Near the top of my long and ever-growing list of pet peeves is articles titled, The Conservative Case for [Insert Radical and/or Libertarian Proposal Here]. It’s an iron-clad rule that before you even read the article you can be assured of two things: (1) the case is not conservative and (b) that the writer is a libertarian. Ive never seen an exception.
My all-time favorite example is Andrew Sullivans The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage . His justification for radically redefining one of the oldest institutions in human history is that it will help homosexuals connect sex with love and commitment. (Seriously, thats his argument.) Whether that reason is good or bad, justifiable or indefensible is debatable. That there is nothing particularly conservative about it is indisputable.
Libertarians recognize that making The Libertarian Case for Libertarian Idea Du Jour is not going to generate much interest. So they make the slight semantic shift under the assumption that most people will be fooled or intrigued enough to give them a hearing. In the case of Warren Meyers recent piece for Forbes , a double shift occurs. Although the article is titled The Conservative Case for Immigration , the real title, as Ramesh Ponnuru notes , should be The Conservative Case for Open Borders.
Of course the title it more interesting than the argument, which is the standard libertarian case for open borders: Business owners should have the absolute right to hire labor from anywhere in the world and bring them to America to live like second-class citizens. The only surprising thing about the op-ed is that Meyer seems to think that conservatives should come to the exact same conclusion about the issue as open-borders advocating libertarians.
Sadly, he isnt the only one that makes that mistake. Recently the new star of the GOP, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, was asked to name the best five books on conservatism . His list Frederick Hayeks The Road to Serfdom , Milton Friedmans Free to Choose , Charles Murrays What It Means to Be a Libertarian , Mancur Olsons The Rise and Decline of Nations , and Virginia Postrels The Future and Its Enemies .
While these are all worthy books, they all share a unique trait in common: they were written by libertarians advocating libertarian positions . Mitch Daniels was asked to name the five best books on conservatism and instead he lists five books on libertarianism. He even has the termerity to say that he should have included Hayeks Why Im Not a Conservative(!) It’s like if someone were asked to list the five best books on Catholicism and they listed works by John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, and C.S. Lewis.
In the interview the also admits that hes a libertarian, which sheds new light on the his recent comment that the next president will have to call a truce on the so-called social issues. (Joseph Bottum rips into Daniels in his most recent On the Square feature .)
So why does it matter that libertarians are trying to pass themselves off as conservatives? After all, theyve been doing it ever since the days when the libertarian Goldwater had his (conservative) ghostwriter title his book The Conscience of a Conservative . Whats new about it today?
One difference is that while libertarians are a political minority, they hold an outsized influence on and within the right-leaning intellectual elite. (Disagree? Quick: Think of a prominent economist on the right that isnt a libertarian or that is an outspoken social conservative.) By shifting the terminologycall themselves conservative while supporting libertarian ideasthey will eventually reshape the conservative movement into their own image. This should be viewed with great trepidation by those of us who believe that the most important issues of the day are not the GDP and open borders but protecting the sanctity of life and marriage.