At TCS Daily earlier this month, economist and theorist Arnold Kling filed a list of principles for “libertarian conservatives,” who find themselves “under siege from so many directions.” And, in the “open, voluntary, do-it-yourself, just-in-time” world of the Internet, he labeled this exercise an “Ideological Affirmation Task Force” and issued a request for comment.
After the right’s defeat at the polls, no doubt some soul-searching is in order. Still, even before we get to the principles themselves, I find Kling’s nomenclature off-putting. A wag might say a “libertarian conservative” is a contradiction in terms, much like chaste floosies, but in the American political tradition it is needlessly repetitive. Seeing as though there are neither thrones nor state-sanctioned altars to defend, there are no non-libertarian conservatives.
The American political order is essentially a liberal one grounded in a conservative or realistic appreciation for what societies and individuals are really like, not what political dreamers and schemers wish them to be like, if only they were in charge of the molding. And frankly, a conservative who isn’t interested in conserving, or reclaiming, our constitutional patrimony isn’t much of a conservative, no matter if he tries to up the righter-than-thou ante by claiming he wants the Bourbons or the Romanovs restored. He may be a fun crank, especially if he has the costuming to match his monarchial bent, but he’s no conservative.
Equally puzzling is that Kling seems not to have “libertarian” as a noun in mind. To his credit, the good economist has more on his plate than legalizing drug, cozying up to the left to hate America, or pining for when the geeks shall inherit the Earth at the Singularity. I don’t see what purpose, then, libertarian as an adjective serves. Kling would have been better suited to speak simply to conservatives. His statement of principles follows in italics. And since he asked for comment, here goes:
1. We weave a thread of self-reliance into a sturdy fabric of interdependence. By respecting the law, we reinforce impersonal justice. By competing intensely and fairly in an impersonal global market, we raise our standard of living through specialization and innovation. By upholding Constitutional principles for limited government, we sustain our individual freedom.p>The Invisible Hand is a great and noble concept, but if nations capture that Hand and proceed to attach strings, we can no longer pretend it’s self-directed to reach the best ends for all parties. If, for instance, other countries subsidize their industries to undercut ours, how is this then an “impersonal global market?” Rather, this is the age-old competition between nations, except we seem unwilling to play. Conservatives should support free trade, but not at the expense of the national interest. br> Ever the realists, conservatives recognize that trade between Colorado and Iowa is on a different plane than trade between the United States and China, if for no other reason than Iowa refrains from shooting down satellites and threatening war with Colorado; nor does it rattle its sabers repeatedly that neighboring Nebraska belongs to it. For conservatives, economics can’t exist solely in a land of theory. /p>
2. We are creative and pro-active in helping one another. We do not have the patience to wait for government, nor do we want to be lulled into passivity by the promise of government. Instead, to solve those problems that require collective action, we form voluntary associations, including civic groups, corporations, clubs, standards-setting bodies, consumer information services, and charitable foundations.
Very true; but it is interesting that he left out churches and para-church groups. Throughout his list principles Kling neglects the role of religion, and there is no conservatism in the United States without the church as an institution and the Judeo-Christian tradition. Even an atheist or agnostic conservative, if he wants to be more than a parlor room dilettante, must recognize this fact and theorize accordingly.
3. Government must be kept in its place. We hold government officials to high standards of competence, honesty, and fairness. However, we do not confuse government with family. We do not confuse government with religion. We do not confuse government with business. We are conscious that any expansion of government responsibility, however well-intended, crowds out those institutions that are the true bulwark of our society.
Amen to that.
4. We celebrate the successes of others. We are glad when an entrepreneur becomes wealthy by finding a way to fill a customer need. We are glad when an immigrant family climbs the ladder of success. We are glad when people living in other countries make economic progress and spur us to innovate and improve.
Very good. In other words, conservatives stand firmly against the Left’s overriding principle, envy. Another person’s success is a reason for joy, not resentment.
5. Government cannot legislate morality, but it does mess with the incentives. Those incentives should never be tilted against the institution of the family whose mission is to raise children to be fine, upstanding citizens.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?