Stifling my radical libertarian conservative Goldwater liberalism

I have never thought of myself as a "conservative," although a lot of people who know me think I am conservative.

I realize that's not much of an insight. In fact, it looks like an outright waffle. So, in the hope of further self analysis (and in the hope of making this discussion as entertaining as possible), I just took the first online "liberal versus conservative" online test I could find.

Here are the results:

Your Political Profile:
Overall: 80% Conservative, 20% Liberal

Social Issues: 75% Conservative, 25% Liberal

Personal Responsibility: 75% Conservative, 25% Liberal

Fiscal Issues: 100% Conservative, 0% Liberal

Ethics: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal

Defense and Crime: 100% Conservative, 0% Liberal

Regardless of how true the label is, does it give me any duty? To anyone? If so, under what theory? And what does it give me a duty to do? Police myself? The thoughts I have which might cause people to label me are mine, are they not? Does the mere fact that some test (or some person) might cause a label to be bestowed on me give me a duty to uphold it, as if I've sworn an oath of allegiance to a term I never selected?

Similarly, I have never thought of myself as a doctrinaire libertarian -- not even when I was registered Libertarian. Nor am I "middle of the road." And I am certainly not a "liberal," unless that is defined in the classical sense.

I really don't care about the definitions, because I don't seek them. The problem is, they seem to seek me, and they have a way of becoming what other people think are Their Business. It's one of the reasons I started this blog, and one of the things that has kept me going for over four years is that people keep either trying to reduce me to a definition (which is insidiously similar to identity politics), or else threaten to withold a definition from me. Like I'm supposed to care.

I'll never forget being scolded for not being a good enough libertarian. A "pseudolibertarian" is what a self-appointed libertarian blog scold named "Hesiod" called me. (Another libertarian I won't name said much more insulting, much more unrepeatable things.)

All of this old stuff was on my mind as I read Stephen Green's and Bill Quick's posts that Glenn Reynolds linked yesterday.

They served as a reminder of a doctrinaire Big L Libertarian mentality that's still there. Say the wrong thing (voice support for the war, or utter a qualified opinion that maybe it's OK to spy on al Qaeda operatives), and the Big L ideologues will jump all over you.

Yet I never signed any piece of paper saying that I was a LIBERTARIAN and therefore bound to kowtow to every Rand-spouting ideologue looking for latent altruistic deviationist tendencies. Where do people get off acting like this?

Stephen Green's (more here) and Bill Quick's posts were unpleasant reminders of this phenomenon, but I didn't think it merited another post on a subject I've written about more times than I can recall.

But now I'm seeing the same problem in another context.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems that there's a newly emergent group looking for signs of deviation from Big C Conservatism, and they're reminding me of the Big L Libertarians. The idea is that if you don't agree with them, you might not be a "real" conservative.

Well sorrrrrry!

Where's the piece of paper I signed agreeing to be a "Conservative"? For the umpteenth time, am I ever going to be allowed to just think what I think?

It seems that the Big C Conservatives (at least, people claiming to be that), have decided to promote the meme that anyone right of center who does not agree with them is not a "real" conservative. Glenn Reynolds, in their mind, is somehow to blame for the problem, because.... Well, because (I'll try to follow this argument out) bloggers who are right of center want to get linked by him, and this corrupts conservatism because Glenn is a "radical libertarian":

The fact that many center-right bloggers care more about getting linked by a radical libertarian than they do in discussing the concerns of their fellow conservatives is one of the primary reasons the Right blogosphere is a failing to have the same impact as the Left.
There are a lot of assumptions there. For starters, there's a major assumption of double corruption along the following lines:
  • That Glenn is linking "center-right bloggers" because they care about getting linked; and
  • The "center-right bloggers" are not saying what they think, but only saying what Glenn Reynolds wants to hear in the hope of currying favor with him.
  • Isn't it possible that Glenn thinks what he thinks, and links what he likes, and that the bloggers he links also think what they think and write what they want? Considering the sheer number of bloggers out there, all writing millions of posts on endless subjects each day, I find it tough to imagine that the center right bloggers are all scrupulously avoiding saying what they think, lest Glenn Reynolds fail to link that post. Furthermore, Glenn routinely links not only posts he disagrees with, but bloggers who disagree with his philosophy.

