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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.     

Jim Antle makes an important point:

It’s worth clearing something up about the strategy that led to the Paul newsletters. Paleolibertarianism began as a way to get libertarian politics back in touch with the normal customs, habits, and mores of most people while keeping the focus on antistatism. The idea was that libertarian hostility to religion and to the nation-state was hurting the cause of more freedom and less government. Most people are to some extent religious. They don’t reject all forms of social authority. When they hear that a country is just a bunch of people who happen live in the same geopraphic location, and that there is no reason to feel more loyalty to an American than someone else, it doesn’t quite ring true to them.

Unfortunately, as evidenced by the types of people these newsletters were marketed to, some prominent paleolibertarians took these insights and then veered off into rather ugly directions with them. Ironically, by doing so they have probably strengthened the very tendencies in libertarianism they once sought to mitigate.

The paleolibertarian turn was and remains basically the right one in principle for libertarians to take.  That is, a libertarianism that is not antithetical to religion and patriotism will fare much better politically, and it will also be more in agreement with human nature.  A libertarianism that pretends that there is something unnatural or even immoral about preserving national sovereignty will never appeal to more than a handful of people, and that’s as it should be. 

And no, I’m not convinced by arguments that our intervention in WWI brought about WWII; our role, other than urging France and Britain to mitigate their vengeance, was fairly minor. ~Megan McArdle

It was a minor role, if deciding the outcome of the war was minor.  Here’s the thing: intervening in WWI was fundamentally a terrible mistake because it was not America’s fight and our involvement served no national interest.  It was not wrong primarily because it contributed directly to the creation of the awful post-war settlement and the consequences of that settlement, though it did do that by providing the Allies with the needed manpower to end the war on terms unfavourable to the Central Powers, but because we had no business being in that war.  The consequences of our entry into WWI being what they were, you would have thought that later administrations would not make the same mistakes (no luck there), but it was possible to know that intervention in WWI was wrong in 1917 (and the vast majority of Americans opposed entering the war).  With WWII, once the Japanese attacked and Germany declared war staying out of the war was no longer possible (obviously), which is why Roosevelt’s earlier policies that drew us into the war are so damning of his administration.  As in WWI, the wars in Asia and Europe were not our fights, but Washington saw to it that they became so. 

McArdle continues later:

Libertarians should be inherently more suspicious of the American government’s ability to make things better than other groups–but by the same token, it seems to me that they should be inherently more suspicious of repulsive states such as the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.

All right, be suspicious.  How being more suspicious of Saddam Hussein would lead someone–allegedly on the basis of libertarian principles–to endorse a war of aggression is simply beyond me.  There’s suspicion, and then there’s irrational paranoia.  The idea that Hussein’s regime plausibly posed a threat to this country was fantastical.  The fact that a lot of people shared this fantasy did not make it any more reasonable.  In any case, how do you go from being suspicious of a regime to advocating aggression?  Isn’t the principle of non-aggression supposed to be at the core of libertarianism?  Or has that, too, now ceased to be trendy? 

Sigh.  It’s enough to make you despair for your “national coalition,” also known as a “country.”  It never fails to amaze me how those who are keen to talk about the constructed nature of identity and social conventions seem to think that it is therefore somehow illegitimate to maintain identities and conventions once they have been constructed.  The key idea of constructivism is that we are the ones shaping and crafting the concepts we use, and that they supposedly do not derive from the nature of things.  If that is so, and for the sake of argument let’s say that it is, it is ultimately no more “abhorrent” in a firm, absolute sense for one group to exclude outsiders than it is for another to include them–both kinds of treatment of outsiders serve different functions, and the kind of treatment you advocate depends very much on which function you value more and which one you think you can live without.  Those who are already uninterested in the maintenance of national identity will naturally have no problem with welcoming in outsiders by the millions and tens of millions–they have made the great sacrifice of not maintaining something they didn’t value–while simultaneously declaring their greater moral sense for valuing inclusion.   

The unchosen obligations, which are still imposed on us and affect us even when we react against them by rejecting them, that the liberal wants to weaken actually serve both manifest and latent functions, and it is on account of this that they are reproduced.  Failing to maintain and reproduce them does actually lead to social disorder, which the liberal desperately tries to normalise and affirm as just a “different” kind of social organisation.  The vast majority of human experience tells us that there is something in human nature that compels us to cultivate in-group solidarity, construct identities in opposition to other groups of people and structure relatively restrictive social rules to organise our group.  Any of these things can be taken to extremes, and they can also be badly neglected.  In the current age of neglect, “society” continues to trudge on in one form or another, but the social costs stemming from neglecting those old unchosen obligations have badly damaged our capacity for creating social capital.   

Excesses in either direction will undermine human flourishing.  Of course, confusion sets in at the beginning when you begin making liberty the baseline of judging whether or not something is desirable.  Mr. Wilkinson has successfully shown once again that he hates boundary maintenance–both of the physical and the metaphorical kind–and that conservatives favour it, which is why he isn’t a conservative.  Very illuminating.   

Ross follows up on the debate over his latest Atlantic piece on future Democratic electoral prospects, and he explains quite clearly what he means by populism and how his reform ideas relate to it.  I think Ross’ analysis of electoral trends makes sense, which is why I wrote in defense of it.  However, I am actually sympathetic to those, such as Will Wilkinson, who do not like the substance of the policy proposals endorsed by economic populists, as I do not care for many of them myself.  I disagree with some libertarian critics of this populism, to the extent that they even allow that it actually exists, concerning some specific areas of policy and more general assumptions about the legitimacy of the claims of national sovereignty and national interest.  While I have some right-populist inclinations in matters of trade and immigration and I have a very old-fashioned Bolingbrokean-Jeffersonian hostility to concetrated wealth and power, which makes for some common anti-corporate ground with more conventional left-populists, in practice I am not that much of a populist.  You will not see me voting for Edwards-style populism or “compassionate” conservatism or “Sam’s Club Republicanism” now or ever.  For that matter, I neither shop at Sam’s Club, nor am I a Republican, so that makes me a pretty unlikely supporter of this sort of politics, since I rather rather regard the former as a symptom of moral and economic disorder and regard the latter as, well, not my favourite organisation.  Yet I still do recognise that there are people who might just go for such reformism, and these really are the sorts of people the GOP needs to win over and keep if it wants to remain competitive going forward.   

As I have made abundantly clear over the years, I am a small-government constitutionalist and a Ron Paul man, which puts me in a fairly small group.  (I am also very sympathetic to corporatist ideas of solidarity and a conservationist ethic, which may put me in an even smaller subset of this group.)  Despite an appreciation for some of the aspects of corporatism, the kind of economic intervention by the state on offer these days leaves me completely cold.  (Non-intervention is very often the wise course, in foreign policy as in domestic affairs.)  However, my preferences do not really give me the luxury to pretend that people in this country are not looking for some sort of intervention by the state in the field of health care, because they plainly are.  You hear this anecdotally from friends and colleagues, and you see it backed up in polling.  The desire is there, and the main dispute seems to be over whether you have a mostly state-run or a more state capitalist-run program.  Mike Huckabee talks vaguely about having a solution that involves none of the above, but he is typically blissfully free of specifics when he says this.  (Based on anecdotal impressions, I would say that young, educated professionals might be even more worried about health care than many other groups, but I wouldn’t press that too far.)  These people are acting on the assumption that the U.S. government is “their” government (if only!) and that it exists to provide them with certain things they need, or at the very least to provide them with the “opportunity” to acquire what they need. 

At this point, someone usually says something saccharine about empowerment, which is usually where they finally lose me, since it is never the government’s role to empower its citizens.  This idea of government empowering people is the root of all swindles.  Indeed, citizens’ power stands in an inverse relationship with that of the government,and the government never “gives back” the power it has taken.  The more “empowerment” we have, the more servility we have.  This is naturally not a popular view (for confirmation, see the political history of the 20th century or just the 1964 presidential election), and it is not one that is normally associated with populism, though I think a case could be made that it is the ultimate populist view, insofar as it is one that places the best interests of the people ahead of popular enthusiasms.  It is the view most consonant with a decentralist understanding of political liberty, and such an arrangement would ultimately be far better for the common good, a humane, sane way of life and the flourishing of more self-supporting communities. 

As George Grant observed forty years ago, though, political decentralisation without economic decentralisation is simply submission to corporate oligarchy, which I think he regarded as worse than a living Hell (in which case, he would have been too generous).  Consequently, he was known as the “Red Tory” for his harsh criticism of the dissolving acid that capitalism and technology poured on social bonds.  Also, the Loyalist and Anglo-Canadian Conservative tradition never knew the reflexive hostility to state action that our political tradition initially did, and strangely enough Canada now enjoys more effective decentralisation in certain respects than we do (even though it also has more in the way of government services).

All of this got me to thinking about how strange it is that the Democrats have become the party of the economic populists, since they have historically been the less nationalist of the two parties and appear to be in no danger of changing, yet this kind of populism almost always goes with a strong dose of nationalism.  Most economic populist complaints today focus on a few general areas: free trade, the effects of globalisation (e.g., outsourcing, etc.), related government favouritism for corporate interests and immigration.  The Washington-New York political elite is largely in agreement that free trade, globalisation, state capitalism and mass immigration are fundamentally desirable.  There may be disagreements about how to manage them, but there is only minority support for rejecting or opposing any of them on a large scale.  (This is still true in the current presidential fields.)  You would expect the historic party of labour to be more concerned about immigration, but as chance would have it, they are also the historic party of immigrants.  You would expect the more nationalist party to be more skeptical of free trade and globalisation, but they are also the party of corporations.  On each issue where populists might gain traction, the party leadership has tended to reject the populist position and endorse the globalist one, because their true corporate masters desire it.  This remains true.  What is striking today is the extent to which Democratic candidates are willing to buck corporate America at least a little when it comes to free trade, which suggests that the populist critique of free trade and globalisation, which was smothered during the incredibly boring, issue-free 2000 election, might break through this time and cause a change in the political landscape.       

Consider a somewhat different case, a stylized representation of history. Say instead of “low-skill” Mexican workers migrating in large numbers to the United States we were instead talking about Scots-Irish United Statesians migrating from the American South into hospitable regions of northwestern Mexico [sic]. And let’s say these women and men were relatively “high-skill” as compared to the relatively sparse indigenous population. A group of Mexicans, determined Rawlsian nationalists, are concerned about the long-term consequences of this “high-skill” influx. Some hysterically conclude that the Americans have long-term irredentist designs, and that the “Texicans” are bent on secession or filibuster.

Now, my strong suspicion is that Will Wilkinson, as an active and vocal participant in Mexican public life, would forcefully argue that the Texicans have every right to settle in northwestern Mexico, and he’d have a strong case. (Moreover, I sense he’d be firmly opposed to an armed Mexican intervention designed to prevent the “Texicans” from seceding, particularly if a majority in the relevant region endorsed independence.) Of course, this migration is taking place in a context that raises a whole host of non-obvious questions.

Now, there is a powerful rejoinder to this fairly silly example, namely that Mexican immigrants in the United States do not have the relative power or influence they’d need to have as consequential an effect on, say, the territorial integrity of the United States. I mean, as we all know Mexican immigrants come to the United States to work and succeed, and they come because they are mostly supportive of U.S. institutions and even mores, which more or less allow them to work and succeed. ~Reihan Salam

Reihan’s monster post written in response to Will Wilkinson is worth a look, though it is as vast as the open spaces of Texico itself (I’m one to talk about long posts!).  This discussion of Texicans is interesting, since it reminds us of a few things.  First, it reminds us that political culture is an important factor for determining how well immigrants and natives will get along, and may be the source of future conflict or separatism if the rival cultures are sufficiently at odds.  The Texicans believed that they were defending their rights under the Mexican constitution by rebelling: they had a tradition in which there was a well-practiced right to rebel that they had inherited from the early republican American generations, while their counterparts on the other side took a less enthusiastic view of conservative revolution.  The actual causes of the Texan War of Independence also remind us that immigration into marginal lands or border territories of a large state can, over a period of time, lead to increased friction between center and periphery that can lead to outright rebellion in the event that the center seeks to (re)assert control over the borderlands.  This is what happened in the actual rebellions of the 1830s, which occurred not only in Texas but in Rio Arriba in New Mexico and in California.  Where the local rebels in the latter two cases failed, the Texicans succeeded because they were better organised, had a coherent political inheritance that informed the structure of their rebel government and enjoyed a supply of men and materiale from U.S. territories to the east.  Centralist policies were the proximate cause, but fundamentally divergent political cultures were ultimately the reason for the conflict. 

Today few are really contemplating the rise of Aztlan or anything comparable, but then again forty years ago no one supposed that Kosovo would ever be majority Albanian or in any danger of breaking away from Serbia and being recognised as an independent state.  Demographic and ethnic changes actually do matter to political life, since they remake the nature of the polity by transforming who the citizenry is. 

It is perhaps a little easier to acknowledge this and recognise it as a problem when it is happening elsewhere, but the same processes occur all around the world.  We are not immune from history; our so-called “melting pot” is not some cauldron for cooking up magical recipes that free us from the consequences of mass lawlessness. 

In the end, armed struggle may not be necessary at all for the new settlers.  Secession and/or irredenta may be unnecessary as well, since the means for advantageous political transformation are readily within reach for those who become citizens here.  There is no need to take forcibly what you can vote in your own control.   

A future citizenry may have absolutely no interest in any of the freedoms we still attempt, however ineffectively in many cases, to preserve, or a sufficiently large number of citizens will be willing to endorse the worst in demagoguery and authoritarianism if it gets them what they want.  This is always a danger in democracy, but it seems particularly unwise to engineer things so as to maximise the likelihood of this outcome.  This is what open borders advocates seem willing to see created–for the sake of so-called “rights.”  

Statist liberals often worry about the destabilizing effects of income inequality. Statist conservatives often worry about the destabilizing effects of cultural change. Ross evidently worries about both, which puts him at odds with cosmopolitan dynamism on two separate fronts. ~Will Wilkinson

 

It also puts him on the right side of both questions, since “cosmopolitan dynamism” is just an elaborate phrase for exploitation and upheaval.

Continuing to meddle in a controversy to which I was not invited, I give you something new from Will Wilkinson:

The ultimate reason to endorse liberal principles is that adherence to them produces conditions under which human beings are most likely to thrive (according to the broadest variety of different conceptions of thriving).

