvenile priorities, animating too much of the libertarian sphere are all—to my thinking—true; but such circumstances result, it would seem, from William F Buckley, Jr’s and National Review’s fusion between “Old Whig” classical liberalism and mature elements of libertarianism—going unnoticed and unheeded—within much of the populist conservative movement in our time.

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