Jonah Goldberg: Will The Right Defend Economic Liberty?

Jonah Goldberg:

“In the immortal words of Buffalo Springfield, “There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear.” ‘

No, it is crystal clear.

Do you see this map of the 2016 electorate?

1.) Virtually the entire Republican Party is now united by social conservatism and authoritarianism, NOT economic liberty. In fact, the Republican Party is divided on economics.

2.) The GOP establishment is committed to social liberty and economic liberty, but the Republican base has moved on from Reaganism. This is why there is such an enormous gulf between the “Republican base” and the “Republican establishment.” The latter is out of touch.

3.) Donald Trump won the 2016 election by running on a platform that appealed to Republican voters who are Left Authoritarian populists and nationalists. He won the election by appealing to swing voters in the middle of the electorate who are populists and moderates.

4.) Finally, the Republican establishment and Conservatism, Inc. refused to accept the verdict of the 2016 election, and have spent the last 3 years successfully blocking the populist and nationalist aspects of Trump’s agenda and steering the Trump administration back into the policies of mainstream conservatism. In doing so, it will reap the whirlwind when White populist voters begin to defect back to the Democratic Party whenever a candidate comes along who downplays the social issues.

“Carlson is hardly alone. At the precise moment when socialism is mounting something of a new Spring Offensive, many conservatives are abandoning their posts and refusing to defend what was once holy ground.”

The key point there is “what was once holy ground.”

The Republican electorate has changed since Ronald Reagan was president. Virtually no one in the Republican Party is an ideological libertarian who doesn’t work in a think tank or as a pundit.

The most striking thing about the Republican electorate is how many more Republican voters are populists and moderates than libertarians. In hindsight, we ought to look back at the 2016 Republican primary and wonder if conservatives are outnumbered by populists in Southern states that Blompf won so decisively like Alabama and Mississippi.

“President Trump has helped make protectionism more popular on the right than it has been in generations. Socialized medicine or some near approximation remains unpopular on the right, but it now has advocates of a kind it never had before. At various purportedly conservative publications, the New Deal is back in good odor, as are various notions of “economic nationalism.”

This isn’t a coincidence.

It is the Left that is divided by social issues, not the Right. 45 percent of voters are Left-Libertarians. This is the Democratic base which is wholly on the Left and far more cohesive than the Republican base.

Only 23 percent of voters are “consistent conservatives” who support social conservatism and economic liberty. A mere 4 percent of voters are Right-Libertarians who support social liberty and economic liberty. In other words, the Right is around 27 percent of the American electorate.

Populists are the center of the electorate. 29 percent of the electorate are people who believe in social conservatism and economic fairness. This group of voters are split between the two parties. There is simply no path to a Republican electoral majority anymore that runs through the antiquated ideology of “True Conservatism” as most of the old people who voted for Ronald Reagan have since died off and been replaced by younger voters of whom there will be more of in 2020.

“An editor of American Affairs proposes ditching the Left–Right distinction altogether to forge a new “party of the state” that would have conservatives, among other things, embracing the administrative state rather than dismantling it.”

This is smart politics.

Blompf won the 2016 election because he assembled an authoritarian coalition of Right-Authoritarian conservatives and Left-Authoritarian populists and nationalists. The United States has an authoritarian political majority like other Western countries, not a libertarian one.

“Both Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed and Yoram Hazony’s The Virtue of Nationalism (each nominated — along with my book Suicide of the West — for Conservative Book of the Year by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, with Hazony winning) take dead aim at classical liberalism, arguing that the West took a wrong turn when it embraced John Locke.”

This is also correct on a number of levels.

After all, it is the collapse of the liberal paradigm and free-market capitalism that is the true underlying cause that is driving everything we are seeing. It is taking “liberty” and “equality” to ever greater extremes whether it is through shredding the social fabric or exacerbating economic inequality which has inflamed the electorate from both ends and has driven the rise of populism all over the Western world.