That’s interesting, since I am equally confident that rejecting liberal (and I do mean liberal in a broad sense) principles and organising social and political life according to the principle of good order and in defense of the Permanent Things are vital to providing the conditions under which human beings are most likely to thrive (decidedly not according to the broadest variety of different conceptions of thriving).  Plainly, freedom is not the moral baseline.  Freedom presupposes a moral order that entails other, prior obligations between kin and between fellow citizens.  Within a polity, fellow citizens have more obligations to one another than they have to non-citizens.  Even if the net benefits of a policy accrue to many citizens and non-citizens, but come at the expense of fellow citizens, it is very likely unjust and contrary to the obligations that members of a polity have towards one another.  For the success of any polity in providing for the welfare of its members, there must be a certain degree of solidarity, and it is those things leading towards social fragmentation and disunity that need to be justified.  Incidentally, on this point Christian social thought has much to say and has ample room for a solidaristic, patriotic nationalism.

Not only are concrete freedoms inconceivable without such a moral order, but without the fulfillment of these obligations such freedom is about as meaningful as paint on a tomb.  Besides, what does it profit a man to gain cheap commodities and inexpensive servants if he loses his country? 

(Sample 311 answer: The call center provides service in 179 languages. “You can report a pothole in Korean, ask for a nicotine patch in Portuguese and ask about alternate-side-of-the-street parking in Zulu,” the mayor said.) ~The New York Times

However, as we are reliably informed by enlightened libertarians, there is no need for any of this wonderful multilingualism in New York City, that veritable cauldron of assimilation where all speak English and blend seamlessly into the tapestry of America.

That group is, of course, the Amish, and many of the same people complaining that Mexicans won’t assimilate flock to Lancaster to take pictures of women in funny hats vending sticky-sweet food and overpriced handwork [sic]. Can someone explain this in terms that don’t devolve into “But the Mexicans are brown“?

Can someone explain this in terms that don’t devolve into “But the Mexicans are brown”? ~Megan McArdle

Yes, I believe the regular paleo bus to eastern Pennsylvania leaves later this evening, and I would be on it if it weren’t for my Arabic classes this week.  In fact, the people who go to Amish country go there because they like to enjoy the quaintness of traditional, pietistic German communities without having to put up with the inconveniences of living in traditional, pietistic German communities.  For their part, the Amish have preserved an example of Old World immigrants from another era, and their example has probably helped to reinforce the mythic images of the hardworking, religious, socially conservative yeomen whom certain libertarians and conservatives believe are settling in California and Arizona in large numbers.  If anyone has a strange affection for the Amish and what they represent, it would almost certainly have to be those who see few, if any, problems with mass immigration. 

Of course, Indian reservations are an alternative example of people living apart from the rest of the country and maintaining a traditional culture, but even more than the Amish–who actually have their own share of some modern social ills–they also have significant social problems with alcoholism and drug abuse, considerable poverty and dependency on government.  (Admittedly, the Amish do lack casinos.)  However, fashionable tourists buy pottery on these reservations and eat fry bread on the sides of New Mexican state highways, so I guess that means these problems are all figments of racist imagination.  I suppose if you have been invited into a kiva at some point, as I have, you should simply stop complaining about immigration and accept the wonders of the American ”fruit salad.”   

It occurs to me that someone who thinks the Amish represent a powerful counterexample to the mass immigration and considerable non-assimilation of millions of people from the neighbouring country must be having everyone on, but as I look at it again I see that Ms. McArdle is quite serious.  Very well, then.  I’ll give her question a shot.

There are at least four factors that drive the concern  about immigration, and particularly about modern Mexican and Latin American immigration.  The first is geography: the proximity of the country of origin for the vast majority of the current wave of immigrants is much greater than it was/is for groups from countries on the opposite sides of the oceans, which weakens the incentives for full assimilation (this is particularly true of those who continue to participate in Mexican elections), and the concentration of a large proportion of these immigrants in one region, which tends to make anything resembling assimilation to the culture of the rest of the country much less likely.  Granting that the children of these immigrants may acquire English language proficiency, this does not guarantee any depth of assimilation to what Huntington would call the common core culture.  There are lots of people in this country who do not accept that there is or ever has been such a culture, so they may find this idea mystifying, but it has existed and it is on account of the non-assimilation of these immigrants to it that many Americans are quite agitated.  Further, the ideas of our political and media classes about what assimilation means have changed, and whether it is because of multiculti preciousness or “proposition nation” ideology or both the old efforts to actively Americanise immigrants have weakened considerably.  The only way that the “melting pot” idea makes any sense is if there is sufficient heat and pressure, so to speak, to actually dissolve the constituent elements into the present mixture.  Without those things, full assimilation will not take place to the ultimate detriment of our national political life. 

The second factor is political culture: like virtually all immigrant groups, Mexican and Latin American immigrants are coming from a political culture that has extremely low institutional trust combined with an activist state and traditions of demagogic and authoritarian populism, and it is extremely likely that the immigrants who come to America will often have supported the leftmost politics in their home countries.  The problem here is that even if there is some real degree of assimilation and participation in the political process, the vast influx of such voters into the system will drive our politics in an even more statist, unfree, anti-constitutionalist direction (just as, historically, most every major wave of immigration has helped to do).  This is the objection that should be most significant for libertarians, but it never seems to bother a lot of them.

The third factor is social: along with all the workers doing the jobs that supposedly no one here wants to do (it is true that no one, not even the immigrants, really wants to do them for slave wages, for what it’s worth) come a certain number of criminals, an increase in the numbers of people living in relative poverty and many unstable or disintegrating families that, in turn, raise up (or rather fail to raise) a new generation that is more prone to all of the costly, destructive behaviours that impose a number of costs on the rest of the society through crime, dependency, etc.  In addition to importing the political pathologies of other countries, this situation brings with it social pathologies of its own. 

The fourth factor is more directly fiscal and economic.  That is, the demand placed on state services by immigrant populations–and here we are speaking more specifically about illegal immigrants–and the downward pressure that the influx of new labourers has on wages combine to make the voters who pay for those services and hold wage-earning jobs rather annoyed.  This seems to be the point that everyone understands or can at least acknowledge to be a reason why opponents of mass immigration are so opposed. 

Finally, it might be worth noting that Ms. McArdle’s question seems to take for granted that there is absolutely no qualitative difference between, say, the Russian programmer or the Indian engineer who comes here and the poorly educated or possibly even illiterate Mexican labourer from Michoacan.  The only reason why restrictionists would object to Mexican immigration, as Ms. McArdle tells it, is that it keeps coming back to their race, but this assumes that all restrictionists who are extremely concerned about mass Mexican immigration are similarly strongly opposed to non-white immigration as such.  If that were so (it isn’t), it would need to be demonstrated.  Naturally, this is the reason for the recourse to the Amish example, since it seems to me that pro-immigration advocates, stuck as they may be in the 18th or 19th century (because of their apparent conviction that our country is some sort of vast, empty territory in need of more people), are nonetheless convinced that their opponents are deeply reactionary and might be sympathetic to more immigration if it promised the creation of people living as if it were still the 17th century.  The idea that you might even want immigration policy that brings in the most productive, well-educated immigrants who contribute to the economy and society in a more substantial way than menial labour in the current generation (rather than waiting for some promised payoff 30 or 60 years hence) seems to be quite alien.

That brings us to another factor, that of education, and it may be the most significant factor of them all in a certain sense.  For immigrants and the children of immigrants to be competitive in this society, and for them not to get trapped in an underclass, it is imperative that they either have or are able to acquire quickly education comparable to that of their native peers.  Bringing in large numbers of poorly educated people is likely to ensure that their descendants remain fairly far behind for multiple generations.  Combined with the potential for cultural ghettoisation, this could easily create the kind of disaffected, unassimilated underclass that has created serious problems in places such as France and Britain. 

These are all real concerns grounded in observable facts, and we can go round and round with differing interpretations of which evidence is significant and which isn’t, but the habit of writing off the debate as inherently absurd because it must be driven by racial animus is an extremely bad one and one that hardly encourages a willingness among restrictionists to take pro-immigration voices seriously.  If there is more to the pro-immigration position than moral posturing, hand waving, accusations of racism, weak comparisons and extremely selective historical memory, I have yet to see it.  

We always tend to think of the U.S. as a “nation of immigrants.” ~George Borjas

The U.S. is even more of a laggard in inflows of foreign nationals as a percentage of population. ~ Will Wilkinson

You can almost hear Gen. Buck Turgeson declaring, “Mr. President, we cannot allow an immigrant gap!”  It might be that we are not “falling behind,” as Mr. Wilkinson puts it, but are instead doing a bit better for ourselves.  If we keep “falling behind” like this, there might cease to be any excuse to continue calling America a “nation of immigrants,” and that sounds like a healthy thing to me. 

That line from Mr. Borjas’ post struck me.  I suppose it is fair to say that a majority of Americans, perhaps a very large one, thinks that America is a “nation of immigrants,” but to say that “we always” think this is odd.  Who is this “we” he’s talking about, and why would “we” have always thought this?  I mention this because not all of “us” agree that it is actually true.

Leaving aside all this talk of Mexicans, did the core of Mr. Wilkinson’s response to Ross’ remarks on immigration make any sense?  Ross said, in reply to Yglesias:

Of course, one might argue that reducing illegal immigration is something that would “compromise the interests of the global elite” – which is one reason (among many others, some of them quite high-minded) why so many members of that elite are on the “left” on immigration. A slightly better way of putting what Matt is driving at, I think, is this: Large-scale immigration from Mexico to the United States is a form of de facto humanitarianism, and since Americans are generally leery of humanitarian spending (primarily because we overestimate the size of our existing foreign aid budget), liberal humanitarians have a vested interest in preserving the existing immigration system. It’s a rare issue where business interests line up on the side of raising the living standards of Third World peasants, and why mess with a good thing? Better, as Matt suggests, to go after the global elite in other arenas – like tax policy, say – where the business class’s preferred policies don’t have humanitarian externalities.

So here we can see that Ross is clarifying the point that Yglesias was making on why liberals could still support mass immigration even though said immigration has a negative impact on the wages of American workers and thus increases the income inequality that also exercises liberals.  For his exegetical efforts, Ross received the following tongue-lashing from Mr. Wilkinson:

It’s a rather profound error to characterize voluntary trade between American employers and Mexicans workers as equivalent to ”humanitarian spending,” as if money tax revenue had been withdrawn from the Treasury and sent to Mexicans. There is indeed a pecuniary externality of Mexican workers in the American labor market – downward price pressure from competition — and this can indeed have an effect on the pattern of American incomes. But it is a pretty basic and embarrassing mistake to confuse (1) coercive state confiscation and reallocation of income with (2) changing patterns of income from voluntary exchange.

Um, okay, but for this criticism to make any sense it would have to be aimed at someone who actually confuses these things.  If anyone in this debate might have confused them, it would be Ross’ imaginary liberal restating Yglesias’ argument.  At no point in his post did Ross say that he regards these things as equivalent or comparable, but that it seems to him that this is how liberals reconcile the apparent contradiction between their concern over inequality at home and their support for importing ever-greater inequality from abroad.  Ross’ rejoinder to the liberal position is that this justification is “slightly perverse,” since it seems to privilege the interests of the wealthy at the expense of the American poor, which Ross says is a bizarre way to engage in a “humanitarian” politics.  In other words, at the heart of this dispute are Mr. Wilkinson’s profound outrage at the position with which both he and Ross basically disagree and Mr. Wilkinson’s mistaken attribution of that position to Ross and his “populist nationalism,” under the “heel” of which he is “grinding” his Christian universalism. 

All right, perhaps Mr. Wilkinson wasn’t saying that Ross dislikes Mexicans.  That is certainly how it came across, but no matter.  Not to worry, then–Mr. Wilkinson is just accusing Ross of holding repugnant and deeply immoral views that endorse the trampling of the human rights of millions.  That’s much better. 

Mr. Wilkinson was saying, and says again, that he thinks Ross wants a “less Mexican” America.  In one obvious sense, I suppose it is true that Ross thinks that preserving a common “core” culture in America (as Huntington might put it) to which immigrants assimilate is preferable to a hodgepodge society in which there are fewer and fewer shared traditions, habits and assumptions and little shared history.  Societies deeply divided along deep cultural and ethnic lines are not all together as successful as those that possess a common national and/or cultural identity; many multiethnic and multicultural societies are catastrophically unsuccessful.  These seem to be matters that can be tested empirically, so why are we disputing Ross’ relative affection for Mexicans or his concern about the Mexicanitas of America?  Why, indeed, bring up this question except as a way of trying (unsuccessfully) to undermine Ross’ position on immigration policy? 

To the extent that assimilation means that Mexican immigrants cease consciously embracing their Mexican national identity and replace it with an American one, then I guess Ross wants a “less Mexican” America, which is to say that he wants immigrants to assimilate.  {Cries of horror erupt from the audience; women faint; children begin to cry.}  The clear implication of this phrase “less Mexican” is nonetheless that Ross wants to get rid of the Mexicans here and that he singles out Mexicans in particular in his alleged populist nationalist enthusiasm.  Perhaps Mr. Wilkinson did not intend to conjure this idea with his phrase, but since the entire discussion of a ”less Mexican” America comes from his interpretation of general remarks made in a book review it is difficult to see how the phrase was not supposed to be accusatory.

Even though he does not find Ross ever saying any of this explicitly about his own views, Mr. Wilkinson thinks he has sussed it out from Ross’ review of Who Are We? by Huntington.  This is curious, since the only sense in which this seems to be true is that Ross regards the lack of present-day assimilation and the abandonment of assimilationism by American elites as very bad things for cultural and national unity.  Manifestly, these are very bad things for cultural and national unity–of course, this matters only to those who think that these are important things to have.  Ross seems to want a “less Mexican” America in the same way that he might want a “less Chinese” or “less Indian” America.  (All of this must remain somewhat speculative, since nowhere has Ross actually said any of this!)  That is, he may think that America actually has a cultural inheritance that has made it what it is and which immigrants have adopted to some degree in the process of becoming American; that process of becoming will necessarily entail setting the old identities in the background.  This may or may not have much connection with his views on immigration policy, since it is possible for someone to be an assimilationist while supporting a fairly liberal immigration policy.  Indeed, assimilationism might encourage a more liberal attitude towards immigration, since this position takes for granted that assimilation is possible.  It may be made more difficult by the new circumstances of mass immigration from Mexico and Latin America, but that does not necessarily mean that an assimilationist believes in drastically curbing the flow of immigrants, except perhaps insofar as he is persuaded that the numbers must be reduced for assimilation to happen properly.  In the end, Mr. Wilkinson has proven that Ross is an assimilationist and that he believes that immigrants should assimilate.  Had he said this about Ross, I suspect no one would have batted an eye, but this talk of a “less Mexican” America gives the charge an entirely different spin.   

