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Russell Kirk, Libertarianism, and Fusionism:

It is somewhat ironic that Steve Bainbridge would cite Russell Kirk's ideas as a basis for a renewed conservative-libertarian fusionism. Kirk himself despised libertarians, whom he called "chirping sectaries" in the title of one of his essays. In that same essay, he wrote that "[t]o talk of forming a league or coalition between these two [conservatives and libertarians] is like advocating a union of ice and fire." He even claimed that a socialist-conservative alliance was a more viable possibility than a libertarian-conservative one:

Conservatives have no intention of compromising with socialists; but even such an alliance, ridiculous though it would be, is more nearly conceivable than the coalition of conservatives and libertarians. The socialists at least declare the existence of some sort of moral order; the libertarians are quite bottomless.

The essay also displays a number of typical shortcomings of Kirk's work, including the difficulties he had in understanding ideas opposed to his own (not just libertarianism, but also others), and a tendency to resort to ad hominem attacks.

Unlike such conservatives as Frank Meyer and Bill Buckley, Kirk was an opponent of fusionism, not a supporter of it. To the extent that conservatives embrace his ideas, the chances of a revival of fusionism are reduced.

UPDATE: In fairness to Bainbridge, I should note that he also cites Meyer in his post, more prominently and extensively than Kirk. However, he cites the latter's critique of the Bush 41 administration as part of the possible basis for a new fusionism without considering Kirk's lifelong hostility to libertarianism and fusionism.

CrazyTrain (mail):
Ilya, how do you know Jose Padilla is "almost certinaly guilty"? And guilty of what? If your basis for "knowing" this is the representations of the Bush administration (which it must be) then how do square this certainty from the Bush people with the same certainty re Iraq's WMD, and that we'd be greeted with flowers, etc. Recall that Padilla was detained around the same time we were being assured that Iraq had stockpiles of WMD.

What kind of libertarian would condone the government's conduct in Padilla? Torturing a US citizen, drugging him, depriving him of knowing whether it was day or night for three years, etc., etc., etc. without ever giving him a hearing or giving him any sort of proper notice as to what he was accused of. They have ruined a US citizen capture on US soil, before he ever had a chance to defend himself. But you assure us this is not that great a threat to civil liberties; nothing compared to the threats from Democratic policy?!? History will laugh at you.
12.9.2006 5:21pm
Ilya Somin:
CT's comment has nothing to do with the subject of the post. I considered deleting it, but will leave it up and simply urge other commenters to stick to the issue at hand.

As for Padilla, there is lots of evidence that he was guilty, including his own admission that he trained to become a terrorist at an Al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan. For details, see here. In the earlier post CT attacks, I did not say that all aspects of Padilla's treatment by the US government were justified, merely that possible mistreatment of small numbers of captured terrorists was not a major threat to civil liberties, particularly as compared to the threat posed by other policies that harm large numbers of innocent people, such as the War on Drugs.
12.9.2006 5:48pm
The Divagator (mail) (www):
I wouldn't dispute your thumbnail of Kirk's temperament, but among his core ideas, there are some things libertarians can embrace. Kirk's problem, to my mind, was not so much any particular theme or idea in his thought, but his insistence upon a systematic politics, as if his body of work were some kind of Summa to be taken whole or not at all.

Earlier this year, after seeing a NY Times story on a young conservatives 'retreat' where students were reading Kirk, I penned an essay about how Kirk would be horrified by 21st century 'conservatives.'

He might not care for libertarians, but I don't think he'd care much for 'conservatives' either, at least, not the type now steering the good ship Republika.
12.9.2006 7:04pm
NevadaDem (mail):
Ah, but the conservatives have left the building, Elvis. It will be interesting to watch the struggle unfold.
12.9.2006 10:24pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Ah, but the conservatives have left the building, Elvis. It will be interesting to watch the struggle unfold.

Why just watch? Check out lewrockwell.com and mises.org - good libertarian sites. Come to the dark side.....
12.10.2006 12:26am
Ragerz (mail):
The following is not an ad hominen attack: "The socialists at least declare the existence of some sort of moral order; the libertarians are quite bottomless."

One could argue that this would be more clear if he had said "libertarianism is quite bottomless" rather than "libertarians are quite bottomless." But since the statements mean exactly the same thing, that would presumably not change the nature of your criticism.

Now, Russell Kirk obvious was aware that libertarians think of themselves as believing in some sort of moral order... one that elevates the "me! me! me!" as the primary mechanism for "ordering" the moral universe.

