Fall 2006 -- Whether they win or lose a particular seat or chamber in Congress, we all still might be losers with the Republicans.
To Goldwater Republicans, individual liberty was the end of political society.
“Government is part of the problem, not the solution.” –Ronald Reagan
Libertarians saw the potential of free minds and free markets.
It’s easy to see how libertarians and pro-free marketers would fit into a coalition to constrain government power. Even traditional conservatives who feared “big government” could find such a movement appealing. But what of social conservatives, the “religious right,” and those whose main concerns were value issues? One way they were wooed to participate in the coalition was through efforts to eliminate tax policies that discriminated against married couples. Another was through combating interventionist policies especially harmful to families. For instance, trade restrictions that drive up the costs of shoes and clothing more likely harm families with lots of kids than they do Gucci-clad yuppies, while dairy programs that drive up prices literally deprive babies of milk.
Bush has not voiced anything resembling Reagan’s battle cry against unlimited government.
By contrast, President Bush has given no evidence of holding his nose while approving massive government growth. He has not voiced anything resembling Reagan’s battle cry against unlimited government. He has not exercised his veto power against a single governmental spending program—except for stem cell research. Instead, he has served up a hash of contradictory policies and expansive programs meant to sate the appetites of diverse interest groups—none of them part of the “leave us alone coalition.”
Neoconservatives are the social engineers of the right.
But the neocon outlook is not based on gradualist accommodations to political realities: it is a pro-interventionist worldview. We see that most obviously in the neocon approach to foreign policy. It’s not just the idea of opposing Islamo-fascism—or of striking first if there is strong evidence that America is about to be attacked—or of declaring that it’s morally appropriate for individuals to live under governments that do not torture and kill their own people—or of maintaining that it would be better to have friendly, pro-Western governments in the Middle East. Rather, the neocon approach is based on the arrogance of assuming that the American military (led by neocon planners) can simply impose “democracy” in countries and cultures thoroughly lacking the values, institutions, and attitudes that are the prerequisites to stable, free societies.
Traditional conservatives fear the unrestrained individual ego.
Once more, social conservatives seem to be placing symbolism over substance. But again, they do so for a reason. The real issue for them is to define “marriage” by law in a way consonant with the Bible—and, as a corollary, to withhold legal recognition and protection from any form of contractual cohabitation incompatible with the biblical definition of marriage. In short, this is just another effort by social conservatives to write their own religious views and values into statutes, thus imposing them on non-believers by force of law.
Neocons and social conservatives are forming a statist alliance within the GOP.
For example, consider conservative attacks on Darwinian evolution, and efforts to politicize the matter by pushing the teaching of “creation science” and “intelligent design” in schools. (See my “What Are Creationists Afraid Of?” in the Fall 2005 issue of TNI.) Ron Bailey, Reason magazine’s science correspondent, points out that, in the past, only extreme Bible literalists denied—in the face of all evidence—that human beings evolved from lower animals. But in recent decades, neoconservatives, who tend to be a very secular group, have made attacks on Darwin a priority. Why this obsession to promote a silly superstition? Bailey offers Irving Kristol’s cynical pronouncement from nearly five decades ago:
If God does not exist, and if religion is an illusion that the majority of men cannot live without...let men believe in the lies of religion since they cannot do without them, and let then a handful of sages, who know the truth and can live with it, keep it among themselves.
Bailey suggests that neocons attack Darwin in order to preserve what Marx called the “opiate” of religion. Theirs is the mentality that would sacrifice truth to political expediency. But this goal allies neocons—however cynically—with social conservatives, who sincerely believe that no morality is possible if human beings evolved as part of nature, rather than being created by a god.
So, regardless of motive, secular neocons and religious social conservatives stand united in a common goal: to impose their own values on the rest of the nation through the power of government.
Which Way Republicans?
The Republican Party stands at a crossroads—not political, but philosophical. Its flagging, remnant army of Goldwater-Reagan traditionalists and libertarians is under attack from insurgent forces of neoconservative and social conservative statists. In beating back that challenge, however, traditionalists and libertarians face a dire problem: their stockpiles of moral-philosophical ammunition are bare.
Decades ago, in her essay “Conservatism: An Obituary,” Ayn Rand outlined the futility of traditional conservatism. She repudiated those who would defend liberty on the basis of blind faith, or stale traditions—or the view that human nature is too inherently depraved to trust any man with power (an argument that, in logic, could be turned against allowing any man freedom, too). Rand dismissed, as well, those whose libertarianism was rooted in a vacuous subjectivism or in pragmatic appeals to capitalism’s “efficiency.”
None of these arguments stand up to scrutiny. None of America’s cultural and political institutions can be rationally, consistently defended by appeals to the conventional ethos of faith, tradition, and self-sacrifice for the sake of something “higher” than the individual.
What Republicans need—what the world needs—is a case for individual liberty grounded in the rational nature and objective requirements of individual human life.
America is a nation based on the ethicalpremise of the self-actualization of the individual. That means the moral right of individuals to live for their own sakes. That ethical principle is the foundation of our political system of individual rights and limited government, and of our capitalist economic system and its underlying profit motive.
And that’s the moral principle that the better Republicans must grasp, accept, and articulate, clearly and confidently, if the Republican Party is to have a future.
Those “better Republicans” still can be found within the waning Goldwater-Reagan coalition that, in general, favors individual liberty and limited government. But they need to learn that their battles with the emerging neoconservative/social conservative coalition is not a series of mere political skirmishes. It is a moral war for the heart and soul of a political party that was founded to guarantee the rights of all Americans.
If the latter coalition prevails, then our political landscape and future will be dominated by nothing but statists, right and left: by those who wish to restrict individual freedom and run other people’s lives in accordance with their own grandiose notions of a “good society.”
Will the remaining individualists within the once-“Grand Old Party” allow that to happen? Time—and their own philosophical soul-searching—will tell.
Edward Hudgins is the former director of advocacy for The Atlas Society, the author of numerous Atlas Society commentaries, and the editor of several books on politics and government policy. He is now research director for the Heartland Institute. He has also worked at the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, and Joint Economic Committee of Congress.