Plainly, Ross endorses–as does  Huntington–assimilationism in the conviction that assimilating immigrants to a common culture is what has worked to integrate them, inasmuch as they have been integrated, into American society.  For some strange reason, he thinks integrating immigrants is a good idea.  He also seems to think that it is something that does not just automatically happen, but must be actively encouraged.  I think Ross takes this view because he thinks cultural identity is meaningful and has political consequences, and he probably worries about this because the political consequences of cultural disintegration and ghettoisation are quite bad.  The post in which he is addressing the cultural consequences of capitalism, including free-trading, pro-immigration economic policy, seems to confirm my interpretation of his concerns. 

If I have followed all of this correctly, Ross criticises a more libertarian economic model because it works in part to undermine national identity and Mr. Wilkinson criticises Ross’ “nationalism” because the policies informed by that “nationalism” obstruct the workings of a more libertarian economic model (and, let’s not forget our “moral right to cooperate”!). 

In other words, Mr. Wilkinson’s entire argument with Ross boils down to Ross’ criticism of policies that by Wilkinson’s own admission and according to his own assumptions must be antithetical to national identity, inasmuch as “nationalism” is antithetical to a libertarian, open borders arrangement.  This tells us that Ross is a cultural conservative and Mr. Wilkinson is a libertarian.  This has ultimately illuminated nothing about the merits and flaws of different immigration policies, but simply restated that Ross thinks national identity is important and Wilkinson thinks it is an arbitrary and even immoral form of control.  Put that way, I don’t think Wilkinson’s side of the debate comes off as being very persuasive. 

Quibbling over whether Ross wants a “less Mexican” America is simply a distraction if it isn’t intended as a slap–we may as well say that Mr. Wilkinson wants a “more Mexican” America and assume that this has somehow forever discredited his position and ended the debate.  Happily, we don’t need to do that, since there are so many other ways for his position to be discredited. 

Note: Okay, in spite of what I said earlier today, maybe one blog post wouldn’t kill me.  Today has already been a rather long day, but intensive Arabic hasn’t proven to be quite the mind-killer that I expected it to be.  Then again, it has only been one day so far.  This is not going to be the beginning of a lot of nightly posting, so enjoy it while you can.  Now, on to the main event…

Reihan has responded ably to this Will Wilkinson post, which, among other things, says that Ross is a “populist nationalist” who wants to keep the Mexicans out because he just doesn’t like them (unbelievably, this was provoked by this post).  Naturally, coming from Wilkinson this is supposed to be an insult, though I rather enjoy the idea that everyone to the right of La Raza on immigration is a “populist nationalist”–this would give said populist nationalists a supermajority beyond our wildest dreams, and it would automatically make every opponent of lawlessness and amnesty a disciple of Buchanan and Dobbs.  This would be fine by me, and it would be great to have Ross with us.  Even so, somehow I think the analysis might be a little bit flawed.  Ross once mentioned that it is a lonely thing to be a moderate restrictionist, and I suggested a couple reasons why that is the case.  I should thank Mr. Wilkinson for validating one of my arguments.

Reihan notes that one important part of Wilkinson’s (truly bizarre) attack is simply, completely wrong:

Where exactly is Will getting the idea that Ross actively dislikes Mexicans? Could it be from … his imagination?

Mr. Wilkinson likes to imagine sinister things about people who would like to enforce the border and defend American sovereignty (you see, when you put it that way, it doesn’t sound like you’re engaged in some horrible act of oppression, but rather basic law enforcement), or he sometimes tries to make otherwise perfectly decent things sound like the equivalent of war crimes.  At least he didn’t call Ross “anti-cosmopolitan”!

There are many ways to go with this.  I could start by noting that no one has the “right” to enter another country–he enters by the leave of the people who already live there.  This control over who comes into a country is one of the main features of sovereignty, which is a very real and significant element of something we call “international law.”  Additionally, nations actually exist; they are not plots created by editors at The Atlantic to deprive Mexicans of higher earning opportunities (as much as I’m sure they all secretly yearn to do this above all else).  If Wilkinson wants to see some really serious ”populist nationalists,” he might look to Mexican and other Latin American immigrants to find people who are under the strange impression that remitting money from here to their families back home makes their nation stronger and that they regard helping their own people to be not just a nice side effect of their pursuit of their “moral right to cooperate” (whatever this is supposed to mean) but one of the main reasons why they have come.  It might be worth adding that the more certain people wrap up manifestly undemocratic and unwise policies in the rhetoric of human rights, the less most Americans will respect the legitimacy of the very concept of “human rights,” since they might conclude, not unreasonably, that pretentious elitists drag out this phrase whenever they wish to abuse or in some other way take advantage of the rest of the country.  The more certain people feel the need to declare the sentiments of the broad majority “repugnant” because the majority thinks that there is no “right” for other people to settle in their country, the more they will find themselves isolated in their ever-smaller ghettoes of self-righteous irrelevance.  Anyone who would like to know why libertarianism gains few followers, read Wilkinson’s post.  If anyone would like to see why it is a very good thing that no one embraces libertarianism, read Wilkinson’s post.  

Self-governing peoples are supposed to be in control of their governments (I know this is a threat to liberty, but bear with me), and those governments are supposed to pass laws and enact policies consistent with what its citizens wish it to do.  Having then passed these laws and enacted these policies, it is the government’s obligation to its citizens to enforce the laws and follow through on its policies.  To do otherwise is to frustrate self-government and subject citizens to arbitrary government.  I thought libertarians were against arbitrary and lawless government, but at least in some cases that evidently isn’t the case. 

People do not grasp the “invisible hand” of the market, with its ability to harmonize private greed and the public interest. ~Bryan Caplan

Some unfortunate phrasing, perhaps, but even so it is an interesting claim that, because most people do not see the imaginary, metaphorical force that surrounds and binds together economic activity, they thereby must have an “anti-market bias.”  More likely, these people lack the invisible hand-detectors that libertarians receive upon obtaining their libertarian membership.  Caplan continues:

They underestimate the benefits of interaction with foreigners.

Perhaps some people underestimate them, but if anyone overestimates the benefits it is surely a free-trading libertarian, who seems to see no real downside to such interaction.

Caplan again:

They equate prosperity not with production, but with employment.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but if someone lacks employment it doesn’t matter to him how outstanding the GDP has been.  If we’re talking about politics, and not what constitutes good policy, the lack of employment today is more pressing and will move more votes.  19th century liberals at least understood this and restricted the franchise accordingly to keep the electorate from expanding much beyond their base of support.  Once the electorate grew in size beyond the buergerlich urban voters that supported liberal economic policies, these new voters quite rationally embraced policies that would work to secure their interests–whether of agricultural land or labour or small artisanal workshops–rather than endorse those that tended to benefit middle-class businessmen and industrialists.  As 19th liberals were bewildered then by the choices of the mob, so, too, are libertarians today, yet like the 19th century liberal the libertarian is an interesting, eccentric and fun figure who can command no great political following.  Liberalism flourished in the early phase of industrialisation, and the effects of that same industrialisation worked to overthrow and destroy classical liberalism.  Likewise, it is not “baffling” that American labourers sought and supported the politicians that at least promised to secure them certain basic protections with respect to the length of the workday, safety and health regulations and the like.  (It is a separate question where the federal government gets any authority to do these things.)  These choices may not be optimal for maximising productivity, but that doesn’t necessarily matter to the labourer.  The interests of labour actually involve more than the compensation for work that has been done.  Voters act irrationally just as Caplan claims if you have already determined that labourers’ voting for policies that govern workplace conditions, for example, is a form of irrationality.   

If someone’s job has been outsourced to another country (there’s my anti-foreign bias!) or eliminated for the sake of efficiency (my anti-market bias is taking over), it is unreasonable to expect him to say, “That’s all right.  The economy grew by 4%!”  Voters are often irrational when it comes time to select candidates (because candidate preferences are driven by all sorts of intangibles and identity politics quite distinct from policy questions), but they are not so blindly, willfully hostile to their own self-interest that they misunderstand their own immediate economic interests.  They may very well not see “the big picture” and they may support policies that seem immediately beneficial to them (for instance, nationalisation of an industry or massive redistributionist taxation), but which have overall negative consequences for the entire economy. 

This complaint has ever been the lament of the classical liberal when confronted with a mass electorate: “Why don’t you people realise that the policies that will make me wealthier are the right ones?”   

Of course, voters are short-sighted, prone to misguided enthusiasms and vulnerable to the predations of demagogues.  I don’t like democracy.  Generally speaking, I’m against it.  It is injurious to liberty, because no mass electorate presented with the ability to control, however minimally, a huge coercive apparatus is going to endorse a platform of austerity, limited government and decentralised power.  It will abuse to some extent this power, and demagogues will encourage this abuse for the sake of concentrating more and more power in their own hands. 

No one will confuse me for a defender of the rationality and sanity of democratic politics.  However, policies aimed at shoring up or protecting domestic industry do not strike me necessarily as being at all obviously “socially harmful.”  They contribute to increased prices on imports, and often provoke retalitatory tariffs on exported goods, but is such protectionism actually “socially harmful”?  Beyond the diminished consumption of commodities that such a tariff war might cause, what exactly is the harm?

Whatever else this study reveals, it definitely explains why no one will be bending over backwards to run on a libertarian economic platform anytime soon. 

More generally, pending death makes us think of honor, patriotism, and in-group solidarity

If longer lives move us away from such feelings, yes some immortals would be quite libertarian. ~Tyler Cowen

Wouldn’t that imply that libertarians don’t value honour, patriotism and loyalty very much?   

 

 

Rosa Brooks (she of the Obama-is-the-Messiah school) and Will Wilkinson talk about reproduction, yielding this priceless line from Wilkinson (which I am obviously taking out of context):

“You can replace immigrants with robots.”

The more serious point is that Wilkinson is not terribly concerned by the demise of this or that culture.  Okay, so we have established again that many libertarians are not concerned about cultural identity, but we knew that already.  The reason why potential demographic collapse in the West seems worrisome to non-libertarians (a.k.a., 98% of the population) is that the demise of our culture does worry us if for no other reason than that it is ours and that we want to impart it to the more than 2.1 children we are having in our desire to avoid “deplorable solipsism.”

Of course, it’s true that cultures come to an end.  It’s true that cultures change.  However, cultures seek to reproduce themselves, and the way that they do this is through the convictions of those who bear this culture that it is worth preserving and passing on to the next generation (which rather assumes that there will be a next generation to which one can pass the cultural inheritance to).  It seems to me that the habits of perpetuating cultural traditions and teaching them to the next generation on the assumption that your culture actually has some value and is worth keeping for its own sake, quite apart from any happiness it gives you, are so deeply engrained, indeed so normal and widespread throughout every traditional society, that it is difficult to regard with equanimity a rather blase and indifferent reaction to the death of our own culture.

I’m just skeptical that the aggregate tendency of young white Bobos, in America as in Europe, to have one or zero children doesn’t contain at least an element of solipsism. ~Ross Douthat 

Surely there are things, even inside this fantastic moral taxonomy, that men and women could do with their lives to compensate for their choice not to have children. Surely not all childless lives are deplorably solipsistic. ~Will Wilkinson

Indeed.  I wouldn’t say deplorably solipsistic–I wouldn’t use the word solipsistic, since this ascribes an epistemological error to what is really just an exercise in glorifying autonomy and practicing self-indulgence.  On the other hand, these childless folks could become monastics and then Ross would be in more of a pickle.

Joshua Cohen and Brink Lindsey rehash liberaltarianism.  Try to stay awake, if you can.  If you’re still awake, Lindsey talks about his book

If only these older-but-supposedly-wiser geniuses would spare us the dubious benefit of their hard-won “wisdom,” we might find a solution to global warming – just think how much noxious gas would no longer be polluting the atmosphere. ~Justin Raimondo

Mr. Raimondo is skewering Tyler Cowen, Brink Lindsey and the other collaborationists advocates of a new “libertarianism,” who are busily trying to find a modus vivendi with implacable statist forces of one kind or another.  If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right?  Raimondo’s impatience with such people, who have suddenly learned to stop worrying and love “positive liberty” (translation into English: trading your birthright for a mess a pottage), mirrors my irritation with such “conservative” luminaries as Sullivan, Brooks and Sager, who are all busily diagnosing where conservatism has gone awry and proceed to tell us that conservatism can only be saved by chucking or repudiating some huge part of what political conservatism has involved for decades.  These new “insights” usually appear right around the time the wise men have books to sell.  Incidentally, this new vogue of libertarians selling out to Leviathan is a strange thing to behold, since it usually means that I, arch anti-libertarian, find myself holding far more libertarian-like positions than many of the perfumed professionals at Cato.  Then again, I support Ron Paul, while these folks probably wouldn’t dream of “wasting” their votes on him.  I don’t know who the candidate of “positive liberty” would be, since I am not fluent in Newspeak and wouldn’t be able to tell you what people mean when they say “positive liberty” anyway.

In Sullivan’s case, there is a lot of whining about abusive, big government, but in the end he can’t actually think of anything on a major policy level that the government should stop doing (and he thinks it should start doing a few other things that it isn’t doing); he also doesn’t like traditional Christians and their dread influence.  Sager joins him in pinning big-government excesses on the Christians, thus making his “libertarian” project and the repudiation of social conservatism the supposed electoral panacea of the GOP (which, besides being exactly the opposite of political reality in this country, doesn’t seem to involve doing anything to reduce the size and scope of government in any way).  Brooks, who has never been on record as wanting to reduce the size of government, at least has a certain honesty in consistently and straightforwardly defending bad positions.  

