One of the issues that is recurring is the insistence that I (or others) confess that I am liberal or of the left. For some, you will find the allegation absolutely hilarious. Others will offer some variation of the expression “duh.” I would have considered being called a liberal or a leftist a few years ago fighting words, as would many of my fellow contributors. At one time, I think almost every single one of us was a regular listener to the Rush Limbaugh program and not because we had significant disagreements. I’ve owned two of his books and was a regular listener. I should confess that I stopped listening though a couple of years before I significantly deviated from mainstream conservatism.
As with most things of this nature, the trick is in the definitions. If a leftist were defined as someone favoring individual liberty and believing the consent of the people is the best source of government and I were to define a rightest as a person that believes governance finds its source outside the people, instead finding its source from an elite that are to act with benevolence, I would receive objections immediately. The former is the model of democratic-republican government and the latter is monarchy. Since left and right trace their origins to the French and those were the actual sides, I would get points for being a pedantic. However since language is intended to communicate, I would get few points at all, since I have managed to define most everyone to be leftist and elided the distinctions people believe they are communicating to me. So at this point, I look to popular definitions. A leftist or liberal in this context is someone who has a tendency to support the Democratic Party. A rightest or conservative is someone who tends to support the Republican Party. I actually don’t have too much of a problem with this definition. However, I will hear protests immediately that just because someone is a conservative, that doesn’t mean they are a Republican. To which I rejoin, “So you are a Democrat?” and for which they answer, “Hell no!” or some variation. To the accusation that I’m a Democrat, I reply that I’m not. I’ve voted for far more Republicans than Democrats; I typically vote in the Republican primary.
At this point, we move on to ideological issues, or seeming ones. One can say many things about me, but one of the things they won’t ever seriously claim is that I’m a libertarian. I do not just disagree with libertarians on a few issues. Even on issues where we agree, I think they are wrong. As we explore other ideologies, one finds that I’m pretty moderate. Economically, I tend to share a number of sympathies expressed by socialists today, all three of them. For example, government can and should exercise a role in checking the destruction of the American family through the rapacious, greedy capitalists. I depart from them in their goals of social equality. For example, I’m not convinced that if there is a gap in wages between men and women that it is socially destructive and something warranting government intervention. Since I don’t subscribe to a belief that everyone is more or less equal barring other forces – in other words, I believe in a self-perpetuating elite – I don’t bring a significantly similar number of assumptions to the table as a properly defined liberalism does. Whereas your typical liberal believes that given enough freedom everybody will flourish, I believe everyone is just as likely to gum up the works and make things worse. Then there is the whole divide between familial stability and individual rights. I overwhelming favor the former.
Needless to say, I haven’t really mentioned conservatism. That is in large part, because I’m not sure what it is anymore. Prior to fusionism, it was clearly distinctive from libertarianism. If I were attempting a consensus position, I would define conservatism as libertarian assumptions paired with traditional morality. It is very difficult to coherently arrive at traditional morality from libertarian assumptions. You get odd things like Jack’s 3rd marriage is sacred, but Joe’s gay marriage is an abomination. You get things like an atheist household raising a child being able to support a school’s Catholic mission, but a gay household raising baptised children that will eventually receive their first communions not being able to support a school’s Catholic mission. In short, the time and space dimension doesn’t move beyond the libertarian’s preferred paradigm of the individual’s lifetime. To this someone might claim that conservatism is a temperment and not an ideology. I’m not buying. Perhaps then we’ll get an argument that we are speaking of trancendental values. Well, this argument hasn’t transcended the household up to this point, which doesn’t bode well for this being a trancedental value. While we could just be arrogant and declare that the trancendental value is really just historical bigotry, that would just replace one bald assertion with another. Where the argument is found, for example a claim that gay marriage is a destructive force transcending the household, I think you will be close to finding a real conservatism or traditionalism rather than just being anachronistic. I’m not really seeing that today, and where I do see it is more among what people label as leftists, albeit communitarians that aren’t really in the mainstream of the Democratic Party.
I’m not really trying to be argumentative on the point, but I have a great deal of difficulty having libertarians calling me liberal or leftist. And most of the folks I see wearing the banner of conservative I see as libertarians. I guess in the end I just don’t see it as an honest assessment of where our disagreements lie.