One thing I have noticed more and more just recently is the tendency of so many to conflate between ‘conservative’ thought and libertarianism.
It is on the blogosphere where the lines are most noticeably blurred, where a close-knit community of conservative and libertarian bloggers tend to find common voice on just about all the defining issues of the day. In general, the format tends to be consistent in its crudeness: an issue crops up, one blogger denounces it as an affront to freedom, other blogs embellish this initial insight, until you have a whole consensus usually premised upon little more than a few swear words and an insult or two thrown at the person deemed to be the villain of the piece.
The consensus is always visible whenever the issue is one of personal gratification: after all, the hedonistic embrace of the individual secured by the ‘revolutionaries’ on the left from the 60’s onwards has been swallowed almost uncritically by many on the right.
But there is a parallel to this, a mirrored image transposed from the private into the public realm, that being the argument that the individual should be free to live their lives unencumbered by anybody else whatsoever, so that the police are all pigs, politicians are all scum, local councils are freedom-hating Hitlers etc etc. Again, the argument is often as crude as ‘they’re all just twats’, and having secured the laughs of the audience, so is the case deemed proven.
Unfortunately, one is often left wondering whether or not it is only this childish rebelliousness that informs the ‘smaller state’ instinct for so many who claim themselves to be conservative: refutation of authority as inherently bad appears to be the only argument, such as it is, ever offered. Having uniformly embraced social liberalism as a waymarker of ‘freedom’, so the difference between the right and left often seem to boil down to only this: the left want to keep the state in order to secure these freedoms, whilst the right wants to radically extend the project, and be done with all structures of authority and restraint whatever.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have a soft spot for Cobbett myself, and I have no great love for an overbearing state – I think it often stifles the flourishing of human relationships, despite its benign intentions. But I do wonder if this cosy consensus between conservatives and libertarians really reflects ‘conservative’ thought at all, or whether it is not rather just a different shade of a radical individualism that has taken root on all sides of the political spectrum.
It was once pointed out to me that it is much harder to build a sandcastle than it is to run around kicking them down.
And it leads me to wonder whether or not, if the battle against statism has been the cause célèbre of the last few decades or so – a battle Thatcher comprehensively lost, by the way – then will a coherent defence against libertarianism be the ideological battle to come?