American Statesmen

Why does libertarianism, a radical form of classical liberalism [that] is ideologically more similar to liberalism than to conservatism, receives [sic] a lot of criticism from liberals rather than from conservatives?

As Answered on Quora

 

Political parties and ideologies must not simply be distinguished one from another by a list of demands and normative principles. Indeed, there are cultural and institutional forms — along with strong bedrock folkways relating, even, to sexual selection — that loom large in politics. But even ignoring that, consider these three factors, these elements of any ideology:

  1. Vision of the world as it is, a Weltanschauung — which may include fact and error, theories of varying coherence, such as about the modes of social causation, etc.;
  2. Vision of the world as it could and should be, a fantasy — which may or may not actually be possible to achieve;
  3. Preferred sets of procedures to achieve the latter in the context of the former in our objective world, in other words, compromises.

Thomas Sowell, in his late-80s book A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles, dealt with some of this, in a broad way. He distinguished between two different Weltanschauungen, what he called the “constrained vision” of human nature versus the “unconstrained.” I think there is something to what he said (I reviewed the book in Liberty, v. 1, n. 1), but my main concern is with the nature of compromise. There is more than one type.

There is the compromise you consciously make, and there is the kind forced upon you, because not all things are possible. Not only do politicos lie to others about the compromises they readily undertake, they often lie to themselves, especially about the compromises they must make, willy-nilly. That latter kind they often fard up with lipstick, as if on the pig of existence.

So any ideology contains a vision of the world as it has been and is, but also a vision of how it could be. And ideologues are rarely objective philosophers. Not only are they often wrong, but they are often commited to their errors and to their fantasies, regardless of outcome, in no small part because fantasy is preferable to reality.

That is why we create fantasy.

In modern America, broadly speaking, conservatives idealize the classical liberal principles of the our federal union’s founders. So, for many thinking conservatives, libertarianism is a key element of their fantasy life.

They betray those fantasies all the time, of course, in no small part because they fudge the degree to which American life has been transformed by the warfare/welfare/regulatory state of the progressives. To understand conservatism, one must understand better than conservatives themselves how embroiled in the actuality of progressivism they are, and then the compromises they always make with their fantasy of liberty. One interesting thing to witness in libertarian conservatives like the terrific Andrew Klavan and Ben Shapiro, of the Daily Wire, is how they cannot bring themselves to make the kind of criticism they readily apply against the domestic aspects of our Leviathan State also against foreign policy. They are too invested in the messianic myth of America, for that. And in protecting Israel. It is fascinating to watch.

Progressives, on the other hand, no longer hold much love for the American founding principles and constitutional system. Their fantasy is almost wholly of the socialist State, of Leviathan as Messiah . . . in all domestic matters. And their compromises are now byzantine in complexity. For instance, they like to pretend that they are constantly fighting a guerilla intellectual battle against Big Money, not realizing that the plutocrats not only coöpted them long ago, but that they are serving as their useful idiots.

But even the plutocrats are stumbling in the dark, juggling fantasy and reality with compromises and prevarications.

At present, the left is less open to liberal ideas in general (not to mention libertarian principles in particular) than is the right, because the left, in addition to its collectivist fantasy, is in the conservative position, vis-à-vis institutions, of trying to hold on to its pet major institutions of socialized pensions and subsidies for the poor and for women with children. And to protect us from soft drinks, verbal disagreement etc. Though the total state of pure communism has been widely rejected (except among the deluded young and some of the collegiate class), the administrative state is here, and leftists are hysterical regarding its fragility (quite aghast that anyone, libertarian, conservative, whathaveyou, opposes it even in part), and, at the same time, they wish to expand it. And since the administrative state, the ulta-Leviathan State, is not a liberal conception but a mercantislist-progressive one, this means that “liberal” does not really fit with the left any longer.

This divorce between fact and fancy presents a huge stressor on both conservatives and progressives. It helps explain the fundamental fact of ideology today, namely that progressives misunderstand conservatism and that conservatives misunderstand themselves. Because the administrative state is what has been bequeathed to us — as if new wine poured into the old, somewhat brittle wineskin of our liberal Constitution — the legal and intellectual compromises necessary to maintain this, especially in our pieties, has made nearly everyone crazy, especially on the left.

To conclude — once upon a time “the left” sported a “liberal” element. No more. Which explains why liberalism and even libertarianism finds more favor on “the right”: because of the fantasy.

Fantasy is a powerful social force.

Always consider, in politics, the explanatory power of the Thomas Theorem.

twv

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