Tuesday, May 14, 2002

A New Wave of Big-Government Conservatives?

Political philosophy professor Charles Kesler (once one of my professors at CMC) writes in today's NRO about the reports of an ideological demise. According to such op-ed page luminaries as Francis Fukuyama and George Will, the conservative/libertarian coalition that has so long opposed big government is fading as a political force. According to Fukuyama, "The great free-market revolution that began with… Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan… has finally reached its… point of reversal." George Will joins in, observing that "We are seeing the beginnings of big-government conservatism."

Kesler himself writes the obituary for the alliance of traditional values conservatives and libertarians:
"Fukuyama and Will are correct that the conservatives' and especially the Republicans' fight against Big Government was faltering long before September 11. Nonetheless, this doesn't prove that conservatives lack a cogent criticism of the modern state, much less that they don't need one. It proves only that the common libertarian critique, rooted in amoral freedom and the economist's view of human nature, has run its course. Libertarianism of this sort may continue to offer conservatives useful arguments but can no longer set the tone and agenda for our criticism of the modern state."

This is unfortunate, if true. Moreover, if conservative Republicans think they can get along without the social moderates from their libertarian faction they're in for a rude surprise. Opponents on the Left might not like the libertarians' impulse to cut any tax they can get their hands on, but they're really frightened by re-criminalizing abortion. Swing voters will be scared off infinitely faster by John Ashcroft than by any socially moderate small-government politician. When conservatives start disavowing their alliances to limited government and individual liberty their public face will, no matter how they might try to avoid it, come to be dominated by sanctimonious scolds like William Bennett and offensive sermonizers like Pat Robertson. And that is not the image that fosters national political victories.


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