Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three part series on Conservatarianism, the blending of conservative and libertarian ideologies within the new Republican party.
When Donald Trump emerged as first a challenger and then the Republican presidential nominee and finally the President of the United States, it threw the Republican party into an ideological frenzy – or identity crisis.
Trump introduced populist and nationalist policies – attacking multilateral trade deals, embracing the concept of America first – that sometimes conformed but often did not to orthodox Republican ideology. And it was Democrats from behind the infamous blue wall of the heartland who put Trump over the top and into the White House. Add in the libertarians and you get a full smorgasbord of ideological thought in a party that for so long was defined by conservatism and moderate, or so-called Rockefeller republicanism.
This new GOP clearly is not your father’s or even grandfather’s Republican party. But if the competing and complementary schools of thought within this new GOP can unite, the same coalition that put Trump in office can surely be sustained in the years ahead.
Prominent in the thoughts of GOP leaders and strategists is the question of whether conservatives and libertarians can join forces in a durable coalition. For if they unite under the same right-of-center ideological umbrella – and the Republican party banner – such a coalition could present enormous opportunities to effect change in the free market direction.
But while they walk mostly shoulder to shoulder on foundational domestic issues – the Constitution and free market economics – conservatives and libertarians diverge sharply on foreign policy, and on matters ranging from the federal war on drugs to immigration to gay marriage.
Here at Liberty Nation, we call ourselves Conservatarians because we offer both conservative and libertarian perspectives under the same roof. But are the worldviews held by the two sides of the same free market coin compatible enough for them to work together?
That question and much more was explored with the writer who popularized the term Conservatarian. Charles C. W. Cooke of National Review, who appeared on Liberty Nation Radio to discuss his recent book The Conservatarian Manifesto.
LN: Does Conservatarian, as you use the term, refer to a political coalition of conservatives and libertarians or to individuals who embrace some combination of those two political philosophies?
Mr. Cooke: It applies to both. The book was inspired by people who said that they were neither conservative or libertarian or more often that when they were around libertarians they felt conservative but when they were around conservatives they felt libertarian. I also have the view that for most people if you can get to about 70% agreement then you can bring them into your coalition.
Ideological conservatives and Ideological libertarians disagree on a great deal and for many of us, we’re never going to sacrifice any of our principles. But most people who are more normal than I am, who don’t spend all of their time arguing about politics, they don’t need purity and so there’s an opportunity out there, I think, to bring people in America who are libertarian or conservative leaning, or a mixture of the two into the fold without having to appeal to them on every single question.
LN: Well let’s talk about common ground or lack thereof. In your view, which issues can be reconciled between conservatives and libertarians and which cannot?
Mr. Cooke: I’ll answer that in two ways. The first is a structural answer, the second is a policy answer. I think even in such cases as there is no room for agreement, federalism – this is what the book is about in large part – is a way of squaring that circle. It is okay for Americans to say that Mississippi is a good state and that Massachusetts is a good state. It’s fine to acknowledge the people in Texas are happy with their state and that people in Maine are happy with their state as well. I think that where we commit and accommodate more localism where there are significant disagreements between conservatives and libertarians they can be resolved without resorting to a big national fight in which people stamp their feet and storm out.
In fact for many conservatives and libertarians localism per se is important as a policy matter and they’re happy to accommodate differences. Where we can’t do that, where there are problems for conservatives and libertarians, is where the questions are inherently national. There are big divides on immigration, on foreign policy both of which are intrinsically national questions. But I think outside of those there is far more chance for compromise between conservatives and libertarians on pretty much every other issue than between libertarians and progressives and between conservatives and progressives because although they disagree as to exactly how a given policy should look, conservatives and libertarians are both skeptical of government.
They both believe there should be limits on government; They’re both positive towards the American founding settlements; They are individualistic in their thinking; They don’t go in for identity politics and they’re happy to let markets and civil society take control and deal with most of the problems that we face. I think other than the big national issues both ideologically and structurally there’s an awful lot of common ground there.
So, while Mr. Cooke sees much in common between conservatives and libertarians, he does not minimize their differences. In the second part of this series, we will examine how conservatives and libertarians might accommodate their starkly differing visions of the proper role for the US in the world.