Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Conservatarian Manifesto

I just finished reading The Conservatarian Manifesto, by the National Review's Charle Cooke, a short tract on the intersection of the modern libertarian and conservative movement, and wanted to say a few words about it. I am a fan of Cooke's columns in the National Review, as well as his Mad Dogs and Englishmen podcast (together with Kevin Williamson) so I have been looking forward to this book for a while. Much of this is self-serving, in that I consider my own political leanings to be in this area, a free market conservative with libertarian leanings, although I have never been much of a fan of the organized Libertarian Party as it tends to attract its fair share of kooks who spend most of their time demanding legal pot and spouting conspiracy theories about the Federal Reserve,

The first issue Cooke raises is that of identity, as he explains how he derived the title. I have always found this an intriguing question in regards to modern American political movements. Liberals, after all, with their speech codes and uncompromising unquestioning defense of 80 year old welfare programs, are not really that liberal. On the other side of the aisle conservative is also not a very apt descriptor for everyone who subscribes to the alternative view. As Milton Friedman supposedly said (I can find no actual proof that he ever said this, but it is such a great quote I will assume he did anyway) "People call me a conservative, which implies that I wish to maintain the status quo. This is not true, there is much I want to change." Cooke toys with several possible names, including "classical liberal" which I use on occasion, before deciding on "conservatiarian".  Why, I'm still not completely sure, but I guess it sounds cool.

Cooke's main point is that the conservative movement needs to embrace its libertarian components, although he never really gets into the details of why. The book's biggest failing is its relative briefness, plenty of ideas could be expounded upon in greater detail. In some ways he seems a bit defeatist, for example arguing that conservatives should just accept gay marriage as inevitable, but in others he is ideological, arguing that it is inconsistent to demand that the government should keep its hands off of people's guns, but yet wage a war to prevent them from using whatever drugs they want. One could just justify this as the intersection of philosophy and pragmatism though.

One point he only hints at though, is the practical strategy and priorities political movements must take. He does address the fact that simply because something is allowed does not mean it is approved of, but I have always felt that that conservatives, and Republicans in particular, simply need to just focus on issues that are important. The social conservative aspects in moralizing against pornography, gay marriage, abortion etc., are just not really going  anywhere. No matter how many right to life or pro-choice petitions you passionately sign, abortion is not going to become illegal, it is a waste of effort for either party to expend energy on. Tax reform, smart regulation of business, and free trade, on the other hand, are issues which have real impacts on people's every day lives, and which real progress can be made. Ideology is fine, we should not apologize for having passionate beliefs and guiding principles, but Conservatarians should also focus on actually getting things accomplished to make the world a better place.

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