The Conservatarian Manifesto

[Amazon Link]

I have dead-tree subscriptions to both Reason and National Review. I rarely read anything in either publication I outright disagree with. At worst, I might tend to quibble with an article's misplaced emphasis here or there. I sometimes wish I was as cool as the kids at Reason; other times, I don't think I would be respectable enough to fit in with the sages of National Review.

Which means I'm pretty much a receptive target for Charles C.W. Cooke's recent book, The Conservatarian Manifesto. His general idea: to put together an intellectually respectable whole out of the pieces of conservatism and libertarianism, one that might also translate into practical political success.

And he does a fine job, picking eminently defensible positions from Libertarian Column A and Conservative Column B. A brief overview:

  • First and foremost: a return to strict federalism, where appropriate political issues are fought out and decided locally. This is appealing both on practical and theoretical grounds.

  • Build alternative institutions to those currently dominated by the left.

  • It's also important to defend and advocate a strict originalist interpretation of the Constitution. No more "living" Constitutionalism. (Echoing Jonah Goldberg: "The only good constitution is a dead constitution.")

  • For a success story, see the history of "gun control".

  • For a failure (although perhaps success in the offing): the war on drugs. (Given Federalism, see above, this would no longer be a national issue in any case.)

  • Lumping together so-called "social issues" is incoherent. There's really no reason to demand or expect a person to sway the same way on abortion, gay marriage, and/or legal pot. (Cooke is, like me, anti-abortion, resigned to gay marriage without deeming those opposed to be bigots, and, see above, pro-drug legalization.)

  • Foreign policy and defense are obviously "Federal" issues. Cooke leans conservative on the former (general non-intervention policies are just asking for trouble), but sounds libertarian on the latter (because—face it—the DoD wastes piles of money.)

  • Immigration also causes a conservative lean: libertarians tend to be way too blasé and glib about the negative effects of large flows of low-skill immigrants.

Cooke is also an astute reader of the political scene; his analysis of where "compassionate conservatives", outright libertarians, and tea-partiers go wrong is on-target, I think.

A quibble, echoing a point made by Donald Devine at The Federalist: I'm old enough to remember the Frank Meyer days at National Review and his "fusionist" efforts, attempting to tie together the adherents of free markets (e.g., Rothbard) with the devotees of virtue and order (e.g., Russell Kirk). It's kind of weird that a writer for the current-day NR doesn't mention Meyer at all. (Since I have the book on Kindle, this was easy to check.)


Last Modified 2015-06-09 6:04 AM EDT