To put things mildly, there’s just not a hell of a lot that you can say our Prince President has done that made the world better. But if there are any dregs to be salvaged from his trainwreck of a regime, it may be this: his resolute efforts to kill any illusions that anyone might have had about the conservative movement may finally be paying off. Jeffrey Tucker’s break with the conservative tradition last August was a major development; hazy dawn began to break in the paleolibertarian world:
This is conservatism. There’s no use in denying it. The war party and American conservatism are interchangeable and inseparable. They are synonyms. The same thing. They co-exist. How many ways can we put it? Militarism and violence is at the core of conservatism.
Some protest that conservatism once meant resistance to the welfare-warfare state. That is a fascinating piece of historiography, as interesting as the fact that liberalism once meant freedom from the state. Glasses were once called spectacles too, but in our times, language has it own meaning.
In our times, the meaning of conservatism is violence. It means violence against foreigners and violence against political dissidents. It means celebrating violence as the right and proper method of government policy. It means soundly rejecting the views of those who doubt the merit of violence as the omnipotent tool of domestic and international order.
Back then I welcomed the development but urged Tucker to go farther. It’s not just that conservatism now means glorified violence and domination even though it used to mean something different. It never meant anything different. For all the railing against
neo-conservatives that you hear these days in libertarian and paleoconservative sectors, there never was a “real” conservatism that was anti-war, anti-state, or pro-freedom. Conservatism as a tradition of political thought began in Britain in the wake of the French Revolution; it was made for an explicit assault on classical liberalism and defense of the Crown. Its content was the rejection of “abstract” demands for universal freedom and specifically of the use of those universal standards to criticize the allegedly traditional power of the King. Its methods were brute force. (And an even nastier story could be told about the history of the Right, which arose in post-Revolutionary France in defense of the doctrine that the absolute power of the State was ordained by God Almighty.) American conservatism has fared no better–whether “paleo” or “neo” in form, it has always been marked by its glorification of power and its exultation in the use of violence to crush dissent.
Given his long search for the pro-freedom “true” conservatism that he has been sure was out there somewhere, I was shocked–pleasantly–to see Ol’ Lew hisself make just this point a few days ago:
Since I am one of the guys who helped turn neocon into the sweet pejorative it is, this may sound funny: but is it time to drop the neo?
Though the neocons are a self-identified group from the 60s, postwar conservatism as contructed by Bill Buckley and company (and Company) has always been ideologically neocon. It is no coincidence that when the ex-Trotskyites migrated to Republicanism (not a long trip), they found an instant home with Buckley.
That is, conservatism has always been messianic, militarist, nationalist, bloodthirsty, imperialist, centralist, redistributionist, and in love with the hangman state.
–Lew Rockwell, Neo No More?
And he seems to be provoking sympathetic discussion, and driving the point home elsewhere. There’s still too much riding on the idea of “neoconservatism” here–even if he agrees to project it back to Buckley and Kirk, that still leaves the viciously reactionary program of xenophobia and racism so often practiced by what we would call “paleoconservatives” today–the Eastlands and Wallaces of the world–mostly undiscussed. But this is certainly at least fifteen steps in the right direction.
By George, I think he’s starting to get it. During the 19th century, libertarians usually called themselves
liberals, and allied themselves with abolitionism, anti-racism, feminism, the labor movement, and revolutionary movements of the Left. (Some of the most radical libertarians even described themselves as
voluntary socialists.) Libertarians did quite a lot of immensely valuable work over the course of the 20th century, but the horrific rise of monster state socialism drove all too many–alas!–into the arms of an opportunistic and violent Right and an alliance that left many of them fundamentally deluded about the nature of conservatism. Some of us have been trying to urge a return to the radical vision of the 19th century Left libertarians, as a profoundly important development for both libertarians and the Left–when you bring together the demands for freedom and justice, revolutionary things can happen.
The crowd around Lew and the Von Mises Institute certainly wouldn’t agree with many of the things we would urge. But they do seem to be heading straight into a recognition that is an essential part of the whole: recognizing the conservative tradition for what it is and tossing out the delusory notion that conservatism has ever been the party of limiting the State and protecting individual liberty. It never has and it never will; reveling in brute force and responding to rational criticism with bayonet points out is essential to what conservatism is.
The more antiwar radical libertarians recognize this, the better. The conservative tradition is the face of the enemy; quit trying to
save it from the
neos. It isn’t worth your efforts. Just toss the rotten thing out.
- GT 2005/01/11: No Gods, No Pimps, No Masters
- GT 2004/12/02: News you can’t use
- GT 2004/11/30: Condoleeza’s Right
- GT 2004/11/14: Civil defense
- GT 2004/10/23: What do you get a Universe that already contains everything?
- GT 2004/08/23: The conservative tradition
- GT 2004/06/24: Pro-Choice on Everything, Part I
- GT 2004/06/07: Property to the People: The Leftist Case for Privatization
- GT 2004/05/01: Free the Unions (and all political prisoners)!
- GT 2002/05/22: Leftists and libertarians shocked to find they agree
- GT 2002/05/19: Government and the pink-collar ghetto
- GT 2001/07/10: Why libertarians need feminism