“One is tempted to borrow a line from President Trump and call for a total and complete shutdown of political debates until we can figure out what the hell is going on.”

This isn’t hard to explain.

We know exactly what is going on. It is the liberal paradigm and free-market capitalism running its course and destroying the social fabric and swelling the gap between the rich and the poor. The collapse is also now rapidly accelerating because of immigration and automation.

“There was a time when the mainstream position on the right was that the goal, at least as it pertains to the role of government, was liberty itself. Not anymore. Many conservatives have grown disenchanted with the arguments for economic liberty, because they see them either as rationalizations for wicked “globalization” or as inimical to various notions of nationalist solidarity.”

In the age of transgenderism and the rise of artificial intelligence, the end of liberalism and free-market capitalism has finally been reached.

“There are two obvious ways to make the case for economic liberty: deductively and inductively. Since we’re getting back to basics, let’s start with deductive, the way thinkers such as John Locke, Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand, Robert Nozick, and, most famously, Milton Friedman did.”

In making the case against economic liberty, we will oppose the German Historical of Economics against Neoclassical Economics and Objectivism and the Austrian School of Economics and revive the Methodenstreit in the 21st century. We shall crush the deductive arguments of the conservatives and lolbertarians with experience like the Prussian Army crushed Austria.

“Freedom in economic arrangements is itself a component of freedom broadly understood,” Friedman wrote, “so economic freedom is an end in itself.” The ability to enjoy the fruits of one’s own labors is axiomatically a form of liberty.”

Who cares?

The end of economics properly conceived is an equitable distribution of abundance and prosperity, not “freedom.”

“The ability to buy and sell goods within reasonable constraints (variously defined) is obviously a form of freedom. A ban on the sale of firearms may be an infringement of the right to bear arms, but it is first an infringement of the right to spend your own money as you damn well please. As Nozick memorably put it, “the socialist society would have to forbid capitalist acts between consenting adults.”

Okay, well, there is nothing universal whatsoever about this abstract way of thinking or always privileging “freedom” above other goods. The British and Yankee way of doing liberal economics isn’t the German way or the Chinese way of doing economics because different cultures.

“If you take remotely seriously the claim that the pursuit of happiness is an inalienable right, it is almost impossible not to recognize that economic freedom is an irretrievably important component of freedom.”

What if we don’t take that claim seriously? Why can’t economic freedom be conceived of as economic independence like it us to be? If we simply guaranteed a Universal Basic Income to every American citizen, we could give them economic freedom by abolishing wage slavery.

“As Friedrich Hayek argued, “there can be no freedom of press if the instruments of printing are under government control, no freedom of assembly if the needed rooms are so controlled, no freedom of movement if the means of transport are a government monopoly.”

This is laughable.

In our society, the “free press” is the probably the biggest enemy of free speech because it feels so threatened by independent content producers and the demise of its monopoly over public discourse. Also, it is the consolidation of the mass media into the hands of a handful of powerful corporations, not Ken Burns documentaries on PBS or NPR, that is the real threat to the freedom of the ordinary citizens.

“In countries where health care is controlled by the government, the right to life itself is heavily regulated by the state, because it is the state that ultimately decides what treatments and services are rationed.”

Actually, abortion and divorce and gay marriage were all legalized in this country in the name of individual choice and self expression. Previously, the logic of liberalism and the free-market capitalism had been kept out of the family sphere, but it eventually crept in around the mid-20th century.

“Free speech serves as a tool every bit as much as markets do. The dissemination of knowledge, holding government accountable, taking in ad dollars for prime-time cable shows: The right to free speech makes all of these things possible. But is it just a tool? “

As Tucker Carlson explained on his show last night, it is government interaction, political correctness and the free enterprise system that are crushing free speech in America because the public square in the 21st century has become synonymous with a handful of privately owned social media companies who should be trust busted and regulated like AT&T.

“Likewise, no one planned capitalism. It was in a very significant sense an accidental by-product of the quest for liberty, knowledge, and peace. The Calvinists described by Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism did not develop their theology to get rich, they got rich because of the changes of habit and custom their theology required of them.”

