Libertarian friends and conservative opponents, whats a Buckley style fusionist to do? Earlier this evening I watched the live stream of the debate between interns of the Heritage Foundation and Cato Institute. It was an enlightening and interesting event by and large but the policies and theories they discussed were not the part that ended up piquing my interest the most. It was the title phrase of this article. The Heritage Foundation interns repeatedly referred to the Cato interns as “our libertarian friends” but the libertarians instead referred to the conservatives as “our conservative opponents.” It is entirely possible that this is a completely stylistic difference but I can’t help thinking that it is symptomatic of something else, of a fracturing of the “fusionism” that had defined conservatism and right-libertarianism of recent decades.
Before we get too much deeper into this lets establish a few things to make sure you understand where I’m working from with my assumptions. I firmly believe that Cato is the pre-eminent home of libertarianism today. I think most people would be willing to concede this point. I think it can also be acknowledged that they tend to be of a more or less left-libertarian persuasion. This is not a bad thing, it is more true to the thought school’s roots and better reflects their values and goals than just considering their policy proposals would.
Conservatism, especially young conservatives on the other hand are on a cresting wave of right-libertarianism within the broader conservative school of thought. This is a result of William Buckley’s “conservative movement” doing so much to bring these schools of thought together, if somewhat uneasily. We can see proof of this in things like the House Freedom Caucus, the somewhat nonsensical popularity of Anachro-Capitalism, and the Tea Party movement. So why this dissonant tone then?
I should acknowledge that this could be absolutely nothing at all. It is entirely possible and maybe even likely that this was just a matter of the teams’ strategies and preferences. Nothing more than just the way they chose to prepare and debate as individuals, or the conservatives trying to strike a more friendly tone while they were on figuratively enemy turf.
It is however also possible that this is a sign of a redeveloping split between the two movements that had been previously growing in influence together. This theory is lent credence by the ever expanding culture war and the prominence of identity politics in a world of internet based hot takes. In fact one of the very first points made in the debate illustrated this, a conservative typically believes like Aristotle that the family is the base political unit and will typically ascribe to a traditional judeo-christian morality. A libertarian on the other hand believes that it is the individual and that the right to free expression of personal identity resides somewhere near the center of political freedom itself. I won’t be the sort of “Trad-life” type to condemn them as libertines for thinking like this, but there would seem to be some very loose correlation between these two thought schools.
So can these political philosophies remain allies? Have they ever truly been allies? I think these questions should be asked and addressed, both for myself and for people who think like me. The answers do not reside with the right-libertarians, they are evolving away from both in their own unique direction. Instead these questions can only be addressed by continuing these debates and traditions like them. Finally I would recommend giving it a watch if it is uploaded to YouTube or a similar service.