Mr. Raimondo also notes the bizarre fixation on one element of domestic policy reform as the guiding star of libertarian fortunes in America, namely partial privatisation of Social Security:

These guys are perhaps to be forgiven for overemphasizing the importance of what was, after all, the Cato Institute’s major policy initiative – the partial privatization of Social Security – but was this failure really the major setback for the cause of liberty in the beginning of the new millennium? Doherty, too, seems to fall for this hooey. He opens his book with the news of this supposedly world-historic defeat, a tic he shares with his reviewers, perhaps because all of them at one time or another have worked for Cato. Yet this is more than just institutional bias. It represents a failure to understand both libertarianism and the current crisis of our nation.

This is not really all that surprising, since the collaborationists advocates of a new libertarianism, especially Brink Lindsey, are known to be Iraq war hawks (the Iraq war perhaps being another example of “positive liberty” being wrought on a grateful people).  They would be unwilling to see their embrace of hegemonism as being in any way in conflict with their libertarianism.  Perhaps they subscribe to the Zorg philosophy of life:

[Liberty], which you so nobly serve, comes from destruction, disorder and chaos!

Bizarrely, many libertarians, whose greatest political asset today should be the traditional libertarian principled opposition to aggression, war and activist foreign policy, have become so intimidated by the pro-war sentiment on the right (or have bought into it themselves) that they have turned most of their attention to domestic policy questions…and consequently discovered that their solutions on domestic policy are horribly unpopular.  Meanwhile, the peace and non-interventionist position that ought to be the universal libertarian foreign policy position would probably be wildly popular with the left and center that some of them are trying to make a deal with, but they actively ignore it and pretend that it isn’t even relevant to the discussion.

If the base is really so wary, how exactly is Mr. Giuliani so far ahead in the polls?

The fact is, the base is already fairly comfortable with Mr. Giuliani and is quite seriously considering his candidacy. ~Ryan “Blame The Christians” Sager

Mr. Sager’s ”argument” here is a good example of a habit that a lot of activists and pundits on the right have: whatever it is that you believe and desire, “the base” somehow magically always believes and desires the same thing.  Hugh Hewitt is always talking about what “the base” wants, when he actually means to say, “what I, Hugh Hewitt, want.”  Many a socially conservative pundit will cluck his tongue about the “sophistication” of social conservative voters, when what I suspect he is basing this statement on is his own sense that he is a social conservative and a sophisticated voter and therefore other social conservatives must be similarly complex in their approaches to voting.  More than any of us like to admit it, political observers will substitute what we know or what we think we know for explanations of what is motivating other people.  To some degree, this is unavoidable, since we are alll bound up in our own contingent perspectives and have a hard time forgetting that other people are not necessarily viewing things as we do.  When this method is employed for obviously polemical purposes, however, as Mr. Sager has been employing it here, it becomes rather grimly self-serving.  Even being self-serving would be less of a problem if it were at least based on something more substantial than these ridiculously early polls. 

We are familiar with the politicians’ method of pretending to speak for “the American people,” and we’re all used to ignoring what they have to say on this score, but on the right we are still inclined to listen very seriously when someone begins speaking in hushed tones about “the base.”  Perhaps because the party leadership and talking heads have so assiduously ignored most ordinary folks on so many other their major policy decisions (e.g., immigration, trade, foreign policy, etc.) or simply paid mostly lip service to their socially conservative values, there is some desire to overcompensate by constantly gesturing towards the constituents whom they routinely ignore on almost everything that matters.  Still, you’d think we’d just received a prophect revelation the way some people fall all over themselves trying to scrutinise the true intentions of “the base.”  Just watch the haruspices fumble with the bird entrails that are polling results to divine the appropriate conclusion!  Of course, you, the pundit or activist, haven’t necessarily surveyed “the base” yourself, nor do you have some automatic telepathic connection to all other conservatives, but you just know (because it’s so obvious!) that “the base” agrees with your position.  That everyone on either side of every question is confident that this claim of support from “the base” is true might begin to inspire doubt that “the base” even exists and is actually just a figment of pundits’ imaginations. 

Even though it would normally be considered perilous and unwise to base an interpretation of the state of the GOP on preliminary polling ten months before the first primary, quite a few people are popping up to tell us how the rise of the Terrible Trio and Giuliani’s popularity show us that everything has changed.  The rise of the “metro” Republican, instead of being stunning proof that the party establishment is once again foisting a bunch of unpopular elites and Northeasterners on their constituents quite against their will, is taken as proof of a new “trend” in GOP politics.  There is, of course, nothing new about the GOP establishment imposing bad but well-connected candidates on the party.  That is what the GOP establishment does–it can do no other without losing its essential self.  Conservatives have just lived through six years of the results of that same practice when Mr. Bush was made the prohibitive favourite early on.  Unlike 1999, however, the “frontrunner” in the polls has not received the blessing of the overwhelming majority of party honchos.  Giuliani boosters would have us believe that his numbers in the low 30s (rather comparable to Liddy Dole’s 27% or so around this time in ‘99) show that the party faithful are going for him even when the leadership is not.  If so, this would be a rather shocking change in Republican practice.  It is the case that GOP voters do tend to follow where the party leadership takes them (whether it is to follow Dole off an electoral cliff or to follow Bush to Iraq), which makes Giuliani’s lack of support from those leaders a clear sign that he will ultimately not go very far.  Even so, why anyone should wish to repeat the undemocratic anointing of a mediocrity, such as the GOP experienced in ’99-’00, I will never understand.  Yet to listen to some tell it, the field of three has already been determined.  The early polling for Giuliani is being taken as “proof” that the traditional leaders of social and religious conservatives no longer have the same influence they once did, which works very nicely with Mr. Sager’s story of a social conservatism in decline.  Here’s Sager:

And these gatekeepers are becoming increasingly irrelevant in a party that wants to find its way out of the political wilderness and, to some extent, blames the more extreme elements of the religious right for leading it into the woods in the first place.  

This is Mr. Sager’s “base”-invoking rhetoric at its laziest.  The “party” doesn’t blame the “more extreme elements of the religious right” for electoral defeat–Ryan Sager does.  In fact, whenever you see him make a generalisation about what the GOP wants or needs today, it is usually a statement of what Sager believes and not much more than that. 

In fact, however, there are actual conservative voters whose apparent preferences for Giuliani have nothing to do with their “comfort” with Giuliani and everything to do with celebrity, ignorance and misconceptions about who and what Giuliani is.  Giuliani the pro-life evangelical sounds like a formidable candidate, and for a sizeable percentage of voters (roughly 15% or so) Giuliani evidently must be pro-life and evangelical because, well, he just has to be.  What it means for the rise of secular and “libertarian” forces in the GOP that many of the people who back Giuliani may actually think they are backing a pro-life evangelical candidate is not something that Mr. Sager would want to have to talk about.  If I were Sager, I would probably also say that the polling is “unambiguous” (even though there is rarely anything more ambiguous than early primary polling), because if I were Ryan Sager I would have to believe that this is true. 

Mr. Sager’s “discovery” that “the base” is comfortable with Giuliani fits very nicely with his other “discoveries” that the GOP is dominated by religious maniacs (unbeknownst to all but Andrew Sullivan and Heather Mac Donald) and that it was this supposedly overflowing religious mania (not outrageous deficit spending, the war, catastrophic incompetence and, well, failure in almost everything) that doomed the GOP in ‘06.  Strange that someone like Harold Ford could come very close to winning in a strongly Republican state by talking up his religiosity and traditional upbringing–Tennesseans must simply have been driven towards him by their disgust with that Bible-thumping theocrat Bob Corker.  Yeah.  It’s a good thing that Michelle “Fool for Christ” Bachmann didn’t win election to the House, or you might begin to think that religious conservatives aren’t that much of an electoral liability after all. Oh, wait, she did get elected.  In Minnesota.  But obviously a big social-con such as Marilyn Musgrave would get swept out in the “libertarian West”…oh, wait, no, she’s still there.  Mr. Sager is confident about all of these “discoveries” because they also fit very nicely with his own policy views and factional preferences, which are decidedly not those of a religious conservative.  After the year when Democrats felt compelled to fall over themselves in talking about God (and a year in which, separately, economic populism triumphed all over the place), Mr. Sager is selling secular “libertarian”-conservatism.  No wonder he is clutching on to the hem of Giuliani’s dress–he needs to find some sign that his kind of politics is not destined for complete marginalisation.  How better than to go on the offense and declare that his rivals are finished and their time has ended?  Religious conservatives are in full retreat, he declares to us.  “There are no American soldiers in Baghdad,” said another equally confident propagandist.  

Mr. Sager’s preferred policies and loyalties wouldn’t be as much of an issue, except that he has decided to make virtually everything he writes these days part of this unfolding narrative that religious/social conservatism has destroyed the Republican Party and he has chosen to tell this particularly unconvincing story without much in the way of evidence.  Since virtually nothing much that might be confused with a social conservative agenda was ever passed or signed into law in the last six years, it is difficult to understand what that ever had to do with Republican defeat.  This is not a problem for Mr. Sager’s arguments, since his “blame the Christians” rhetoric benefits from its sheer vagueness: social-cons are to blame because, well, they just are and everyone knows it (but you should still buy my book!).  Hence the importance of Rudy’s early lead in the polls–it proves that “the base” is headed Sager’s way and that “the base” agrees with his diagnosis about what’s ailing the party.  What could be a better indication that the rank-and-file share Sager’s weariness with social conservatism than the full-on embrace of someone like Giuliani, right?  Presumably the early “embrace” of Joe Lieberman by a plurality of Democratic voters in early ‘03 reflected their abiding love of the Iraq war and their conviction that unrealistic hawkishness was the wave of the future.  That would pretty well describe the Democratic Party rank-and-file of the last three years, wouldn’t you say?  It’s not as if there would be some revolt of “the base” later on in the year that would propel a staunchly antiwar candidate to the front of the pack!  How could that happen?  After all, the polling was unambiguous, right? 

I’d just note, as I have before, that no part of America is actually “libertarian.” Bad ideas like the minimum wage are going to pass pretty much anywhere you put them on the ballot. But, relatively speaking, this is a region that wants low spending and little regulation of people’s private lives. It’s a broad definition, to be sure, but I’m convinced it’s closer to libertarian than liberal. ~Ryan Sager

Er, okay, and I’m convinced that it isn’t.  How’s that for an argument?  Perhaps if libertarians and their champions would present more of an argument for why “low spending and little regulation of people’s private lives” constitutes a more libertarian (or dare we say “libertarian-leaning”?) view than it does other possible alternatives, we could debate the merits of that argument.  If we’re simply listing things that are only debatably libertarian and then declaring, “I prefer to call this the ‘more libertarian’ position,” we might as well go home and have a drink.

Sager’s column doesn’t do much better.  Here he cites evidence that the Interior West is becoming more “purple” in a centrist Democrat way (i.e., socially liberal, fiscally conservative):

Data from the Pew Research Center show that when it comes to issues of religion and morality, the Interior West is much closer to the socially liberal Northeast and the Pacific Coast than it is to the South. At the same time, however, folks in the Interior West are fairly conservative on fiscal matters.

This means that the region is going the direction of the politics of the DLC, the Concord Coalition and Dick Lamm (former Democratic governor of Colorado, one-time Reform Party VP nominee in ‘96).  If you want to call DLC centrism and old Reform Party-type politics “more libertarian than liberal,” knock yourself out, but you will not be describing anything that most can recognise as a libertarian politics. 

Sager’s definition of “more libertarian than liberal” fits nicely with the vague definition Boaz and Kirby used to determine the size of a “libertarian” voting bloc.  In their estimation, to be socially liberal and fiscally conservative effectively makes you a libertarian.  Except that everyone and his brother knows that it doesn’t make you any such thing–it typically makes you a moderate Republican, who has no strong objection to most of what the government does (so long as it does it “efficiently” and within budget) and who may not even have a problem with, say, the government providing funding for abortion.  Like Mitt Romney of old, they would have balanced budgets and no “imposing” of moral beliefs on others–if that’s all it takes to be functionally libertarian, it doesn’t mean very much.  No outrageous deficit spending, and no “unnecessary” tax cuts–these are the golden rules of the moderate Republican/fiscal conservative.  (With a slight tweak, that definition could even work just as easily for some neoconservatives, whose incandescent moral outrage about Iran does not necessarily extend to any social issues here at home.) 

In any case, Sager’s thesis that religiosity and big spending have driven away some voters who had supported the Republicans in the past but who have now switched sides may be partly correct.  These things probably did alienate some voters in the last six years.  Almost certainly, excessive spending and the war had far more impact on the voters who bolted than did superficial God-talk that resulted in literally no policy proposals of any significance in the last four years.  It is Sager’s hits on the pernicious influence of religious conservatives on the party’s fortunes where he is least convincing, but that is not part of this column. 

The main problem is that the people who are switching sides aren’t “libertarians” in the Interior West, but are these moderates, centrists, and independents–David Brooks’ suburban managers–who recoil at the sight of Republican incompetence and budget imbalances mixed with what they, the suburban managers, may regard as demagogic intolerance.  Even among Boaz and Kirby’s libertarian-leaning voters, the GOP’s share of their vote stabilised between 2004 and 2006 after a notable drop-off between 2002 and 2004.  That means, as I have tried to argue before, that those whom Boaz and Kirby defined as libertarians stopped fleeing from the GOP during their two worst years of war, religious enthusiasm (think Schiavo), reckless spending and corruption revelations.  The things that were supposed to be driving away libertarians got worse in those two years, and yet these libertarians remained in essentially the same numbers as they had in 2004, which either means that they aren’t terribly libertarian or the GOP’s hemorrhaging of support is coming from an entirely different part of the coalition.  Neither is promising for claims of the importance of the libertarian vote or the importance of libertarians to the GOP.  Neither is exactly a ringing endorsement for the theory that the GOP is losing ground in the West because of neglect of libertarian voters.

As far as New Mexico goes, I would simply say, for the umpteenth time, that Richardson’s two victories do not contribute to evidence for a regional trend away from the GOP.  His competition was anemic in both races (he was all but unopposed this last time for most of 2006, and faced an extremely weak challenge for the last few months of the election), he had enormous advantages in name recognition and popularity to start with and he has a natural majority Democratic vote in New Mexico that he can rely on.  The last point distinguishes our marginally ”red” state from everything around it. 

