April 10, 2009
tar and water?
Are libertarians conservative?
More properly, are libertarians included -- and should they be? -- within the rubric of the word "conservative"?
This is not an idle question, as there is a fierce ongoing debate (linked by Glenn Reynolds earlier) about the Tea Party Movement, and it seems to me that this debate goes to the essence of the nature and definition of conservatism.
Perhaps it is my bias showing, but the Tea Party Movement strikes me as more libertarian than conservative. That's because its primary thrust is economic -- opposition to socialism, to massive taxation, to government bailouts. I don't think many will disagree with me that libertarians have had a better record of opposing these things than conservatives -- especially if conservatives are defined as those in the leadership of the Republican Party during the last decade.
As I've pointed out in countless posts, I don't consider myself a reliable conservative, mainly because I disagree with the philosophy of so many of the standard bearers who use the "c" word like a bludgeon. And I support the Tea Party Movement wholeheartedly, without worrying about whether it is or should be called a strictly conservative movement. But now I'm wondering, should I be worried? Aren't these just labels and definitions? Shouldn't what matters involve whether I agree with the goals? Seen this way, it should not matter to me whether individuals I disagree with are involved. Rick Moran is upset that Glenn Beck is involved. Hey, I'm no fan of Beck, Coulter, or Gingrich. But if they think (as I) that socialism and endless bailouts suck, that does not destroy the truth of the central premise. I might not want to be listening to one of their harangues, but I hardly think their harangues are what the Tea Party Movement is about.
More likely, they're glomming onto it because they're celebrities who don't want to be left out. And if they happen to agree, fine. But suppose -- just suppose -- the Newt Gingrich showed up at a Tea Party protest and delivered a pro-Drug War diatribe. I would not like it, but would it debase the central premise of the Tea Party Movement? Unless Gingrich gets to define the Tea Party Movement as "conservative" and the word "conservative" as meaning agreement with him, I don't see how.
Still, I'd like to see the word "libertarian" included in more of these discussions and debates. I thought it was a bit odd that while Robert Stacy McCain praised prominent thinkers who are near and dear to (if not formative of) the libertarian philosophy -- Mises and Hayek and Ayn Rand -- he almost went out of his way not to use the word "libertarian" at all.
Why? Is the word becoming taboo or divisive?
In another long and thoughtful discussion, Pam Meister argues that its "Time for Conservatives to Unite and Fight" -- that "Individualists must overcome their distrust of mass movements and rallies in order to combat the socialist tide." She sees conservatives and libertarians as "close cousins" -- with individualism as the common glue.
I love individualism, and consider myself an individualist. To the extent individualism is conservatism, I'd have to call myself a conservative. However, over the years I have seen many attacks on individualism, from communitarians on the left -- and communitarians on the right. I know that I am not a liberal, because liberalism is almost always communitarian. But what about communitarian conservatism? It's easy to find people who would define themselves that way -- David Brooks being a perfect example. (And I suspect Andrew Sullivan would too.) While Brooks is considered a RINO and Sullivan's conservatism is suspect, what about those on the hard right -- especially social conservatives who condemn individualism routinely and in the strongest possible terms? Even if we put all labels aside, my worry is that it is unreasonable to expect them to find common cause with individualists.
I've struggled over the definition of conservatism for a long time. Right now I'm thinking about individualist conservatism versus communitarian conservatism.
Is it too divisive to ask which "side" better defines conservatism?
Fortunately, the Tea Party Movement strikes me as anything but communitarian, so perhaps the question is not an urgent one.
On the other hand, a Tea Party by implies almost by definition something more than a lone individual affair. Unless, of course, you live in Ann Arbor like yours truly.
My Tea Party would go like this:
I had a little Tea Party, this afternoon at three,Nothing communitarian about that!
posted by Eric on 04.10.09 at 11:35 AM
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