Thursday, August 19, 2004

Does Libertarian-Conservative Fusion Have a Future?

It does, if you believe Kenneth Silber's article, "The Fusionist Path", at Tech Central Station. Silber almost derails his argument by listing some issues on which most libertarians and conservatives are unalterably opposed: "government spending, faith-based programs, gay marriage, abortion, the Patriot Act, [and] the Iraq War...."

Putting aside government spending as an artifact of government policy, Silber has listed some issues on which there's a chasm between most libertarians and most conservatives:

Faith-based programs. Most conservatives love it, because "faith" is a key word for them. Libertarians can rightly abhor these programs because, even if they weren't faith-based, they would inject government into matters outside its legitimate sphere.

Gay marriage. Conservatives hate it. Most libertarians are reflexively for it. Those libertarians who have thought about it say that government should go out of the marriage business.

Abortion. Conservatives hate it. Most libertarians openly favor it. I think they're wrong, but I'm in the vast minority.

The Patriot Act. Another point of difference, though it hinges on esoteric details.

Iraq war. (Silber should have added preemptive war, just for completeness.) Here, too, I'm in the vast minority of libertarians, who generally oppose the Iraq war and preemptive war.

Throw in issues like flag-burning, prostitution, and drugs and you wonder if there could ever be a libertarian-conservative coalition.

On the other hand, libertarians and conservatives generally see eye-to-eye on so-called social programs, affirmative action, Social Security reform, school vouchers, campaign-finance laws, political correctness, and regulation. Libertarians will never see eye to eye with conservatives on all issues, but it seems to me that they see eye to eye on enough issues to make a political alliance worthwhile.

If libertarians were pragmatic they would adopt this view: An alliance with conservatives is, on balance, more congenial than an alliance with liberals because conservatives are closer to being "right" on more issues, and their theocratic leanings are unlikely to prevail (the social norms of the 1940s and 1950s are gone forever). If libertarians were to approach conservatives en bloc, libertarians might be able to help conservatives advance the causes on which there is agreement. If libertarians were to approach conservatives en bloc, libertarians might be able to trade their support (and the threat of withdrawing it) for influence in the councils of government. Libertarians could use that influence to push conservatives in the right direction on issues where they now differ with conservatives.

Many libertarians will reject such a strategy, but they would be wrong to do so. We will never attain a libertarian nirvana -- whatever that is -- but we can advance some libertarian causes. We shouldn't let the "best" be the enemy of the "good".