    The above analysis makes the major error (in my view) of seeing political correlation as political causation. What happens in the blogosphere is that people are able to hook up with others who feel shut out of the normal political process, precisely because they don't fit neatly within the liberal-versus-conservative spectrum. I'm a good example of this, and the reason I like Glenn Reynolds is not because I've been seduced by what are called his "seductive radical libertarian ways," but because I already thought the way I think, and I was delighted to read a blogger who thinks along similar lines. It just so happens that I agree with Glenn Reynolds most of the time, and I suspect a lot of people do. Those who agree with Glenn would also tend to agree with each other. Is anything surprising about that? So why does Glenn get the blame as if he's this radical libertarian Svengali?

    I have to say, much as I'm honored by every link I've gotten from Glenn, I see blogging as an art form, and I try to put a little but of my heart into every post. Sometimes I'm more successful than other times, but if I judged success by whether or not Glenn linked the post, I'd be a 99% failure and I'd have to quit blogging. Let's face it; many, many thousands of my posts were never linked by Glenn Reynolds.

    What I find especially insulting is the idea that my thoughts are not mine, but actually Glenn's. I've been thinking outside of the box ever since I voted for Libertarian Roger McBride in 1976. As it happens, I learned about Glenn Reynolds in 2002 from Justin, my best friend, who knew me well enough to know what I think and who nagged me to start reading him. He'd call on the phone and say, "Hey Eric, go to instapundit dot blogspot dot com right now!" And I would. And I liked what I saw. So I kept reading, and I still am. The idea that my "conservatism" has been "suppressed" because I have been "seduced" laughable. So rather than be insulted, I guess I should try to laugh it off.

    But, putting aside the issue of whether I think what I think, the idea that conservative discussion in general is inhibited by Glenn Reynolds is so absurd that it reminds me of the complaint that Glenn Reynolds is so "loud" that he shouts everyone else down.

    What I think is really going on here is that there are conservatives who disagree with Glenn Reynolds, and who don't like contemplating that there are a whole lot of people out there who share Glenn's general perspective on things. Um, isn't Glenn's huge traffic a clue that millions of people think along similar lines, and read him because they like him, and not because they're repressing their conservatism while avoiding the concerns of their fellow conservatives?

    The link Glenn provided cites a post by Joe Carter for the following proposition:

    'Right-Leaning Bloggers Are Out of Touch With a Large Portion--If Not the Majority--of Conservatives in America.'
    I don't really know how to react to that. I guess it must include me, because I'm sure as hell not left leaning. (A casual glance at these comments from Amanda Marcotte's readers -- or these from Instaputz's readers -- ought to settle any question on that score.)

    I don't like arguments, so I don't want to start one with Joe Carter, because I'm sure he means what he says, and I will never change his mind. He's with the Family Research Council and I don't know how many conservatives they represent, but this is where definitions come in handy. If you define "conservative" as agreeing with the Family Research Council, then probably a lot of right-leaning bloggers are out of touch with conservatism.

    And that's the problem. Without getting into a detailed definition of conservatism, the fact is that Carter's post revolves around the Family Research Council "Action's Values Voter Summit":

    I talked to the bloggers on the panel, many of whom are the same bloggers I read daily and interact with here in DC. Then I talked to the people from the audience, most of whom are not political junkies. The differences in the discussions was eye-opening. The top four issues that voters said were important to them are "life" (e.g., abortion, euthanasia, embryo destructive research, etc.), marriage, tax cuts, and permanent tax relief for families. Aside from tax cuts, these issues are rarely talked about by the bloggers on the Right. Three out of four issues are ignored--and this is just the top of the list.
    This FRC summit defines "conservatism"? By what standard? How many conservatives self-identify with that organization?

    And where does this leave me? I know a lot of people who vote Republican and consider themselves conservative, but they're not obsessed with homos and abortion the way the Family Research Council seems to think they should be.

    Are they all RINOS?

    If so, I have a question: is not agreeing with the Family Research Council the new definition of RINO?

    And precisely why am I supposed to care? I've already admitted to being a "Goldwater liberal," because I think a lot of the people aligned with groups like Family Research Council would consider him a liberal. I guess it's also possible that a Libertarian could come along and say,

    'Right-Leaning Bloggers Are Out of Touch With a Large Portion--If Not the Majority--of Libertarians in America.'
    So I'll plead guilty to that too, in advance.

    What troubles me is if I am not a liberal, not a Libertarian, not a Conservative, not a Family Research Council supporter, then what am I?

    And for God's sake, from where derives this rule that people who think like me are to blame for some "failure" to have "the same impact as the Left"?

