Sunday, August 06, 2006

Of Paleoconservatism and Libertarianism

Murray rejected what Mises called the cultural destructionism of the left because he saw it as a back-door to state building. If you attack the family by impinging on its autonomy, the family can no longer serve as a bulwark against state power. So it is with leftist rhetoric that ridicules the habits, prejudices, traditions, and institutions that form the basis of settled, middle-class community life. He saw the relentless attacks on these as paving the way for government managers to claim more territory as their own.

Moreover, it was Murray's conviction that government power was the greatest enemy that a rich cultural heritage has. It is not capitalism that wrecks the foundations of civilized life but the state. In this, he was in full agreement with Mises, Hayek, and Schumpeter. And incidentally, this line of argument, which Murray had long used, has been picked up by other libertarians in the meantime.

But the real bond between Tom and Murray was their shared hatred of the statism, centralism, and global warfarism of the conservative movement. They were both fed up with a Buckleyized conservatism, and now, at last, here was a chance to do something about it. Together Murray and I watched as the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union dissolved, and we were intensely curious as to how the conservatives would respond. Would they return to their pre-war, anti-war roots? Or would they continue to push for the American empire? Well, we got our answer in 1990 with the beginnings of the Gulf War. It seemed obvious that this was Bush's attempt to keep the warfare state fat and thriving.

The U.S. gave permission to Iraq to annex Kuwait, and then suddenly reversed positions. The U.S. paid off countries around the world to be part of its "coalition" and waged a bloody war on Iraq, burying innocents in the sand and proclaiming victory over the aggressor.We waited for the conservatives to denounce the war, but of course it didn't happen, although I'll always treasure Kirk's last letter to me, in which he called for hanging the "war criminal Bush" on the White House lawn. Too bad he never wrote like that in public. But the neocons were entirely in control of the right and cheered Bush to the Heavens.

These were disgusting days. Bush dragged out all his tax-funded missiles and other weapons of mass destruction and put them on the Washington, D.C., mall for the boobsoisie to admire. Yellow ribbons were everywhere. But the paleos were a different matter. Paul Gottfried, Allan Carlson, Clyde Wilson, Fleming, and others associated with the Rockford Institute blasted the war without qualification. They openly called the U.S. an imperial power and made the argument that we had always made: that the greatest threat to our liberties was not overseas but in the District of Columbia.

Meanwhile, we were alarmed that not even the libertarians seemed prepared to go this far. Reason magazine and the Republican Liberty Caucus were for the Gulf War, and Liberty magazine, for whom Murray had written, was ambivalent on the question. In general, there was silence from the people who should have been our natural allies. To us, that merely underscored a more deeply rooted problem in libertarian circles: the strange combination of cultural alienation and political conventionality.

We began to write about the errors of the "modal" libertarians. They were soft on war, sanguine about centralization of power, and friendly towards the rise of the social-therapeutic aspects of the state inherent in civil-rights egalitarianism. They were uninterested in scholarship and unschooled in history. They were culturally fringy and politically mainstream, which is precisely the opposite of what Murray and Mises were. I couldn't imagine the old libertarian school of Nock, Chodorov, Garrett, Flynn, and Mencken at home with this. The best of the paleoconservatives, in contrast, were old-fashioned constitutionalists who took libertarian positions on a range of issues. They wanted the troops home and the government out of people's lives. They wanted to abolish the welfare state, and had a very telling critique of it. Their critique was not based on rights, but it was serious and sophisticated.

The above is from an interview with Lew Rockwell discussing his history with libertarian thought and his encounters with paleoconservatives. Read the entire thing here.

Using a little Technorati magic I have discovered that a lot of folks do not even know what a paleoconservative is. One liberal blog I visited suggested that since the neoconservatives have essentially cooked their own goose the liberal moonbats of the world ought to unite in terming the rest of us conservatives as paleo's...just to show how primitive our ideas really are. How foolish in that Old Right conservatives were calling themselves paleoconservatives as soon as pro-war, pro-big government, pro-tyranny Democrats started calling themselves Republicans.

Most Old Right conservatives within the Republican Party do not even know they are paleo's. They believe that the Republican Party is for individual and states' rights, that it is the protector of their homes, liberties and the Constitution. They foolishly believe it is the party of life, God, family and the American way.

Why is this? Slick marketing and a flock of sheep ready to believe are two good reasons. In the case of evangelicals the fact that they have been and are led by men of dubious character and intent is another reason. Their leaders have crawled into the bed of the neoconservative agenda in the hope of advancing their cause. All they have done is provide the votes and support the neocons needed and could not get if the ran on their true agenda.

Another problem that Paleoconservatism faces is a lack of an easily articulated philosophy. Any true paleo knows that polite dinner conversation revolving around their beliefs is fairly difficult. Our ideas may indeed be the ideas of Jefferson but it is hard to find mainstream sheeple that understand them. Pat Buchanan speaks paleoconservative at times but from a populist standpoint. He is habitually labeled paleo but that is probably a misnomer (slight, still glad to have Pat in the Paleo camp).

Our ideas are very similar to the pure libertarian point of view but that too gets confusing to the uninitiated (we come from different traditions - one from the Enlightenment the other from tradition). The Libertarian Party, as Lew Rockwell alludes to in the article referenced above, is not true to pure libertarian ideology. There is also a stigma among conservative folks against anything with the letters "lib". Many look at the libertarian stance on social issues and see liberal and dismiss the entire theory. That is not the right way to see the difference.

In my mind what we have currently is two parties with the same ideology. Both are for bigger government, more control and less freedom. They only differ on how to spend your money, who to give it to and where government ought to expand.

I would love to have two parties representing the paleoconservative viewpoint and the libertarian viewpoint. Each would offer candidates seeking smaller government, more freedom, and less control. They would only differ on where to cut back taxes, where to allow more freedom and how much government ought to shrink. Under a two party system comprised of these two ideological sides of the same coin we would win either way.

Here is a good definition of Paleoconservatism from Old Right:

The term "paleoconservative" (sometimes shortened to paleo when the context is clear) refers to an American branch of conservative thought that stands against both the mainstream tradition of the National Review magazine and the neoconservatives. They trace themselves to the Old Right Republicans of the interwar period who successfully kept America out of the League of Nations and cut down non-European immigration in 1924, and opposed the New Deal. Paleos tend to be more critical of federal power over state and local authority, more willing to question free trade, harshly critical of further immigration and to follow an isolationist foreign policy. They are also more critical of the welfare state than the neoconservatives tend to be.

The name 'paleoconservative' differentiates itself from 'neoconservatism'. Where the neos were (Latin for) new the paleos were old. The paleoconservatives view the neoconservatives as interlopers. They furthermore tend to see the methods of the neo-conservatives as simply those of right wing Trotskyites as opposed to traditional conservatives. Paleo's view the mainstream conservatives, and especailly the neoconservative faction, as a betrayal of sacred principles and a denial of human nature.

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