I found myself on a panel to discuss globalization and offered that conservatives might do well–at the voting booth and otherwise–to push free trade, liberalize markets, rein in farm subsidies, and keep Europe’s door open to Turkey. Nothing controversial for this crowd, I assumed, with the possible exception of the last. ~Matthew Kaminski, OpinionJournal.com

Reading Mr. Kaminski’s article, I had to laugh.  It cannot say much for the journalistic reputation of WSJ Europe, of which Mr. Kaminski is the editor, that he believed reheated economic liberalism was going to go down well with the representatives of the various Christian Democratic and Volkspartei groups assembled for the meeting.  When was free trade as such ever really a conservative position on the Continent?  Why would a Gaullist rein in farm subsidies?  Why would people with political roots in Catholic corporatism and some of whom remain committed to Catholic social doctrine want to liberalise markets?  Nothing controversial?  Could the man have been this delusional?

In a riposte worthy of George Grant or Wendell Berry came the answer to Mr. Kaminski’s “uncontroversial” ideas:

The reality check arrived from a German Christian Democrat. “For us, a human being is not only a function of production,” he lectured from the floor. “Our voters are not signing up to . . . your neoliberal, neoconservative agenda.”

To which Mr. Kaminski could only lamely add, “(Jeesh, I hadn’t even mentioned Iraq.)”  More simplistic, ahistorical analysis followed, such as:

In Europe’s biggest country, as well as in France, right-wing rulers remain wedded to the nanny state–which emerged with Bismarck–and to close alliances with guilds and big business that tend to stifle competition. In her day, Margaret Thatcher never felt welcome on the Continent.

There was a time when Margaret Thatcher would not have been terribly welcome in the Conservative Party, which was decidedly not given over to economic liberalism, as this was largely the position of the party’s opponents.  During the last fifty or sixty years of Tory drift, they, too, have accommodated with the “nanny state” as have most center-right parties across Europe, but their concerns have always come from very different sources and what they seek to preserve by means of regulation has usually been very different.  Unless, of course, one thinks that it makes sense to confuse the Christian Social Union of Bavaria with the SDP of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern because both have different kinds of objections to the free play of market forces.  What appears as European conservatives’ being “wedded to the nanny state” is very often their desire to preserve the character of their communities and the stability of their institutions.  Those who want liberalised markets, free trade and state rollback in Europe can vote FDP or some other similarly liberal party.  

In the real world, the GOP has hardly been very hostile to the “nanny state” in practise, and if the center-right in Europe makes alliances with “guilds and big business to stifle competition” the GOP simply makes alliances with corporations to achieve whatever it is the corporations want to achieve.  Those waiting the great age of federal deregulation under the GOP majority are still waiting.  Republicans expand government with a vigour that would embarrass and discredit most Socialist and Labour parties in Europe today.  Structurally and for all intents and purposes, the GOP is no less of a statist party than its center-right counterparts in Europe, but is actually far less oriented towards the common good as understood by conservatives in Europe.  Meanwhile, the WSJ mocks the ”economic patriotism” of the French at its own peril, since it clearly seems not to understand that such a platform would be a winning message here in America–and would be unstoppable were cultural conservatives to advocate it, rather than leaving it to the Democrats.