Hillsdale’s Wenzel vs. Schlueter on Conservatism: My 2 Cents

Whenever two Hillsdale College professors get into an argument, everybody wins. At the Public Discourse, economics professor Nikolai Wenzel makes the case that “conservatism is misguided, arbitrary, inconsistent, and ultimately inimical to liberty and human flourishing; in response, philosophy professor Nathan Schlueter argues that Wenzel mischaracterizes conservatism and misunderstands its conception of liberty.

I didn’t have much interaction with Dr. Schlueter during my time at Hillsdale, but by all accounts he’s a marvelous professor. I did take Dr. Wenzel’s introductory course on Political Economy, and can personally attest that it was equal parts informative and intellectually challenging. Were I to undertake the difficult task of ranking Hillsdale’s professors, Dr. Wenzel would unquestionably make my top five.

I say this to make clear that the libertarian-conservative debate couldn’t ask for more formidable combatants, and there is precious little I could possibly add to the philosophical side of the exchange. However, in defending conservative philosophy, Dr. Schlueter’s response didn’t cover my main objection to Dr. Wenzel’s argument: whether his characterization of conservatism matches what we see in practice.

His chief objection seems to be that, rather than being truly committed to liberty, conservatism is all too comfortable with the “enlightened few” using government to impose “private preferences” on the individual. But Dr. Wenzel doesn’t elaborate on how that translates to anti-liberty policies. I’d like to explore just how illiberal conservatism’s non-libertarian causes actually are.

Abortion—It never ceases to amaze me that libertarians and pro-lifers quarrel as much as they do. The rationale for legally protecting unborn life is exactly the same as the rationale for protecting adult life: that life is one of the individual rights that justice demands government protect. Both groups have the exact same conception of liberty; it is a separate question—are the unborn people?—which leads conservatives to look at the evidence and conclude that fetuses deserve to be grouped with the individuals government already protects. Libertarians should either concede that abortion is a liberty issue and join forces with us, or explain why the unborn don’t have the same individual rights as everyone else.

Marriage—As Jennifer Roback Morse argues, civil marriage is “society’s institutional structure for protecting these legitimate rights and interests of children.” Through incentives and obligations, it binds couples together to give their offspring a stable home with a mother and a father. The rationale for limiting this union to man-woman couples is that men and women bring unique sets of characteristics to parenthood, and children need both sets for an ideal upbringing.  Further, there’s nothing coercive about it—obligations are only placed on those who voluntarily agree to them by marrying, and no gay Americans are denied their rights to form relationships, live together, have sex, hold marriage ceremonies, consider themselves married, share property, visit one another in hospitals, make medical decisions for one another, or receive domestic partner benefits from employers who wish to offer them. Current law could easily be revised to extend the incidents of marriage (hospital visitation, bereavement leave, etc.) to gay couples without redefining marriage.

Religion—In controversies over religion in public, conservatives are almost exclusively on defense, warding off legal assaults on benign religious expression in public schools and benign religious monuments on public property. They are pushing against coercion, not trying to impose it. Granted, conservatives also take pains to remind people of America’s Judeo-Christian heritage, but they do so out of Washington’s belief that liberty cannot survive without the “indispensable support” of religion. Further, this doesn’t translate into coercive policies, either; merely affirmation of America’s religious roots through symbolism, ceremony, and discussion.

Drugs—While some conservatives may base their opposition to drug legalization in health concerns or antipathy for drug culture, the more overriding rationale is that drugs warp one’s mind and dull one’s senses to the point where he becomes a threat to the rights of others. If government is essentially the collective exercise of the individual right to self-defense, then people are well within their rights to protect themselves from drug-related crimes and accidents via drug prohibition. It’s worth remembering that John Locke himself believed man’s power over his own body was not absolute, that liberty didn’t cover the right to enslave or destroy one’s self:
[…] a man, not having the power of his own life, cannot, by compact, or his own consent, enslave himself to any one, nor put himself under the absolute, arbitrary power of another, to take away his life, when he pleases […] though man in that state have an uncontroulable liberty to dispose of his person or possessions, yet he has not liberty to destroy himself […]
Other—Dr. Schlueter’s reply notes that there are individual-harm components to pornography and prostitution, as well. Here, though, let’s ask a different question: how many conservatives—even devout social conservatives—rank these among their chief concerns? How many are really politically active because of porn or prostitution? To judge conservatism based on a few conservatives’ fixation on these issues is just as silly as judging libertarianism based on a few libertarians’ fixation on copyright laws.

