Glenn Beck and the Leave Us Alone Coalition - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Glenn Beck and the Leave Us Alone Coalition

In an otherwise thoughtful and insightful post about what he saw on the Mall last weekend, Nick Gillespie makes the odd assertion that, despite being “in some ways… proto-libertarian” “[t]he organizers and the attendees are not part of the Leave Us Alone coalition.”

The term “Leave Us Alone coalition” was coined by Grover Norquist as a discription of the coalitional structure of the right. The idea is that gun owners, economic conservatives, homeschoolers and so forth can support one another’s goals because the common strand is a desire to have less government intervention in their lives, whereas the left is structured around a “Takings coalition” that seeks to divide up government resources amongst themselves.

Norquist has long argued that contemporary social conservatism emerged out of Leave Us Alone instincts:

The pro-family, traditional-values conservatives are an important part of the “Leave Us Alone” coalition. The so-called Religious Right did not organize in the wake-of the Supreme Court decision banning school prayer, or even after Roe v. Wade. The development of a national grassroots conservative activism grew out of a self-defensive response to threats from the Carter Administration to regulate Christian radio stations and remove the tax-exempt status of Christian private schools.

I’ve heard Norquist argue that social conservatism has been most successful when its goals meshed with the Leave Us Alone ethos, for example when objecting to publicly-funded art that is offensive to Christians, and least successful when their goals deviate from it, for example with the push for a school prayer amendment. He argues that the right is divided on issues like immigration or abortion or foreign policy precisely because they don’t fit easily into the Leave Us Alone formula.

Nick seems to assume that a desire for public religiosity necessarily implies government intervention, but that’s far from clear. James Poulos teases this out:

Gillespie goes off track in thinking that religion links up with this basket of broadly shared interests in a self-contradictory way. Beck’s folks, he writes,

worry about an undocumented fall in morals, and they are emphatic that genuine religiosity should be a feature of the public square. Which is to say, like most American voters, they may well want from government precisely the things that it really can’t deliver.

A secular libertarian would confuse a longing for a public air of genuine religiosity with ‘more religion in government’. But this, too, I think, badly misses the mark. The Americans who came out in droves for Beck’s rally don’t think the purpose of government is to hand you the good life. Why would they think the purpose of government is to hand you the right morals? As Gillespie himself puts it :”In some sense, the rally was a giant AA meeting (I don’t mean this snarkily), flush with the notion that whatever else is going on in the world, you can control some portion of your own life.”

The religious convictions of Beck’s fans, and the fact that they’re not calling for explicit government intervention, suggests a reinvigoration the traditionalist-libertarian alliance, which became badly frayed in the past decade as Bush Republicans pushed “Big Government Conservatism” and social conservatism was increasingly driven by the explicit anti-libertarianism of people like Mike Huckabee. In some ways this is a natural consequence of the left taking the reins of government and the prominence of economic policy arguments — it’s easier in many ways to hold a political coalition together in opposition — but it’s a tendency that should be encouraging rather than off-putting to libertarians.

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