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Freddie deBoer used to blog at, and may again someday. Now he blogs here.

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18 Responses

  1. Well, one thing that’s important to note here is that Wilkinson (like me) is not a reformist conservative, and I don’t think it’s quite fair – to either group – to lump reformist libertarians as the same group as reformist conservatives. One of the things that I’ve been trying to point in my last few posts is that, although conservatism and libertarianism are often to be found as political allies, they share very different philosophical roots. While I do not want to pretend to speak for Wilkinson, the idea of reformist libertarianism is precisely to separate it from conservatism and to bring it back more to its classical roots, and to acknowledge that the affiliation between the two distinct ideologies has at the very least corrupted libertarianism (and quite possibly has corrupted both). But that doesn’t mean we stop being libertarians.

    In fact, in many ways, a critique of liberalism is even more important to reformist libertarians than a critique of conservatism – we’ve essentially given up trying to move conservatism in a more libertarian direction, and recognize that in many ways we may have more in common, at least philosophically, with modern liberals. Because of that, we (well, at least I, since I can’t speak for others) believe that critiquing liberals may actually do some good in terms of changing liberals’ minds.

    And when you’re talking about either reformist conservatives or reformist libertarians, I think it’s important to recognize that at the moment liberals have complete control over the policy direction of the country. So a critique of conservatives doesn’t really have much value since conservatives don’t have much control over policy.

    As for the articulation of a purely positive vision of society, I think that’s where the difference between reformist conservatives and reformist libertarians is most significant. The reformist conservative is much more Burkean by nature, and is thus deeply suspicious of politically-mandated change; articulation of a positive vision for society is simply incompatible with this worldview, which at its core rejects idealism of almost any sort (I don’t think this is a bad thing, by the way, and is in fact a tremendously important counterweight to radicalism). But reformist libertarians absolutely hold to an idealistic vision of society (even if it’s not exactly utopian in the traditional meaning of that word), and for that reason I think reformist libertarians typically advocate quite strongly for specific and significant policy changes.Report

  2. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Freddie, I’m not sure exactly what your point is here. First of all, reformist conservatives spend at least as much time (probably more) criticizing the conservative movement than they do liberals. And wasn’t this your problem with Kaus the other day? That he spent so much time rebuking liberals instead of the other side? Now you flip this logic on its head when applied to reformist conservatives?

    And second, you assert that, in a sense, this reformist movement is marginal and pointless – but what a ludicrous notion! Of course all “reformist” movements begin this way. But look to the UK to see how reformers took over the movement and in a big way have regained British trust. Failures of the modern American conservative movement expose its weakness to internal reform as well. But if conservative reformists don’t also evaluate the liberal movement at the same time, what sort of answer will they have? How can they form a “purely positive vision” without taking to task conservatives and liberals?Report

  3. Avatar Freddie says:

    But, of course, I’m not saying that reformist conservatives are insufficiently critical of mainstream conservatives, nor am I saying that they are overly critical of mainstream liberalism. I am saying that they are insufficiently intellectual responsible to mainstream conservatism in their prosecution of various disagreements with mainstream liberalism, and too often ready to declare their complete detachment from mainstream conservatism in doing so. You can be a true outsider from the political order, the way anarchists and real Marxists are, but you most certainly cannot jump into that persona when suited but also take over the movement and win back American trust.Report

  4. Avatar Ryan says:

    His first point, as I take it, is that reformist conservatives talk as if all liberals are responsible for the sins of the Democratic Party, while simultaneously holding that they bear no responsibility for the sins of the Republican Party.

    I’m jumping ship on most of the rest of his points, but that one at least is absolutely fair. And absolutely true. The first time I see Reihan Salam (the shining example of conservative glibness, but not a unique example by any means) acknowledge that he, as a conservative, bears some intellectual responsibility for the sins of conservative Republican government will be the first time that has ever happened.Report

  5. Avatar Will says:

    Freddie –

    Great post. One thing I’d suggest is that mainstream liberals are more willing to listen to dissidents than their Republican counterparts. After a dismal 2004 election cycle, progressive activists were actively courted by the Democratic Party and, in a few cases, actually co-0pted by establishment institutions (Dean as DNC chair comes to mind).

    Mainstream conservatism, on the other hand, seems a lot less hospitable to dissident intellectuals. Holding liberal intellectuals accountable for their party’s actions actually makes sense in a world where they wield a significant amount of influence over the progressive movement. Holding fringe conservatives responsible for a party that simply isn’t interested in their input, on the other hand, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.Report

  6. Avatar Bob says:

    “‘ ‘I’m not one of those conservatives….’ ” Freddie writes as an imagined response of a reformer conservative trying to shift or avoid blame.