Some would argue that the origins of capitalism can be traced back to the great raid on the New World, Africa and Asia after Columbus and the trade in slaves and the development of the plantation complex in the Mediterranean. The English and the Dutch eventually became superior capitalists, but the system itself emerged the Renaissance in Italy.

“Religious pluralism itself wasn’t the plan, it was a compromise after a century of war. As the historian C. V. Wedgwood put it, the West came to understand “the essential futility of putting the beliefs of the mind to the judgment of the sword.”

No, this was only true of some places.

Lutheran Europe and Catholic Europe remained fairly religiously homogeneous and undisturbed by warfare. France was roiled by the Huguenots, but they were banned and driven out by Louis XIV and Protestantism in general was rolled back in Central Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. Calvinist Europe was much less successful than Catholic Europe or Lutheran Europe or Orthodox Europe in avoiding religious pluralism mainly due to the fact it was so intense.

“Religious freedom yielded new freedoms — to innovate not just theologically but economically. Trade itself is an innovative compromise that allowed us to get past zero-sum acquisition by force in favor of mutually beneficial exchange. The market creates peace and freedom by allowing strangers to interact without resort to violence.”

If you look at it another way, it looks like the beginning of a long term process of cultural disintegration that is closely related to the development of a free-market capitalist economy. This is why the process of ethnic and cultural breakdown is so less advanced in those eastern European countries which were shielded from the negative aspects of the market economy and liberal democracy by their domination by the Soviet Union.

“Tilt your head just slightly and the historical record shows the causal arrows pointing in a different direction. Economic liberty created a demand for political liberty.”

I wouldn’t characterize it that way.

In the case of Great Britain, I would say an economic expansion created a demand for political liberty, but the economic expansion in 17th century Britain was being driven by the creation of the Royal Navy, the founding of the Royal Society, the English takeover of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade after the Restoration, the Anglo-Dutch Wars, the Navigation Acts, and so forth. This was followed by over a century of war between Britain and France over who would dominate the world as well as the rise of British imperialism in India. It wasn’t until much later in British history that the doctrine of free-market capitalism was created.

Locke, both hailed by many and now vilified as the father of liberalism, was a devout, if idiosyncratic, Christian of Calvinist roots who believed economic liberty to be the keystone of liberty itself. The right to private property, including the ownership of one’s own life and body, and the right to own the fruits of one’s own labors, is what made freedom not simply possible but morally necessary and even divinely mandated.”

John Locke also wrote the first constitution of colonial South Carolina and was an investor in the slave trade. In any case, virtually no one in America even read Locke who was a Whig propagandist until around the time of the Boston Tea Party when a rationale was required for the American rebellion.

“The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it,” he wrote, “which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.”

There is no such thing as “state of nature.”

Locke was wrong. Aristotle was right. Humans are social beings. We are born into society and formed by it especially through the acquisition of language and culture without which we are utterly dysfunctional. We are raised by our parents as helpless dependents as children.

“There are sound conservative objections to Locke, originally formulated by Willmoore Kendall in 1941. Locke was a passionate individualist but also a believer in unfettered majority rule. Kendall identified the explanation for this seeming inconsistency: He believed that humans by nature were moral and rational. Locke’s anthropological assumption is certainly worthy of debate.”

Of course.

As a Whig propagandist who attempted to justify the Glorious Revolution for his boss the Earl of Shaftesbury, Locke argued against the actual conservatives of his day like Sir Robert Filmer who was the author of
Patriarcha, or The Natural Power of Kings.

“But whichever way you come down on the integrity of Locke’s philosophy, the historical fact is that it served as a powerful weapon against notions of aristocracy and the divine right of kings. And the rising middle class — the bourgeois burghers and businessmen — of Western Europe used these ideas, as well as those of the liberal French philosophes, to press for greater and greater political liberty as a means to secure their economic freedom.”

