The Crisis of American Conservatism: A Conversation with George Nash

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 08:   (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)The great historian of American conservatism, George Nash, returns to Liberty Law Talk to discuss the current state of conservatism after the improbable victory of Donald Trump.

The Libertarian Party Grows Up

johnson

By the time Abraham Lincoln had won the election of 1860, the young Republican party had been through significant upheaval and ferocious infighting but it had a very general set of core values. It was a party opposed to the expansion of slavery along with two corollaries: granting land to independent farmers who didn’t use slavery, “free soil,” “free labor” and support for industrial development.

Just eight years later, during the administration of President Grant, many of the party’s founders had left the GOP to support Horace Greeley’s candidacy as a Democrat.  The party was nearly destroyed electorally over Reconstruction, unprecedented political corruption in the White House and several business contractions during the late 19th century.

New parties, particularly those caught up in a moment of changing political dynamics and crisis are subject to wild shifts and growing pains.  UKIP’s evolution in the UK is but one example of this trend.  It’s obvious that from election to election minor changes in the content and emphasis of platforms occur, but in potentially seismic political moments volatility can be much greater.  This is especially true within smaller political organizations that are not anchored to entrenched interests and established leadership.

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Blind Spots of a Ruling Class

The United States Capitol building in Washington DC

Economist Lawrence Lindsey has written half of a very important book.  In Conspiracies of the Ruling Class, Lindsey provides a spirited critique of liberal technocrats who want to micromanage the economy, and statist romantics who think their alleged good intentions justify any means.  Where Lindsey goes wrong is in defining both our political elites and our problems too narrowly.  Lindsey writes that “the Ruling Class [capitalizations in the original] are fundamentally different from the rest of us.” But that begs the questions: Who are the ruling classes? Who are the rest of us?

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George Will, Burkean

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The forgotten etymology of “conservatism” lies in its hardly hidden first two syllables—to “conserve”—so when the Republican Party underwent its lurching metamorphosis from its commitments to constitutionalism, free trade, and chivalry to royalism, protectionism, and vulgarity, the news was not that George F. Will, conservative, stood still. It was that, in the terms of conservatism’s father Edmund Burke, the Republican Party may no longer constitute, properly speaking, a party at all. It is at risk of reverting to the primordial state of “faction” from which Burke rescued what he called the practice of political “connection.”

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Explaining Trump’s Hostile Takeover

(Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The outcome of the Republican nomination process is a disaster for the party. The person chosen clearly is unqualified to be President, and many of his views are not those that have dominated the party over the last generation. He is not a man who respects the Constitution and the limits it imposes on political power. He is against, not big government, but stupid government. And Donald Trump really thinks he is the remedy for stupidity we need.

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“Do You Realize Our Candidate Is Mental?”

syndrome

When Ted Cruz quit the presidential primary on Tuesday not long after the polls closed in Indiana, it was startling. Even Donald Trump, in his victory speech that night in New York, appeared startled to see himself the presumptive Republican nominee.

“Democrats seem to be bouncing back and forth between glee and panic,” wrote an analyst at fivethirtyeight.com. There are two main reasons for that.

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Buckley’s Prize

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On Friday, National Review published a scathing editorial in opposition to Donald Trump as the Republican candidate for President, followed by the statements of 22 prominent conservatives ranging from neocons like Bill Kristol, to social conservatives like Cal Thomas and Michael Medved, to radio/television personalities like Glenn Beck. The editorial slammed Trump as “a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones.” True to pugnacious form, Trump fired back, asserting that “the late, great William F. Buckley would have been ashamed of what happened to his prize.”…

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The 14th Amendment Protects Economic Liberties

The Fourteenth Amendment is one of the hardest provisions in the Constitution to get right. Sometimes there seem be as many theories of the provision as there are theorists. I admire their persistence. While I am not an expert in the all the intricacies of the Amendment myself, I do think it very probable that it protects economic liberty at least from discriminatory and arbitrary interference. Thus, its original meaning offers support for recent courts that have invalidated irrational licensing schemes.

For me, three reasons combine to present a persuasive case that the Fourteenth Amendment protects economic liberty. First, there seems little doubt that the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in part to permit federal protection of economic rights.  Before ratification, there had been constitutional doubts about the Civil Rights of 1866 which was aimed at preventing discrimination against African Americans in their exercise of economic rights like the right to contract. That background  suggests that either the Privileges or Immunities Clause, or the Due Process Clause, neither of which by their terms are limited to racial discrimination, must cover economic rights. (For reasons elaborated by Chris Green and John Harrison, I tend to think that the historical meaning of equal protection did not provide a general basis for preventing discrimination in the decision about what laws to adopt).

Second, this interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment also makes it comport with an important part of the ideology of Republican party—free labor. Thus, understanding the Fourteenth Amendment as protecting economic liberty also has the advantage of making it flow from the central tenets of the political party that was responsible for entrenching that clause in the Constitution. These first two reasons are particularly powerful in combination: the inclusion of economics liberties within the Amendment’s scope gives it an expected legal effect that would also have resonated with popular popular political commitments.

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RINO-plasty

Surgery.

The GOP needs more than cosmetic surgery. It’s either showing signs of great health or is in crisis, or perhaps a little of both. The party controls both houses of Congress and is hitting historic highs in governorships and state legislatures. An array of bright, young, plausible Republican Presidents campaigns for the Oval Office—a far cry from 2012, when former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney won largely because he seemed to be the only person who was truly up to the job.

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Why the Likely Resurrection of Eximbank is Worse than the Budget Deal

The friends of liberty appear to be in danger of suffering two defeats— first, a budget deal that rolls back the sequester without reforms to the core of entitlements and, second, the resurrection of Eximbank. The second defeat would be more devastating than the first, because the procedural advantages are all with liberty in the case of Eximbank.

Although the Republicans have a majority in both houses of Congress, they confront substantial obstacles to working their will on the budget.  The President can veto (without fear of override) any appropriation bill they send up. Even worse, the Democrats can filibuster any bill in the Senate. As a result, the Republicans cannot even send a continuing resolution funding the government to the President’s desk without substantial Democratic support.

Without that resolution, the government will shut down. In the past, government shutdowns have been blamed on Republicans when in control of Congress. People are rationally ignorant of politics and will not follow the various machinations to understand that Republicans are not to blame. Moreover, the Republicans are the party favoring smaller government and thus seem in some sense the logical party at fault. Because of the likely landscape of public opinion, Republicans have little leverage in spending battles when the government is divided as now.

Mike Rappaport and I have suggested that when Republicans gain control of the entire government, they could create a default appropriation rule that keeps the government running but with a lower level of spending.

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