If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. I think conservatism is really a misnomer just as liberalism is a misnomer for the liberals – if we were back in the days of the Revolution, so-called conservatives today would be the Liberals and the liberals would be the Tories. The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is.Thus spake Saint Ronald of Bonzo back in the Year of Our Lord 1975. Naturally, the first thing he does after saying this is to immediately disavow the actually existing Libertarian Party as a bunch of wackos, as any politician who wishes to be elected to even the local PTA would be forced to do, but I find this instructive in light of my recent post on libertarians and the death penalty.
When that was reposted over at LibCon, it immediately attracted a rash of comments to the effect that those self-declared "libertarians" who were demanding the instantaneous state-sponsored extermination of paedos and murderers are not Real Libertarians.
It may surprise you, but I'm highly amenable to that argument. Indeed, they are not Real Libertarians, in the sense that there are about five Real Libertarians in Britain and all of them are too busy linking to each others' blogs in arguments over how fascist the licence fee really is to actually campaign for anything*.
Nonetheless, this claim really is reminiscent of some student punk band in 1977** angrily proclaiming that the Sex Pistols aren't Real Punks. Hell, maybe they weren't, but if you'd asked a random member of the public what a punk looked like back then, there's a good chance their description would resemble John Lydon much more than it would a bunch of Real Punks propping up the bill at the Bog and Plunger on a wet Tuesday night.
So indeed, yer Guidos and even yer Saint Ronnies may not be Real Libertarians but like so many of their ilk - and there are loads of 'em - they've somehow magically found a way to use libertarian dogma as a pole vault to propel themselves up to positions from which they can promote a series of mean-as-fuck, self-aggrandising and regressive policies. Gee, how did that happen?
Let's be blunt here. When New Labour rocked to power with loud declarations about their relaxed attitude to the filthy rich, I didn't then conclude that their shocking record on inequality was an aberration. I didn't even make much complaint about Great Betrayals of this Socialist Principle or that Promise To Uplift The Little Guy, since it was entirely obvious that whatever noises they made in that direction were entirely secondary to their goal of keeping the taps on the cash pipes to the already wealthy wide open.
I take a similar attitude to Barack Obama's record on war and taxation. Hell, when the three iPods that Mrs R. and I have owned between us all packed in one after the other, each within three months of the expiration of their warranty, I drew the appropriate lesson.
I mean, Milton Friedman knew full well that the Republicans were a bunch of corporate goons and Christian phalangists, motivated by the twin desires to stuff their mates' pockets and drive fear of a literal, bull-horned and goat-hooved Satan into the nation's Godless fornicators and homosexuals. Anyone recall him ever finishing one of his fruity little talks on the Godlike wisdom of the markets with the words "Oh, and by the way, don't vote Republican - they're a bunch of beady-eyed mentalists who want to padlock your genitals"?
No, you don't... Because, like so many of his thinktank buddies, his entire schtick was a fine-sounding scam aimed entirely at electing as many mean-as-fuck right-wing psychopaths as possible, however reactionary, and damn the consequences.
I mean the whole thing here - free market evangelism, minarchism, the whole nine yards - all of it. Scam. A well-constructed scam, mind, but a confidence trick nonetheless.
Now, I know this isn't going to go over well with true believers. This kind of thing seldom does, and all I can tell you is to take a look across the political aisle at those unfortunate, red-faced lefties who spent years as members of glorified personality cults. There's no great shame in having been suckered, since it's basically an unavoidable part of consuming politics in any form.
Not buying it, eh? Well, perhaps there's some other, less obvious explanation for why a worldview predicated on individual freedom and the destruction of the state always manifests itself in reality as a coalition with the super-wealthy; why it always seems to find figureheads whose minds are full of spotless panopticon prisons, anti-abortion crusades for the Baby Jesus, shadow government deals with the Ayatollah and tub-thumping, disingenuous populist calls for state execution.
Really, I'm all ears.
*That's when the Real Libertarians aren't busy intentionally fleecing other, junior Real Libertarians. If you ever bump into a political candidate who insists that the basis of their philosophy is absolute self-interest and a rejection of his duty to others, I'd say it's time to start keeping your wallet tethered on a short chain.
**1977, not 1979. Better now?