June 03, 2009

Re: Is America Unconservative?

I?m sure that Christian Kopff?s essay, ?Is America Unconservative,? will generate a great deal of comment in the coming days. I profited greatly from reading it, and there?s quite a bit in there I?d like to write about?and contest, beginning with the notion that today?s ?Religious Right,? evangelicals, mainline Catholics, and other ?traditionalists? actually have much connection at all with the admirable Classical and Anglo-Saxon Protestant traditions that, as Chris demonstrates, informed the worldview of America?s first colonists and Founders.

But I?ll leave that aside for the moment and instead take a whack at his criticism of ?the libertarians.?

I?ll start by saying that though there might come a day when Christian and others will be tasked with bursting the libertarians? bubble about the inherent goodness of all-free-trade, all-the-time, we?re not at that point now. I don?t say this just because I?m someone who?s more sympathetic to free trade than friends and colleagues like Christian, Tom Piatak, and Pat Buchanan (though not the managed, bureaucratized free trade of NAFTA and GATT, of course, but real free trade). I say this because, at this historical moment, the major danger facing us is not excessive commerce and globalization but the resurrection of the socialist idea, first by Paulson, Bernanke, and Bush and then by Geithner, Bernanke, and Obama?a bureaucratization of our lives that ?economic nationalists? like Tom Piatak & Co. most surely oppose, as evidenced by their critical comments about the growth of government on this website.

I also have never been sure what exactly Tom & Co. are proposing in their commentaries on economics: Do they want absolute national autarky, which would drastically reduce Americans? standards of living? Or is the idea to have state-guided industries that export American products to the world, allowing us to relive the Good Old Days of the 1950s when Europe?s industrial base lay in rubble? 

Whatever the case, these conservative free-trade skeptics supported a massive bailout of Detroit, whose price tag is now in the hundreds of billions (and a bailout of particular companies, I might add, not broad protection of industry). The end result of two administration?s efforts has been half tragedy, half farce?and all quite predictable: The newly nationalized GM will crank out ridiculous green-mobiles that no one on earth will buy, the UAW will suck the company dry, dolling out cash to its members and cronies, and the Washington boys in charge of the whole disaster will be people like the sleazy Wall Street networker Steve Rattner and the 31-year-old liberal think-tanker, George Soros acolyte, and seeming Mathew Yglesias clone, Brian Deese. These economic nationalists should have recognized right away that no member of the Bush and Obama administrations shared their commitments and vision for the country and that the Detroit bailouts marked the final destruction of American industry, not its rescue.

Thinking of the question more generally, I?m reminded of Murray Rothbard?s comment that libertarianism is, for him at least, an economic and political system of ideas?and that?s it. One can be a Catholic libertarian, a pagan libertarian, and, yes, a Left-libertarian. And while there are certainly some libertarians who seem to want (cultural) Marxism by other means, there are also others who want nothing of the kind. (Libertarianism?s ?divergent roads? have been discussed at length on this website.) And one would think that Christian would recognize this since, as he mentions in his piece, the antebellum South contained no small amount conservatives who were ?international free-trade libertarians? in the context of the antebellum tariff wars. And let?s not forget that it was during an extended period of international free-trade under a ?global currency? (gold) that the world witnessed the rise of all those intolerant, proto-fascist leaders like Otto von Bismarck whom Paul and I like so much (wink, wink). 

The terms ?Right? and ?Left? might have derived from the seating assignments in the revolutionary French parliament, but I think that they nonetheless carry real ideological weight: as Paul has discussed, someone on the Right believes not only in human limitation but also human inequality; the Left believes that we?re all equal (the same in ability, interchangeable), or else we should be made so by the state or through ideological re-conditioning. The author of the essay ?Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature? is, at some basic level, on the right; ?traditionalists? for whom Christianity becomes a creed of human rights and universal brotherhood are not. 

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