 

In The Atlantic last year, Ryan Sager, author of the book “The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party,” noted that Republicans were suddenly finding themselves losing elections in the Rocky Mountain states. Today Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and Wyoming all have Democratic governors.  Mr. Sager attributes the sudden Democratic surge in the “Purple Mountains” to religious conservatives gaining control of the policy debate within the Republican Party. In Mr. Sager’s view, the GOP has lost the libertarian-leaning conservative voters whose politics tend to mirror the rugged individualism of those he suspects inhabit the region. ~Brendan Miniter

Put the emphasis on “suspects.”  Show me someone from the urban parts of the modern West and I will show you someone more likely to consider himself a “centrist” or an “independent” than he is likely to consider himself a ruggedly individualistic libertarian.  The trouble I have with people who talk about Republicans losing “the libertarian West” is that I am not sure they have ever been to some parts of the West, since they seem to think that people living in “the mountains” of the West are all Scots-Irish backwoodsmen just itching to shoot the revenuers and flatlanders. 

Take, for instance, the place of New Mexico (or even Colorado) in the list of current Democratic governors.  This is supposed to be some indication of Republican weakness in these states today, when a Democratic governor in New Mexico since the Depression is historically far more the norm than the exception.  It is true that since 1975 there have been two Republican governors, Carruthers and Johnson, for a total of twelve years, but there have been four Democratic governors in Apodaca, Anaya, King and Richardson for what will be a total of twenty years.  Just look at the death-grip Democrats have had on the statehouse for seventy years and you will understand that any Republican statewide victories in New Mexico are rather remarkable achievements in themselves.  (As some of us like to joke back home, with the demise of the PRI’s lock on power in Mexico, the New Mexico Democrats in our legislature are probably now the longest-ruling one-party system on earth.) The state continues to change, but it remains one of the three minority-majority states in the country and thus serves as a natural habitat of Democrats.  Of all the states on this list, the one that absolutely doesn’t need the scapegoating of religious conservatives to explain Democratic success is New Mexico. 

New Mexico is still a default Democratic state and typically goes for Republican presidential candidates only when that candidate wins nationally.  Were it not for the odd make-up of Albuquerque with its heavy core of professionals, scientists and military personnel, the GOP would get routinely trounced in every statewide election.  Perhaps ironically, it seems to be the heavy footprint of the federal government in Albuquerque that gives the Republicans a fighting chance.  How do you suppose “libertarian-leaning” candidates would do in a state that is heavily dependent on the federal government for a sizeable part of its economy?  Probably not very well at all.

This brings me a bigger problem with Mr. Sager’s entire thesis.  How can evangelicals be costing Republicans support in the mountain West unless evangelicals are increasingly prominent in local GOP politics and the Republicans there are failing?  The supposed “Southern” and “religious” character of Republican politics elsewhere should not have any obvious effect on whether people in another part of the country vote for “moderate,” pro-business, pro-Pentagon Republicans (think Heather Wilson).  In New Mexico, there are certainly evangelicals in the state GOP, but they seem to have unusually limited influence on the selection of nominees for statewide office or even for House members outside of their heavier concentration in southeastern New Mexico.  In other words, it might be true that the GOP is now struggling in this part of the country more than it was, but the supposed cause (too much religion!) seems to have nothing to do with it.

It seems almost certain that the intense evangelical culture of parts of Colorado has served as a boost to Republican prospects in the state.  This deserves closer scrutiny, but I wonder if the concern over the GOP losing the “libertarian West” (a “libertarian West” that includes Colorado Springs!) is not a bad case of alarmism based on a very few electoral defeats.  Consider that the only Colorado House losses in a very bad year were in open seats with weak Republican candidates.  Marilyn Musgrave (CO-04), whose seat was endangered late in the cycle, certainly represents the social and religious conservative wing of her party, but managed to survive and win re-election.  Beauprez ran a less than thrilling campaign, which was obviously insufficient in the year of the Democratic wave, but a lot more analysis would need to be done to determine why he lost before we can credit sweeping theories of religious conservatism dooming the party’s chances.        

As campaign promises go, it isn’t all that inspiring a slogan, but now that Ralph Reiland has given us the idea I think we should run with it with every ounce of statist gusto that we’ve got.  As pointed out by Ramesh Ponnuru, he comments on the state of conservatism and Mr. Ponnuru’s story from a few weeks back on “conservatism in crisis,” and with the flair of a good two-speed libertarian (they have two speeds: hyperbole and indifference) he takes Ponnuru’s sensible observation that social conservatism has been an overall electoral winner and economic conservatism has been an electoral liability and makes it into a libertarian’s worst nightmare:

Arguing that conservatism’s crisis is “badly misunderstood,” Ponnuru offers a policy prescription that’s sure not to sit too well with those who support freedom, both economic and social.

“Social conservatism is an asset to Republicans,” he writes, “and economic conservatism a liability.”

That sounds like a call for more faith-based tax hikes, perhaps for more wars, because, as the president has explained, God wants men to be free. Domestically, it looks like a call for more government flashlights in the bedrooms and fewer dollars in our wallets.

Mr. Reiland takes what has actually become a pretty standard assessment of American electoral reality (social conservatism helps, economic “conservatism” hurts) and make it into an argument for a certain set of anti-libertarian policy prescriptions.  Indeed, he calls it a prescription, when it is really a description.  So right away there is a great deal of confusion in Mr. Reiland’s response.  The rest of his response is fairly overheated, when you consider the simple truth that cheering on the workings of an unfettered market and pushing for massive deregulation, for example, are wildly unpopular.  It might be the case that something that is wildly unpopular is still the right thing to do and is worth advocating in spite of the political cost, but that is a different argument.  Before we can have that argument, libertarians should at least be able to acknowledge that advocacy of their economic policies is a political liability, especially nowadays.  As Ponnuru says in his post:

I am for anti-statists taking a careful look at their actual political prospects rather than at what they wish those prospects were. But I am not surprised that some libertarians would respond to my attempt to do that by retreating deeper into fantasy. 

Even given the retreat into fantasy, each item Mr. Reiland brings up seems weirdly and completely disconnected from Mr. Ponnuru’s assessment of electoral reality.  Perhaps economic populism would mean “fewer dollars in our wallets” or perhaps not, but “social conservatism” as it is usually defined has no obvious position on taxes (on the whole, avowed social conservatives have tended to be anti-tax to the extent that they see reducing revenues as a way of weakening an intrusive and culturally hostile government).  Social conservatism is not the equal and opposite of what we are calling “economic conservatism.”  For the most part, they relate to entirely different spheres of life and support for one does not necessarily imply hostility to the other.  While a social conservative may be more sympathetic to state power to regulate certain kinds of behaviour that he deems immoral, it does not necessarily follow that he thinks the government should be involved in economic regulation to the same degree.  But as far as I can tell Ponnuru wasn’t defending one or the other.  He wasn’t making a prescription at this point.  What Mr. Ponnuru said, pretty plainly, is that one tends to win a party votes and the other tends to lose a party votes.  If this runs up against the findings of the methodologically questionable and difficult-to-credit Kirby/Boaz report, that is not the fault of all the people who regard the report’s findings to be an exaggeration of libertarian political strength.    

Just out of curiosity I have to ask: what, pray, is a “faith-based tax hike”?  Is Mr. Reiland referring obscurely to Alabama Gov. Bob Riley’s support for jacking up property taxes in his conviction that he was serving a Christian vision of social justice?  This was surely a fairly isolated and unusual incident.  (More common, at the state level, were the tax hikes of the Taft administration in Ohio aimed at closing the budget gap created by the habit of reckless spending acquired in the booming ’90s.)  If this is not a reference to Riley, I literally have no idea what he’s talking about, since the trouble with Mr. Bush’s fiscal management has been rampant spending together with tax cuts.  Had we had a few more “faith-based tax hikes,” the deficit would at least be less egregiously unbalanced (which is not to say, lest Mr. Reiland have a stroke, that we should have had all the spending that we did have).

What, in fact, does social conservatism have to do with war?  It is apparently and unfortunately true that many of the most stalwart leading social conservatives (e.g., Santorum) are also strongly in favour of the war in Iraq and Mr. Bush’s proclivity to use force generally, but if warmongering were a feature of social conservatism itself you would have to count this against social conservatism’s appeal.  The appeal that social conservatism has is to those people who feel their values or way of life threatened by attacks in the culture wars, rather than seeing their values being necessarily advanced by the wars in Asia.  (Indeed, if most social conservatives are Christian and a Christian “theocracy” is supposedly the goal of these people, as Mr. Reiland hints at the end, how do wars of “liberation” in the Islamic world that work to benefit of Islamic fundamentalist and to the detriment of Christians overseas advance this social conservative vision?)   

Note that Mr. Reiland thinks that Ponnuru is advocating more government flashlights in our bedrooms, which apparently means that he believes that the government has flashlights there now.  Are these Homeland Security flashlights, issued in case of power failure resulting from a terrorist attack?  Or are these flashlights that people get from the government when they pay their taxes in a timely fashion as a complimentary prize of sorts?  Yes, I do realise he is speaking figuratively here about government intrusions on our privacy, and if he focused on the actual intrusions the feds have done in the last few years he might find a very sympathetic conservative audience that regards the PATRIOT Act as excessive and unconstitutional.  But, no, it’s always about people snooping on what you do in your bedroom, in spite of the fact that the old Republican majority did essentially nothing that might be construed as an attempt to dictate sexual mores or intrude on the privacy of anyone’s bedroom.  In the very same article where he notes that sodomy laws have been struck from the books, he would have us believe that the government needs “flashlights” to ferret out the social miscreants engaged in unseemly acts in the bedrooms of the land.  Why does the government need flashlights anyway?  Don’t the social miscreants have light switches?

Chait asserts that “any new libertarian voters the Democrats attracted … would cost them support,” but here he is clearly wrong. According to data analyzed by David Boaz and David Kirby, Democratic House and Senate candidates in 2006 did 24 percentage points better with libertarian-leaning voters than they did in the midterm elections of 2002. These findings are corroborated by the strong Democratic gains in New Hampshire and the interior West–areas of the country where small-government leanings are prevalent. Yet, even as Democrats improved their standing with the “economically conservative, socially liberal” crowd, they increased their overall national vote share as well. So much for the idea that gaining ground with libertarians is doomed to be a net vote loser. ~Brink Lindsey

Proponents of the “libertarian swing vote” theory (Boaz and Kirby) and proponents of a liberal-libertarian alliance are awfully crafty in the way they use evidence.  They ignore the intervening election of 2004, which would show that 2006 represented a stabilising and hardening of “libertarian” support for the GOP.  There are those classed as libertarians by these Cato studies who tend to drift towards the Democrats, but their numbers are limited and they form a clear minority of the voters classified as libertarians. 

Advocates for the “swing vote” or the alliance then make vague references to New Hampshire and “the interior West” without ever explaining why a party’s success in these places equals support for libertarian social or economic policies.    There is an assumption that libertarian voters helped make Democratic success here possible, but I feel fairly sure without having looked terribly closely at any state-by-state vote tallies that the people voting for the new Democratic House and state legislature representatives in New Hampshire were not those Cato might define as libertarians but were instead “centrist”/”independent” voters whose mass defection from the GOP fits the national trend.  In “the interior West,” it is difficult to believe that there really are as many libertarians (very broadly defined) as some seem to think.     Did AZ-05 and AZ-08, for example, flip because of a great defection of libertarians, or for other reasons entirely?  I suspect that the more you dig into the specifics of each Democratic victory in “the interior West” you will find very few libertarian-themed campaign pitches that brought them the win.  

Going from ’04 to ‘06, did libertarians defect in greater or smaller numbers from the GOP than other blocs of voters?  Clearly, they defected in smaller numbers.  In part, this was because no one was trying to persuade them to defect.  On the other hand, no one was trying to persuade them because their policies are actually unpopular across the country (hey, everybody, let’s have mass immigration and free trade!) and the voters Democrats could most easily poach are conservative populists.  The vague outline of a liberal-populist alliance at least has a slight plausibility to it when it comes to some aspects of economic policy, and if Dobbsian Democrats could drop the fetishes of cultural liberalism and cease antagonising these same voters they would win far more support than if they joined hands with libertarians in, say, selling out the country with amnesty.   

This brings us back to the biggest swindle of them all: the equation of libertarian with “economically conservative and socially liberal.”  This is a definition fit for the DLC or the Concord Coalition, not the Cato Institute.  It is an attempt to claim the broad middle as the natural libertarian constituency.  This is a clever PR move, but it has no connection to reality.  Using this definition makes appealing to libertarians seem politically desirable for both parties, but this is to treat libertarian voters as some sort of floating centrist vote that, according to Cato’s own studies of their voting behaviour (even accepting Cato’s over-generous enumeration of how many “libertarian-leaning” voters there are), they simply are not.   

Mr. Lindsey’s claim that populism is a loser on the national stage is a tried and true spiel favoured by the two party establishment and those who support the consensus politics on trade, immigration and foreign policy.  (Note that foreign policy, the main area where a liberal-libertarian alliance is most natural and most obvious, is the one Lindsey avoids like the plague because, when it comes to the Iraq war, he is as libertarian as I am Buddhist.)  Populism has been a loser on the national stage when prosperity was widespread, economic insecurity was minimal and wages were not stagnant.  When economic insecurity and anxiety rise and wages do not, populism often succeeds.  When government seems to be failing and out of control, populism succeeds.  In 2006, minimum wage hikes succeeded in referendum after referendum–obviously, some populist measures are quite popular.  Ross Perot, one of the most ridiculous presidential candidates ever, got 19% of the vote nationally.  That was the fruit of sheer populist frustration, much of which he frittered away with his general battiness and poorly run campaign.  If one party or the other could reliably count on those Perot voters or people like them in every cycle, it would become the virtually permanent majority party.  “Libertarian-leaning” voters possess this kind of power only in their wildest dreams. 

The Reagan coalition was built by very intelligently exploiting the patriotic and socially conservative impulses of the famous Reagan Democrats–the Jim Webbs of yesteryear–and diverting their economic populist frustrations into hostility against a hostile cultural liberalism that was seen (by these voters at least) to be sapping national resolve in foreign affairs and dissolving the nation’s moral integrity.  Now that the GOP has gone insane on foreign policy, these people no longer feel that they belong in that party and they are remembering that they have little love for the long-time ally of the corporations.  While it may discomfort some of our friends, such as Dan McCarthy, Jim Webb’s victory announcement that he had also always been concerned with ”economic fairness and social justice” as well as deeply outraged by the Iraq war was a sharp reminder that a competent, patriotic foreign policy combined with some degree of economic populism together make for a tremendously powerful appeal to people like Webb.  Reagan and his allies even managed to make fundamentally libertarian economic policies feel populist by casting tax reductions in terms of giving people their own money back (which also had the virtue of being true), and it is largely so long as libertarian economic policy seems to be working to the benefit of the middle class (and not principally to corporations) that its unpleasant side-effects are tolerated.  Libertarians take the side of free trade and mass immigration, to name two prominent examples of egregiously pro-corporate and unpopular policies, at the cost of their own political marginalisation.  The party or political coalition that can mobilise populist sentiment on both trade and immigration will frequently come out ahead.   

