Using a recent debate sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) as a spring board, Tim Hartnett tackled the question of “What is the Conservative Movement?” in a piece for the Mises Institute. The debate, between Reason’s Matt Welch and National Review Online’s Jonah Goldberg, centered on whether “libertarians [are] part of the conservative movement?”
Hartnett posits that: “A simple way to demonstrate the chasm that separates libertarians from ‘conservatives’ of the 21st century is to use news incidents and media images as Rorschach inkblots and consider how differently each would respond.” He goes on to list several news items from recent history to show how wide indeed the “chasm” is between “Dittoheads” and libertarians.
The first image he uses is of a generic reality TV show depicting police officers in their daily activities. There are many such shows, and Hartnett is correct when he writes: “When a libertarian witnesses an emaciated destitute, confronted, seized, and roughly rifled by the constabulary under dubious pretenses on ‘reality’ TV, he is not immediately elated.”
We are offended by the image of a man abject — on the ground and in the clutches of enormous, armored, and heavily armed men — without substantive evidence that he has harmed someone else. That these same public servants can bust into people’s homes, terrorize their children, kill their pets, shackle their persons, and destroy personal property on the flimsiest of pretexts is repellent to anyone placing even a modest value on the word liberty.
For an idea of just how far into the clutches of tyranny we have slipped, one need only browse the many “reality” TV shows glorifying the police state. “COPS” was first, but in the decades since its debut one can now watch a host of shows, including “Lockup,” “Cook County Jail,” “Wardens,” “Border Wars,” and “SWAT.”
While at times actual criminal suspects are booked in the jail shows, many are brought in for non-crime crimes such as drug possession or prostitution. Wardens is, of course a show about game wardens, who patrol (mostly) “public” lands looking to bust anyone who hasn’t paid to hunt on the King’s land. Not too long ago someone who hunted the King’s dear was considered a hero; not anymore. “Border Wars” is mostly video evidence of how futile the drug war is, and how inhumane the fed’s immigration policy is. And finally, “SWAT” chronicles the daily violence doled out to the populace in support of the drug war. There are times where violent offenders are targeted, but those instances, like the many jailhouse shows, are few and far between. The audience is mostly treated to clips of over-paid, trigger-happy storm-troopers of the sort Thomas Jefferson railed against in the Declaration of Independence.
But on the other hand, conservatives have no apparent disdain for such displays of state violence. As I noted last fall, they practically cheered as police at UC Davis showered non-violent protestors with harsh chemical agents.
From here the author discusses the career of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who claims, as a sniper in Iraq, to have killed more than 250 people. I once heard a radio interview with Kyle where he boasted of his killing, and the host, Greg Knapp, who claims to be a Christian, hailed him as a hero. (That Christians ought only to have one hero, and that only soldiers in God’s army should earn their admiration is sadly lost on many Evangelicals). Knapp went on to ask if he’s experienced emotional problems or has any regrets from his “profession,” and Kyle’s response was no. His only regret was that he hadn’t taken even more lives.
That the war he helped wage was not defensive in nature at all means that he was the aggressor in the situation. He is said to have killed a woman attempting to throw a hand grenade at an invading army. How is that noble? Where is the heroism in that act?
It’s precisely this distinction between defensive and offensive action that is lost on conservatives who, as Hartnett shows, know only to reflexively defend the military and its adventures. On the prevailing conservative attitude he writes that: “Not only may we invade nations that never attacked us, but now anyone defending his homeland risks becoming the subject of the sadistic whims of federal agents.”
Hartnett finishes with an indictment of the conservative news media which serves to perpetuate the conservative ethos of state-worship.
Much of today’s professional television ‘news’ revolves around name calling, subjective characterization, innuendo, one-upmanship, distorted context, and other gimmicks that get no one any closer to the truth or to valid conclusions. Dissenters are shut down with the ‘conspiracy-theory’ bludgeon by the very people finding plots against their vague ideals lurking in every shadow. Cable news continues to strive for the dignity of pro wrestling, even if Bill O’Reilly has learned to stop telling his guests to ‘shut up.’
The so-called conservative movement, unmoored by any true desire for limited government, can only evolve into a party of national mythos. Lacking any lodestar, it must eventually return to the fold of elite institutions that have repeatedly failed in their duties. Any idea of US ‘exceptionalism’ that isn’t rooted in limited government is a deranged political voodoo.
Indeed, because the government school system has neglected to provide even rudimentary education in analytic and basic reason, the populace (from Left and Right) is content to ingest all that is fed to them by the media, without so much as an ounce of critical thinking. Worse still, those who diligently tune into talk radio and nightly cable opinion shows believe they are informed and enlightened, when just the opposite is true.
A reader commented on Hartnett’s piece, writing that “This kind of needlessly obnoxious piece is precisely why libertarians get nowhere as a movement. Making fun of people who are ideologically similar for being insufficiently intelligent is self defeating….” But of course the piece is meant to demonstrate just how dissimilar the two ideologies are.
The chief difference between the two is not in their rhetoric, which in many areas is hard to distinguish, but in their actions. Conservatives often promote the virtues of free enterprise and individual liberty, but so often when the chips are down, side with the state. And that is why libertarians are not part of the conservative movement.