James Leroy Wilson's blog

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Conservatism sans Libertarianism

One favorite tactic of Bush Administration critics from both the left and the right is to question its conservatism. Pretty easy to do. Here's an example. All you have to do is contrast today's conservatism with the rhetoric of Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, and Robert Taft which defined mainstream conservatism for 50 years.

But it seems that those things that conservatives used to believe in, or are supposed to believe in, are indeed libertarian ideas. Think of what has been popularly associated with conservatism: deregulation, tax cuts, balanced budgets, an "America First" foreign policy, local and state instead of federal crime control, against welfare, against pork barrel spending, against a federal role in education, support for the Second Amendment and the Tenth Amendment.

But what is conservatism without the libertarianism? Strong support for the military, opposition to social liberalism imposed by judicial activism (especially abortion), and ... what? Vague "law and order" positions, no consensus position on trade, seemingly no more or less opposed to immigration or the War on Drugs than other Americans.

The Bush Administration, if it is to be called conservative at all, embraces a conservativism that has stripped itself of preference for individualism, states' rights, and limited government. Perhaps there's nothing inherently "conservative" about these things. But without them, there is little to nothing attractive about conservatism.


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  3. You talk about the lack of consensus on trade, immigration, and the War on Drugs. I'm not sure if I really see the debate over the War on Drugs myself. But I can see the lack of consensus on immigration and trade. It seems to me that the Grand Old Party of conservatives, libertarians, and paleoconservatives has been reduced to conservatives and paleoconservatives, which produces the major split over immigration and trade. Paleoconservatives, because of their socially conservative views, have more reason to stick to the party than libertarians.