Surely there are some conservatives out there to whom Dr. Wenzel’s critique applies, but are they really numerous enough to warrant the attention he’s given them? There’s no conservative push to turn the reins of government and society over to an “enlightened few” dispensing virtue edicts.

By and large, conservatives are every bit as live-and-let-live as libertarians, their understanding of the cutoff between private preference and public concern every bit as healthy. In standing for life, marriage, and traditional culture, conservatives can be trusted to leave liberty every bit as secure—indeed, even more so—than they found it.

26 Reasons Tom Woods Is A Hack (or, Why Courting Ron Paul’s Voters Is a Fool’s Errand)

Generally, I make it a point not to concern myself with the ramblings of Tom Woods, Ludwig Von Mises Institute senior fellow and peddler of dubious historical revisionism. But when his February 8 piece, “26 Things Non-Paul Voters Are Basically Saying,” appeared in my Facebook feed, I bit. As a non-Paul voter, I couldn’t help but be curious about the hidden meaning behind my own words.

What I found was that I blindly trust the government and the media, I don’t care about spending or the Constitution, want drug addicts to get raped, reject Thomas Jefferson, and prefer Goldman Sachs to the US Army.

Huh. And here I thought it was Ron Paul’s slandering of Israel, bigoted newsletters, Civil War revisionism, earmark hypocrisy, shilling for traitors and dictators, 9/11 Trutherism, desire to imprison Scooter Libby on false charges, and anti-Semitism that repelled me from the Texas Congressman. Good thing a genius like Tom Woods came along to so skillfully expose my subconscious motives. All without even meeting me! 

Woods says he’s “trying to understand the thinking behind” those of us who haven’t joined the rEVOLution, but it soon becomes glaringly obvious he’s made no such attempt, and is merely indulging a fanatical desire to berate those who won’t genuflect before his idol. Woods’ twenty-six claims about the non-Paulite psyche are an odyssey of deceit, oversimplification, and sometimes outright childishness.

(1) The American political establishment has done a super job keeping our country prosperous and our liberties protected, so I’m sure whatever candidate they push on me is probably a good one.
Ah, the simpleton’s favorite boogeyman: “the establishment.” Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year or so, you know that there’s not much consensus anywhere on the Republican candidates—not among activists, not among pundits, and certainly not among some undefined “establishment.” The intense battle currently raging among Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum supporters is no sign of a movement simply marching to the beat of some elite’s drum. (Oh, and would this be the same political establishment in which conservative superstars Jim DeMint and Sarah Palin regularly praise Paul?) 
(2) Our country is basically bankrupt. Unfunded entitlement liabilities are in excess of twice world GDP. Therefore, it’s a good idea to vote for someone who offers no specific spending cuts of any kind.

(3) Vague promises to cut spending are good enough for me, even though they have always resulted in higher spending in the past.
The idea that Ron Paul is any better than his competitors on spending is dubious. While it sounds good on the stump to say you’ll abolish five departments, you’d think an undertaking of that magnitude would require some discussion as to how. More importantly, though, Paul doesn’t have much of an entitlement reform plan, either; in fact, he’s campaigning on the fiscally-fraudulent promise that if we just take a hatchet to military spending and close down military bases left and right, we won’t have to cut Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security at all.
(4) I prefer a candidate who plays to the crowd, instead of having the courage to tell his audience things they may not want to hear.
Yet it somehow isn’t the epitome of telling people what they want to hear to promise that we can keep the federal goodies flowing if we simply bring the troops home and stop all that icky fighting. As far as playing to crowds goes, Ron Paul is in a class by himself. After all, this is the author of those deranged newsletters which multiple sources indicate were specifically meant to exploit bigotry and paranoia. Ron Paul is unique among modern politicians in that there’s no crowd he won’t play to, no matter how evil, irrational, or destructive.
(5) I am deeply concerned about spending. Therefore, I would like to vote for someone who supported Medicare Part D, thereby adding $7 trillion to Medicare’s unfunded liabilities.
First, see above about Paul and Medicare. Second, Medicare Part D may well be a mark against Gingrich and Santorum (though not Romney), but to berate people for supporting candidates with Shortcoming X or Bad Position Y, which Woods repeats throughout the column, simply won’t do.

