Conservatarians Rising?

Charles C.W. Cooke on blending elements of the conservative and libertarian philosophies.


Charles C.W. Cooke is a writer at National Review and author of The Conservatarian Manifesto (Crown Forum), a book about a "certain coterie on the right" that combines elements of the conservative and libertarian philosophies. Reason TV's Nick Gillespie sat down with Cooke in March to talk about how the two groups can learn to get along. To see more, go here, or view the interview below.

Q: What is a conservatarian?

A: These are the people who say when they're around libertarians, they feel conservative; when they're around conservatives, they feel libertarian. The fault lines are that they disagree with libertarians on immigration, foreign policy, and sometimes abortion. They disagree with traditional conservatives on federalism, gay marriage, and drugs. And they tend to be disappointed with the Bush years. Sometimes not because of Iraq, but because of No Child Left Behind, Medicare expansion, the spending, and a general feeling that Republicans don't live up to their rhetoric.

Q: Let's talk about immigration. Somehow the government that conservatives are constantly harping on as being inefficient and stupid is going to be able to both secure the borders in a way that doesn't infringe on people's civil liberties and adjust the demographic population of 300 million-plus people to meet all of our needs—in terms of ethnic diversity as well as what jobs people can do. How can anyone think government would be good at that?

A: I'm not sure I would say government is going to be good at it. What I would say is that we already have a government that is so deeply woven into the economy and into our lives that to just allow people to come in—and if you look at the polling, tens if not hundreds of millions of people would want to—would be to put some pressure on our existing welfare system. People say, "Let's go back to how we were 100 years ago, sink or swim." I don't have so much of a problem with that. But I don't think the modern American public is willing to watch people sink or swim once they're here.

Charles C.W. Cooke
Charles C.W. Cooke

Q: If you knew for a fact that criminals were kept from getting welfare benefits, would that allay your concerns?

A: It would allay some of my concerns. I do think the existing polity gets to set the criteria by which new arrivals are permitted to enter the country.

Q: In order to be the strongest nation in the world, do we have to increase defense spending from where it is now?

A: I think conservatives damage themselves here. It does not need to increase every year. The waste is astonishing. If it were any other department, it would be on the front cover of conservative magazines, week in and week out. They can't even audit themselves—they don't even know where the money is going.

That being said, in 1945 the British empire began to collapse. The baton was handed to the United States. It finds itself in the position of power, and it cannot relinquish that without permitting another nation to come in and take that role, and I do not want to see that.

Q: How do conservatarians line up on entitlement spending?

A: We are seeing an intergenerational wealth transfer that was not what was intended by Medicare or Social Security. More important, we know that it's unsustainable and we're choosing it anyway. That's the unforgivable part.

Q: Is there a glue between conservatives and libertarians, other than a rejection of progressivism?

A: I think philosophically they start from the same point. Libertarians and conservatives mistrust the centralizer who tells you he knows everything. They don't believe that human nature changes.