It sounds to me like John Locke & Co. weren’t “conservatives” in any meaningful sense of the term. They were liberals.

“As their ranks swelled, so did the coffers of the tax collectors, which led to even more demands not just for greater representation but for neutral rules set apart from the whims of rulers and from the hereditary prerogatives of aristocrats. “Historical evidence,” Friedman observed, “speaks with a single voice on the relation between political freedom and a free market.”

Naturally, the lawyers and the merchants and the armchair philosophers resented the aristocrats and the established order of their day. No one disputes that they succeeded in tearing down that world and building a new one on its ruins based on 17th and 18th century philosophy.

“This points to the importance of rhetoric, which Wayne Booth defined as “the art of probing what men believe they ought to believe.” Locke’s analysis may leave room for serious correction, but the ideas he represented put the West and the world on a path toward freedom and prosperity. Changing what men ought to believe, as history has shown countless times, can take them off the path.”

May leave room for serious correction?

The Dutch and British economies were expanding long before John Locke ever published his books for reasons that had nothing whatsoever to do with his theories. The same is true of Adam Smith and his theories. The American colonists were already among the wealthiest people on earth before anyone had ever heard of Adam Smith.

“Defending free markets, often over the objections of monied interests seeking to rig the system in their favor, is indispensable to protecting freedom in general. For when the state is captured by factions, they will not stop at regulating economic arrangements alone.”

How can one look at Washington with its armies of lobbyists and conclude that the system isn’t already rigged in favor of powerful vested interests and that the wealth generated by free-market capitalism which is concentrated in hands of a few billionaires made it possible? I would argue that the system we have now is worse than the court of Louis XIV.

“This points to the real problem with the new crisis in confidence in the free market. It’s an attack on the wrong problem. Many a new fan of statism on the right has convinced himself that “globalists,” “elites,” “cultural Marxists,” or some other “neoliberal” cabal has rigged the system in its favor. In some specific cases, it is an understandable and defensible proposition.”

No, the problem really is that the liberal paradigm and free-market capitalism have been exhausted. They have achieved their ends of expanding the scope of social and economic liberty after the course of three centuries. The system is breaking down now because it is has grown hopelessly antiquated and created so many unanticipated problems and disorders in society that it has provoked a reaction against it.

“The problem arises when the inference is turned into a systemic indictment and the system in the dock is the market. The villain is not the market but the state. More specifically, the interests that capture the state, or mechanisms of it, are to blame. That isn’t the free market.”

If the problem is the state and not the free-market, then why have a billion people been raised out of poverty in China? Why are the Chinese the happiest people on earth with their strong state? Why does the West find itself in a tailspin under a discredited establishment?

“In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith wrote that “people of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” This line has been quoted by critics of capitalism in all parties since 1776.”

Consider the possibility that The Wealth of Nations was written in the late 18th century at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. We are now living in the 21st century at the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The world has radically changed and free-market capitalism has become obsolete over the past two centuries.

“Joseph Schumpeter demonstrated that monopolies can’t endure in a free market — if they do not have the protection of the state. Monopolies are the goal not simply of trusts and combines but of every faction convinced that its interests deserve special dispensation from the state or devoted to the idea that its vision of society should be binding on everyone.”

I will just say this flies in the face of our own experience with the trusts and monopolies in Silicon Valley and payment processors. We can see the cancer of political correctness spreading through the banks now.

“But too much order stifles innovation, and innovation — which is possible only where there is the freedom to innovate — is the indispensable wellspring of economic growth, material prosperity, and the pursuit of happiness.”

I wouldn’t associate mainstream conservatism with innovation. It is hard to think of a more suffocating conformist environment. Has it occurred to Goldberg that “the state” plays an enormous role in innovation through funding research and development these days?

“Those who think that the solution to our problems lies in granting the government even greater power to “plan” how people should live are not merely making Friedrich Hayek cry, they are no doubt unwittingly following the path of every enemy of freedom since freedom was conceived as right for all, not just those at the helm.”

