Thursday, July 08, 2010

Conservatives in disguise?

There is a religious publication for conservatives who try to take the same views as the Moral Majoritarians without sounding completely unhinged and rabid. They advocate the same sort of moralistic, big government policies of the fanatical fundamentalists but try to do so without sounding like fundamentalists. One of their publications is First Things. They assume that their fantasies about being in communication with some supernatural being gives them a right, even a duty, to use the state to violate the rights of peaceful individuals who act in ways disapproved of by their imaginary friend.

Since they want to trample on the rights of "immoral" people in the name of their religion they know that libertarians are their enemy. They are right, libertarians are their enemies for the same reason libertarians are the enemy of socialism. Conservatives are just socialists of the soul. Just as the socialist want to regulate your material life, the conservatives want to regulate your "spiritual" or moral life.

First Things is thus upset when individuals present "conservative" cases for social liberty. For instance, they are upset that years ago the eternally pompous Andrew Sullivan wrote a conservative case for gay marriage. They misstate Sullivan's views by saying his entire case was that "it will help homosexuals connect sex with love and commitment." Sullivan's case is much more than that but they aren't trying to tell the truth. It seems that even the so-called rational Christian conservatives simply can't help lying about what others believe, a trait they share with their rabid brothers in Christ.

First Things believes there is a concerted attempt by libertarians to infiltrate the conservative movement. In my view that is like a bottle of perfume infiltrating a dung heap. It can be done but seems completely counterproductive.

Along with distorting Sullivan's book on marriage equality they discuss another evil "infiltration" entitled "The Conservative Case for Immigration." That is another libertarian plot as well. Interesting that the first two issues that come to mind about evil libertarians uses the examples of marriage equality and immigration. I have argued the Republicans, particularly conservative religious Republicans, are motivated by hatred; in particular hatred for gays and immigrants.

So here is a "sensible" religious conservative group immediately using precisely those same two groups for their libertarian-bashing article.

Oddly, I do think there are reasons some rational conservatives would want both immigration and marriage equality. Religiously motivated conservatives however, are allergic to rational reasons and rely on alleged supernatural revelation for their public policies. God is their trump card, every prejudice they entertain is supported by the claim that "God said it, I believe it, that settles it." In this sense they are precisely the same as the Islamists that they fear; fear perhaps because they are so similar to one another, at least in their rationality for wanting to deprive others of their rights.

Conservative Republican, Mitch Daniels, was attacked for saying his five favorite books were The Road to Serfdom, Free to Choose, What It Means to Be a Libertarian, The Rise and Decline of Nations and The Future and Its Enemies. I have read and endorse, to one degree or another, all of those books with the exception of the fourth, which I have not read. What has First Things upset is that these books "were written by libertarians advocating libertarian positions."

Conservatives, at one time shared some common values with libertarians—I'm not sure that is true any longer. But one of the funny things about the conservative movement is that they have had to rely on libertarians to do their thinking for them. Since the Bible says bugger-all about markets, spontaneous order, individual rights, etc., conservatives have to find others who actually think about such things. So they borrow and steal ideas from libertarians on a regular basis. When they want to sound like intellectual advocates of freedom they will quote Milton Friedman, FA Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand and other authors of a more libertarian bent.

Conservatism itself is intellectually sterile and so they have had to take what libertarians have been writing. Left to their own devices they produce the likes of Anne Coulter or Rush Limbaugh, intellectual midgets who think sneer and smear is a form of intellectual argumentation.

First Things laments the intellectual wasteland that is modern conservatism and admit that libertarians "hold an outsized influence" on the "right-leaning intellectual elite." They write: "Disagree? Quick: Think of a prominent economist on the right that isn't a libertarian or that is an outspoken social conservative." If by "on the right" they mean supporting a free, depoliticized market, then they are pretty much right. Conservatives aren't intellectuals. Economics is an intellectual pursuit. Conservatives are faith-driven, economics is reality-bound. They steal from libertarians because religion is intellectual sterile when it comes to matters like economics.

I once tried to read all the major defenses of religion and capitalism. Poor Ed Optiz spent more time quoting Mises than Jesus—and for good reason. I found individual Christians trying to defend free markets but using secular sources for their arguments. They can't rely on their theology for this, they must rely on secular sources.

The reality is that NO major free market economist that I can think of, was a professed orthodox Christian. They were mostly secular, atheists or deists, often non-practicing Jews. First Things find this disturbing and thinks that these libertarians were involved in some plot to infiltrate conservatives. They say: "By shifting the terminology—call themselves conservative while supporting libertarian ideas—they will eventually reshape the conservative movement into their own image." Milton Friedman said he was a classical liberal, or a modern libertarian, not a conservative. I've heard him say it and emphasis his actual views. FA Hayek wrote an excellent essay attacking the foundations of conservatism in Why I Am Not a Conservative. Mises wrote an entire book on his political philosophy called Liberalism.

This is hardly deceptive infiltration by libertarians into the dung heap of conservatism. Conservatives, in their attempt to pay lip-service to free markets, borrowed intellectual arguments on markets from libertarians because they are unable to produce their own.

They argued that "libertarians are trying to pass themselves off as conservatives," while I argue the opposite is happening. Ron Paul has pushed a conservative agenda on social issues, claimed separation of church and state is a "myth," voted to keep sodomy a crime in Washington, D.C., wants to nationalize every uterus in the country calls himself a "true conservative" right up until he says something stupid and then pretends he is a libertarian as a cover-up. We saw conservatives like Wayne Root and Bob Barr infiltrate the libertarian movement.

George Bush so discredited the Religious Right that there was an influx of conservatives using the libertarian label to describe themselves. But it is rare for real libertarians to label themselves conservative. For a libertarian that would make as much sense as saying one is a Marxist-Leninist.

First Things is correct to note that conservatives and libertarians are not similar groups. Libertarians believe in individual rights; conservatives DO NOT. Libertarians believe in equality before the law; conservatives do not. Libertarians believe in separation of church and state; conservatives do not. Libertarians believe in limiting government to protecting the rights of individuals; conservatives want expansive state powers in the name of morality. The original enemies of the early libertarian movement were the conservatives who defend the feudal order of the day. Socialists saw themselves as proponents of many liberal ideas, so much so that they eventually claimed the name for themselves. But conservatives were everything that the classical liberals opposed.

That the socialist/progressive movement became so extreme in their worship of state power, something they adopted from the conservatives of their day, was the reason for a temporary alliance, in opposition to Marxism, between true liberals and conservatives. But that temporary alliance didn't mean conservatives and libertarians shared any real values, just a common opposition to Marxist authoritarianism. The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend. Conservatives are not now, never have been, and never will be the allies of classical liberalism, libertarianism or individual rights.