As to why I think libertarians are nuts to favor mass uncontrolled immigration from the third world: I think they are nuts because their enthusiasm on this matter is suicidal to their cause. Their ideological passion is blinding them to a rather obvious fact: that libertarianism is a peculiarly American doctrine, with very little appeal to the huddled masses of the third world. If libertarianism implies mass third-world immigration, then it is self-destroying. Libertarianism is simply not attractive either to illiterate peasants from mercantilist Latin American states, or to East Asians with traditions of imperial-bureaucratic paternalism, or to the products of Middle Eastern Muslim theocracies.

There are a number of responses a libertarian might make to that. Not included in those responses, I think, given the current state of our national affairs, is the argument that Providence has inscribed a yearning for liberty on every human heart.

A libertarian might, though, say that while libertarianism could indeed be a hard sell to immigrants from very illiberal political traditions, it will appeal to their Americanized children, to the second generation. Possibly so. Even setting aside the great strengthening of the welfare state caused by the preferences of that first generation, though, to sell libertarianism to the second generation would need a tremendous missionary effort. According to Brink Lindsey, only 13 percent of Americans currently lean libertarian. If decades of libertarian proselytizing have only achieved that much success with a population rooted in the traditions of Pericles and Magna Carta, of the Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment, of Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, how well should libertarians expect to do with the political descendants of emperors and caliphs, of Toussaint L’Ouverture and Mao Tse-tung? ~John Derbyshire

This all makes a good deal of sense, and I have written very similar things on related matters touching on the almost inexplicable urge of many libertarians for open borders and mass immigration.  This blind spot to the negative consequences of mass immigration for their own political vision of smaller government and free individuals is part of what I repeatedly refer to as “The Libertarian Matrix.”  As in the movie of the same name, libertarians carry on without realising that they are trapped in the reality-distorting bubble of their ideological assumptions.  It is entirely fitting that a group dedicated to “free minds” should have such difficulty freeing their own minds from this prison of wrong assumptions. 

In addition to being a guaranteed cause of libertarianism’s extinction or even greater marginalisation (were such a thing possible), libertarian enthusiasm for mass immigration ensures steadily increasing hostility to libertarianism from, well, people like me and a great many other Americans who will begin telling the liberts what they can do with their “moral right of exchange.”

Missionary effort or no, the possibility of second or third generation children of immigrants from illiberal political cultures embracing libertarianism is one of those nice, preposterous ideas, sort of like the hope that bringing in millions of nominally Catholic Mexicans will help shore up the conservative side in the culture wars (this is true if we are referring to the Mexican conservative side of those wars).  The latter is based in quaint, romantic notions about pious and traditional Mexican villagers from stable and intact families most recently seen in The Three Amigos.  But this is at least a claim that makes some nod towards a romanticised image of another culture.  This gets the reality of the culture of the immigrants wrong, but at least it takes that culture seriously one way or the other.  Libertarians will tell you until they are blue in the face and you are quite sick of hearing it that the political culture of the countries whence these immigrants come is basically irrelevant.  Immigrants are hard-working and entrepreneurial people who are trying to get out from under the dead weight of restrictive economic and political arrangements back home–they are therefore supposedly natural libertarians (when they get done being natural conservatives, of course–they work a double shift, as befits hard-working immigrants).  But this is to go against every shred of empirical evidence we have for all major waves of immigration.  People reproduce the political and cultural habits with which they are raised; they often do this without giving it much thought, because this is ”the way things have been done” as far as they know.  These habits are their framework for operating in the world, and they do not abandon them unless they are given good reasons to do so.  In addition to which, with the exception of very unusual ethnic communities (Cubans, Vietnamese) that tend to identify more with Republicans out of decades-long resentment at Democratic betrayals of their home countries, ethnic immigrants are solidly reliable blocs for the Democrats as constituencies for expanded government services and greater government activism. 

Always have been, always will be.  This affiliation continues into second, third and later generations.  It has taken tremendous efforts on the part of Democrats to lose their natural advantage with their old ethnic white constituencies, and even here they have not lost all of them by a long shot. 

Expanding government services is what these people have come to expect from government in their home countries (or it is the sort of thing that they pushed for back home without success, which is why they left and came here), and it is what many constituencies in a mass democracy expect in any case.  Many would also see support for these policies very much in pragmatic, self-interested terms (libertarians would be so proud!) as a way of getting services and support that their communities, as communities that are still fairly new to the country, might well “need” more than others.  Anyone interested in rolling back government, encouraging individual independence, supporting market solutions and generally decreasing the role of the state in all aspects of life obviously does not want poor PRD and PRI voters moving to the United States in large numbers.  It is especially the large numbers that are the important factor here, but any number would be that many more people inclined to oppose anything remotely resembling libertarianism.  This is still one more reason why there will be no liberal-libertarian alliance of any meaningful kind, and why the idea of the Libertarian Democrat is a bad joke.  If the libertarians would like their ideology to survive and possibly even grow in influence, their major spokesmen and organisations would drop all of this pro-immigration chatter once and for all.  But, as we already know, that isn’t going to happen.   

One more bit from our post-election Zogby poll: We asked voters if they considered themselves “fiscally conservative and socially liberal.” A whopping 59 percent said they did. When we added to the question “also known as libertarian,” 44 percent still claimed that description. That’s too many voters for any party to ignore. ~David Kirby & David Boaz

So now “libertarians” of this kind make up 44% of the population!  That’s a lot more than the measly 13% of “libertarian-leaning” voters they talk up elsewhere in the article.  It’s also complete nonsense.  But, of course, “fiscally conservative and socially liberal” does not equal libertarian.  (Vague, self-identification tests like this also tell us nothing concrete about actual policy preferences.)  Fiscally conservative typically means in practice, “I don’t like high taxes and I don’t like deficits–because I don’t like high taxes.”  A fiscal conservative and a libertarian might see eye to eye about reducing taxes at certain times, or they might agree about deficit reduction at another time, and they will almost certainly be on the same page in worrying about new spending, but someone who accepts the label “fiscally conservative and socially liberal” is someone who will often consider himself an “independent” or a “moderate” Republican.  Nowadays almost no one admits to being “fiscally liberal,” which has the ring of profligacy and recklessness (years and years of effective propaganda to this effect have done their work well), so this result probably includes a good number of folks who would think of themselves as “centrist” Democrats.  Notice that we are not given any more details about who makes up this fabled 44% “libertarian” bloc.

Messrs. Kirby and Boaz take the Cubin “slap a cripple” incident as some sort of symbol of the GOP need to win over libertarian voters.  Except, as Goppers will point out, they still didn’t lose that seat after their candidate threatened to smack someone in a wheelchair–if they can’t lose under those conditions, when will they?  Frighteningly, Barbara Cubin’s victory in spite of herself represents the level of GOP strength in the Mountain West that has barely been dented by ”the wave” this year.  Cubin’s victory, which was almost a loss because of her appalling statement, shows us instead that the most “libertarians” and Libertarians can do is fail to serve as a spoiler in one of the most politically libertarian states in the country when a Republican incumbent’s infamously bad personality causes her campaign to implode.  If they can barely capitalise on opportunities like this, if straight-up libertarianism is so unattractive even to Wyoming voters in a year of general anti-GOP discontent and running against one of the most unpleasant incumbents in the land, how can anyone take them seriously as major players?     

Presidential candidates might note that even in Iowa libertarians helped vote out a Republican congressman who championed the Internet gambling ban. ~David Kirby & David Boaz

Yes, good job, “Iowa libertarians” (i.e., people in Iowa who like to gamble online)–you helped force out one of the six Republican House members who voted against the resolution authorising the President to attack Iraq at his leisure.  As usual, the libertarian sense of priorities continues to impress with its ability to put the trivial and the second-tier ahead of the fundamental.  I’m not that much of a fan of the attempt to effectively ban online gambling, but that you would brag about drumming Jim Leach out of the House over online gambling, when the major policy issue of the day (which is, surprisingly, not online gambling) is one that he happened to get right, speaks volumes about what libertarians think is really important.

This year we commissioned a nationwide post-election survey of 1013 voters from Zogby International. We again found that 15 percent of the voters held libertarian views. We also found a further swing of libertarians away from Republican candidates. In 2006, libertarians voted 59-36 for Republican congressional candidates—a 24-point swing from the 2002 mid-term election. To put this in perspective, front-page stories since the election have reported the dramatic 7-point shift of white conservative evangelicals away from the Republicans. The libertarian vote is about the same size as the religious right vote measured in exit polls, and it is subject to swings more than three times as large.

 

Based on the turnout in 2004, Bush’s margin over Kerry dropped by 4.8 million votes among libertarians. Had he held his libertarian supporters, he would have won a smashing reelection rather than squeaking by in Ohio.

 

President Bush and the congressional Republicans left no libertarian button unpushed in the past six years: soaring spending, expansion of entitlements, federalization of education, cracking down on state medical marijuana initiatives, Sarbanes-Oxley, gay marriage bans, stem cell research restrictions, wiretapping, incarcerating U.S. citizens without a lawyer, unprecedented executive powers, and of course an unnecessary and apparently futile war. The striking thing may be that after all that, Democrats still looked worse to a majority of libertarians. ~David Kirby & David Boaz

As Ramesh Ponnuru (via Ross Douthat) points out, the 2006 showing with libertarian voters in House races was a marginal improvement for the GOP over their showing in 2004.  This is almost inexplicable when you consider that the last two years have marked even greater divergence between libertarian hopes and GOP practices.  In spite of the Military Commissions Act, two more years of the war in Iraq, two more years of earmark splurging, and two more years of the executive running roughshod over everything, the libertarian vote for the GOP held steady and even ticked up a few points.  (In the mad, mad world of American politics, this means that John Kerry’s coat-tails actually helped Democratic House candidates with libertarian voters in ‘04, for reasons that only God can fully comprehend.)   In the libertarian universe, what little GOP action there was on immigration control and border fencing would have made the GOP even more obnoxious to them, yet more libertarians voted to retain the corrupt, inept, hideous GOP majority than there had been two years previously. 

This has happened in the year when most Americans declared their disgust for the very same people.  If I were a GOP poobah, I would almost be laughing at libertarian voters because of their mind-numbing partisan loyalty even as I was making a mental note to pay no more attention to them.  The GOP electoral strategists should now be busily worrying how to recapture populist Democratic-leaning independents and culturally conservative Democrats (i.e., people like Jim Webb, who became Republicans when Republicans were still relatively sane on foreign policy) on the one hand and David Brooksian suburbanites on the other.  In other words, they may need to start thinking how to be more like Buchanan, Dobbs and Tancredo on populist issues (at least in some parts of the country) and how they can be less like David Boaz.  If the GOP cannot figure this out, they are very likely headed to a string of electoral defeats.  Meanwhile, the mighty libertarian swing vote has shown itself to be irrelevant on the national level while doing little more than playing spoiler in some of the least populous states in the nation (the libertarian battle cry: today Montana, tomorrow Wyoming, next week maybe Nevada!).      

The vote tallies from 2004 and 2006 suggest that there is a core libertarian vote that is perfectly willing to be taken for granted by the GOP and that will keep voting for the GOP even at its most abysmally unprincipled and terrible.  In other words: relax, RNC, libertarian voters are almost as big a bunch of chumps as conservative Christians!  You can ignore them with impunity, just as you have been doing for years.  Because the GOP’s core constituencies have turned out for them with virtually zombie-like predictability in the worst of times, the RNC will instead internalise the lesson delivered to them by disgruntled independents: it is the proverbially wobbly and disaffected center and not the base that should be our concern.  The base has played according to the “base strategy” so well that it is making itself functionally irrelevant to the considerations of party leaders.  This is why you withhold your vote from people who have failed to represent you, because when you continue to endorse those who have betrayed your principles they will assume that they can do this forever without penalty. 

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the case of libertarian voters, who had every reason in 2006 to defect or sit out en masse but who actually started “coming home” to a party that has, by their own admission, increasingly become less and less interested in their sorts of policies.  In other words, the GOP Congress stripped terrorism suspects of habeas corpus protections and more or less handed the executive the authority to determine what constitutes torture, and the great, high-minded libertarian voting bloc–of which we are now supposed to be in awe–voted for that GOP majority at a higher rate than they did before the Military Commissions Act passed.  Nice one, liberts. 

I will bet you that many of these ”libertarian-leaning” voters, in spite of everything else that Mr. Bush has done that might offend them, are concerned about one important thing: keeping those marginal tax rates down.  Seeing the possibility of a Democratic Congress and (gasp!) possibly higher taxes, a fair few libertarians ran home to the Red Republicans out of fear of higher taxes.  Hang the Constitution and fiscal sanity–we need to protect the bottom line!  There are four out of ten libertarian voters who can say that they did not succumb to this kind of thinking, and good for them, but a noticeable number of their ideological brethren inexplicably seem to have come around to the idea that GOP misrule wasn’t as bad as they had thought it was two years ago.  

After all the libertarian whining and lamenting about the dominance of religious conservatives and after the pundits have worked themselves into a lather about the GOP’s endangered hold on the “libertarian” West (both of which threaten to become an important part of the conventional wisdom of Why The GOP Lost), we find that libertarians were even less inclined to vote Democratic in the year of the Great Repudiation than they were in ‘04.  The Schiavo episode must have made libertarians more enthusiastic about Republican control–how else do we explain the rise in the libertarian vote for the GOP?  (Obviously, I kid here.)  Social conservatism did not drive away that many of the independents–the war and corruption scandals did that all on their own–and it also did not drive away any more libertarians than had already been driven away by 2004.  Kirby and Boaz summon the phantom of the “scary” social conservative “obsessions” of the GOP as the thing that is hurting the GOP; social conservatism is the infection that must be eliminated.  Yet libertarian voting patterns show that even the extreme intervention in the Schiavo controversy made no difference in whether libertarians supported the GOP. 