I’m confused.

Doesn’t Wal-Mart engage in “planning”? Isn’t Amazon also engaged in planning? Why exactly is “the state” supposed to be bad at planning and the free-market supposed to be great at it? If it had been up to the free-market, we would have already annihilated countless species around the world whether it was the buffalo or elephants or blue whales. It was “the state” that tamed the flooding of the Mississippi River. It was “the state” that launched the first satellite and landed a man on the moon and split the atom, not the planning of the “free-market.”

“They may couch their appeals in the language of populism, socialism, or nationalism and defense of the common folk. But they invariably have in mind only one slice — their slice, their faction — of the public as truly deserving. “Believe me, sir,” Burke writes, “those who attempt to level never equalize. In all societies, consisting of various descriptions of citizens, some description must be uppermost.”

Yes, we all know that minds of certain Never Trump pundits that it is True Conservatives who ought to lord it over the Republican Party, even though fewer people than ever share their views on free-market capitalism.

About Hunter Wallace 9620 Articles
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Occidental Dissent

7 Comments

  1. An interesting article. I had not really paid too much attention before to your economic articles. Economics seems boring to me. Since it is important I decided to read it. Despite my limited knowledge on such matters I agreed with your conclusions.

    • “A ban on the sale of firearms may be an infringement of the right to bear arms, but it is first an infringement of the right to spend your own money as you damn well please.”

      Only a Judaic could reduce the enshrined right to defend one’s hearth, home, blood & soil to a market value. This guy makes my skin crawl.

  2. Libertarianism is Libertinism. Perhaps this will work, for awhile, in a Northern European social order – but it’s really a death cult, in the end. And wholly against primal Human Nature. I loathe quoting Andrew Anglin, but he stated, years ago, that the train wreck the Jews created is in auto-pilot. I’m paraphrasing; I don’t recall his exact words, but the fundamental assessment is true. Jewry is so bent and determined to destroy the White Race, in order to have all their Pet Darks as their slaves, on their Global Slave Plantation, that they cannot or will not see that they are killing the White Golden Goose, that keeps their scams alive. Their Dark Hordes….won’t…

  3. “reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind…”. This is either Socinianism, or Semi-Pelagianism… it sure is NOT Calvinism (i.e., Orthodox Augustinian Christianity)!

    The Reformed believe that ALL elements of a man’s body AND mind are negatively affected by the Fall, especially Man’s unaided Reason. [the doctrine of ‘total depravity.’] Reason, which is considered one of the ‘three legs’ of the ‘three-legged stool’ of Anglicanism [ Scripture, Reason, and Tradition] is not even trusted in 18th centiury Anglicanism, until one acknowledge that such ‘reason’ is only viable and even barely trustworthy, AFTER conversion. [ Locke’s emphasis on ‘unregenerate reason’ may have been what stifled the Church of England, until Wesley and his revivalism broke forth…)

    Locke was more or less a Heretic, though he SOUNDED like a Calvinist. While it is true he was “born and RAISED by Puritan parents,” Locke ‘studied and tutored at Oxford…where ‘he drank deeply from the wells of humanism.” [Apostate- The Men who destroyed the Christian West’ – Kevin Swanson] Swanson notes further in his chapter on Locke: “By 1668 he [Locke] was attending one of the most liberal churches in London… and he was a confirmed Latitudinarian (A term ued for those who were softening on key biblical [orthodox] doctrines’…By 1685, he openly confessed doubts about the verbal inspiration of the Bible… There is no absolute agreement among scholars on the DEGREE of compromise in John Locke’s Christian orthodoxy. However, we can be certain that Locke was not a Reformed, orthodox Puritan by the end of his life…. John Locke and his fellow academics provided the intellectual ammunition needed for the breakdown of the Christian faith at the university level.” Kindle Loc. 984-1040.

    FYI.

  4. Very nice. But doesn’t go nearly far enough. The myth of the “efficiency” of the free market is another piece of dogma that is debunked by reality.

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