Dr. Himmelman dumped her files onto the common-room table, made a cup of Earl Gray and sat down heavily. It didn’t take a world-famous clinician to see that she was having a bad day.

“Looks like you’re having a bad day,” observed Barbara D’Angelo, a world-famous clinician. “Is it Charles again?” Janet shook her head no and forced a small smile as she stared into her mug.

“He’s as good as cured,” murmured the younger woman. Both knew that such severe cases were prone to recurring attacks, but her patient had been in remission for nearly a year. “He let me see his Kindle,” the newer doctor added.

“And?” demanded Dr. D’Angelo, who had helped with the initial diagnosis.

“He’s reading Cicero, and self-prescribed as well,” Janet answered almost cheerfully. Among hundreds of patients on the clinic register, and thousands waiting for admission, it had been a textbook recovery and she was writing up her notes for a scholarly medical journal.

“I hope that you’re proud,” the older doctor whispered. Barbara had pioneered the radical therapy that has saved thousands of American conservatives from misdiagnosing themselves as libertarians, and as a result they go on to live normal, happy lives free from cognitive dissonance, psycho-ideological trauma and well-known damage to their cultural autoimmune systems. (For that earlier TIC case-study, see here).

“He’s going back to school as well; he wants to write a doctorate on Mel Bradford. He’ll be fine,” Janet concluded without revealing the cause of her obvious upset.

“Maybe you just need a holiday,” Barbara suggested. “The Mayo Clinic is holding another seminar with the Mecosta Centre. Why don’t you take a long weekend and go? I’ll get Oscar to pick up the costs.”

“Someone taking my name in vain?” asked a white-haired man in a well-cut suit and an ever-.present smile. Oscar sat down and put a box of donuts on the table. “Dig in,” he urged.

“Janet just needs a break,” Dr. D’Angelo started to explain but her colleague interrupted.

“No! I most certainly do not need a break!” Janet objected strongly. “It’s just…just…” Words failed her.

“Just what?” asked the administrator. Oscar knew the high levels of stress affecting his clinicians and he did all that he could to make their lives as relaxed as possible.

Janet swallowed hard and began to explain. “Either my patients are getting more delusional or, well…” She fidgeted nervously with her china mug.

“Go on,” urged Oscar.

“Or it’s gone viral,” blurted Janet and her colleague dropped a donut.

Oscar whispered under his breath, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!”

Every mental-health professional in America knows of the recent studies linking schizophrenia to a virus often carried by mites on common housecats. So none of the experts seated around the table needed to be warned of the consequences of virally-induced libertarianism, either in its genuine or far more common preliminary form of self-misdiagnosis by otherwise healthy conservatives.

“Real libertarianism or false-positives?” asked Dr. D’Angelo carefully. Her colleague answered the latter but nobody sighed with relief. They all knew the individual effects of self-misdiagnosis and the even greater risks to national mental health that a viral epidemic could incur. Before they could alert the other institutions, they needed proof and an etiology – but they could be short of time.

“It’s six patients all in a week,” Janet fretted. “All display identical symptoms that I’ve never seen before.”

It had been her treatment of Charles that led The Libertarian Clinic to expand from curing actual libertarianism to also rescuing conservatives exhibiting false-positive symptoms. Until then, the relatively young science of CAIT (Cognitive Anti-Ideological Therapy) had not recognised how the two conditions were inter-related, and how mistaken self-diagnosis could break down natural defence mechanisms and lead to genuine ideological infection.

“At once and independent of one another, they have all begun claiming that goodness is mankind’s natural state, implying that society’s religious values do not matter,” Janet explained. “They say that since goodness is rational and normative, markets can solve everything.”

Her colleagues could see the ramifications immediately. If ordinary, healthy conservatives suddenly began hallucinating that faith and faith-driven culture are not prerequisites to any civilisation, then induced hyper-utilitarianism, disguised as merely being non-judgemental, would begin to switch off their anti-ideological immune systems. Then, just as in unmedicated AIDS patients, the slightest (conceptual) illness would go unchecked and could prove fatal.

Barbara D’Angelo restrained her worry and chose her words carefully; “Janet, have you checked the Web?”

Oscar nodded. “The simplest explanation is that these patients were all affected by reading the same article on the same libertarian website,” he explained. Indeed, each of them remembered a similar incident several months before, when on a single Tuesday four conservative patients all began agitating for anarchy.

