Is “Classical Liberalism” Conservative?

The Wall Street Journal’s Saturday essays sometimes are real gems, and October 14 was one of those times. If you can get through the paywall, by all means take the time to read Yoram Hazony’s Is ‘Classical Liberalism’ Conservative?

There’s nothing really new in it factually or historically, but it gives a welcome reminder and, for me at least, sticks a helpful pin on the political map that says “you are here” — vital information for getting out of the woods since I aspire not merely to stay there and curse the trees.  

In a very brief and inadequate summary, Hazony (author of a forthcoming book praising nationalism) contrasts conservative empiricism (and implicit incrementalism) with the crypto-imperialist “universal reason” ideology of classical liberalism. It’s important to note the adjective “classical” in “classical liberalism” because our putative conservatives have been what I, echoing others who knew the terrain better than I, call “right liberals” in contrast to the left liberals in our Democrat party.

The right- and left-liberals of classical liberalism have been the folks who have created todays chaos in the middle east, which has facilitated the slaughter and expulsion of middle east Christians, with another Copt having been martyred this week. That’s especially offensive to me.

Indeed, it was George W. Bush’s right-liberal Second Inaugural speech that forever broke my identification as a Republican:

We have seen our vulnerability—and we have seen its deepest source. For as long as whole regions of the world simmer in resentment and tyranny—prone to ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder—violence will gather, and multiply in destructive power, and cross the most defended borders, and raise a mortal threat. There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom.

We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.

America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth. Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave. Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our Nation. It is the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation’s security, and the calling of our time.

So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.

I saw the preface as McCoy saying why Hatfield is the bad guy, and the bolded phrase as a formula for endless war — which is exactly what we’ve had since before that speech.

It absolutely is not true that I opposed Donald Trump from a preference for Hillary Clinton, or for Democrats over Republicans, or for left liberals over right liberals. My opposition to Donald Trump as President has been based on his narcissism, demagoguery, and lack of any discernible and predictable political policies.

But putting a reasonably benign interpretation on the election, Trump voters were motivated partly — and maybe mostly — by opposition to classical liberalism even if, in all likelihood, they don’t know that category by name. They didn’t want one of the Republican field’s sixteen right-liberals. They wanted the guy who fairly consistently opposed classical liberalism’s current instantiation, globalism.

That’s not quite the same as saying they were motivated by classical conservatism, or by any real conservatism that I can recognize, unless “America first” nationalism be “conservative.” But maybe the enemy of my enemy can at least be my co-belligerant for a while, as right-liberals and conservatives made common cause for decades.

* * * * *

“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Crony capitalism

I haven’t yet, and probably never will, fully think through this editorial from today’s Wall Street Journal, titled An Economy of Liars. The author is from the Cato Institute, a right-libertarian group, so read it discerningly for that bias.

Thomas Carlyle, the 19th century Victorian essayist, unflatteringly described classical liberalism as “anarchy plus a constable.” As a romanticist, Carlyle hated the system—but described it accurately …

The idea that multiplying rules and statutes can protect consumers and investors is surely one of the great intellectual failures of the 20th century. Any static rule will be circumvented or manipulated to evade its application. Better than multiplying rules, financial accounting should be governed by the traditional principle that one has an affirmative duty to present the true condition fairly and accurately—not withstanding what any rule might otherwise allow. And financial institutions should have a duty of care to their customers. Lawyers tell me that would get us closer to the common law approach to fraud and bad dealing …

Hayek’s mentor, Ludwig von Mises, predicted in the 1930s that communism would eventually fail because it did not rely on prices to allocate resources. He predicted that the wrong goods would be produced: too many of some, too few of others. He was proven correct.

In the U.S today, we are moving away from reliance on honest pricing. The federal government controls 90% of housing finance. Policies to encourage home ownership remain on the books, and more have been added. Fed policies of low interest rates result in capital being misallocated across time. Low interest rates particularly impact housing because a home is a pre-eminent long-lived asset whose value is enhanced by low interest rates.

Distorted prices and interest rates no longer serve as accurate indicators of the relative importance of goods. Crony capitalism ensures the special access of protected firms and industries to capital. Businesses that stumble in the process of doing what is politically favored are bailed out.

Note through this that it’s not just big business lying. Big business and government are in bed together.

But “financial institutions should have a duty of care to their customers”? And “Deregulation is not some kind of libertarian mantra but an absolute necessity if we are to exit crony capitalism”?

Yes, but who will enforce that if not the “cognitively captive” regulators? Class action lawyers? Sheesh! They’re as unpopular as bureaucrats, and justifiably so in many, many (most?) cases. Dismantling regulation per se is not an adequate response. That will only leave us captive to megacorp or to a new cartel of judges and shysters with a chaotic jumble of 50 different rules, one per state.

On the other hand, a local bank, not answerable to a Mother Ship in New York City, might behave itself without massive, Washington-based regulation and without big gun bullshit slingers like the Breck Girl, John Edwards, to sue them if they do get out of line.

Isn’t this another indicator that we need some trust busting of the “too big to fail”? Then we can deregulate. Right?