It’s rare to hear somebody try to defend conservative ideas. That’s mostly because conservativism is generally defined as a lack of ideas. While classical liberals, social democrats, socialists, fascists and anarchists have something they strive towards… conservatives only knows what they are against: change.
But in the latest edition of “Policy magazine”, John Heard has tried to defend conservatives and justify the continuation of the old conservative-libertarian union. He fails.
First, he tries to say that conservative actually means something in America, but all he can come up with is slogans about bogans with big hats.
He eventually admits what we already knew… that “the label conservative is not, in fact, a fixed or even a known quantity”. For or against Israel. For or against trade. For or against small government. For or against climate change action. For or against war & activist foreign policy. For or against immigration. For or against minority rights. The word changes meaning so often because there is no underlying political philosophy. Just a “vibe”. And when a group of conservatives can find a group of common policies, those policies have no consistent underlying theme.
Heard notes the historical fusion between traditional (social) conservatives and libertarians. But this still does not tell us what “traditional (social) conservativism” actually means, other than “anti-change”. He makes reference to “virtue”, but that doesn’t tell us what the government should do. Another reference is to “shared values, morals and standards”, but that doesn’t actually tell us anything about a political philosophy. Lenin and Trotsky also shared values, but that doesn’t make them conservative. The only other clues Heard leaves us is that conservatives were scared of communism, like god, and that they are always worried about the “fabric of society”. Still — no hint of political philosophy.
It is no surprise to me that Heard totally fails to define conservativism in terms of political philosophy. It is not possible. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to notice his failure and instead strives forward to defend the union between the conservative non-philosohpy and the libertarian philosophy.
Heard tells us some of the history of the conservative-libertarian union. He points out the standard explaination that their mutual anti-socialist tendencies brought them together. Strangely, he seems to disagree with this idea and then pretty much presents the exact same idea with different words (because both groups didn’t like the direction America was heading).
The logical consequence of this is for libertarians to now reject the conservative-libertarian alliance… as the conservatives are now very much in bed with the big-government social democrats. Social democrats believe in our current social democracy. Conservatives believe in conserving our current social democracy. Libertarians want change.
Heard fails to notice this break-down. Instead, he seems to defend the fusion by saying that it worked and asks “why anyone would want to jeopardise the broad political appeal of fusionist conservatism”.
While it is true that the conservatives gained power, this does not mean that the fusion makes sense. Once in power the conservatives failed to promote libertarian ideas, instead becoming a populist pool of the religious-right, big-government nanny-staters, agrarian-socialists and war-mongers. How does this help libertarians? Heard is confusing political philosophy with politics. While the “conservative” team may have been elected, it has been social-democratic policies that have won*. Heard is happy about this outcome. People who believe in the philosophy of freedom are not.
The union continues to be useful for conservatives. Without libertarian ideas, the conservative movement would look entirely empty of thought (both Australian “right-wing” think-tanks are libertarian, not conservative). And having libertarians actively criticising conservative politics would mean that the conservatives would have to justify themselves. So I can see why Heard (presumably a conservative and/or Liberal party member) wants the fusion to continue.
But the union makes no sense for libertarians. Conservatives do get more votes than libertarians, but then when in power they do nothing to promote libertarian ideas. By supporting conservatives we dilute our message and weaken our voice and allow ourselves to be side-lined in the political contest between two sets of big-government conservative social democratic parties. By hiding our voice inside a conservative fake-union we are allowing the social democrats to win the battle of ideas.
Instead of meakly accepting the choice between two conservative social-democratic big-government parties, libertarians need to be arguing for a different set of ideas. We need to be arguing against conserving the status quo. And that puts us on a direct collision course with the conservatives.
(* Ironically, the few libertarian victories in Australia came mostly under an ALP administration anyway, which further undermines the idea that libertarians get value from their historical ties with the conservatives.)