What changed between ‘02 and ‘04?  Gosh, I don’t know.  Could it be the war?  Iraq is the big libertarian vote loser if anything is, just as it is the big vote loser among many other constituencies.  But even Iraq isn’t such a big loser among libertarian voters, since more of them voted for the GOP when Iraq policy was clearly failing than when it was slightly less calamitous.  

All this suggests that a majority of libertarian voters is predictably loyal to the GOP brand in good times and bad.  There is therefore virtually no incentive for the GOP to pander to their concerns about smaller government, less regulation or fiscal responsibility.  The upside of pandering to libertarians is simply not great enough to justify the risk of alienating the much more numerous voters from other very un-libertarian constituencies. 

So there has evidently been some real weakening in libertarian support for the GOP between ’02 and today, but 2006 shows that the bleeding has stopped at the Congressional level and Democratic gains among these voters have ceased.  Short of declaring martial law and sending thousands of people to prison camps, Vendetta-style, the GOP would have a hard time convincing these folks that it was a worse bet in any given election.  So much for the great Libertarian Democrat hope.  So much for the importance of the libertarian vote.  Next!

Some libertarians, but of course not all, are political, not cultural, libertarians: they consider that state power should not be deployed to prevent individuals from selecting things to do. But cultural libertarians, on my view of things, consider that, even in the absence of state and statute, no social convention should prevent individuals from choosing things to do — with themselves and each other.

The distinction is crucial. On the first account, preventing the oppressive overreach of governmental tyranny — a unique power and danger in the world — is the goal, one that conservatives (sigh — generally) share. On the second, promoting the remissive outreach of personal autocracy — a unique power and danger in the world — is a goal no conservative can ever share, for once he or she does, he or she ceases to be a conservative in the decisive sense. Peisistratan tyranny may find even conservative sympathy; not so Calliclean tyranny. ~James Poulos

You would have a hard time convincing me that Peisistratos’ apparent maintenance of the Solonian reforms was the mark of bad government.  An abiding concern of the Athenian aristocracy was a well-ordered polity, for whose benefit they laboured and donated a great deal of wealth.  The sort of self-indulgence that today parades under the banner of “individual autonomy” and the idea of being autonomous from the political community were simply not considered legitimate or ethical alternatives in the life of the polis–this kind of apragmosyne had no place in the community. 

If nomos is not our ruler, but each is a nomos unto himself, you have a recipe for social anarchy sliding towards despotism.  Slavishness and passion truly are linked, and without restraint of the latter there is no way to escape the former.  If no restraints are imposed from within, constraints will be imposed from without.  Cultural libertarians are emancipating themselves straight into the prisonhouses of Leviathan. 

Having partied with The New Criterion and the Georgetown Graduate Student Organization in the space of twenty-four hours, I now feel qualified to issue judgment on liberaltarianism, that contrabulous fabtraption gaining so much said across the “high-end” blogosphere [meaning mainly the Clown Prince of Libertarianism, Julian Sanchez, the Urbane Paleo M.B. Dougherty, the Dark Lord of Paleoconservatism, Daniel Larison, and the We-Don’t-Need- No-Stinking-Object-Modifiers Straight Up Conservative John Tabin.

——————— 

The only irrational prejudice against conservative Christians is sexual. The idea that some sex things simply ought not to be done, as a matter, at its most extreme, of divine command, and that the respect one has for people can be keyed to such interdicts, generates a massive Dionysian hatred that is the real portrait of the American psyche.

But libertarians still basically side with conservatives who are willing to develop public standards of shame, guilt, and disgust and let people carry on as they may behind bricked-up doors. Not until very recently has the left’s hallmark demand after the triumph of the therapeutic — for publicity as a human right — pressed libertarians to support public sexuality, legalized sexuality, enforced respect for sexuality. And what Dupont University graduate can deny that? ~James Poulos

If I am the Dark Lord (a very satisfyingly gloomy description, I must say), I think Mr. Poulos should be called the Ironic Marquis of Postmodernity.  Now there have been and will be a number of different reactions to Mr. Poulos’ post.  Most of them will be unfriendly or dismissive.  Not surprisingly, Julian Sanchez has declared it the silliest response of them all.  This, Mr. Poulos notes, is fitting for the Clown Prince, but what is a Dark Lord to do?  Fulminate?  Denounce?  Send forth the Nazgul?  (So long as I don’t take my Eye off of Iraq, Sen. Santorum will be pleased.)  It is a puzzle.  Therefore, I will take a more roundabout way to offer my reply.   

Libertarians are predictably always very upset when someone takes their rather staid, boring articles about meaningless, insignificant electoral alliances, rejiggering the tax code and reforming agricultural policy and tries to spice them up and make them interesting to a broader audience by saying that this or that sort of libertarian is mainly interested in sexual liberation.  It isn’t that they are against sexual liberation or necessarily think highly of old-fashioned virtues of chastity and restraint (as if!), but they get so tired of being pushed into this stereotype.  (It is rather the way I respond when people talk about “isolationism”–I don’t actually have any problem with the views of the people who have been called “isolationists” over the years, but I find the word itself terribly misleading and annoying.) 

In fact, there is something to the old idea that people are interested in regulating only those things they think are terribly important, so that libertarians are probably more indifferent to sex than they are preoccupied with it.  It is not that they are personally indifferent to it (they might or might not be), but they are indifferent to it as something that needs any kind of serious control or discipline that cannot be managed by individuals themselves.  Because it is basically irrelevant, no one needs to be so worried about it.  The social pressures and social control of the past are simply obstacles to individual freedom; they serve no real purpose, so just get rid of them.  The libertarian is that person who is deeply, painfully aware that someone else somewhere is possibly attempting to impose his moral values on some other person–and the libertarian feels that this person must be stopped from doing this!  The only really relevant things for them are respect for the rights of people and the principle of non-aggression–mess with these, and libertarians will normally become extremely irate.  Any policy that touches on these “rights” becomes a major concern.  

Besides this, they want you to notice how terribly serious and practical their policy proposals are: “Look, we have a plan for Social Security!  We have market-driven solutions! Look at our charts and numbers!”  They want you to notice how politically significant they are: “Look at how many of us there are!  We’re a swing vote all on our own!”  Libertarian pundits and bloggers say all of this in earnest.  They will fight to the death for a person’s right to indulge his sexual passions in just about any way he pleases (so long as there is consent, because consent is magical and makes all things good), but they themselves will not necessarily partake, nor are they even necessarily all that interested in the more bizarre practices of the day.  There are zoning regulations to be torn down, after all, and they won’t tear themselves down. 

What matters is the defense of “individual autonomy”–something that Brink Lindsey describes as a “core political value” for libertarians and something Nick Gillespie mentioned as being central to libertarianism (just in case someone would like to protest at this point that I am caricaturing libertarians and imposing views on them that they do not hold).  It does not matter whether anyone ever goes into the sex shop down the street; what matters is that the opportunity to go into the sex shop is available to one and all and not restricted by the hateful clerics and their sheepish followers; what matters is that we let free individuals in the marketplace decide.

Libertarians will react badly to suggestions that they’re in it mainly for the sex (or whatever other indulgences others pin on them) since, besides being untrue for many, it makes their political philosophy seem trivial.  But take heart, friends–the triviality of their political philosophy can be shown in so many other ways that we need not take this approach at all.  (I can expand on this part more if anyone would like, but what I have said so far ought to have demonstrated what I mean here.)

If I might add another note of dissent to Mr. Poulos’ post, there is more than one irrational prejudice against conservative Christians.  The other is that conservative Christians (or simply most Christians) are somehow less than rational for acknowledging the claims of their authorities and then attempting to follow what their authorities teach.  If there is one constant theme running through much of libertarianism, it is that appeals to authority and reliance on authority are not things that “free people” with “free minds” do.  It is not because religious authorities seek to control any particular physical action that libertarians often loathe them, but because of the imposition this control puts upon the mind.  Whatever they imagine the opposite of a so-called “free mind” to be (presumably a slavish mind), that is the kind of mind they see produced by deference to authority.  Their mockery of Christian declarations on matters of sexual morality is actually mostly incidental.  They take it as a symbol of the unreasonable lengths (as they see them) to which people will go to satisfy the requirements dictated to them by authorities or by the Supreme Authority, when the libertarians themselves regard the activity being so regulated and controlled is not really that big of a deal.  For them, restrictions on sexual behaviour that become a matter for the public authority and social stigma to enforce are representative of the limitations that people put on their own minds; these restrictions represent the abdication of free and independent thought and the replacement of that thought with ”external” requirements.  Removing the social pressure and the influence of authorities that “impose” these requirements is something libertarians can praise and have praised because I think they believe that, somehow, the human mind and human spirit are relieved of terrible, artificial burdens when these things are overthrown. 

In all of this they are stunningly, painfully wrong, but it is important to understand that it is the need to be freisinnig that drives them.  If sating sexual appetites were their principal drive, libertarians would have been kicking around since the dawn of time.  It seems to be the desire to “make up one’s own mind,” a phrase that must make neuroscientists and theologians alike laugh heartily, that is at the core of what most libertarians think libertarianism is.   That being freisinnig also appears at first glance to make life more enjoyable in some narrow sense may add to its appeal, but it is not the reason why the libertarian takes the path that he does.  The Dark Lord now retires to his Dark Tower for some Dark Refreshments.  

That was a quote from Russell Kirk, which Gene Healy read at the start of AFF’s February 2005 debate over whether fusionism could be saved that Michael mentioned in his recent post.  The quote was one of a series of examples given of the rocky and quarrelsome nature of the “marriage” of fusionism over the years, and it helped set the stage for the debate that followed.  I was moved to go back and listen to the debate (audio available online here) because of something Michael cited from it that caught my attention:

Then there are the memorably named, Dupont Circle Libertarians. They no longer see what conservatives consider moral decline as the result of liberal social policies but rather as the natural progression of things - the loosening of religion’s power over society. I’d like to discuss Dupont circle libertarians at length soon.  But one notices from the 2005 AFF debate that Nick Gillespie considers the decrease in social stigma against gays to be an increase in freedom.

Once upon a time, I was, or at least considered myself to be, a libertarian.  Obviously, those days are long gone, but I remember how I saw the world back then and I can recall how a statement like Mr. Gillespie’s would have made a great deal of sense.  If the libertarian typically has no use for the claims of authority, at least those of temporal, earthly authority, and thinks the word authoritarian is a kind of insult (and I think most libertarians would fit this definition), he will normally have no use for social stigmas, or he will normally have no use for social stigmas that he comes to believe are merely the product of a taboo, a prejudice or a religious belief.  Prejudices and stigmas of all kinds, which conservatives tend to accept as part of the human condition, are positively detrimental to human freedom in the libertarian view because they impose burdens on individuals for reasons that seem to the libertarian to be irrational or irrelevant.  Especially if the stigma or prejudice focuses on something believed to be innate and unalterable, burdens imposed on the individual on account of these things that he cannot change and had no control over seem particularly unjust and damaging to human freedom.  Thus it makes a kind of sense to see the end of a social stigma as an advance of freedom, provided that you assume that these stigmas are the enemies of freedom rather than the boundary markers that make stable and orderly social life possible and so create the conditions in which real political and economic liberty, in addition to other, far more important things, can flourish. 

Their view requires a fairly flexible and often elusive definition of freedom, and a definition of freedom that many traditional conservatives would might not even recognise, much less accept.  It is a freedom for individuals to act as they will (yes, I know, provided that it infringes on no one else’s “rights”), which conservatives will always see and will always parody as a lack of restraint and the surrender to the passions.  This is, in the end, why fusionism fails on an intellectual level and will always fail.  What we mean by freedom and what libertarians mean by freedom have surprisingly little in common; what is for them the top priority is at best a second-order good for us that is certainly desirable but simply cannot take the same precedence. 

Practical cooperation for common goals and friendship are all very well and good.  However, there is no coherent theoretical justification for a conservative-libertarian alliance.  In truth, there never was, but most everyone played along with the “tradition of liberty” because there was a very specific sense of respecting the constitutional patrimony that made the idea of this tradition seem remotely plausible.  There is instead the need to work together against common adversaries and advance mutually beneficial proposals that we embrace for radically different, largely incompatible reasons. 

There are, however, powerful disagreements that might still pull the alliance apart, nowhere perhaps more so than on questions of economics and immigration.  If the alliance worked in the past because both sides saw the expansive welfare state as a major threat to their respective goods, the alliance increasingly breaks down when what Brink Lindsey called capitalism’s “relentless dynamism” seems to be one of the forces dissolving social bonds and stable communities.  This is one of those disputes where there is probably no happy middle ground: what we see as disintegration and dissolution of vital social bonds, many libertarians will see as the exhilarating explosion of individual energies and the inevitable consequences of “creative destruction.” 

Many conservatives have contented themselves with being warmed-over classical liberals on economic questions for a very long time, so much so that when some propose to start thinking about economics as traditional conservatives once did they are roundly attacked by these Austrianised and Wal-Mart conservatives as incipient state socialists.  These other conservatives adopted the worn-out clothes of Bastiat et al. perhaps because they believed that there no alternatives available, state socialism was the great, common post-war adversary at home and, besides, capitalism “delivered the goods.”  (Even though this demands us to ask, ”Which goods does it deliver, and do we want them more than others?”)  It is possible that some sort of fusionism may live on through the collaboration of the Wal-Mart conservatives and libertarians, but it will survive mainly through the conservatives’ embrace of almost all libertarian premises about economics and society.    

Julian Sanchez sums up the reactions to Brink Lindsey’s “liberaltarian” article, which drew this matter-of-fact comment from Steve Sailer: 

Libertarians are a lot more prevalent in the high-IQ swatch of the web than they are in voting booth. This argument is eliciting a lot more excitement in the high-end blogosphere than in the offices of campaign consultants.

Steve Sailer has been making this point elsewhere whenever people begin speaking breathlessly about the prospect of libertarians seeking new alliances.  It is a point that ought to be restated again and again.  Even if someone could cook up a rather shaky Unified Field Theory of libertarianism and liberalism (if I see one more mention of a possible ”reconciliation” between Hayek and Rawls, I believe I may become violently ill), it would change very little. 