    Will replies, “Holding fringe conservatives responsible for a party that simply isn’t interested in their input, on the other hand, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”


  7. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    So we should hold Daniel Larison responsible for the war in Iraq? I understand holding cheerleaders like Frum who have now donned the mantle of “reformer” responsible, but there are many independent conservatives out there that did not take part in the Bush orgy….

    Just sayin.Report

  8. Avatar Freddie says:

    No, but I think we recognize that Larison’s detachment from mainstream conservatism gives him less ability to make positive change in that movement. I’m not asking for people to compromise their principles in either direction. I’m asking all of us, and reformist conservatives in particular, to consider the consequences of their outsider status, and am wondering aloud if they aren’t sometimes inconsistent or unfair in claiming it.Report

  9. Avatar Ryan says:

    Would Larison ever hold Freddie responsible for something inane done by Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid? It seems to me that the answer is no. Freddie’s point is ultimately about quid pro quo, I think. And it certainly isn’t directed a people like Larison, who aren’t even plausibly part of the reformist project. To borrow and amend my language from above, the next time Larison expresses some partisan interest in the political prospects of the GOP will be the first.

    As you indicate, it is people like Frum and Salam who should be nailed to the wall for this behavior, as they are, in a deep sense, *not* independent of the GOP. Frum (a Bush cheerleader) and Salam (a McCain cheerleader) should not be allowed the kind of rhetorical distance they aim for and that Freddie wants to deny them.Report

  10. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    I disagree Freddie. For example, hearken back to Austin Bramwell’s piece urging non-participation in the “movement.”

    Take a hypothetical young talent with contrarian inclinations. Movement conservatives would counsel him to make his way up their ranks. But suppose he ignores their advice and joins the New York Times—or the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. There, even if he never classifies himself as conservative, he pursues stories that expose the perverse incentives of well-intentioned policies, the human costs of mass immigration, or the reality that, as Steve Sailer puts it, “families matter.” Not only are his eccentric interests not a liability, they may even prove to be an asset. His ability to see the world differently gives him a monopoly on stories that his colleagues cannot or will not spot themselves…

    If the climate of opinion ever shifts, it will not be thanks to non-movement conservatives working within mainstream establishment institutions. My advice to young conservatives: avoid the movement, eschew its enticements. Above all, ignore debates as to the true meaning of conservatism. Heed instead the words of Ezra Pound: Make it new!

    I think there’s a lot of truth to this. Sometimes if you try to work from within, you just get stuck…Report

  11. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Ryan, I agree. That’s a good point. I think it’s important to distinguish exactly who we’re referring to here, and Freddie’s post was unclear…Report

  12. Avatar Freddie says:

    Certainly, I would exclude Larison from this project, as I don’t think he’s ever made any bones about his disconnect from the Republican party or movement conservatism.

    What I’m really reacting to is what I perceive as backseat drivers who claim no responsibility when the car crashes. I like where they wanted to take the car much, much better than I do the people who were actually driving, and lord knows, they bear less blame than the guy at the wheel. But I do think that they should either admit their desire to drive or get out of the car; that way when the bill from the repairs come due, there’s less arguing about who has to pay.

    How’s that for an overworked metaphor?Report

  13. Avatar Bob says:

    E.D. I’m not sure who you were addressing in #7 but if it was me, yeah to some extent I might hold Lairson responsible for the Bush administration. Hell, I do hold him responsible. As well as any one who provided cover for that criminal infested presidency.

    To bad those you describe here, “but there are many independent conservatives out there that did not take part in the Bush orgy….” did not have the power to counter that orgy.

    I know, you’re not one of those conservatives.Report

  14. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Bob, I opposed the Bush invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan while the Democrats in Congress caved and fell over themselves in their hurry to lick the President’s boots. I think a good deal of the so-called Left needs to be held accountable as well as much of the right. Once again, my problem with this post was one of confusion. Freddie is right, I just don’t think he made himself terribly clear.Report

  15. Avatar Bob says:

    E.D. you’ll get no argument from me on that point. The Democrats, for the most part, acted shamelessly. History will judge Bush, Congressional Republicans and Democrats harshly. Let me be clear, Congressional Democrats were cowards and many have apologized for their vote. But that is not worth spit compared to the thousands of deaths and maimings suffered by Iraqi’s and soldiers sent to fight that misbegotten war.Report