In the midst of an apparent identity crisis, the American Right are asking themselves, is ‘Classical Liberalism’ the same as ‘Conservatism’? The answer is, obviously, no. But for the sake of our own identity crisis, is this the question Liberals should be asking? Is it the problem we need to solve?
To those on the inside the fundamental problem appears to be different. It is thus: on the one hand you have a group of people who believe in things which have formed part of the Liberal Party’s tradition (different things, but we’ll get to that later) and on the other hand a group of people who believe in keeping the sedate engine of state moving apace as long as they are at the helm, lapping up the attention and the appealing illusion of power.
People in this latter category are anathema to those who join the party in pursuit of a cause, whether that is traditionalist conservatism or classical liberalism/libertarianism (I will use these terms interchangeably for convenience, though Adam Smith is no Ayn Rand). As the Liberal Party is 80 years old, preceding World War II and its aftermath (a period which crystallised the political movements we are now familiar with), you won’t find these philosophies by name in the Forgotten People speech. But it would be foolish to pretend that Menzies’ preoccupations with both the health of the family unit and home, and a robust sense of personal liberty in the private sphere, don’t presuppose both conservative and classically liberal predispositions.
Nonetheless, the inheritors of the intellectual traditions of the Liberal Party are being dispossessed by their lacklustre, managerialist counterparts. It is tempting to say that those on the ascent believe in nothing, but that’s not quite right. They implicitly believe things that are completely contradictory to the party they wish to rule. They simply find themselves in the Liberals because it’s a convenient infrastructure of power where you can wear blue ties on weekdays and gingham check shirts on weekends.
How have those of us on the political right allowed this to happen? When we look at our federal parliament we see a libertarian party and a conservative party, unhappy spawn of a now ambiguously ‘progressive’ Liberal Party with a great legacy. Even within the party, libertarians and conservatives are hopelessly divided, leaving the administration to the amorphous mob of self-described ‘moderate’, ultra-pragmatic ‘progressives’. As a result, the nominally right-wing party of government has been deprived of flavour and charisma, with its animating ideas relegated to the sidelines.
Against this weakened, confused version of its former self, the Liberal Party is confronted with the audacious, Labor-Green monolith and all its cultural allies in the media and institutions. Against the Left, our newfound ‘moderation’ is hopeless. So how can conservatives and classical liberals revive their working relationship? How can the right unite? How can these ideas animate the party once again?
John Howard’s aphorism that “division is death” mirrors Christ’s observation that “a house divided against itself cannot stand”.
But libertarianism and conservatism cannot really be talked of as one house. They’re very distinct and it does an injustice to both sets of ideas to confuse the two. They’re more like two neat, self-contained domiciles on the same street. The conservatives and the libertarians who live in them are a bit particular about how they do things, it takes a while for others to understand them, but that’s because their ideas are quite substantial. They’re the type of friends that you only appreciate by really getting to know them.
On the same street in a big, new, tasteless McMansion lives Mr Moderate. He’s a ‘cool guy’, and has unremarkably cruised through life by avoiding taking things too ‘seriously’.
To continue the conceit, Socialism is like the Sirius building, a looming, brutalist eyesore for which central-planners in all their wisdom want to knock down the neighbourhood.
Mr Moderate at first negotiates with the central planners to see if he can get something out of the new plan, but when it all gets too hard he just sells out and moves to a better suburb.
The only ones who will ever actually stand against Socialism are the libertarians and conservatives. But they haven’t really been talking to each other and have usually ended up relying on Mr Moderate doing the talking for them because they thought he was more ‘palatable’.
What a mistake that was.
The threat of Socialism, the destruction of our civilisation and its replacement with a Sirius-like monstrosity, is real. We need to get our act together. As I’ve already conceded, the two guiding philosophies that we need to empower in the Liberal Party are not the same, but let’s remember what they agree on.
Libertarians and conservatives have, as long as they have worked together, fought against the totalising, authoritarian, compulsorily atheist, dehumanising state (as manifested most obviously in the USSR).
Conservatives and libertarians also share a deep antipathy towards soft, ‘centrist’, fickle progressivism – Mr Moderate.
Libertarians know that weak, ‘moderate’, progressivism, with its over-active social conscience and interventionist predisposition, paves the way for the ever-growing, bureaucratic, welfare state, and inevitably to a collectivist, totalitarian state, destroying individual liberty and the private sphere of life.
Traditionalist conservatives realise that empty, secularist progressivism is a corrosive philosophy, eating away like an acid not only at our liberties but also at the moral and religious foundations of a healthy, traditional society, doing nothing but clearing the field of our spiritual foundations so that the enemy can pitch a tent.
For both conservatives and libertarians, this ‘centrism’ or ‘progressivism’, whatever you want to call it, as a guiding approach for the Liberal Party, is incapable of vigorously resisting the enemy on its left. By its very nature, it is part of the Left. It cannot drive back a foe with which it shares so many underlying assumptions.
Neither of us can be tempted to rely on Mr Moderate’s leadership. Libertarians shouldn’t confuse his invariably state-enforced ‘social progress’ with more freedom and conservatives can’t confuse a moderate’s lack of passion with something that is at least safe or ‘predictable’.
Through its constant concessions to the Left and its repeated cultural capitulations, the ‘moderate’, ‘progressive’ vision of the Liberal Party is essentially a means for reconciling the entire movement to its own destruction.
We cannot accept this fate.
To oust them, the right must stand together again and reclaim the political infrastructure it needs to realise its vision. To protect and enhance a society where the individual citizen is free and equal before the law, and where the families, churches, institutions and customs of Australia are free from legislated interference, free to maintain and pass on their inherited cultural knowledge without the ‘creative’ innovations of the state.
Libertarians, conservatives, remember who your real friends are. Beware the wolves in sheep’s clothing, and the socialists in blue ties.
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