The four Republican candidates don’t exist in a vacuum, and they aren’t running against some Platonic ideal of the perfect conservative or constitutionalist. Unless you stay home on Election Day, it’s impossible to avoid picking a candidate who doesn’t have at least one position that many people will find objectionable. Ron Paul has many such positions, and it would be just as easy to write a similar list of  “26 Things Paul Voters Are Basically Saying,” full of propositions that Tom Woods would never agree to.

Candidate selection is a matter of weighing imperfect alternatives, and choosing the one you believe has the most strengths and/or fewest shortcomings. Most rational people understand that your choice of candidate doesn’t mean you endorse those shortcomings.
(6) I am opposed to bailouts. Therefore, I will vote for a candidate who supported TARP.
Santorum opposed TARP. Other than that, see (5).
(7) The federal government is much too involved in education, where it has no constitutional role. Therefore, I will vote for a candidate who supported expanding the Department of Education and favored the No Child Left Behind Act.
See (5).
(8) Even though practically everyone was caught by surprise in the 2008 financial crisis, which we are still reeling from, it’s a good idea not to vote for the one man in politics who predicted exactly what was bound to unfold, all the way back in 2001.
While Santorum’s record here is imperfect, it’s worth noting that he opposed Dodd-Frank and sounded the alarm on Fannie & Freddie back in 2005. Beyond that, see (5).
(9) I am not impressed by a candidate who inspires people, especially young ones, to read the great economists and political philosophers.
I am not impressed by a candidate who miseducates America’s youth on the American Founding, the Civil War, the history of US intervention, and radical Islam.
(10) I am concerned about taxes. Therefore, I will not vote for the one candidate who has never supported a tax increase.
That’s not entirely true—Paul signed a letter affirming that tax increases must be on the table to get the debt under control. Beyond that, see (5).
(11) I believe it is conservative to support bringing the Enlightenment to Afghanistan via military intervention.
Here’s where Woods stops even pretending to care about the truth. While it’s fair to say that the Bush Administration and many conservatives were overly optimistic about the power of free elections to transform societies like Afghanistan, it’s not at all fair to suggest that conservatives were ever out to “bring the Enlightenment” to the Middle East. The Afghanistan War that Paul voted for was motivated by the Taliban’s refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden. If they had given him up, there wouldn’t have been a military intervention.
(12) Even though I lost half my retirement portfolio when the economy crashed from the sugar high the Federal Reserve’s artificially low interest rates put it on, I would like to vote for someone who is not really interested in the Federal Reserve.
For what it’s worth, Gingrich is very interested in the Federal Reserve these days. Beyond that, see (5).
(13) Even though 50 years of the embargo on Cuba did nothing to undermine Fidel Castro, and in fact handed him a perfect excuse for all the failures of socialism, I favor continuing this policy.
Another recurring pattern among Paulites: taking dictators’ propaganda at face value and suggesting we let it dictate US policy. It never seems to occur to these guys that, thanks to little things like state-run media, these PR battles are largely out of our hands. However ineffective the embargo may be, it’s doubtful that lifting it, or increasing tourism and diplomacy with Cuba, will improve things. On the whole, the plight of Castro’s Cuba is yet another issue Paul is clueless on.
(14) If someone has a drug problem, prison rape is the best solution I can think of.
I sincerely hope the mental faculties of the average American aren’t so far gone that I have to spell out how this is so insipidly demagogic. It’s also based on a myth [PDF link]—the overwhelming majority of federal drug convictions are for trafficking, not use or possession.
(15) Even though the Constitution had to be amended to allow for alcohol prohibition, and even though I claim to care about the Constitution, I don’t mind that there’s no constitutional authorization for the war on drugs, and I will punish at the polls anyone who favors the constitutional solution of returning the issue to the states.
