It’s been already two weeks since I began my own fellowship at the very Mises Institute. During this time a lot of things have already happened, both in the local American scene as well as in the rest of the world--my own country, Ecuador, included.
Given my own affinities with ideas from various sources in the political right, from the classical liberalism of Mises and Hayek and the anarcho-capitalism of Rothbard and Hoppe to the traditional conservatism of Burke and Scruton and the novel post-liberalism of Deneen, Vermeule and Ahmari, I was amazed and intrigued to read a fairly recent article by Mises Institute President, Jeff Deist, discussing the rise in the popularity of this last group and of its ideas.
For a person like me, who tries to navigate the muddy waters between libertarianism and conservatism, ideological tags have become meaningless. In Ecuador, where media and academia are dominated by the progressive left and its liquid culture, politics has become synonymous with nepotism, corruption, and inefficiency.
There have been instances where I have tried to combine my libertarian and my conservative leanings into a single philosophy, as some kind of liberal illiberalism; an economic skepticism of the organization of the modern State; a practical and moral defense, from a socialist and nationalist perspective, of the existence of private property; and even a conservative interpretation of the tenet of the Austrian School of Economics. But none of these attempts seem to get to the point where a viable mix of libertarianism and conservatism is developed.
In a spontaneous coincidence more than a deliberate attempt, Jeff and I have been thinking about the same issues. This is not the first time he has theorized on ways to introduce free market and sound money ideas into the school of conservative thought that seems to be fashionable in the moment.
But Austro-libertarianism paradoxically seems to follow the Burkean way, in which our intellectual development as a doctrine expands with moderation and prudence. Conservatism, or at least, American conservatism, has adopted the old leftist vice of infighting, reducing itself into warring factions against each other, where the least difference in theory (or the popularity of a certain leading figure) is reason enough for the movement to break its fragile peace or for a new faction to arise.
For conservatives and libertarians in the ground, working 8 to 5 jobs while trying to get involved in local and grassroot politics-- and most importantly, struggling to survive with freedom and dignity in a world where the most ridiculous whims of our ruling classes get imposed with legislation and enforced with the state’s monopoly on taxation and violence--petty conflicts within the conservative intellectual and managerial class seem truly unimportant. They not only demonstrate the instability of a movement that lacks power, but also steal our most precious and irreplaceable resource, which is time.
Nonetheless, there seems to be something different about the rise of post-liberalism, even with its internal differences and with career politicians trying to capitalize on its apparent success.
It may be because its leading figures, having learnt from the Donald Trump experience and from his successes and mistakes in the American presidency, have become wiser in the handling the conservative movement.
For instance, the political Catholicism of the likes of Vermeule, Deneen and Ahmari don’t seem to be at odds with the Aristotelian nationalism of the Claremont Institute, and in many senses both end up embraced by institutions like Hillsdale College or the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. They don't shiver to invite people like Jordan Peterson, Michael Rectenwald, or SCOTUS Associate Justice Clarence Thomas (all of them cancel culture victims) speak at its events.
With the notable exception of the neocons, well represented by opportunistic career Republicans like Mitt Romney and Liz Cheney (both of whom seem despised and rejected by all factions of this new American Right), the conservative movement looks to be building bridges, both internally and externally. It is creating platforms like NatCon conferences to allow their ideas to spread indiscriminately, and promoting them in countries with likeminded governments (like Orbán’s Hungary) to get connected to their fellow figures (like Nigel Farage or Marion Maréchal) in Europe.
But the Austro-libertarian movement is missing on the opportunity to participate in the development of this new New Right, even if this could be the right opportunity for a true paleo revival, without the mistakes in economic doctrine that made the first attempt fail. Rothbard pushed for his free-market vision, while Pat Buchanan twisted his view on economic protectionism into an outright state-planned economy.
In two occasions, while hosting my podcast for the Spanish newspaper España - Navarra Confidencial, I had the chance to discuss the possibility of a new libertarian-conservative fusion, the first one with our aforementioned Jeff Deist and Hillsdale professor Brad Birzer. The common ground between the two views were that the state was indeed a danger for freedom and community, and that a neo-fusionist movement could indeed work to recover culture, family values and decentralization.
In here, the term neo-fusionist that both Jeff used and I am now using is a clear reference to the doctrine of Frank Meyer, considered by President Ronald Reagan as his most intellectual influence, a political philosopher who tried to unite elements of libertarianism and traditionalism into a single philosophical synthesis of the two. This received much criticism from both libertarian and conservative figures like Harry V. Jaffa (the intellectual father-figure of modern Claremonters) Paul Gottfried (a paleoconservative thinker and now the editor of the Chronicles magazine), along with our own Murray Rothbard (who saw in Meyer a rather lost and confused libertarian).
