I am a William F. Buckely, Jr. conservative. This means I believe in limited Constitutional government.
I am not a libertarian. The Constitution is not a libertarian document.
The Constitution has a presumption in favor of liberty. But the Constitution is also a practical charter for government.
The Constitution allows the government to put a road through your property if it serves the “general welfare” of the country.
This is why we are able to have Interstate highways that are straight, not winding all over the place.
Many libertarians are ideologues. They are hostile to government. They think everything should be done with private contracts — even the building of roads.
Conservatives believe government to be essential — essential, as the preamble to the Constitution says, to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty.”
Conservatives are anti-ideological. Conservatives are guided by principles — the principles outlined in America’s Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights.
Conservatives are also guided by facts — the empirical data. Conservatives favor what works best.
Conservatives defend Western Civilization because Western Civilization has produced, through time and trial and error, the best overall product in terms of human progress and respect for the individual.
The libertarian ideology advances the thesis that the free-market can solve all, or almost all problems.
But that’s clearly not the case.
Libertarians see government as the enemy. Libertarians would not have favored John F. Kennedy’s commitment to put a man on the moon within ten years. Libertarians would argue that the free-market would have achieved that . . . in time.
Libertarians don’t think government should be permitted to plow a road through someone’s farm. They think the private sector will build roads if roads are needed.
Of course, this is just not practical. This is why libertarians will never get more than one percent of the popular vote.
If we had to wait for the private sector to build roads, we would not have an Interstate highway system. We would still be an agrarian society, probably governed by local warlords — something like Afghanistan.
Libertarianism is just a silly ideology.
What William F. Buckley-style conservatives want are practical solutions. Conservatives want what works best for the country as a whole. I sometimes describe myself as a utilitarian tempered by Christianity and the Bill of Rights.
The utilitarian philosophy of Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and David Hume is that public policy should be determined by whatever produces the best results for the greatest number of people — or whatever is in the national interest. These philosophers happened to conclude that liberty generally works best — ordered liberty — that is liberty made possible by the “rule of law.”
But the guiding principle for them was “what works best for the greatest number of people.”
The problem with that principle is that “what works best for the greatest number of people” can (and often does) involve trampling on the rights of minorities, the government justifying the seizing of private property for the national interest, crushing freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the freedoms we cherish.
Utilitarianism can lead to an “ends justify the means” approach to public policy.
That’s why I say I am a utilitarian tempered by Christianity and the Bill of Rights. That is, I subscribe to the Bill of Rights even when it’s inconvenient to what I would like to see accomplished . . . because the Constitution, including the “Bill of Rights,” protects all of us from being trampled by the national interest.
The utilitarian part of my philosophy says that we should do “what works best” for the nation as a whole. But that must be tempered by a presumption in favor of liberty — the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights.
So America’s founders got it right.
The Constitution states that the primary purpose of the federal government is to “secure the blessings liberty.” But the Constitution also says the federal government should promote the “general welfare” — that is, the good of the whole.
So the Constitution was a practical document. It was not an ideological document. It left lawmakers a lot of discretion as to what constitutes the “general welfare” — too much discretion, in my view. But that’s another topic for later.
History has certainly shown over and over again that free-market capitalism creates the most wealth for the most people and that Socialism creates poverty and misery wherever and whenever tried. North Korea has universal health care, but spends $1 per year on each citizen. So the health care is not very good. North Koreans literally have to perform their own amputations. But it’s universal health care.
Health care in Cuba isn’t much better than in North Korea, but everyone has access to it.
So the verdict is in. Free-market capitalism works; socialism doesn’t.
But that doesn’t mean we should not have a Social Safety Net.
In my view, the modern American conservative movement is misfiring by becoming too closely aligned with libertarianism. Ron Paul makes some interesting points about the Federal Reserve and other issues, but his get-government-out-of-almost-everything philosophy can never get traction with a majority of Americans.
Writer Ben Hart says he's a "William F. Buckely, Jr. conservative," not a libertarian because, while the Constitution has a presumption in favor of liberty, it is not a libertarian document and the libertarian credo is not a practical charter for government. Please tell us what you think by posting your comments or submitting your rebuttal to CHQeditor[at]gmail[dot]com.
Tomorrow: Yes, We Do Need a Social Safety Net