Again, see (5). And while Paul’s right that drugs shouldn’t be a national issue, his arguments sure sound like he also wants states to legalize them.
(16) I believe only a “liberal” would think it was inhumane to keep essential items out of Iraq in the 1990s, even though one of the first people to protest this policy was Pat Buchanan.
American sanctions against Iraq didn’t starve the Iraqi people; Saddam Hussein did. America, along with the rest of the international community, attempted to deliver humanitarian aid to Iraqi civilians through the United Nations’ Oil for Food Program, but Saddam stole billions of dollars from the program and used it to bribe politicians and fund terrorism.
(17) The Brookings Institution says Newt Gingrich’s 1994 Contract with America was an insignificant nibbling around the edges. I favor people who support insignificant nibbling around the edges, as long as they occasionally trick me with a nice speech.
See (3) and (5).
(18) I am deeply concerned about radical Islam, so it was a good idea to depose the secular Saddam Hussein — who was so despised by Islamists that Osama bin Laden himself offered to fight against him in the 1991 Persian Gulf War — and replace him with a Shiite regime friendly with Iran, while also bringing about a new Iraqi constitution that makes Islam the state religion and forbids any law that contradicts its teachings.
Appeasement types love the talking point about Hussein’s secularism, because on the surface it seems to indicate that he couldn’t possibly have aided theocratic terrorists. But the empirical record doesn’t lie: Saddam’s Iraq was an active state sponsor of international Islamic terrorism. And while I actually agree that history won’t be kind to Bush’s handling of postwar Iraq, does anybody doubt that if Bush had taken stronger measures to install a more pro-Western, less Iran-sympathetic government in Iraq, Paul would condemn that, too?
(19) Indefinite detention for U.S. citizens seems like nothing to be worried about, especially since our political class is so trustworthy that it could never abuse such a power.
As Andy McCarthy expertly explains, this is a gross misreading of the situation. Indefinite detention of US citizens in wartime is well within the confines of the Constitution, current law strictly and expressly limits which citizens may be detained, and citizen detainees retain robust legal protection via habeas corpus petitions. In short, there’s no blind trust of the government required, Mr. Woods.
(20) Following up on (19), I believe Thomas Jefferson was just being paranoid when he said, “In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”
Jefferson also said:
A strict observance of the written laws is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation. To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property and all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the end to the means.
Cherry-picking is fun, isn’t it?
(21) Even though the war in Iraq was based on crude propaganda I would have laughed at if the Soviet Union had peddled it, and even though the result has been hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, four million people displaced, trillions of dollars down the drain, tens of thousands of serious injuries among American servicemen and an epidemic of suicide throughout the military, not to mention the ruination of America’s reputation in the world, I see no reason to be skeptical when the same people who peddled that fiasco urge me to support yet another war as my country is going bankrupt.
It never ceases to amaze me how much people with PhDs can get wrong in so little space:
  • The truth about the Iraq War is that we were not lied to—the pre-war consensus that Saddam was a threat spanned both parties, two administrations, and multiple foreign nations; independent postwar investigations determined that the intelligence was not manipulated; and, believe it or not, we did find WMDs.
  • Far too many Iraqi civilians have been killed, which may also be justly laid at the feet of Bush’s inept postwar strategy. But lying about how many Iraqis died as Paul does is another matter entirely.
  • Nobody is pushing for another war in Iran. The other candidates simply insist on keeping military action on the table as a last-ditch option for keeping Iran from going nuclear—which, if you understand the threat Iran poses, is far preferable to Paul’s shameless pro-Iran propagandizing.
(22) I do not trust the media. But when the media tells me I am not to support Ron Paul, who says things he is not allowed to say, I will comply.

