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National Review’s Charles Cooke chats with us about his new book

National Review’s Charles Cooke chats with us about his new book

Add this one to your ‘essential reading’ list

The Conservatarian Manifesto is one that needs to find its way onto your essential reading list. The little red book written by National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke provides a tangible framework for a prolific, but largely ignored segment of the political right — the conservatarians.

Artfully weaving hard data (without descending into pedantic statistical lists) with relevant history, Cooke produces several compelling arguments covering an array of topic. Unlike books that dabble in theory but provide no realistically applicable suggestions, The Conservatarian Manifesto goes beyond thoughtful ponderance and illuminates a pathway forward.

In sum — it’s a great book, an enjoyable read, and you should buy it.

Without further ado, our chat with Mr. Cooke:

First, a bit about yourself:

K: Beer, bourbon, or wine?

C: All three. But I mostly drink wine.

K: You have one hour to chat with the person of your choosing, deceased or breathing. Who would you choose?

C: Charles James Fox. He was a playboy parliamentarian in eighteenth century England who started off a Tory and became a radical Whig. Fox supported the American War of Independence—to the extent that he dressed up in the colors of Washington’s army and cheered British losses in the House of Commons—and he took to using his parliamentary privilege to excoriate the King. He made a bunch of mistakes in his later life, but he was a great friend of American radicalism, a staunch opponent of overweening executives, an opponent of slavery, and a defender of free speech. He could also drink for England. He’d have been a riot.

K: We know you’re an upstanding American (citizenship imminent), but on a scale of 1 to Queen Elizabeth I, how British would you consider yourself these days?

C: Six. Politically, I’m pretty American in my thinking—and I was long before I moved here. But I haven’t lost my accent at all. Nor have I lost most of my Britishisms. At restaurants I still say “thank you” and “please” about seventeen hundred times each minute.

K: Of all the firearms you’ve had opportunity to shoot, which is your favorite?

C: Stephen Gutowski’s AR-15. (Gutowski’s a Free Beacon writer.)

K: Edmund Burke or Samuel Adams?

C: Edmund Burke. There is a place for rebellion and for revolution, and when it comes the Sam Adamses of the world are invaluable. But change is—and by rights should be—a slow process, and Burke grasped this like no other. I accept that the majority of alterations I would like to see in my lifetime will take a long time, and probably should. Oddly enough, Burke and Fox fell out so badly in their later years that Burke wouldn’t even talk to Fox on his deathbed. Perhaps I’d have to meet them separately.

And on to the point of this post, The Conservatarian Manifesto:

K: What prompted you to write The Conservatarian Manifesto?

C: I noticed that, since the dying days of the Bush administration, many people on the right have been more interested in explaining what they are not than what they are. In certainly circles, moreover, the word “Conservatarian” was popping up all over the place. “When I’m around conservatives I feel libertarian,” those using it would say, “but when I’m around libertarians I feel conservative.” My book is an attempt to look into why so many conservatives are confused as to what they should call themselves; what those who call themselves “Conservatarians” mean by the term; and how the Republican party can best react to—and accommodate—the trend. Since announcing the book, I’ve been encouraged by how many people have said to me, “Yes! That’s what I am.”

K: The Conservatarian Manifesto is a little red book. Was this intentional?

C: Absolutely. Initiation into the cult is at 9pm. You know where to go.

K: A ‘conservatarian’, as you explain, is one who possesses a hybrid (albeit an imperfect semantic distinction) of traditionally conservative and libertarian beliefs, and probably the best way to broadly describe our generation’s right leaning political views. Do you foresee a future where conservatarians become the new conservative?

C: To an extent, yes. Conservatarians seem to be skeptical of traditional conservatism in roughly the same ways as are young conservatives: to wit, they are in favor of gay marriage and increasingly on board with legal marijuana. If these trends hold, they will eventually redefine “conservative.” The big question, then, is whether those same young conservatives become seduced by libertarian attitudes toward abortion, immigration, and foreign policy. At present, they do not seem to be.

Happily, I could also see young people getting on board with a revitalized federal system and accepting that centralization cannot possibly be the answer to America’s woes. My generation is accustomed to customizing everything from our phones to our taxi rides. And yet, our governments are increasingly uniform in their approach. I honestly don’t know for how long people will be happy to use Uber but vote for the DMV. Eventually, something has to give. My hope, naturally, is that what fixes the right — a government that accommodates eccentricity and diversity of though — all fixes what is at present an extraordinarily divided country.

K: Is there anything particular you hope right-leaning readers will gain from reading The Conservative Manifesto?

C: First, I hope that the majority of right-leaning readers will realize that the cleavage in American politics is increasingly between those who would centralize power and micromanage behavior, and those who would fragment authority and leave communities to run themselves. Certainly, the many intramural disagreements I discuss in the book are important. Sometimes, they are unresolvable. But, most of the time at least, conservatives and libertarians have far more in common with each other than they do with progressives. Hopefully my ideas as to how the right’s various factions can co-exist will be useful.

Second, I hope that the Right will stay positive. There is little that is wrong with modern conservatism that cannot be fixed by what is right with modern conservatism—which is, at its heart, a radical and beautiful philosophy that is predicated upon a sensible understanding of human nature and of the limits of man’s knowledge. Every great movement needs to take stock of itself now and again, and conservatism is no different. But that’s an invitation for hope, not for despair.

K: A staunch leftist a la Medea Benjamin picks up your book, if reading honestly, said leftist would find __________ most enlightening.