“I checked all the usual websites and interviewed everyone. Nothing going,” sighed Dr. Himmelman. “But it’s difficult to stabilise the patients. Since every culture is based on some religion, however imperfect, I cannot show them an historical control-group outside of the influence of religion. So they just assume that goodness is natural. Already they’re saying that Adam Smith’s “Theory of Moral Sentiments” explains goodness as a human default-position and makes no reference to the numinous. If they start quoting Rousseau, we’ll need to consider voluntary quarantine while we run the MRI scans and genetic testing.”

“Janet, this takes time we cannot afford,” warned the older clinician. “Besides, there is indeed something that we can do immediately, but only if Oscar approves.” The others stared and waited as Barbara drew a deep breath.

“Turnbull,” she whispered, and Oscar nearly sprang from his chair.

“Turnbull! You want to try Turnbull Therapy? Have you gone mad?” the administrator demanded. “It has never been tested properly! There is no scientific literature on it whatsoever! The Lord only knows what it will do to the patients, not to mention our clinical reputations. We could end up like nineteenth-century quacks treating syphilis with mercury.”

“Oscar,” soothed the elder doctor, “it can work and we haven’t time to delay.” Janet nodded, but hesitantly. It had been discussed at scholarly conferences, but only late at night in the bar, and only in whispers among the most daring clinicians.

As they all knew, Colin Turnbull (1924-1994) was an Anglo-American anthropologist who wrote a best-selling 1961 book about living among gentle African pygmies in Zaire. His second work, in 1972, was vastly different, focussing on the Ik tribe in Uganda. Suffering from several generations of hunger and loss of their ancestral forests, Ik families stopped raising their own children, leaving the tribe’s offspring to feed and educate themselves as a leaderless herd. The elderly were starved to death intentionally and food was stolen from the sick. Any religion or sense of compassion had been long forgotten as the Ik reverted to a Hobbesian “state of nature.” The scientist recalled that his toughest challenge was overcoming his urge to despise them.

“Barbara,” said Oscar gently, “this nearly destroyed Turnbull’s respect for humanity, and he was a seasoned anthropologist while our patients are not. Can we take this risk? Might this turn them into monsters? Even into Objectivists?” With his last word both physicians shuddered involuntarily, but the elder doctor recovered fast.

“Virtually all forms of psychotherapy require stripping patients of self-delusion, and you know that,” Dr. D’Angelo replied forcefully. “If they learn that goodness is not innate, then by simple deduction it must come from somewhere else. It sounds harsh but they need shaking up!” The administrator looked nervous and unconvinced.

“Besides,” added Janet helpfully, “we can introduce countervailing influences and positive, religiously-led examples from elsewhere; brave and compassionate Christians and Jews in Nazi Germany, Mother Theresa and Damien of Molokai, moral myth from ancient Greeks and Romans, mandated personal charity in Islam, theology from Hindus and Buddhists.”

“So we let Turnbull’s findings describe a moral void that gets filled elsewhere by Grace?” asked Oscar.

“And science,” Dr. D’Angelo added. “They often travel together.”

“We’re about to start juggling chainsaws,” the administrator sighed, as he rested his head and hands on the tabletop.

It was two days later that they met unexpectedly on the broad limestone steps, hours before their scheduled meeting back at the clinic.

“Seeing you here is either really good news or really bad news,” Oscar observed. “What gives?”

Dr. Himmelman smiled and they knew instantly. “Out of six, two got it immediately,” she began. “Three are thinking seriously, but one is taking it hard, wondering if life means no more than everyone for himself. I’ve got him under close observation, in a hotel away from his libertarian housemates. Hotel rooms have boring television and complementary Bibles,” she added.

“Who’s a clever girl?!” laughed Barbara D’Angelo. The trio continued up through the towering wooden doors that led into the church.

Books  on the topics discussed in this article can be found at The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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Published: Feb 19, 2013
Stephen Masty (1954-2015) was a Senior Contributor to The Imaginative Conservative. He was a journalist, a development expert, and a speechwriter for three US presidents, British royalty and heads of government in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. He spent most of his adulthood working in South Asia including Afghanistan, and he was a writer, poet and artist in Kathmandu.
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8 replies to this post
  1. A fun read, though in their defense, I think most libertarian thought springs from authentic moral sentiment and not so much a belief in innate goodness, as a recognition that coerced virtue is not a real virtue. The animosity between libertarians and conservatives is not a good thing in practical politics.