Simply put, mainstream libertarianism simply does not include a "moral order," based on Kirk's definition of moral order. Is there any way to say this without you labelling it an ad hominen attack?

The idea behind criticizing ad hominen attacks is that such attacks obscure and distract from the substance of the real argument. However, your excessively broad definition of "ad hominen attack" is the one that actually obscures. If taken seriously, it would prevent a particular substantive point from being made at all. I don't see how preventing a substantive point from being made advances debate.

Ad hominen attacks should be condemned. But then, that phrase should be narrowly defined to include only attacks on particular individuals, where the character of those individuals is not relevant to the debate. If character is relevant for a particular inquiry, then it is not an ad hominen attack to mention it.
12.10.2006 1:10am
Ilya Somin:
The following is not an ad hominen attack: "The socialists at least declare the existence of some sort of moral order; the libertarians are quite bottomless."

I didn't say that it was. There are lots of other passages in Kirk's article, however, that are.
12.10.2006 1:46am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Ragerz-

Now, Russell Kirk obvious was aware that libertarians think of themselves as believing in some sort of moral order... one that elevates the "me! me! me!" as the primary mechanism for "ordering" the moral universe.

That's some of the most falacious nonsense I've ever heard. Libertarians stress that individual rights are paramount, not that they, as individuals, should have more individual rights than anyone else. If you don't understand that then you don't understand libertarianism.

Simply put, mainstream libertarianism simply does not include a "moral order," based on Kirk's definition of moral order. Is there any way to say this without you labelling it an ad hominen attack?

Nonsense. Mainstream libertarianism holds the rights of the individual as the fundamental moral order. The rest of Kirk's constructions are nonsensical or reveal a lack of understanding of libertarianism. Here, I'll run through his list briefly. From the link:

1.Incorrect: Libertarians believe in individual rights (essentially, to be free from force and fraud) as the "transcendent moral order". To be free to go about "producing and consuming" flows from this.

2.Incorrect: Libertarians believe in a codified system of laws including in the vast majority of cases the Constitution. And being free from force and fraud is fundamental for societal order.

3.Emotional claptrap: Libertarians have no problem with how people use their individual rights of free association. Did Kirk believe libertarians had some kind of sinister conspiracy to put an end to churches, clubs, softball leagues, star trek conventions, or any of the millions of other ways people form separate "communities" and "society" as a whole?

4.Incorrect: Whether or not libertarians have a positive or negative view of human nature - and I aspect there are libertarians in each camp - they recognize the fundamental concern that people need to be free of force and fraud. So there's no "illusionary path to Utopia" - there's a realist understanding that for people to be free they have to have their individual rights protected from the force and fraud of others.

5.Incorrect: Libertarians recognize that there are some valid functions for government. But they also realize that the government, if left unchecked, has the propensity to commit great harm and injustice.

6.More emotional claptrap: Libertarians realize mankind enjoys, benefits from, and to some extent was made for cooperation. Libertarianism just requires that this cooperation be voluntary and that individual rights be honored. After all, if its not voluntary its not cooperation - it's coercion. And libertarians will not tolerate "ravening liberty" if it is violating the rights of others.

I don't know much about Kirk, but from the article he sounds like he was a world champion in misunderstanding libertarianism - happily constructing the most nonsensical strawmen and then triumphantly destroying them.
12.10.2006 6:52pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Correction: Should be "suspect" under #4 in the post above, not "aspect".
12.10.2006 6:55pm
liberty (mail) (www):
By the way, interesting study on libertarian voting moving toward the Dems.
12.11.2006 1:02pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
liberty-

Gotta love this quote from the article you linked:

Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-WY) told her Libertarian challenger after a debate, "If you weren't sitting in that [wheel]chair, I'd slap you." It took 10 days to certify her re-election, perhaps because that Libertarian took more than 7,000 votes. A better strategy for her and other Republicans would be to try to woo libertarians back.
12.11.2006 6:08pm
Visitor Again:
Just a note to say I had the pleasure of interviewing Russell Kirk in 1965 after he spoke at my university. I was editor of the school paper and after speech and question and answer session, he, on a minute's request, traipsed along half a mile to my office, where he happily chatted with me and one of my reporters for more than an hour. He was patient and charming and I rather think he liked attention. At the time he was regarded as conservatism's leading thinker and his writings as the basis for recovery from the debacle of the Goldwater election.
12.12.2006 8:49am