C: I hope that she would find a non-polemical and respectful book that seeks to calmly explain what it is that we on the right believe, and why we believe it. If reading honestly, the criticisms I have presented would give her an opportunity to learn more about conservatism and its contradictions.

K: You wrote a fascinating chapter about one of the most tumultuous ideological arenas on the right — social issues. In your estimation, will the right ever evolve into a state of agreement on social issues? (I realize this is a broad statement and that some issues lend themselves to consensus more so than others, but generally speaking, is there realistic hope?)

C: Although I dislike the term “social issues,” my view is that gay marriage and marijuana will become broadly popular on the right, and that abortion will become even more unpopular. Naturally, this will not placate those at either extreme, but it will create some sense of unity. With the exception of abortion—which is literally a matter of life and death and does not lend itself to effective compromise—I doubt we’ll be fighting so hard over these questions in twenty years.

K: In your chapter, Outside the Government, you make many salient points including that the furtherance of limited government is best accelerated by illustrating what government should not do. How can the time-crunched reader simply, but publicly implement this distinction?

C: The best way for a non-political type to demonstrate their commitment to limited government is to highlight the distinction between his private views and his political preferences. For example, when discussing my opposition to the Drug War, I always acknowledge that drugs are dangerous and that there are excellent arguments against their consumption, but that I also consider the War on Drugs to be a failure, the constitutional case for prohibition to be weak, and the human costs of our restrictions to be too high. Too often on the right we do what we criticize progressives for: namely, conflate what we think or want with what we think the state should do. We should get out of this habit—not just in government but in day to day conversation, too.

In my experience, our example is by far and away the most powerful when we are arguing against the regulation of something we personally disdain. A good number of people do not automatically differentiate between the public and private spheres. Helping them to do so is imperative.

K: Anything else you would like our readers to know?

C: If you ever get the opportunity to shoot at exploding targets, take it.

The Conservatarian Manifesto is available tomorrow for your reading pleasure, though we’re sure after reading this interview, you’ll want to pre-order immediately.

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legacyrepublican | March 9, 2015 at 9:30 pm

I wonder, what is ‘left’ if he ‘cooke’d the book, ‘right’?

Sorry, I can’t help it.

Just ordered the book and looking forward to a good read tomorrow.

Henry Hawkins | March 9, 2015 at 10:21 pm

Just pre-ordered it on Kindle (delivery tomorrow, Mar 10) – where both the Kindle and dead tree versions are “#1 Best Sellers In Political Parties”. Since so many conservatives are thought too stupid to read, this must mean a lot of progressives are buying it.

Better be good. Better be pictures, too.

Keep Mr. Cooke as far away as possible from Demolition Ranch.

Since my earliest days I have agreed with the economic and social/political principals espoused by classical libertarian Milton Friedman. I disagree with him, though, on the issue of drugs. A people who vote must understand the issues in order to maintain their liberty. (Look at how our populace votes now!) A voter must be cleared headed and not addicted or misguided or maintain a habit of self-abuse and label it “Freedom”. Self-government is essential to liberty. Drugs are antithetical to liberty.

I am a foreign policy isolationist up to the point of treaties with allies and friends. The rest of the world can fight it out and maintain, gain or lose their status within a balance of power world order. It is not up to me if people want to go to battle over territorial aggression or Shia/Sunni rivalries. These self-imposed ‘wounds’ often, not always, motivate people to change. Nuclear battle, OTH, involves the planet so I would seek to deter any threat of nuclear world domination.

Another point of contention with libertarianism: we are a sovereign nation and not a borderless nation. Boundaries, a necessary condition for one’s sanity and survival, whether for self or for our nation must include secure borders and military might-a big stick to wave to ward off the Huns.

Cooke mentions that abortion is off the table of compromises one must consider and accept to be a Conservaterian. Yet, life and death is a much broader, much deeper issue than one minute you are here and the next you are gone. Life and death are given meaning by the values you ascribe to them. Conservaterianism should not be an amoral political choice apart from the keystone issue of abortion. Morphing Conservatism into Conservaterianism, it seems to me, is meant to unpack your values and leave them by the wayside on your way to a promised land of inclusive boundless ‘freedom’ otherwise known today as Progressivism. Conservaterianism may just be a rearrangement of letters.

My mom’s maiden name is Fox and Charles James Fox is a brother or cousin of one of our direct ancestors. Her brother traveled to England and did tons of leg-work on the family tree. Direct Fox ancestor came over as an indentured servant. Family was Quaker (a further back not quite direct descendant, George Fox, founded the Quakers). At least one Fox converted to golf and became an industrious evangelical for the sport, building the first golf course in Kentucky. My mother’s other brother had the glamorous job of applying mustard plasters to LBJ’s chest whenever the nasty bumpkin caught a cold. He eventually stepped down to run Bethesda Medical Center. An amusing family altogether.

moonstone716 | March 10, 2015 at 8:20 am

Count me out. I disagree with too many things he says in his writings for National Review. Contrary to what he’s saying here, he comes across as very, very Establishment Republican. Perfect for NRO, but very irritating to me at times.

    Henry Hawkins in reply to moonstone716. | March 10, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    Cooke is what we call a RINette, a young moderate Republican who poses or believes he is conservative, but is helping grow the moderates and diminish the conservatives. RINettes wish to separate out traditional social conservative issues to create a more generic, inclusive, tolerant, and marketable conservatism. That it ceases to be conservative eludes them.

    I got the book to keep abreast of a likely political opponent’s ideas.

“Conservatarian.” Does C.W. stand for can’t write?