The political irrelevance of the entire discussion is something that I alluded to a bit in my rather long, winding post on the same article when I noted that libertarians don’t pack much of a political punch:

For all of the enthusiastic talk about the “libertarian” swing vote this year, nobody on either side seemed terribly interested in appealing to it.  Why?  Because no one believes he is likely to win elections by appealing to it.

But there is another problem.  In addition to rather ridiculously small numbers (which have to be inflated by the category of “libertarian-leaning” voters in Cato’s recent study to make the “swing vote” idea remotely plausible), libertarians do not reliably vote as a bloc for a specific slate of issues.  As Sanchez hints when he refers to the problem of internal disunity, there is no “libertarian vote” to which a candidate would even be able to appeal, because libertarians seem to not agree among themselves what takes priority (which is true of any group of people with strong political opinions, but it is more damaging to effective political action the smaller the group is).  The argument over which “side” libertarians should take–the old fusionism or the new, liberal fusionism or something else all together–is about as meaningful as arguing over whether Monty Python’s Judaean People’s Front or the People’s Front of Judaea or the Popular Front would be better able to overthrow Roman rule in Life of Brian.  Even if you settled the argument and came up with a satisfactory conclusion, it would amount to very, very little.  It could make for fun debate.  Unruly reactionary observers of the debate could also occasionally toss out Bolingbrokean fulminations that declared the two traditions to be equally obnoxious and therefore in some sense made for each other.  But whatever the outcome the impact of the “libertarian vote”‘ on matters of policy would remain as miniscule as it is today.  

I find I am compelled to agree with Michael’s concluding statement to his related post: “Frankly I think it’s unseemly how much attentions libertarians are getting these days.”

 
Addendum: I should have been more precise in my earlier post.  I spoke indifferently of libertarians and “libertarians” who participated in the conservative movement; I should have made it clear that this latter group would be better identified as fusionist libertarians, and that it was particularly these fusionist types following Frank Meyer’s lead in their rather dismissive attitude towards traditionalist concerns that I was berating.  This also had the effect of confusing Reason-style open borders libertarians with these fusionist libertarians, who are pro-immigration but not nearly so batty about it.  Because this was unclear in the original post, there may have been a good deal of confusion about who the subject of my criticism was. 

Most obviously, many of the great libertarian breakthroughs of the era–the fall of Jim Crow, the end of censorship, the legalization of abortion, the liberalization of divorce laws, the increased protection of the rights of the accused, the reopening of immigration–were championed by the political left.

Furthermore, it has become increasingly clear that capitalism’s relentless dynamism and wealth-creation–the institutional safeguarding of which lies at the heart of libertarian concerns–have been pushing U.S. society in a decidedly progressive direction. The civil rights movement was made possible by the mechanization of agriculture, which pushed blacks off the farm and out of the South with immense consequences. Likewise, feminism was encouraged by the mechanization of housework. Greater sexual openness, as well as heightened interest in the natural environment, are among the luxury goods that mass affluence has purchased. So, too, are secularization and the general decline in reverence for authority, as rising education levels (prompted by the economy’s growing demand for knowledge workers) have promoted increasing independence of mind. ~Brink Lindsey

If Mr. Lindsey had wanted to bring together a laundry list of all the things that conservatives have typically considered to be evidence of the decline of America (i.e., divorce, abortion, vulgar and offensive pop culture, immigration, the “progressive” fruits of capitalism’s “relentless dynamism”) and if he had wanted to come up with a list of precisely those policies that deeply, profoundly offend a broad Middle American constituency (i.e., divorce, abortion, vulgar and offensive pop culture, immigration, the “relentless dynamism” of capitalism and its “progressive” consequences), he could scarcely have come up with better.  The reality that these policies have provided the fuel for the last generation of conservative populism, which shows no sign of being either less popular or less intense than it used to be, and have represented in most cases the great betes noires of traditional conservatives does not seem to cross Mr. Lindsey’s mind.  To wit, he seems unconcerned that the very things libertarians have in common with the left are the things that have made the left politically radioactive in many parts of this country for 40 years.  One can see why libertarians might have a lot of common ground with the left, but one is hard-pressed to see why liberals would want to embrace more strongly the image that has alienated so many Americans from them in election after election. 

Instead of setting himself up for the usual knocks on libertarians for deficient understandings of community or excessive approval of individual desires, Mr. Lindsey offers up an abundance of reasons for traditional conservatives to be only too willing to help him out the door.  For example, he does this when he describes as “libertarian breakthroughs” things that seem to traditional conservatives to be unmitigated disasters.  He reminds us why traditional conservatives have long been skeptical of the virtues of capitalism when he correctly points out how capitalism has led to many of the social changes that strike the traditional conservative either as deeply worrisome (greater sexual openness) or downright horrifying (secularisation, decline in reverence for authority).  In showing what liberals and libertarians have in common, he also shows us just how deeply at odds libertarians and traditional conservatives are and have been for a very long time over some of the more fundamental questions of the age.  This is not exactly news, but it is something that fusionists have been good at keeping at the back of their minds.  The more interesting question in all of this might be this: how did fusionism ever last this long?  Short answer: the old New Deal-Great Society model of liberalism was uniquely hostile to libertarian economic concerns and forced them into the embrace of people whom they would, all things being equal, sooner throw into oncoming traffic–figuratively speaking, of course.

It is true that different varieties of conservative populism, be it social or economic or both, are inimical to libertarianism.  It is also true that, especially in Webb’s case, an important part of the successful Democratic appeal in more conservative states this year had more to do with economic populism than with “libertarian” views on the 2nd Amendment and abortion.  (The war and accountability for misrule were, of course, the transcendent issues, but Webb’s populism helped make him more competitive in parts of the state where a NoVa wine-and-cheeser would have fallen flat.)  Libertarians might be able to find Democratic candidates they can support, but a crucial point in all of this is that no Democratic candidate is really winning because he is running on libertarian themes.  They are winning because they are exploiting the right’s indifference to economic insecurity (Middle American people are less than thrilled about the “relentless dynamism” of capitalism than Mr. Lindsey) and because they are making at least symbolic gestures towards the social populism of the right on cultural issues and immigration.  For all of the enthusiastic talk about the “libertarian” swing vote this year, nobody on either side seemed terribly interested in appealing to it.  Why?  Because no one believes he is likely to win elections by appealing to it.  To this extent, I am willing to agree with Ross and Reihan when they rather brusquely laugh at proposals to rejuvenate small-government governing philosophy as the answer to the GOP’s woes.  I am not convinced that the American people are as “meliorist” and given over to government solutions as David Brooks thinks we are, but I am certainly convinced that when Middle America tastes the bitter fruits of trade and immigration policies that the more doctrinaire libertarians cheer on it turns away from anything resembling laissez-faire attitudes with disgust.  As it should.  If libertarians are the red-headed stepchild of American politics, it is because they have made themselves uniquely hostile to the core values of all other major constituencies with such dedication and zeal that it seems like a deliberate campaign to achieve their own permanent marginalisation and irrelevance.   

One of the most prominent examples in recent years of the general, national horror at doctrinaire free trade attitudes was the response across the spectrum to the Dubai ports deal.  (Some of this almost certainly was opportunistic Democratic posturing, but for the most part the stunned disbelief of people throughout the country was, I think, quite real.)  Libertarians can huff and puff about nationalism, Islamophobia and anything else they like in this case, but they will not blow down populism’s house.  The party that eschews this populism, especially on national questions of immigration, trade and the economy, and pursues more of the libertarian line will come out the political loser.  (That said, not all populisms are equal, and particularly fiscally reckless or redistributive populisms will go down to defeat as well.)  Putting it simply, if the “progressive globalists” among today’s liberals and libertarians want to team up on the basis of their shared prog-glob outlook, they will be outnumbered and will lose repeatedly.  Liberals are finding their way back to power by allying themselves with populist and nationalist appeals, which they have hitherto tended to run away from or actively attack.  The libertarian approach offers them the fast-track back to their coastal ghettoes.

Arguably, in these two passages alone, Mr. Lindsey offers many excellent reasons not only for why libertarians should switch “sides” to join with their historic benefactors on the left but also why conservatives would have to be something very close to mad to keep wanting to appease and satisfy people who are fundamentally hostile to most of the things they actually wish to conserve.  If fusionism were a marriage and you are playing the part of the traditionalist, the libertarian would be rather like the spouse who burns down the house, commits adultery and occasionally tries to run you down with the car, all the while continually threatening to leave you. “You’ll never find anyone else like me!” the spouse screams at you, which is fortunately true.  To this the traditional traditionalist response has been, “Oh, no, please don’t go!  We can work it out!”

This sick relationship has been in need of serious revision for a long time.  If they are so keen to go, maybe it is high time to send the libertarians packing.  On many practical policy questions, libertarians and traditionalists still have considerable common ground.  But one gets the sense from all of this chatter about flirting with the left that some libertarians place a much higher priority on all those things where we differ with them and that they feel somehow oppressed by the alleged preeminence of social and religious conservatives. 

To which I, as a social and religious conservative of a sort, must reply: where is this great and impressive preeminence that we are supposed to have in the movement, much less in the GOP?  Name a single major policy that has actually catered to the interests of these people.  And if you show me a faith-based initiative, I will show you just another big-government boondoggle that offends quite a lot of traditional and religious conservatives as much as it offends libertarians.  When pressed for specifics, people lamenting the dominance of “theocons” or evangelicals or any other demonised group of religious conservatives have difficulty coming up with more than a vague sense that “they” control things which is why everything has gone wrong.  We observe from all this that the Dougherty Doctrine has been proved over and over again:

At the end of the day, the arguments all seem to boil down to something similar: If it were more like me, the Republican Party would be better off. It’s failing because it’s like you.  

Secular, “skeptical” and “libertarian” conservative books and articles about the alleged predominance of religious conservatives abound (Mr. Lindsey’s article makes reference to a few).  Heather Mac Donald, Andrew Sullivan, and Ryan Sager, to name a few of the more prominent, have laid out their indictments in shorter or longer form in recent months.  No matter which one of these interpretations you read, you find that there is a common attitude that religion and the religious have somehow taken over the movement in a big way.  That the only people echoing this assessment are generally hyperbolic progressives who see American theocracy around the corner does not bode well for their case.  Sager and Sullivan also go on to paint lurid pictures of galivanting religiosity somehow inducing people to engage in massive overspending and pork-barrel indulgences.  How this happens is not, so far as I can tell, ever explained.  It is an axiom of these critics: religion in politics leads to big government and big spending (because I, noble critic, oppose both religious politics and big spending–QED).  Given the ridicule of the faithful and all things “faith-based” these criticisms usually involve, the lack of empirical proof for these charges is striking.  Unbeknownst to anyone else but the insightful Defenders of the Skeptical and Doubt-ridden Libertarian Faith, the Bridge to Nowhere was actually a religious monument.

While my small-government views are usually about as reliable and often libertarian-like as one is likely to find among conservatives (you see, I have this funny respect for the Constitution), I have never put much stock in the fusionist alliance since I first came to understand what it was.  The alliance has always worked something like this: libertarians or libertarian-leaning conservatives in the alliance (along with the more purely pro-business and, in the old days, anticommunist conservatives) proposed, and traditionalists disposed.  Traditionalists were the shock troops filling the polling stations and making up a large part of the membership, while the others were safely ensconced, Hague-like, back at HQ, always quick to point out how the trads had failed them and betrayed their vision whenever something went wrong.  

Frank Meyer’s “tradition of liberty,” the oxymoronic formulation at the heart of fusionism, always cut against whatever traditionalists sought to defend when their views clashed with the “libertarians.”   (My earlier, more irenic critiques of fusionism and Meyer are available here and here.)  Whenever the “libertarians” and others failed or led the alliance to political defeat, the traditionalists were nonetheless acceptable whipping boys and scapegoats.  The lesson was that any rhetorical nods to tradition and community in the past were already a few too many.  With the arrival of neoconservatives, traditional conservative concerns about community and social order at first ironically seemed to be taken somewhat more seriously and with a level of social scientific rigour that expressed in terms of function and structure certain virtues of adhering to traditional norms and valuing intermediary institutions.  However, the traditionalists soon discovered that neoconservatives were among the biggest boosters of the state capitalist and welfarist structures in our society hostile to the traditionalist vision of local community and decentralised government.  The neocons eventually secured the “reform” of these institutions as one of the main goals in the mid-’90s, and they had discovered pretty early on that when it came to the vital question of immigration neoconservatives and libertarians were squarely on the same, wrong side.

Each time the “libertarians” and others led, or tried to lead, the movement more and more away from traditionalist concerns, the traditionalists convinced themselves that they had to be prudent and stay in it for the long haul and patiently await the delivery on the small-government promises which they had originally signed on to see fulfilled.  Maybe, just maybe, we told ourselves (or so it seems to me), if the GOP continues to ally itself with the moneyed interest and the forces of “creative destruction” it will gain enough power to undo all of the damage caused by the government and…the moneyed interest and the forces of “creative destruction.”  For having followed them down this primrose path of creative destruction, we traditionalists have really only ourselves to blame, but it does not absolve them from the responsibility of having built the primrose path (which is, of course, paved, garishly lit by neon with conveniently located fast-food joints every couple of miles, and whose construction required the condemnation of several old historic districts, the leveling of a forest and the destruction of numerous houses).

But a funny thing happened on the way to the fulfillment.  Most dedicated libertartians found themselves on the losing end as well when it came to questions of reducing government power, which is where they continued to find common ground with traditionalists and Middle Americans who still liked (and, I believe, would still respond well to) the “leave us alone” mantra.  Most fusionist libertarians inside the movement, on the other hand, got into the dubious game of “market solutions” for welfarist ends.  But, during the ’80s and ’90s, they found that they were the big winners in defining what it meant to be economically conservative and in making enthusiasm for corporations, free trade, free markets and, effectively, the free international flow of labour the cornerstones of that definition against which someone inside the movement dissented only if he was independently wealthy, masochistic or simply convinced that dogmatic adherence to these things was deeply mistaken.  These things predictably tend to unite libertarians, whether paleolibertarian, “modal,” or other, and unite them to the classical liberals of the 19th century for whom most libertarians have such warm regard.  Now that even just one of these (the free international flow of labour, i.e., mass immigration) has been attacked on the right, there is a great deal of wailing going on in libertarian circles about “nativism” and Nazis.  For these folks and their comrades who call themselves conservatives, we have a simple, straightforward statement.