    • “not so much a belief in innate goodness” Yes , I agree. Also, no libertarian would ever quote Rousseau except to say he stinks.

      “The animosity between libertarians and conservatives is not a good thing in practical politics” I also agree.

  2. Yes, I seem to be the only person on these boards who does quote Rousseau, and admires his work. Albeit, that is on account of Emile and la lettre sur les spectacles. On the French Revolution and the clergy, I judge Rousseau as having poor political judgement, unlike Burke who was his superior in such matters. But Rousseau is no enemy of moral imagination, and his elaboration of Plato’s teaching on education makes him a friend to imaginative conservatism. Then again, given how lpw we’ve fallen as a civilization, I sometimes think anybody who lived and wrote prior to WWII was automatically someone who we would judge a morally imaginative person. The war, specifically communism, essentially killed off the educated and cultured elements of European society. A pre-war Marxist was usually a more eruditr and morally sensitive person, judging by prewar literature, than post war communist.

  3. I have crazy urge to pull a stunt like R.P. McMurphy and check into this cuckoo’s nest just for the fun of it. I hear there’s a pretty justly ordered liberty there. –And who couldn’t benefit from a little R&R, some of the old good, the true, and the beautiful? I might just have to fly over there.

  4. This is what I wrote to someone who gave speech recently locally:

    My disagreement among several things you said is your belief that conservatism and libertarianism shouldn’t come together or act if they could or should. I believe I remember you saying this or very close to this. Whether or not it should or shouldn’t the fact is post war conservatism owes its identity to a large degree to libertarianism. For all his complaints about “chirping” libertarians even Kirk began his journey with correspondence with Isabel Patterson, the proto Ayn Rand. Buckely was encouraged to read Albert Jay Nock who described himself as a “philosohpical anarchist”. He never used conservative to label himself but “individualist” in his God and Man in Yale. Even late in life Buckley warned in answer to the question “Has conservatism forgotten the message of Albert J. Nock’s seminal book, ” ‘Our Enemy, the State’ “?
    William Buckley: The answer is, ‘Yes, it has.'”
    I’m sure your familiar with Reagan’s views on this. He said “If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism”. In your view Ron Paul is not a conservative. Perhaps, but what was Goldwater? Peter Viereck didn’t believe Reagan, Goldwater, or Buckley were conservative.

    • No, sir, I believe that the splendid Ron Paul is a conservative disguised as a libertarian, or a case of self-misdiagnosis. Since he is not America’s president (a tragedy) he may benefit from checking into the clinic!

  5. It took me a while to stop laughing enough to actually try to write a response, Steve. As someone who is a “recovering libertarian” I realize may still be carrying some of the virus somewhere in my immune system. I had two spoonfuls of Bastiat and Mises stirred into my morning milk every morning as a child, followed by a full immersion at the Foundation for Economic Education when I was finishing college, to wash my brain clean of any impure thinking that might have snuck in. It was touch and go there, for a while, as I was in schizophrenic mode, exemplified in the names of my pets: Adam Smith and C.S. Lewis. (I am not making this up.) I thought I was a fusionist, but in fact the libertarian virus was beginning to let go. It took the full Mecosta treatment, being transported back a few centuries in the company of the Wizard of Mecosta himself, to overcome the rest. Gerhart Niemeyer administered followup treatment to stabilize me while I was in recovery, skillfully directing me to discussions of faith instead of politics. I didn’t even know he was part of the doctor’s treatment team. It hasn’t always been easy since, particularly since there are so many shallow and shrill people who call themselves conservatives. But I haven’t given up. Thanks for refilling my prescription.

    • dearest barbara! only you would have such nobly-named pets! i would have hated knowing Wagner yet i love his music; similarly we may extract great value from Bastiat or even Mises, without swallowing the whole package (our Wizard wrote little about how to make money sound), and we must cooperate with libertarians in politics if we wish to roll back the state. Curzon said that being born British was to “win first prize in the lottery of life” but I’d challenge that; falling into the hands of our great sages was a far greater blessing indeed. many thanks to you by the bye!

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