Libertarians and Conservatives: Allies, Not Enemies
by Nelson Hultberg | AFR.org
The modern libertarian movement in America was launched in 1957 by Ayn Rand with her heroic novel, Atlas Shrugged. Using its radical advocacy of capitalism as their rallying cry, libertarians have, over the past 55 years, built a powerful political movement upon Rand’s ideas and vision. It is a very persuasive cause they have fashioned. But, unfortunately, its philosophical base contains flaws, which (if not corrected) will doom libertarianism to being nothing more than a footnote to history rather than a formidable force.
In my opinion, the libertarian movement, as presently constructed, is not capable of defeating the monstrous statism that is taking over the modern world? My book, The Golden Mean: Libertarian Politics, Conservative Values, has been written to explain why and what we must do to restructure the freedom movement to give it the strength to prevail. Following are some testimonials to the book, its Introduction, and information on how to purchase a copy.
“The Golden Mean is an extremely important book that I believe is destined to be a classic…[It] made me think and gave me answers I've never thought of before. I read it from cover to cover and couldn't put it down.” – Mark Skousen, former professor of economics, Columbia University, author of The Making of Modern Economics.
“In a world inundated with political / ideological books, Nelson Hultberg’s brilliant work…stands apart from, and above, anything I have previously read in this genre.” – Robert Ringer, Author of Restoring the American Dream.
“No one can read this book and not have his thoughts and conscience provoked…It is a profound and passionate effort toward healing a major schism that is long overdue.” – Lawrence W. Reed, President, Foundation for Economic Education.
The prevailing sentiment on the political right today is that there can be no compromise between the forces of libertarianism and those of conservatism. Such an attempted mix is, as Russell Kirk put it, “like advocating a union of fire and ice.” Murray Rothbard’s hard-core libertarians conclude also that the two philosophical views are forever incompatible and that there can never be a meeting ground where conservatives and libertarians will be able to coalesce. This is primarily because libertarians believe that the central dilemma of civilization is liberty and how to advance it, while conservatives believe that the central dilemma of civilization is order and how to preserve it. Moreover, many libertarians believe in the perfectibility of man, while conservatives see man as forever flawed in nature. Therefore, these two groups must go it alone, each fighting for the implementation of its specific worldview on its own.
This sentiment is grievously flawed, and it has led to our present ineffectuality in combating the statism so insidiously consuming the modern world. Neither of the two philosophies of libertarianism and conservatism can stand alone, nor would any clear-thinking person wish them alone upon humanity. A purely conservative country would be a static despotism of traditionalist philosopher kings, and a purely libertarian country would be a cultural anarchy of moral primitives. One of the purposes of this book is to demonstrate that each philosophy only gains validity by adopting strains of the other.
The error in this dispute is in misunderstanding what a union of the two really signifies. It does not mean that the political structure is going to be half-libertarian and half-conservative, or that we can somehow assimilate a do-your-own-thing philosophy into an objective moral realm. Indeed, this would be an attempt to produce the union of fire and ice that Kirk scorned. The union of libertarians and conservatives into a cohesive “philosophy of freedom” means that the political structure must be libertarian, and that the cultural value structure must be conservative, and that there is no other means to maintain a free, prosperous, ordered existence. Libertarian politics requires a conservative value structure in order to be workable, and a conservative value structure requires libertarian politics in order to be just. Each of these elements, devoid of the other, would wither and die with chaos the result in one instance and tyranny the result in the other.
What is meant by a “libertarian political structure” is that man was meant to be free. He possesses certain clear-cut rights that are to be protected, rather than manipulated, by politicians. Therefore, his government must be objectively limited by a constitution rather than arbitrarily determined by the dictates of an autocrat or the passions of the majority. What is meant by a “conservative value structure” is acceptance of the fact that there is an objective moral order in the universe, i.e., certain rights and wrongs in life that are applicable to all humans for all of time.
THE UNIQUENESS OF AMERICA
Thus one of the themes of this book is that the uniqueness of America lies in the Founders’ libertarian political ideal combined with conservativemetaphysics and culture.
Our nation is a blend of the ideas that shaped the seventeenth and eighteenth century thinkers, John Locke and Edmund Burke (one libertarian and the other conservative). These two minds heavily influenced Americans from the start and up until World War I – the former emphasizing reason and individualism, the latter tradition and community. This gave America a unique foundation of four intellectual cornerstones upon which to rest her social institutions. The individual was held to be sacred within a voluntary gathering of communities to be guided by a synthesis of reason and tradition. This vision manifested in what could be called Jeffersonian individualism, i.e., individual freedom and self-reliance within the constraints of moral responsibility to the community and the nation, or what conservatives term a “society of ordered liberty.”
