Since its inception, The American Conservative has been dealing with questions of what Right and Left mean in the modern context and to what extent the terms even apply anymore. Commentary memorably took up similar issues in a 1976 symposium, and, 30 years later, in a time of renewed ideological flux, we think a reconsideration is in order.Thirty authors are represented from various political ideologies. For this first installment I'm going to pick someone with whom I frequently disagree but never the less have a great deal of respect for, Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr., president of the Libertarian Ludwig von Mises Institute. Below are his thoughts on the modern conservative movement.
In the interest of hosting a lively discussion, we chose contributors from across the political spectrum and asked for their thoughts on the following questions:
- Are the designations “liberal” and “conservative” still useful? Why or why not?
- Does a binary Left/Right political spectrum describe the full range of ideological options? Is it still applicable?
Not all of these authors share TAC’s editorial orientation, but we believe there is wisdom in the council of many, and each was chosen as representative of a particular perspective. We leave our readers to decide which insights most accord with their own.
The reality is that today there are ever fewer conservatives alive who believe in true liberty as the old school believed in it. They have been ideologically compromised beyond repair. They have been so seduced by the Bush administration that they have become champions of an egregious war, ghastly bureaucracies like the Department of Homeland Security, and utterly unprincipled on the question of government growth.That's right, today's left sounds more like the original conservatives and today's right resembles what we were brought up to fear in the totalitarian east block nations.
Granted, the corruption of conservatism dates way back—to the Reagan administration, to the Nixon administration, and even to the advent of the Cold War, when conservatives signed on to become cheerleaders of the national security state.
But it’s never been as bad as it is today. They sometimes invoke the names of genuinely radical thinkers such as F.A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises. But their real heroes are talk-radio blabsters, television entertainers, and sexpot pundit quipsters. They have little intellectual curiosity at all.
In many ways, today’s conservatives are party men and women not unlike those we saw in totalitarian countries, people who spout the line and slay the enemy without a thought as to the principles involved. Yes, they hate the Left. But only because the Left is the “other.”
This is why they fail to see that the Left has been making a lot more sense on policy issues in recent years. It is correct on civil liberties, on issues of war and peace, and on the critical issue of religious liberty. By “correct” I mean that in these areas the Left is saying precisely what the liberals of old used to say: as much as possible, society ought to be left to manage itself without the coercive intervention of the state.
Go take a look at the views expressed in What is Left? What is Right? and I'll have more later.