(23) I know the media will smear or marginalize anyone who would really fix this country. But when the media smears and marginalizes Ron Paul, I will draw no conclusion from this.
More sheer delusion. For years, Paul was one of the media’s favorite Republicans because he dutifully repeated all of their anti-Bush, anti-war propaganda. What does Woods make of no less a left-winger than Rachel Maddow sticking up for him? I assume the main “smear” Woods has in mind is the newsletter controversy, but the available evidence is clear: the newsletters are indefensible, and Paul likely knew exactly what was going on. Even so, the media has largely given him a pass, with the harshest treatment being an entirely fair interview Paul walked out on in a huff. The why is obvious: most MSM-ers figure Paul isn’t worth the trouble to destroy because he’ll never be president anyway, and letting him get the nomination would the godsend they don’t dare hope for, because he gives them the ultimate opportunity to sell the narrative that conservatives are bigoted crackpots.
(24) I want to be spoken to like this: “My fellow Americans, you are the awesomest of the awesome, and the only reason anyone in the world might be unhappy with your government is because of your sheer awesomeness.”
I would call this a straw-man argument, but usually straw-man arguments at least sound somewhat like something people are actually saying. This sounds more like something you’d hear in a schoolyard tantrum.
(25) I think it’s a good idea to vote for Mitt Romney, whose top three donors are Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, and Morgan Stanley, and a bad idea to vote for Ron Paul, whose top three donors are the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Air Force.
Actually, if you dig into the numbers, Paul’s claim to be the military’s favored candidate is misleading at best. And it never ceases to amaze me how tone-deaf Paulites are about their guy’s weaknesses, and how carelessly they play right into critics’ arguments. If Woods wants to open the door to guilt by association, then he also has to account for their guy’s popularity with David Duke, Stormfront, the American Communist Party, and numerous other assorted neo-Nazis, white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, and anti-Semites.
(26) I have not been exploited enough by the cozy relationship between large financial firms and the U.S. government, and I would like to see it continue.
If Woods wants to make a case that Romney and Santorum are shills for large, exploitative financial firms, he’ll have to do better than this. Maybe he’s got Gingrich, but to that I’ll once more refer readers back to (5). I’ll take an apologist for Freddie Mac over an apologist for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad any day of the week.    

Tom Woods embodies everything that’s wrong with the Ron Paul rEVOLution: its dishonesty and hypocrisy, its selective image of the American Founding relentlessly promoted as gospel, and the endless disgraces it’s willing to overlook while simultaneously denigrating all others for much lesser offenses. And while trying to talk sense into a hack like Woods would be an exercise in futility, there’s a lesson here everyone else should heed.

Conservatives sometimes argue that we need to play nice with Paul and figure out a way to bring his voters into the GOP fold. But if the sheer irrationality on display here doesn’t prove any such attempt to be a fool’s errand, then the seething contempt for the very thought of backing anyone else should. These guys were never part of the conservative coalition to begin with; they’re hopelessly infatuated with an America that never existed, which in their minds Republicans have betrayed just as fully as Democrats. 

No significant percentage of them will consider voting for a normal Republican, and the only way to catch their attention would be to emulate the worst aspects of Ron Paul’s ideology. What good is it to win some voters if we lose ourselves in the process?