When it first began in the early 1940s, the freedom movement in America was not split between libertarians and conservatives. It was one coalition unified in rebellion against FDR’s welfare state. Its purpose was to restore the Founders’ vision of strict constitutional government and federalism. By 1960, however, the movement had become tragically bifurcated. Ayn Rand departed totally from Burkean influence to form today’s libertarian insurgence, while Russell Kirk drove conservatives away from their Lockean roots of individualism. This split has now created two incomplete visions (contemporary libertarianism and conservatism) that are, in their singularity, incapable of effectively challenging the authoritarian statism that dominates the institutions of modern society.
What must be done is to reunite these two divisions. This will require a rational theory of politics that can effectively bring together the two philosophical streams of Locke and Burke so as to restore the original repub-lic of states that Jefferson and the Founders envisioned. The Golden Mean, I believe, accomplishes this theoretical unification.
The political philosopher, Frank Meyer, attempted in the 1960s to bring about a merger of libertarians and conservatives, but unfortunately was unable to do so and settled for only a workable “tension” between the two movements. I will extend the argument in a new direction, putting forth a blueprint that should finally bring about this much-needed unity.
LIBERTARIANS AND AYN RAND
To further such a union, part of this book is devoted to unscrambling some of the illogic that has consumed the political right because of Ayn Rand. For the past 50 years, this philosopher-novelist has been a shining inspiration to millions of readers, yet a bombastic misanthrope to millions of others. What I came to believe after reading through her works was that the woman had one fireball of a mind, but a mind that suffered more than a few misunderstandings about the kaleidoscope of complexities that comprises life. Rand thought titanically and wrote eloquently, but she was so insulated in the moral-ideological ivory tower she created for herself that enormous gaps developed in her grasp of what makes up human existence.
Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism still appeals to thousands of thinking men and women and is rallied to by new converts every year through her muscular, heroic novels. But what is damaging about the Rand phenomenon is the fact that libertarians, in their embrace of Rand’s primary premises (several of which are flawed), have created a philosophical movement that cannot get successfully launched as it is presently constructed. They have built a rocket ship with a faulty engine that, upon every takeoff, propels them only a short distance into the sky and then plummets back to earth.
I will explain in this book the major weaknesses in Rand’s ethical thinking that have prohibited libertarianism from becoming a countervailing force to statism. And I will also show how to restructure the libertarian ship to give it the strength to truly take flight. Because I disagree with Rand’s ethical ideas, however, doesn’t mean I consider her to be a waste of time. Far from it; there is much of benefit to learn from her works – e.g., her understanding of individual rights and how they are being destroyed, her identification of altruism (in its sacrificial form) as the moral fount of tyranny, her formulation of the “sanction of the victim” and the “hatred of the good for being the good,” her insistence that ideology is the prime mover of history, etc. But one must read her for her wisdom and dismiss her folly, which requires a certain perspective that comes from experience in life.
Rand had incredibly trenchant things to say to us about capitalism, tyranny, individualism, the entrepreneur, the powers of reason and morality, the need for heroism, etc. But she floundered with the primary goal of her writing – her attempt to launch a new egoistic ethical system for man. To the extent that libertarians and objectivists embrace her “new ethical system,” they undercut the real strength of capitalism as a way of life. If America and capitalism are to be saved for future centuries, it will not be on the iconoclastic wings of egoism, but upon a new rendition of the ancient wisdom that has guided man ethically for thousands of years.
THE CONSERVATIVES’ DEFAULT
Just as libertarians are going to have to make some important changes in their overall philosophy, so too are those who deem themselves conservatives. Sadly, over the last few decades there has solidified in the minds of many prominent conservatives a disastrous way of thinking. They have come to believe that, by accepting the ideology of the welfare state and merely arguing for a more prudent implementation of its goals, we can stem the tide of tyranny and make it tolerable. On the contrary, such an approach ushers in tyranny rather than stemming the tide of it. In order to counteract the disease of statism, one must go to the root causes of the disease, which means one must challenge its moral and philosophical premises.
Too many conservatives today are not concerned with such a challenge. They are more concerned with scholarly acceptance in their own time than adherence to principle for all of time. They have become “media-darling” conservatives. They fear that since statism is the fashion of the age, to challenge the moral foundation of the welfare state would place them outside the circle of socially-approved intellectuality and thus render them ineffective. But what they fail to see is that it is always contrarian intellectuals who most dramatically shape history. Through all the centuries from Socrates, to Erasmus, to Galileo, to John Locke, to Thomas Jefferson, to Ludwig von Mises, to Richard Weaver, truth and freedom have never been defended by compromising with the forces of statism that exist in one’s time.
