Jeff Riggenbach on conservatives and (classical) liberalism

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December 25, 2011 by galudwig

Certain books just make you radically rethink certain things you take for granted. For me personally, Atlas Shrugged was such a book. Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy was another. The great and in my opinion severely underrated Capitalism and the Historians and The Fatal Conceit, both by F.A. Hayek (though the former is a collection of essays by other authors, including the brilliant Bertrand de Jouvenel) are other examples. Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard wrote only such books. But these kind of experiences are rare. Off the top of my head, I can only think of one book which was published in the last ten years and radically affected my thinking on some fundamental issues — note that there were plenty of magnificent books published in the last decade, it’s just that most did not make me question my ideas. I am talking about Jeff Riggenbach’s Why American History Is Not What They Say: An Introduction to Revisionism. Now, I do wish that the author had chosen a different title, because I really don’t like it, but this work made me fundamentally rethink both American history and the American political system. Also, it made me feel much better about my until-then guilty pleasure of loving the left-wing Gore Vidal’s historical fiction :).

Here are a few passages from the book (which is free to download legally as a pdf or epub from the Mises institute) about conservatism, the Republican party and classical liberalism/libertarianism:

But at least the liberals who chose to stick with the Democratic party could point out in defense of their choice that their party did have a long history of advancing liberal goals and ideals. The liberals who chose to stick with the GOP could offer no such defense, for the Republican party had never stood for anything but illiberal goals and ideals—big government and special favors for big business.

(…)

In fact, despite the liberal apostasy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and virtually all Democratic politicians since his time, despite their choice to try to beat the Republicans at their own game, promoting mercantilism, welfare statism, and war, and calling it “liberalism”— despite all this, the conservative party, the GOP, remains the more devoted to mercantilism, welfare statism, and war of the two major parties.

To most Republicans, who today associate defense of free market ideals with their party, as well as to most Democrats, who do the same, this will sound like pure blasphemy. To those who proudly call themselves “libertarian” and generally see themselves to the “right” of the Republican Party, like I did, it will sound like the world turned upside down. But all of Riggenbach’s statements are backed by facts and quotes. I do not exaggerate when I say that it would do every libertarian a great deal of good to read this book and hopefully understand better the intellectual roots of the “free market position”!

The Republicans are and have always been the party of big, mercantilist government and an aggressive, meddlesome foreign policy—exactly what liberals (libertarians) have historically opposed. It is “by focussing on the history of the nineteenth century,” Murray Rothbard wrote, that “we learn of the true origins of the various ‘isms’ of our day, as well as the illogical and mythical nature of the attempted ‘conservative-libertarian’ fusion.”

Today, the “conservative-libertarian fusion” is accepted by almost everyone without giving it any thought. But the sooner we realize that there really is no logical reason why conservatism should be tied with libertarianism, the sooner we can hopefully move to more fundamental debate on the issues, and perhaps even accomplish a broader, purer movement of free market radicalism. Excuse my somewhat dramatic tone, but the future of civilization depends on it.

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One thought on “Jeff Riggenbach on conservatives and (classical) liberalism

  1. Jeff Riggenbach is the man. I download his Libertarian Tradition podcasts from mises.org and listen to them in the car.

    This,

    “But the sooner we realize that there really is no logical reason why conservatism should be tied with libertarianism, the sooner we can hopefully move to more fundamental debate on the issues, and perhaps even accomplish a broader, purer movement of free market radicalism.”

    is so true! And very well said.

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