New on RedState – Drug Legalization: A Bipartisan Bad Idea

My latest RedState post:
Hardcore libertarian Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) and rabid leftist Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) have united for a cause near and dear to many a crank’s heart: drug legalization. The two have introduced a bill to all but end the federal War on Drugs. While their proposal would still let the feds prohibit the transfer of marijuana across state lines and keep it from entering the country, it would recognize the states’ authority to legalize pot within their borders if they so choose.
Constitutionally, it’s not the federal government’s job to handle the states’ internal affairs, and as we struggle to trim the fat from our debt-ridden, bureaucratic federal government, every little bit helps. Also, comparing the results of varying drug policies in newly empowered states would help us clearly see whether or not legalizers’ rosy predictions of safer narcotics and collapsing cartels actually come true.
So, is Paul-Frank a win-win? Not quite.
First, it’s simply insane to do anything federally that would increase drug use (and let’s not kid ourselves, that’s exactly what would happen) until after we’ve secured the southern border drugs are currently pouring across, and dismantled whatever federal programs currently force taxpayers to pay for drug users’ bad decisions.
Second, many of Paul and Frank’s supporters want to go further. In recent years, a growing number of voices on both sides have called for a wholesale end to drug prohibition. On June 16, Jimmy Carter wrote that American drug policies “destroy the lives of millions of young people and their families.” The far-left ex-president is in rare agreement with National Review, which on June 27 called the bill “an excellent first step” toward ending a war that has “curtailed personal freedom.” For leftists, drug use is a personal lifestyle choice, the condemnation of which would be the unpardonable sin of judgmentalism, while legalizers on the Right frame the issue around personal responsibility, suggesting it’s paternalistic for government to keep people from putting harmful things in their systems.

Around the Web

“No amount of head-shaking disapproval is going to make gays and lesbians disappear from our midst as a society, from our colleagues at work, our circles of friends, or from within our own families.” Says…a Pajamas Media writer? Since when did conservative websites start publsihing HuffPo’s leftovers?

Tea Party Nation and Tea Party Patriots say we need a new Speaker of the House. Meanwhile, our current Speaker is giving House Republicans who disagree with his crappy debt plan a shining example of leadership: “Get your ass in line.”

When Cracked Magazine is showing greater objectivity on an issue than the average “serious” political publication (on either side), you know there’s a problem.

Wow: Father Frank Pavone holds an open-casket funeral for an aborted baby outside Orlando City Hall. That’s about as powerful as messages get.

Here’s a great snapshot of just some of the things pro-lifers do for unwed mothers. Think it’ll motivate Rob Taylor to inform himself a little before trashing the pro-life movement in the future? Me neither.

Conservative vs. Conservative on the Right to Light Up

National Review waves the white flag on marijuana, while Bill Bennett says not so fast
My take: denationalizing drug laws (except for interstate trade and foreign entry) is a good idea because, among other reasons, I think one of the best things that could happen for the debate would be our ability to compare the results of different state policies, and get a much clearer picture of whether or not leftists’ and libertarians’ pie-in-the-sky predictions about safer narcotics and collapsing cartels actually pan out. 
But it’s insane to do anything that would increase drug use until after we’ve both secured the border that drugs are pouring across and dismantled all federal programs that are forcing the taxpayers to pay for druggies’ bad decisions. 
In recent years I’ve been deeply troubled to witness how widespread libertine impulses on questions like this seem to have become on the Right. Hopefully the most vocal aren’t the most representative.

Coulter vs. Stossel on Drug Legalization

Not everyone on the Right has jumped on the “legalize it!” bandwagon. Here’s Ann Coulter on John Stossel’s Fox Business show, articulating the flip side of libertarians’ rosy predictions:
http://www.popmodal.com/nvp/player/nvplayer.swf?config=http://www.popmodal.com/nvp/econfig.php?key=c30751156cea2d60aacb

Around the Web

Donald Douglas is not convinced that legalizing “medical” marijuana in California is the way to go.

We rightly insisted upon total denazification; we rightly excoriate those who now attempt to revive the Nazis’ ideology. But the world exhibits a perilous failure to acknowledge the monstrous history of Communism.” Indeed.

Crappy Capper is keepin’ it classy.


Three, two, one: aww


I’m sure that Planned Parenthood and the public schools’ idea of “comprehensive” sex-ed. includes warnings about this danger…not.


On the FdL Reporter’s Opinion Page, a clarion call for a real pastor. (Complete with hate-mongering lies from idiots like Scooman, as usual).


Lastly, the other side of the story behind one of the most famous scenes in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Harrison Ford always shoots first.