The Spectacle Blog

They Say They Want a Revolution

By on 3.20.13 | 2:42PM

Over at NRO, Jonah Goldberg has written a great piece on the time-honored relationship between libertarians and conservatives. He offers a conciliatory perspective I find refreshing. Given the amount of ink that’s been spilled fighting idea wars between natural allies, it’s about time we focus on the ties that bind.

At his most sanguine, Goldberg highlights congruence:

“Libertarian and conservative critiques of Obamacare, the stimulus, and other Democratic policies are indistinguishable from one another. On trade, taxes, property rights, energy, the environment, intellectual property, and other issues, I’d be hard-pressed to tell you the difference, if any, between the conservative and libertarian positions.”

He’s charitable with respect to constitutional deliberations:

“On the Constitution, there are some interesting debates, but both factions are united in rejecting a “living Constitution.” The debate on the right is over what the Constitution says, not what liberals think it should say.”

But his most important point, (and one echoed by Matt Purple in today’s discussion of the RNC’s latest marketing epic) is the importance of libertarianism’s resonance among young people.

The Republican brand is at a historic low with America’s youth. Recent polls suggest as few as 18 percent of young voters self-identify with the GOP. Much has been made about Republicans careless treatment of emerging demographics, but the potential loss of a generation of voters is real. The millennial vote we label “emerging” today will comprise 35 percent of the 2024 electorate. If conservatives cannot capture a robust segment of this demo, today’s losses will be magnified, exponentially.

Old salts will echo familiar rebuttals, and cue Churchill (falsely attributed!?) regarding hearts and brains. But the trends are real, and they’re already costly. According to left-leaning CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement) Mitt Romney might have won the election if he had just matched Obama’s youth appeal in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, 50-50.

Of course, that last sentence sounds ridiculous, right? It’s impossible to imagine Mitt Romney drawing Obama’s charismatic sway with young people.  Well, once upon a time not too long ago, Republicans actually won a majority of the youth vote. But the expiration date on that memory is fast approaching.

A GOP steeled with a strong libertarian streak can match liberalism’s national appeal. But that might be easier said than “fused,” to borrow Goldberg’s allusion:

Most pure libertarians and the tiny number of truly statist social conservatives live along the outer edge of the Venn diagram that is the American Right. Most self-identified conservatives reside in the vast overlapping terrain between the two sides.

Without getting into the peripheral argument that “social conservatism applied to law is statism,” I think Goldberg may miss the fundamental mark with his “Venn diagram” illustration. The problem exists on the wings, but it's a matter of framing. 

Say what you will about political “scientists,” but they've created helpful terms to describe and define people’s political positions. In order to visually compare one position to another, the most basic continuum exists on a simple line spectrum.

As we understand these definitions, the radical favors revolution. The liberal welcomes reform. The conservative leans toward the past, and the reactionary wants change, but demands a restoration of othodoxy.

As it occurs to me, the question of harmony between old-line conservatism and an emerging libertarian order is between the radical and the reactionary.

Goldberg is correct when he notes that libertarians and conservatives agree, generally, about the constitution. But their understanding of its political utility is reversed. Republicans who think back to the Reagan era fondly favor a return to regular order. Having no exposure to constitutional restraint in their lifetime, young libertarians trend radical, by contrast.

It comes down to a matter of constitutional revolution versus return. But if we can bridge that gap, we can beat the Left on terms we share, for years to come.

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