The second time was in another podcast discussion, with our own Mises Wire assistant editor Tho Bishop and his peer at Chronicles, Pedro Gonzalez where the main focus was the political strategy for a paleo revival considering the cultural and demographic changes in the US since the 90s. Both of them agreed with me on most issues, from local political action and the main problems to tackle, to the immediate use of state power to solve those problems, given there was no private alternative, and that, moreover, the private sector was caught itself into the woke madness.
In the US, there is a genuine opportunity to allow for right-libertarians a space into the post-liberal Right. Outside the US, the libertarian name is getting tarnished by the inoperancy, alienation and cluelessness of beltway libertarian-influenced politicians such as my own country’s president, Guillermo Lasso, and his advisors, whose public policy ideas are as unrelated to the local situation, with its many security and poverty problems, as DC staffers are unrelated to the issues of Common Joe in Middle America.
Quoting from the end words of Jeff’s essay, "Have we lost "liberal" forever? Maybe. If liberalism is dead, then liberals killed it. I'm doubtful we can ever reclaim it. Perhaps we need a new word for organizing society through property, peace, trade, and sound money”, but I also add, have we lost “libertarian” too?
While I am not as pessimist with that, and I still believe there is chance for right-libertarianism to be a force for political action, I wouldn’t call myself as such, not only because there is a concern for me to be put into the same bag as my unlikely-to-get-reelected local government, but because it is only half of what I believe.
I do think, though, that we should remember and apply what Jeff proposed in his “For A New Libertarian” speech, that is, to fight for what matters for the common man, understanding that these fights, pretty much unrelated to libertarianism, are what form the basis of the abstract freedom libertarians strive for.
We cannot forget both Rothbard and Hoppe began with the most absolute individualistic rationalism in their thinking to end up admiring the freedom of traditional medieval order in Europe in his first volume of his Austrian. Perspective on the History of Economic Thought and developing a rather reactionary and aristocratic communitarianism in his magnum opus, Democracy: The God That Failed, respectively.
Neither should we forget that the father of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke, came from a fairly liberal and Whig background, both as an intellectual and as a statesman, without that getting into conflict with his Anglo-Irish and Christian (both Anglican and Catholic) roots.
At last, more as an anecdote than as an example, both great English traditionalist of the late 19th century, G. K. Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc were involved with classical liberalism while maintaining their own religious and traditionalist beliefs. Chesterton stated in his book Orthodoxy that "I was brought up a Liberal, and have always believed in democracy, in the elementary liberal doctrine of a self-governing humanity”, while Belloc was elected as a Member of the British Parliament supported by the British Liberal Party.
I would like to finish by bringing up John Adams famous words about the US Constitution, “Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. […] The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our people in a greater measure than they have it now, they may change their rulers and the forms of government, but they will not obtain a lasting liberty. They will only exchange tyrants and tyrannies.”
John Adams understood that self-government, decentralization, and individual freedoms needed a moral framework to thrive, to develop to its full potential, for their respect was not enforced by an all-powerful government, but by a shared common tradition that guided the lives of all under their same provisions.
It was the moderation and tolerance of the Christian tradition in the Anglosphere the created the right conditions for classical liberalism to be applied and be the framework for the establishment of the American Republic, and the Catholic virtue of the Habsburgs in their rule over the Spanish and Danubian Empires that led to the development of the Salamanca and Austrian Schools.
On the other hand, it was the excesses of the Continental Liberals, as christened by F.A. Hayek, with their hyper-rationalist constructivism that led from Revolution, Jacobinism, expansive nationalism, and Marxist Socialism up to the horrors of Bolshevik Leninism, Soviet Stalinism, and German Nazism.
Continental Liberalism, as extreme as today’s Progressive Liberalism, also lead to the radical ideas of ultramontanism and dictatorship promoted by Maistre and Donoso Cortés and later taken up by Carl Schmitt.
It is better for us libertarians and conservatives to be together and follow Burke and Meyer into a neo-fusionist path, before our bona fide conservative intellectuals, pushed to the extreme by our corporatocratic elites and their loyal woke hordes, decide to follow the Counter Enlightenment path.
So even if libertarians and conservatives seem opposed at times, we both belong together as different sides of the same golden coin, counterbalancing each other excesses, and recognizing each other’s value.
Only through virtue, we can get order and freedom, understood as self-government, and only through free self-government we can get prosperity. There is no other way.