Our editor has done an excellent job of using Russell Kirk’s words to show both the danger and the attraction of libertarianism for conservatives. The essay on Freud and the academy shows, I think, the nature of the common enemy conservatives share with libertarians. No conservative wants to be coddled, or to have his children coddled, by the nanny state; it is dehumanizing as well as debilitating. And, as Kirk also points out, opposition to the nanny state has led many of us (myself included) to refer to ourselves as libertarians—at least until experience and a little reading showed to us our error.
But just as commitment to the common cause of anti-communism brought about the disaster of post-Soviet “conservatism” (in a phrase, “the Bush II Administration”), so too much focus on our sharing with libertarians a strong opposition to the nanny state would be disastrous for conservatism today. Barbara clearly is right that we must make common cause with many people with whom we disagree on much, but what effective “cause” do we share with true-blue libertarians? As Brad himself points out, the leviathan state is not going to disappear, or be torn down. As has often been noted, even conservatives, once they get to Washington, tend to think that the cesspool of that city is really a hot tub. So, for example, when Republicans regain power I am confident that they will make our new, socialized medical system more efficient and “user-friendly.” But, sadly, it will remain.
Our real hope to redeem our time lies, not with national politics, but with what is left of our communities and what is left of the life of the mind. To the extent that populist movements (e.g. the “tea parties”) can be educated as to the nature of conservatism (and its superiority to talk-radio jabber), endeavouring to so educate may be worthwhile. But those of us committed to the traditional American way of life have more and more productive work to do among those willing and able to read and think a bit more deeply, and to consider the abiding nature of the person and the virtues of our civilization.
As to more active pursuits, to the extent that they remain worthwhile, it is largely in the local sphere, where we may hope to defend some few elements of community life in our families, churches, local schools, and in fighting for a more humane “built environment” (by which I mean the character of our asphalt-dominated pseudo-neighborhoods). And here conservatives too often find libertarians fighting hard to defeat us. It is not “liberty” in a meaningful sense to hand over control of our local communities to outside, monied interests usually backed by government bureaucrats with their grand development schemes. In the battle for what really matters—communities of a nature that allows us to pursue a life of virtue in common—we will find common cause with thoughtful, humane people on the left as often, or more often, than with those who mistake an ideology of “national markets” for economic liberty.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.