    The fact that many center-right bloggers care more about getting linked by a radical libertarian than they do in discussing the concerns of their fellow conservatives is one of the primary reasons the Right blogosphere is a failing to have the same impact as the Left.
    Since when am I supposed to be concerned with having the same impact as the Left? I'm writing a blog, not running a political machine. And I don't like activists. They have made way too much trouble, and written far too many laws.

    Here's a sample of what activists have wrought from today's Wall Street Journal:

    The continuing expansion of federal criminal jurisdiction has given federal law enforcement officials unprecedented power over each of us. As Gene Healy of the Cato Institute has observed, the federal criminal code is so vast and comprehensive that it enables prosecutors to "pick targets they think they should get rather than offenses that need to be prosecuted." Mr. Healy estimates that about 4,000 crimes are "scattered throughout the tens of thousands of pages of the United States code," stressing that the exact increase in federal crimes has been difficult to track. One frequently cited 1999 study by the American Bar Association noted that 40% of all federal criminal laws enacted after the Civil War dated back only to 1970.

    While libertarians have mounted consistent, principled resistance to this expansion of federal criminal jurisdiction (and Cato offered thoughtful testimony against the federal hate-crime bill), generally both liberals and conservatives have adopted result-oriented approaches to federalizing crime: Liberals who favor decriminalizing marijuana possession oppose federal laws prohibiting it, which conservative anti-drug warriors support. Liberal gay rights advocates support the federalization of bias crimes against gay people, which conservatives wary of expanding gay rights oppose.

    This may look like pragmatism, but it's more like shortsightedness. Expansions of federal criminal jurisdiction are often responses to concerns of the moment -- from carjacking and cockfighting to child abuse and juvenile crime -- that can be addressed adequately by the states (especially with federal incentives). The necessity of many federal penal laws is more often presumed than demonstrated, and outweighed by the cumulative threat that this growing body of law poses to liberty.

    So I'm supposed to pick a "side" in this insanity, so that more laws are passed taking away more and more freedom?

    Is that what is meant by having an impact? Sorry, but I'd rather do my best to try to dampen the impact.

    As to the "radical libertarian" label, while it's not a major point, I do remember Joe Carter calling Glenn Reynolds that years ago during an argument over the immorality of eating ice cream in public. He also said this:

    I can't say who should be more embarrassed: Reynolds for being so dismissive of religious-based reasoning or those of us who value a Judeo-Christian heritage for allowing this culture of disdain to flourish.
    Far from being a question of disdain for religion (much less conservatism) the discussion involved eating ice cream. I'd be tempted to ask whether eating ice cream is Out of Touch With a Large Portion--If Not the Majority--of Conservatives in America, but I won't, because I wouldn't want to be seen as advocating ice cream eating (or posting pictures of people doing such things) in order to stifle my conservatism and ingratiate myself with Glenn Reynolds.

    Darn!

    If only Glenn would quit stifling me from discussing my concerns!

    posted by Eric on 10.26.07 at 10:40 AM










    Comments

    The political spectrum is a circle. See also Blair's Law.

    Gideon   ·  October 26, 2007 3:21 PM

    I don't like arguments, either, because I'm sure almost no one means what he says, and I'm sure I'll never change almost anyone's mind. And when I do, it's only because I've said something persuasive, not because I "argued" it.

    This, from William Burroughs, almost gets it:

    "All arguments stem from confusion, and all arguments are a waste of time unless your purpose is to cause confusion and waste time."

    Presuming the "unless" case there will seldom do you wrong, especially in the naming wars.

    guy on internet   ·  October 26, 2007 4:28 PM

    No argument here. Excellent post- wonderfully incisive. Did Glenn link to it?

    kreiz   ·  October 28, 2007 8:02 AM

    It is unfortunate that the term "conservative" is used by a lot of people who are libertarian on social issues--it definitely confuses things. But it isn't just social issues. Conservatives who support free markets and capitalism, but not quite as ideologically as libertarians do. For example, conservatives don't believe that letting people starve to death in the streets is acceptable if private charity is failing to do the job. The very ideological libertarians would argue that this is acceptable, and the government should do nothing about it.

    You can find similar examples with questions like, "If a vending machine operator wanted to sell meth across the street on an elementary school campus, and the owners of the school didn't object, would this be a proper area for the government to get involved?"

    The ideological purity of some libertarians tends to drive people with libertarian leanings into identifying themselves as conservatives.

    Clayton E. Cramer   ·  October 29, 2007 11:10 AM

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