A crucial discussion about the fusion of conservative and libertarian ideologies to create a liberty-based movement that can win political elections – an idea called “fusionism” – is underway at www.cato-unbound.org. If you haven’t already, check it out. I nearly agree with the initial arguments made by all four writers, although I come to some different conclusions.
How It Could Work
Fusionism between conservatives and libertarians would have to begin where they initially agree: the free market. For the most part, conservatives understand that the market must remain free and open – even if they, from time-to-time, forget and support things like TARP, subsidies, and war. But they realize that in the economy, market exchanges are voluntary associations we undertake.
In practicality, completing fusionism would only work if libertarians could demonstrate to conservatives how civil society itself is a market. In the market economy, associations should be willfully made; we should be neither forced nor hindered in the economic choices we make. Libertarians would have to convince conservatives that a civil society functions the same way – that our social interactions depend on unforced, unhindered interactions. Voluntarily strengthening these relationships – that is, stressing their importance while (psst, this is important) guaranteeing their inviolability – shatters the need for government to do everything for us.
Essentially, conservatives would have to be persuaded to return the government of our transactions – that is, all transactions – to the lowest level, as Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in his 1835 observations Democracy in America. Conservatives would also have to understand that, in a libertarian society, nobody would be forcing conservative social circles to accept liberal social activity within their circles, but instead, to accept their existence within other circles of society. Fears over an eroding culture must be countered with the recognition that current restrictions have had no influence positive on the cultural equilibrium – in fact, many of the activities they wish to outlaw have been forced underground, creating a lucrative market for criminal actors. Free transactions would help restore a proper cultural balance.
Likewise, free transactions made through international trade conducted with other free nations of the world often bring a lasting peace. Our free trade did not require approval of the political behavior within these nations. Restricting trade on that criteria, however, often leads down the opposite path to peace, and to unnecessary war; this a point often ignored by conservatives.
Why It Won’t
The problem is, I don’t see conservatives acquiescing the paternalism that affects their politics any time soon. I think this is largely due to two reasons:
1) As Neal Dewing demonstrated in his response to Jeremy Kolassa’s essay, conservatives don’t understand libertarianism as anything other than anarchism. Perhaps libertarians need to define our terms a bit better: An ideal libertarian government would be large enough to protect (a) our civil liberties and (b) our national security. Other than that, the people would largely be left alone by the government. That’s absolutely not anarchism.
This difference between the government and the State was perhaps best rendered in conservative parlance by Albert Jay Nock, in Chapter 1 of his 1935 book, Our Enemy, The State:
“Just as the State has no money of its own, so it has no power of its own. All the power it has is what society gives it, plus what it confiscates from time to time on one pretext or another; there is no other source from which State power can be drawn. Therefore every assumption of State power, whether by gift or seizure, leaves society with so much less power; there is never, nor can there be, any strengthening of State power without a corresponding and roughly equivalent depletion of social power.”
Educating conservatives on this point – that any government action above the protection of civil liberties and national security is not only unnecessary, but is subject to corruption – is possible, but unlikely, given the traditionalist nature of the conservative movement.
2) Too many conservatives simply do not understand what it means to respect others as equal to – or even above – themselves, even though most have learned otherwise in Bible Study.
Remember, the best example of modern fusionism we have – the Tea Party - was founded on the moniker found on the Gadsden Flag, “Don’t Tread On Me.” How large would the movement have been if the motto had been “Don’t Tread On Others?” Social conservatives and foreign policy hawks would have headed for the door.
Fusionism would depend on conservatives recognizing and removing the despotism within them. To quote the aforementioned de Tocqueville:
“Despots themselves don’t deny that freedom is a wonderful thing, they only want to limit it to themselves; they argue that everyone else is unworthy of it.”
I believe this to be the insurmountable roadblock to fusionism: those conservatives who believe in forcing their will on others – in both foreign and domestic matters - will not willingly release their grasp. After all, that’s why they are conservatives. Otherwise, they’d be libertarians already.Share on Facebook