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During the 1950’s, the threat of Soviet communism and an overweening domestic state as typified by the New Deal, brought together a very diverse coalition on the American right: fiscal conservatives, religious conservatives, national defense hawks, and what would eventually become known as libertarians. Frank Meyer, an editor at National Review, was perhaps the most ardent proponent of the concept know as fusionism, which attempted to bring these unlikely allies into a single philosophical framework. The idea was that, even if we disagreed on the destination, for the moment we were traveling in the same direction.
Despite Meyer’s efforts, libertarians were always, at best, uneasy members of the coalition. After all, Frederick Hayek, one of the most important libertarian philosophers, famously wrote an essay entitled, “Why I am not a Conservative.” Even so, libertarians have long been broadly identified as part of the American Right.
For most of my political life, I was comfortable with this. Of course, I had my differences with conservatives, but the right seemed like a reasonable default home. I wrote for National Review and other conservative outlets and tended to vote Republican if there was no Libertarian on the ballot. Long ago, I even ran for office as a Republican. I took seriously Ronald Reagan’s statement that “Libertarianism is the heart and soul of conservatism.”
Whether or not those sentiments were once justified or I was just politically naive, it is clearly no longer the case. Today’s conservatives no longer have even a tangential relationship with libertarianism. The slide from traditional small government conservatism, even with its baggage on social issues, to Trumpism, with all its nationalism, jingoism, racialism, and the rejection of the values of enlightenment liberalism, has made the break complete. Even on traditional conservative issues involving taxes, spending, or reducing the power of the federal government, today’s conservatives have abandoned the field.
After all, what does it mean when I agree with Alexandria Ocasio Cortez on as many if not more issues than I do with even a so-called “liberty conservative” like Rand Paul. No, I haven’t lost my mind. AOC and her colleagues on the left still have little to no understanding of — or appreciation for — economics. They need to be kept far away from the federal budget. They too often believe that government power can be used for good if only they are in charge of it. But on important issues like immigration, civil liberties, racial justice, women’s rights, LGBQT issues, police reform, war and peace, Trump’s legacy, and many others, AOC is more libertarian than many self-professed libertarians.
I am a libertarian because I believe in certain basic values: chief among them individual liberty, free markets, limited government, and peace. I believe that these values are essential to human flourishing, and I believe that big government is generally inimical to those values. I believe that low taxes and tolerable regulations are the key to wealth creation and that wealth creation is necessary (if not sufficient) to reducing poverty. I believe that most government programs are counterproductive and that entitlements are bankrupting the country. None of that has changed. I’m not going to turn into an AOC clone any time soon.
But I no longer believe that there is any natural affinity between libertarianism and conservatism. We are no longer headed in the same direction. Fusionism is dead.
Anyone wanting to know more about libertarianism, or why I consider myself a libertarian, need look no further than David Boaz’s new book, The Libertarian Mind: A Manifesto for Freedom.
Boaz masterfully explains the philosophical underpinnings of libertarianism, in easy, accessible language, and applies that philosophy to contemporary policy issues in very practical ways.
Simply put, a must read, not just for libertarians, but for policy junkies everywhere.