Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

A lib-lib romance?

I noted some time ago Brink Lindsey’s proposal of a lib-lib alliance and Jonah Goldberg’s promise to write about it. Well, Jonah G. has made good on his promise, but only for NR subscribers. Here’s the most interesting snippet from behind the firewall:

Nonetheless, the tension between conservatives and libertarians is not as one-sided as he and others would have us believe. Libertarianism was once primarily concerned with negative liberty — i.e. delineating a zone free of government intrusion. Meyer’s libertarianism was primarily concerned with the ability of the individual to find the virtuous path within “an objective moral order based on ontological foundations” best expressed in Western civilization. As such, fusionism was less a coalitional doctrine than a metaphysical imperative. But these days, phrases like “objective moral order” will get you knocked off Cato’s Kwanzaa-card list. Liberty’s virtue is no longer that it supports the virtuous. Rather, according to today’s leading libertarians, economic freedom’s virtue lies in its ability to provide everybody the custom-made lifestyle of his choice.


This emphasis on the liberating power of technology and wealth — i.e., materialism and positive liberty — represents an enormous philosophical transformation within libertarianism that echoes, albeit faintly, elements of the economic liberalism of John Dewey and FDR. It also shows that today’s libertarians have a different view of the 1960s than their forefathers, such as Meyer. Evaluating the ideas within this burgeoning enterprise would require another essay, and a very long one. But three preliminary points are worth mentioning. First, a new left-leaning fusionism is a long way off. The flaws in Lindsey’s dream are Aesopian: The scorpion had to sting the frog because that is what scorpions do; liberals have to engage in economic social engineering because that is what they do. Second, sure, lib-lib tactical alliances are possible, but conservatives would be idiotic to whine excessively about them. After all, the true sign of your movement’s success is when your opponents start copying you.

Lastly, if the conservative-libertarian union is in trouble, it’s not solely because conservatives have strayed from their vows. Marriages tend to dissolve when both parties “grow apart,” and libertarians have been doing quite a bit of growing themselves. “You’ve changed” is a fair accusation from both sides, though “I don’t even know you anymore” is surely an exaggeration. Perhaps the real lesson here is that conservatives and libertarians need to recommit themselves to the fusionist project. In other words: Let’s seek counseling.

Jonah G. seems to me correct about the current general libertarian indifference to the connection between virtue and responsibility, between "private" taste and character, on the one side, and the capacity for self-government, on the other. He’s also right that the Sixties may have ruined the old-fashioned libertarianism that could readily fuse with conservatives.

Get your hands on the whole piece, either in print or on-line. (By the way, one of the easiest ways for faculty folks to gain access to NR’s protected content is by becoming an ISI Faculty Associate.)

Discussions - 4 Comments

I say let ’em go. Libertarianism just doesn’t offer a sound philosophical base for social policy, and it is a magnet for the "Mr. Potters" of the world. In the old days I could admire them for their independence and pioneer spirit, but those pioneers were also strong nationalists. These new libertarians (borderless, paranoid, and selfish)...who needs ’em? I’d rather lose elections than have to compromise with such people. But I don’t think we’ll have to. Without the chronic need to assimilate "the other," conservatives will have a more coherent (and appealing) message.

The respectable way to gain access is to subscribe digitally for $20 a year.

I have my subscription through the ISI program. Is that not respectable (well, at least in the wider world, if not necessarily on campus)?

I’ll give you pass this time, I guess. ;-)

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