Too many today have convinced themselves that by fighting statism’s degree rather than its essence, they can somehow stop its ever-increasing suffocation of the individual. The lures of “celebrity” and “social approval” have consumed their integrity of thought. They want too much to be revered by the political grafters who wield power, as if recognition conveyed by usurpers is somehow honor.
In the end, there is no hope for freedom if men of the mind are not willing to truly stand for freedom, to make of themselves Gibraltar-like representatives of its attributes no matter what level of rejection, calumny, and injustice is heaped upon them. This is the true role of the intellectual in history, his only role – to stand intransigently for truth and its concomitant of freedom, even in face of a vast social herd of academic pedants, poseurs, and media clowns stampeding the other way.
The disease of collectivist-liberalism has only one antidote – restoration of a strictly limited government that treats all citizens objectively – which can be brought about only if we as a country abandon the fundamental premises of modern-day liberalism. This book will identify such premises and formulate the only effective strategy to challenge them. If conservatism is to be a movement of freedom and justice, its leaders must cease defaulting on their responsibility to put forth this challenge.
THE LAW OF THE MEAN
A growing body of dissenting thought in America today agrees with the above perspective. This book is an attempt to crystallize such a view by resurrecting trampled-on truths long forgotten but vital to the freedom and dignity of men. It is a composite of five essays dealing with Aristotle’s famous Law of the Mean (i.e., Golden Mean) and how it applies to the great questions of politics, economics, and ethics.
Practically everyone is familiar with the concept of a Golden Mean in at least a rudimentary sense, for we have all been taught from earliest childhood about the virtue of balance and the evil of extremism in our daily lives. Yet even if we were never taught its truth, I believe some men would still intuitively gravitate to the wisdom it affords, utilizing it as the basis of their judgment of what should be taking place around them – for it is one of the natural lodestars of life that rule our existence.
It is this writer’s belief that most of the tyranny, degradation, and chaos that has overwhelmed so many people throughout the world during the past 100 years can be attributed to the fact that we have moved steadily away from the Golden Mean in the most important regions of our lives. What I will do in this book is to explain such a moving away, how it has distorted our freedom, our ideals, and our moral beliefs – and why we, as a people, must restore such a mean to our way of life again.
The premises that will be examined are as follows: There exists in the natural scheme of life a great ideal of “right action,” which in the political arena is where both liberty and order reside. In essence, these two values are not antagonists but complements, which can and must be equally integrated into a nation’s socio-political system. One need not be sacrificed to the other; in actual fact, neither can exist without the other. And most importantly, there is a body of definable principles that will lead to a society that is both virtuous and free.
In other words, there is a natural law that permeates existence, “an order in the universe which human reason can discover and according to which the human will must act so that it can attune itself to the universal harmony….We do not make this law, but are made to live within it.”2
The Aristotelian mean is one of the manifestations of this natural law that permeates the universe. For us as individuals and as a society to go against this law is to incur tragedy and bring down upon our lives ruinous consequences. This is the great dilemma of modern times. We must once again come to grips with Francis Bacon’s observation that “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.” There are eternal truths to which we must learn to conform.
THE MEAN’S ANTAGONISTS
One cautionary note: the book’s general theme flows from crucial points validated in Chapter One, so naturally the first chapter must be read carefully and thoroughly. Also it is important to read the chapters in the order that they appear. Do not skip around. Each chapter builds upon the previous chapter and will not make complete sense without first understanding what came before. I can’t emphasize this strongly enough. The power and validity of the book’s general theme will be apparent only if the chapters are read in order.
I am aware of the reservations held by some scholars as to the usefulness of Aristotle’s doctrine of the mean to meaningfully analyze life’s various phenomena. It is said that such a concept is “relative,” it is a form of “circular reasoning,” it avoids adherence to principle in favor of the “middle-of-the-road,” and so forth. On the contrary, every one of these claims is demonstrably false and will be explained as we proceed. Some of the claims are answered in the following chapters and the rest of them in an Appendix at the end of the book because they require abstract theoretical discussions that appeal primarily to scholars. For those who are interested in these kinds of arguments, please refer to the Appendix (after reading Chapter One).
What I will show throughout the book is that the concept of the mean is fundamentally misunderstood by its antagonists, which has led to a warped and incongruous philosophy among those who are attempting to defend the ramparts of freedom.
