Wednesday, February 15, 2012

There is Conservatism, and then there is Conservatism

As the United States sinks further and further into totalitarianism, its salvation will require men and women with the kind of commitment and courage that Pastor Bonhoeffer displayed. We can only hope and pray that the nation still includes at least a few people who would rather follow God than Caesar.

- Robert Higgs, economist and economic historian with the Independent Institute

Note to Republican voters: the “few” does not include Rick Santorum.

I was wrong about Rick. I thought for sure he would fade after the Iowa caucuses, that the GOP machinery would get behind Mitt Romney and send another Dole-like sacrifice to the Democratic incumbent. I underestimated the extent to which my fellow countrymen would rally to the war-mongering, big government “conservative” from the Keystone State.

But then, most self-identified “conservative” Americans aren’t conservative at all. Neither they nor their new champion meet the criteria laid down by the late Russell Kirk. The great irony is that if he were alive today Kirk, who once labeled libertarians “chirping sectaries,” would find Ron Paul to be the man who best fits the bill.

The fact is, Ron Paul is not nearly as “libertarian” as the media and the public perceive him to be. He is libertarian only in a relative sense; libertarian, because the GOP, suffering from the historical blindness personified by Rick Santorum (for whom world history began in 1979), is sliding toward neo-fascism.

In a tradition that runs from Burke to Kirk, Paul is simply trying to conserve the liberties of the American founding – liberties the colonists thought they had secured from King James, later abrogated by parliaments and monarchs trying to finance one of the world’s first global empires. Who knew that America would try to replace Great Britain? Well, the Antifederalists and Old Republicans did. And Ron Paul fits neatly into their tradition. Kirk, the hagiographer of Edmund Burke and his Virginian acolyte John Randolph of Roanoke, would not help but recognize in Paul what one observant writer called the “leader of the new Tertium Quids.”

The definition of conservatism seems to be lost on Americans. It has been reduced to opposing abortion and homosexual marriage (which faithful churches and civil society have been more successful at confronting), and the utterly schizophrenic notion that “limited government” and Cold War-style containment of the Muslim world (and every other “rogue state” as identified by the powers that be) somehow go hand in hand. The candidates who appeal to these trigger points get enthusiastic applause from an eagerly compliant South and other red states. Even when the 30,000 spy drones start buzzing overhead, Hannity and Levin will help the public grasp the absolute national security necessity of it (assuming their guy places the drones in orbit).

If I may, an analogy from the English Reformation. Compared to the Church of Rome, men like John Jewel, Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer and Richard Hooker seemed like theological liberals. But they saw themselves as consummate conservatives, reaching back to recover and preserve the truths held by the primitive church. Hooker’s opposition to the radical Disciplinarians had several motives, but among them was his prescient understanding that Puritanism would fragment into factional strife. But to the radicals Hooker seemed like a sell-out, a Romanist in disguise.

In similar fashion, Ron Paul seems too “radical” for the GOP mainstream. But among the myriad factions of anarchism (anarcho-capitalism, anarcho-syndicalism, agorism, the Alliance of the Libertarian Left, et. al.) Paul is looked on with suspicion as another closet “statist.” What Paul really stands for is the Old Republic, which began to fade after McCullough v. Maryland (1819).

A Republic which stands in a fog of history too distant, too miasmal for today’s Republican voter.

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