I mentioned in a previous post that now might be a time to begin staking stock of what WFB hath wrought, above all the so-called three-legged stool that is the consequence of the melding of libertarianism, traditionalism, and Cold War anti-communism that took place under his sophisticated, genial, and nonetheless tough-minded aegis in the 1950s.
Here’s a question that I hope will provoke an interesting and fruitful discussion: is "liberty" a means or an end for conservatives?
It strikes me that the three legs can be understood in the following way: libertarians think that individual liberty is the end and that virtue might be a means. National security conservatives think that the country’s liberty is the end and that virtue (understood above all as patriotism) might be the means. Traditionalists think that virtue is the end and that liberty of a sort (let’s call it "ancient liberty") is the means.
Needless to say, there are different conceptions of liberty (and of virtue) at work here. Libertarianism is thoroughly "modern," owing everything, including its conception of virtue, to the thought of philosophers like Locke and Montequieu.
National security conservatism has ancient and modern aspects. On the one hand, to the degree that it emphasizes what might be called "republican liberty," it owes a good bit to ancients like Cicero and Livy. On the other, to the degree that it emphasizes national security, it owes more to Machiavelli’s reinterpretation of those ancient sources. In the latter case, virtue is understood as instrumental and contingent, defined largely in terms of what works to protect national security. In the former, there are times when the price to be paid for success--in terms of virtue--is too high. Republican honor conditions the pursuit of success and security.
With certain caveats, "virtue conservatism" is most akin to the ancients. Republican liberty is understood as the means of producing virtuous human beings, but republican liberty leaves a good deal of room for a political order (polis or res publica) that is very "intrusive" in forming the character of its citizens. The central concern of political life is moral education that upholds and inculcates principles and practices derived from a moral order understood to be natural.
I can see how having common adversaries--domestically or internationally--could bring these strands together. But the common cause would, needless to say, only mask tensions that would otherwise come to the surface. And these tensions have to do with the most crucial question--the end or goal of political life.
I can also see two sorts of "natural alliances" among these three strands. The partisans of "modern liberty" (libertarians and national security conservatives of a certain sort) can make common cause in recognizing--at least on a practical level--that "national greatness" maximizes individual liberty. Or the partisans of "ancient liberty" (moral conservatives and national security conservatives of a certain sort) can find common ground in their adherence to republican liberty, with patriotic virtue as a central concern.
In the former case, traditionalists would be on the outside looking in, unable to find much support for their cultural concerns and hoping that merely private institutions could do the necessary work without much public support and perhaps in the face of a good deal of public and cultural opposition. In the latter case, libertarians would be compelled to make the prudential case that freedom and "choice" are the most solid grounds of republican virtue and republican liberty. Or they could join the opposition, looking to a certain sort of state-guaranteed prosperity as the best ground for an individual’s freedom to do as he pleases.
So I ask, where do we stand? Am I right about this?