Conservatism

Real Conservatives Prefer Dirty, Smelly, Bomb-Throwing Anarchists to 'Libertarian Youth'

Roll over, Friedrich Hayek, and tell G.K. Chesterton the news!

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It's come to this: The theocons at First Things prefer dirty, smelly, bomb-throwing anarchists of old to today's "libertarian youth" who dementedly live "by the Non-Aggression Principle: 'Don't bother me, and I won't bother you.'"

Here's Ben Bristor, a college student, describing the brave new world that has such…gorgons… in it:

Libertarians are quickly becoming more prolific, at the very least in their cultural impact if not in absolute numbers. Living in D.C.'s periphery, I can't help but notice it. At a party over the summer, a friend and I were chatting when a young woman came up and joined the discussion…. [S]he referred to herself an anarchist. Typically, when the term "anarchist" appears in the media, the discussion usually revolves around protests or acts of violence. The perpetrators are grungy looking guys, bearded and unkempt. She didn't fit the usual stereotype. She seemed put-together and well-spoken, with nary a wild gleam in her eye….

She said she thought "people do better on their own" and that externally imposed rules, whether from government or elsewhere, limit people's attempts to live life to the fullest, or something to that effect. She was no anarchist, at least not in the old sense. She was a young reader of Reason Magazine.

Well, alright, alright, alright, yes? The Libertarian Moment is real and it's spectacular, right?

Not to Bristor and his confreres. To this young lady, anarchism doesn't mean the good old days when literal bomb-throwers were trying to help the underclass. For today's millennials, Bristor frets that anarchism

means an ideal world in which everyone is left to his own devices, free to create "voluntary societies," where coercion is nonexistent. No social conservatism from the Right, and no political correctness from the Left. People live by the Non-Aggression Principle: "Don't bother me, and I won't bother you."

That's easy for the upper-middle-class types that Bristor pals around with, because they've "entered the achievement competition and came out on top. They're proud of themselves, but they're not going to criticize the lagging and wayward 80 percent that didn't make it to selective colleges." Only such disregard for the lumpenproletariat could explain how such solipsistic monsters could conclude that it makes sense to "let everybody make their own choices."

In such a climate, Bristor and, one assumes, conservatives have no alternative but to prefer the good old days. Because, you know,

original anarchists wanted to tear down the government in order to free the downtrodden; the new ones want to do so to free themselves. The lesser orders have nothing to do with it.

In Heretics, Chesterton wrote, "Self is the gorgon. Vanity sees it in the mirror of other men and lives. Pride studies it for itself and is turned to stone."

That's pretty rich stuff, to be honest, especially invoking the British Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton, whose best-regarded novel, The Man Who Was Thursday, is usually read by conservatives as a bracing critique of modernity. Chesterton ultimately disliked modernity, including capitalism, every bit as much as anarchy, because it threatens the stabiity of an ordered, hierarchical society. As Marx and Engels memorably put it in the Communist Manifesto, bourgeois capitalism melts everything solid into air and profanes all that is sacred, yadda yadda yadda. You just don't want that sort of creative destruction when you're trying to hold on to a society in which you're doing pretty swell.

Read the whole thing.

Obviously, I can't speak for the "put-together and well-spoken" woman that Bristor and his buddy met over the summer. But anyone who spends more than a couple of minutes leafing through Reason magazine or this site understands that the policies we promote are intricately tied to questions of helping the underclass. Expanding school choice, ending drug prohibition, increasing legal immigration, reforming criminal justice—just to name a few—would first and foremost benefit that "lagging and wayward 80 percent" Brstor tears up over.

I'd add that the main reason I embrace free-market capitalism—which I'd argue is simply the application of classical liberal values to the economic sphere—is precisely because it gives relatively poor and disenfranchised folks the best shot both at upward mobility and self-fulfillment.

If such a worldview makes me a gorgon, well, I can live with that. So can we all, peacefully, productively, and in a community through which we find common interests and help each other.