I will also show that, because Aristotle concentrated on the micro-level of personal virtues rather than the macrolevel of political systems, he was able to formulate only part of the mean’s applicability, and therefore only tapped into part of its significance. This book will expand Aristotle’s formulation to the macrolevel of life – to societies, politics, religious codes, foreign policies, monetary policies, etc.
It is very important to understand that, contrary to the presumptions of modern intellectuals, the doctrine of the mean is universal rather than relative. Aristotle held it to be so for the microlevel, and I will demonstrate that it is equally so for the macrolevel.
In other words, the doctrine of the mean is a valid concept to help decipher both the personal and the collective “good” for humanity for all times and all places. It is a fixed philosophical North Star that can be used to direct our lives and our societies toward the ideal. This is not a paltry issue that we as citizens can ignore; all who think must come to know its ideological primacy. Whether there are universal moral truths, or whe-ther all is relative, is the ultimate issue of our existence. It is upon this point that everything of importance, everything that is sane and humane in life – the fate of freedom and civilization itself – rests. So we must come to understand, before anything else, why there are things called “moral truths,” and how we are to realize them. Only then can we arrive at how our government and our social institutions should be constructed. A most important intellectual key to understanding this is to delve into Aristotle’s Golden Mean.
While there is much in Aristotle’s worldview that is indefensible to us today, the doctrine of the mean is one of the immutable verities of mind and man. It is a most powerful idea with far more importance for our lives than we have heretofore realized. This eternal, “rational mean” lies between the disparate and debasing sociopolitical extremes that men are forever prone to chasing after. It is transcendent to the temporalities of human desires. It is tied in with the natural laws that have been instilled into existence, and it is our job as humans to discover it, to define it in the idiom of our day, and then attempt to live up to it.
SOLUTION TO OUR MODERN DILEMMA
We have been grievously misled as a people and a nation for several generations now on what should be the proper relationship between the individual and his government. The original purpose of America has been all but buried beneath a mountain of utopian delusions and perverted ideals, disseminated by scholars who have deliberately set out to redesign our country along the lines of history’s centralized collectivisms. We must reinvestigate in a most serious manner this philosophical relationship of the individual to the state, for there is a very clear theoretical balance that must be struck between the aims and activities of the two if life is to proceed in any meaningful, enjoyable fashion.
The fact that our government is out of control is due to flaws in our life philosophy, or, to more correctly put it, due to a failure to adhere to proper first principles. Ironically, the philosophy of America was right from the start. We just failed to adequately incorporate its necessary first principles into our Constitution and, as the years went by, we drifted away from the fundamental moral convictions that gave us the inner strength and self-discipline to sustain the structure. Thus, the solution to our modern dilemma lies not in any kind of “new morality” or “radically altered political system” that pure libertarians advocate. Our solution is simply to have the courage to accept the moral and philosophical principles that will lead to what America was originally meant to be.
All men, possessed of character and strength of will, want to be free; they all desire to have order in their lives; they all hope to find happiness; and they all wish to know truth. What is necessary is for Americans to once again teach to their young the proper manner of reasoning that will lead to the achievement of such values.
With her sustaining spirit so ravaged over this past century by false truths and scholastic illusions, America now has no idea of the level upon which life could and ought to be lived. One thinks of the sturdy and serenely noble ethic adhered to in the aftermath of our founding and through-out the nineteenth century – the heroic self-reliance, stout-hearted love, and family solidarity that living used to be about.
There was an awe about existence before the bitch-goddess of egalitarianism invaded the sanctum of our ideals and the leviathan of government usurped our freedoms. Life was momentous and meaningful. Men and women had reverence for liberty. Their priorities were in order, for they produced before they consumed. Truth was there to decipher from Nature and pay heed to, not paste over with relativized morals and arid technical jargon.
There was a color and gallantry and joy that filled the days of one’s life before egalitarianism and Big Government. Anguish and grueling hard-ship, too. But a man at least knew he had stood up to the anguish and hardship on the steel of his own merits, and in so doing had earned a sense of honor. Life was manly for men before bureaucracy’s drab mandarins eroded the vigor of their hopes. And because it was, men thought highly of themselves; and because they did, there was love between man and woman that formed a rock of granite beneath the fearsome vicissitudes they faced.
There is no such love today because there is no crucible of valor from which men and women can forge it. There is only the incessant clamor for more government entitlements pilfered from the pockets of one’s neighbors through the taxman; only the bleak emptiness of a stifling materialism shored up by its demon gods of consumption and power, with its dismal world of obnoxious bureaucrats dictating the ecstasy out of living.
It is hoped that what is written here will help to restore the lofty crucible that life once was and from which the gallant men and women of our past drew their sustenance.
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