Monday, January 12, 2009

The New Fission

Following the inception of the conservative magazine National Review in 1955, one of its most salient writers, Frank Meyer, proposed a theory of “Fusionism.” The Fusion was between previously disparate political factions that included conservatives, libertarians, constitutionalists, and hawkish Democrats who, despite their varying differences, managed to work together to provide an intellectual framework for a coalition to defeat the Soviet Union.

The coalition went through some strains, the John Birch Society and the Randians were effectively expelled from the ranks of the conservative movement, but largely managed to stay together to the end of the Cold War. The strain reached a breaking point in victory, when the Soviet Union dispersed and Russia was just another country, and the United States was at its “unipolar moment” : the only superpower in the world and threatened by no one.

The Gulf War marked the first major rift in the coalition. President George H. W. Bush, seeing Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait akin to Hitler’s invasion of Poland, plunged the United States into a war that was diametrically opposed to John Quincy Adams’ sage advice to avoid going “abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” The Libertarians largely opposed the operation and Pat Buchanan became the icon of the right-wing antiwar movement. Mr. Buchanan warned that involvement in the Middle East and an unnecessary war would lead to a series of wars in that volatile region.

So coalitions crumble. Mr. Buchanan attempted to run for president three times but became a virtual pariah among "mainstream" conservatives because he opposed interventions in Iraq by both Presidents Bush. Mr. Buchanan’s brand of conservatism, versus the neoconservatism found on the current pages of National Review, The Weekly Standard, and on talk radio, has been broadly termed “paleoconservative” from the late 1980s to today.

Another rift in the previously-more-united conservative movement was very well-illustrated a couple weeks ago in an exchange between the paleoconservative Tom Piatak of takimag.com and libertarian Thomas J. DiLorenzo of lewrockwell.com.

One may trace their opinions through the respective websites. Dr. DiLorenzo, an economics professor whose Lincoln Unmasked I am currently enjoying, is a libertarian whose adherence to free trade is clearly articulated in all of his writings. So naturally, Mr. DiLorenzo is appalled by the government bailouts of the banking industry as well as the automotive industry. He illustrates it as such by calling anyone who buys a new Ford, GM, or Chrysler car a “fascist” and encourages everyone to reading to give a middle finger to everyone they see driving one of those cars.

Tom Piatak, whose eloquent writings are always worth reading, was a supporter of the bailout of the automotive industry, but not Wall Street one. Mr. Piatak reasons that the collapse of the American auto industry would be calamitous to the American economy, so it needs to receive a government loan, even one that Pat Buchanan reminded his readers was only “2% of the Wall Street bailout.”

Mr. DiLorenzo fired back by stating his “middle finger” comment was tongue-in-cheek and that Mr. Piatak was basically too stupid to get the joke. If one reads the whole back-and-forth, they will be able to see one of the main reasons libertarians and conservatives are having a difficult time getting together these days, despite much of the overlap they share. And if they read the whole exchange, then they can make the determination on who is the voice of reason.

The answer lies in the libertarian devotion to the free trade doctrine of the late Milton Friedman that may well work best in theory. And such is the downfall of those who strictly adhere to any ideology, whether it be socialism or free trade.

As Russell Kirk wrote, ideology is a false religion that believes this world can be turned into a “terrestrial paradise” through their new laws. The problem with ideology, any ideology, is that it is based on an ideal, which cannot exist in a fallen world, completely corrupted by sin. Free trade may very well be the best business decision in theory, but businesses do not operate in a perfect world, because one does not exist. Any academic theory may work sometimes but never all the time and the case is likely also true for protectionism.

Libertarians are completely beholden to the doctrine of free trade as if it was the solution to all of the country’s woes. Such thinking is na├»ve and not rooted in the world in which we all live. As Mr. Piatak refutes Mr. DiLorenzo's charges of heresy, he accurately reminds everyone that his opponent has merely put the problem into an ideological box.

Conservatives, by and large, believe in the fallen world as described in the Bible. Everyone from Genesis 3 to 2009 sins and sins constantly. There is a need for government, not excessive or abusive government, because we are sinful. Had Adam and Eve not freely given up their Edenic paradise, there would likely be no reason for government today. But that is an “if” of history and faith. Therefore, ideologies, whether on the Right or Left, are bound to fail.

Both the paleoconservatives and libertarians can agree on the principle of non-interventionism that Founding Fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson implored. They, however, cannot agree on the issue of free trade versus protectionism (I am an agnostic when it comes to free trade and thus cannot take an intelligible stand for either side because I have not yet researched the sides well enough).

A libertarian ideologue like Professor DiLorenzo believes that free trade is the concrete, inviolable answer and any deviation at any time is heresy. That makes Mr. Piatak’s plea to help Americans, rather than subscribe to a theory, an unrepentant sinner against Milton Friedman and Adam Smith. His plea also reminds us that putting America First also means putting Americans first.

If libertarians and traditionalist or paleoconservatives wish to make a dent in the corrupt two-party system, there needs to be less demonization and more discussion.

Has the Fusionism of Frank Meyer been replaced with a new fission?

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