Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Sickness At The Heart Of Contemporary Conservatism

With all the lambasting I do of the Left, I sometimes forget to be “fair and balanced.” Mind you, that’s not to imply that the Right is equally sinful, or in the same ways. But self-nominated conservatives are far from stainless representatives of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.

Have a gander at the following clinker, emitted by Kevin Williamson in the middle of a column in which it’s entirely gratuitous:

The Libertarian party should hold its convention at the Boot Track Café in Loving County, Texas, the least populated place in the United States; the café is closed at the moment, but I am sure that they would open it up to give the Libertarian party a place where its members — both of them — can be lonely together.

Oh, how clever. And how utterly irrelevant, mean-spirited, and small-souled. Do you suppose Mr. Williamson is aware that the most popular Republican now in federal office is libertarian Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky? But that might require that he confront data that doesn’t conform to his prejudices.

I’m getting rather sick of this garbage. I hear a lot of it from so-called conservatives, most of whom can’t even articulate what conservative means. Yes, the LP is small, far smaller than either major party. But do you suppose Mr. Williamson will be happy to be reminded of his cited statement the next time a Republican candidate loses by a small margin? Do you suppose, mindful of the LP’s trivial size, that he’ll refrain from castigating the Libertarian candidate for “stealing” votes from his partisan preference?

I left the LP because the persons rising to the leadership of the Party struck me as uncongenial and impossible to work with. But the core libertarian principle –i.e., that individuals have inalienable rights that no one may legitimately invade or infringe – remains a staple of my convictions. Within its sphere of application, it is unchallengeable...and never explicitly challenged, except by those who proclaim that “only might makes right.”

American political conservatism has been trending ever more strongly toward libertarian positions. This is a notable development, inasmuch as the heart of the conservative world view is a firm attachment to existing institutions and methods, many of which imply the exact reverse of inviolable individual rights. Yet there is important explanatory material here, for a political family’s most threatening competition comes from those whose principles and positions are closest to its own.

(No Democrat who loses his bid for office has ever blamed it on the Libertarian candidate. Food for thought.)

But if you want a really revealing look at the sickness at the heart of conservatism, consider how little conservatives really understand about the Rule of Law. John Hayward’s recent column provides a starting point:

Not only is the Rule of Law a hollow phrase in America today, it lacks the proper intrinsic weight. Even the most hideously savage regimes have laws, and they bloody well expect everyone to follow them, Or Else. The Islamic State has all sorts of laws, with divine authority cited for many of them. They’re even minting their own currency these days. If you know absolutely nothing else about a particular society except that it features absolute obedience to the Rule of Law, I suggest asking a few more questions before deciding to purchase a summer home there.

Yes, indeed. In particular, ask this one:

Are government agents permitted to break one law in the course of enforcing some other law?

...and demand a yes or no answer – unqualified.

What’s that? You want to know what I have in mind? How about just about everything? For example, the Constitution, the Supreme Law of the Land, explicitly recognizes and guarantees certain rights of privacy and property in the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. Yet government agents routinely violate those rights for “law enforcement” purposes in the enforcement of other laws: everything from municipal zoning ordinances to the income tax and the War on Drugs. Indeed, we’re expected to surrender those rights upon request when a gaggle of myrmidons needs our property for a “stakeout;” recent developments in California have made this plain.

The usual excuse is “compelling government interest.” But under the theory behind the Constitution and the state charters, government, an agent with delegated powers, can have no interests of its own. It exists solely to discharge the responsibilities delineated for it in those documents, and for no other purpose.

A conservative who waves this aside to make room for his favorite intrusion on our rights – perhaps by saying something like “We’ve got to be practical” – is no friend of freedom. Nor will he rise to defend freedom when his personal ox is gored.

Quoth Louis Thiers:

Either rights exist, or they do not exist. If they exist, they involve absolute consequences...Furthermore, if a right exists, it exists at every moment. It is absolute today, yesterday, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, in summer as in winter, not when it pleases you to declare it in force.

I have no problem with a conservative who’s willing to accept that statement...but far too few self-styled conservatives are so willing. It might threaten their campaigns against drugs, sodomy, or abortion. It might make it difficult to fund their next military expedition! Can’t have that.

Small wonder conservative commentators so frequently slather contempt upon libertarians and libertarianism. They usually know, in their heart of hearts, that their positions contain quite a lot of contradiction, and they’d rather not have us point it out...especially when the powers and perquisites of high office are at stake.

ADDENDUM: Don't bother to comment if you can't do so without insulting me. Don't bother if you can't grasp why unenforceable laws are a bad idea. And especially don't bother if you think agents of the State should have the privilege of breaking laws that bind the rest of us. As I've said more than once, I'll entertain intelligent arguments only. Either play at my level or play with yourself...a practice I'm told has its devotees.

(Cross-posted at Liberty’s Torch.)

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