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.
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