I will second Will Wilkinson up to a point when he complains about this pro-McCain article, since I am probably just as appalled for different reasons by “National Greatness Conservatism” and its cousins as he is. The misspelling of Friedman’s name in the article (and the fact that no editor there managed to catch it before it was published) is indicative of a general inattention to what libertarians say, and the purpose of libertarians in this article is obviously to serve as a foil for the supposed prudence and virtue of John McCain. It is particularly unfortunate that someone from the Committee on Social Thought would seem not be familiar with the most famous economist ever to work here at the University, but in defense of the Committee I have to add that it is, by its nature, an eclectic and wide-ranging program that could not be reduced to the “big fire and antlers on the wall” approach to life that Wilkinson imputes to it. Plus, it was once home to Hayek, so that must count for something. Most libertarians (and Mr. Wilkinson in particular) would probably say that I don’t pay enough attention to what they say, either, but even I would argue that the description of libertarianism here is rather crude. Of course, it is intended to be. If you can make a candidate into a Man of Virtue who resists pernicious ideology, his reputation will increase and his opponents will be demonised as fanatics. It helps, though, if the effort isn’t completely transparent and entirely unpersuasive.
The Wall Street reference reveals something else important about the real source of hostility to McCain in the Republican Party: McCain’s worst enemies are not adherents to “strict free-market ideology,” because his worst sins, according to the
indictments columns you read these days, are departures from adhering to the demands of corporate interests, which need not have anything to do with the free market, much less “strict free-market ideology.” (That doesn’t mean that he isn’t, in general, on board with corporate interests with respect to trade, etc., but he is being criticised in these cases not because he questions the Market, but because he threatens to raise costs for multinationals.) Republicans and mainstream conservatives these days certainly do not actually espouse a “strict free-market ideology,” yet it is they, not primarily the folks at Reason or elsewhere in the Beltway libertarian set, who wish to be rid of McCain more than anyone. The libertarians are dragged in to serve as the right-wing version of the “dirty hippies” who threaten to thwart the glorious onward progress of the state. (If the way many Beltway libertarians have run away fron Ron Paul in recent weeks is any indication, it should be clear that the “national greatness” types have nothing to fear from them on this score.) This Weekly Standard article reminds me of nothing so much as Michael Kinsley’s op-ed, in which he claimed to be talking about Ron Paul and modern libertarianism, but never actually engaged any arguments of living, breathing libertarians (or Ron Paul supporters of any kind for that matter). The difference is that this article was openly pushing for McCain, while Kinsley was just wasting our time.
As for the objection that “liberal individualism” is more functional than the cluttered and garish “National Greatness Conservatism,” I also have a hard time disagreeing in this particular case. Though he would probably not agree, what Wilkinson objects to here is something that I think any sane conservative who takes seriously ideas of virtue, honour, duty and sacrifice should also reject. What Wilkinson is objecting to in this case is, in fact, the crass abuse of these things and the manipulation of their meaning in service to the state and to the constant drive for conflict. Virtue would require not only andreia in a conflict, but also the wisdom and temperance to not start wars (McCain has never shown much of either on this count). Virtue also calls for restraint and moderation, which you do not find in the unseemly eagerness to offer up young Americans to a “cause higher than themselves,” as McCain always puts it. Sacrifice in defense of your friends, your family, your neighbours, your plot of land is a worthy thing, but it has precisely nothing to do with what “National Greatness Conservatism” is calling for. In lumping these worthy things in with what he calls a “quasi-fascist” impulse, Wilkinson does more to validate the Storeys’ criticism of libertarians than they could ever have done in their own polemic.