At times over the last few years, observers of America’s conservative movement could be forgiven for thinking the “New Right” was the only game in town.
That was never true, but today, 80-plus writers and thinkers from within the broad center-right released “Freedom Conservatism: A Statement of Principles” to make the existence of an alternative clear. (Although I’m not a signatory, I offered feedback to the organizers on an early draft of the document.)
Whereas the New Right is loosely united by skepticism, if not hostility, toward classical liberal norms and institutions, the “freecons” seek to revive a fusionist approach. “We believe in free enterprise, free trade, free speech, strong families, balanced budgets, and the rule of law,” wrote John Hood, president of the North Carolina–based John William Pope Foundation and one of the organizers of the statement, at RealClearPolitics this morning. “We champion equal protection and equal opportunity.”
The document is an implicit rejoinder to the National Conservatism statement of principles released last fall. In my own extensive coverage of the natcons, I’ve noted that one of their distinguishing features is an unabashed “will to power”—the idea that conservatives should be comfortable wielding the heavy hand of the state to reward their friends and punish their enemies. Limited government, in this view, is for suckers.
A close read of the two statements reveals key differences between their perspectives. The natcons pay lip service to federalism, for example, but quickly pivot to empowering the feds to make exceptions. “In those states or subdivisions in which law and justice have been manifestly corrupted,” they write, “or in which lawlessness, immorality, and dissolution reign, national government must intervene energetically to restore order.” One wonders what the limiting principle is if Washington is authorized to “intervene energetically” anytime it perceives immorality and “dissolution” within its borders. The freecons, on the other hand, insist that “the best way to unify a large and diverse nation like the United States is to transfer as many public policy choices as possible to families and communities.”
Likewise on economic matters, where the natcons choose to emphasize that “the free market cannot be absolute” and go on to enumerate the various problems with current market outcomes that they presumably think justify government intervention. Conversely, the freecon statement points to the many ways that a “corrosive combination of government intervention and private cronyism” is making life unaffordable and looks to “competitive markets, greater individual choice, and free trade,” not top-down management, as the answer. It also explicitly calls out the national debt as a threat to American security and prosperity.
“We call ourselves Freedom Conservatives not because freedom is our sole interest,” explained Hood in his RealClearPolitics piece, “but because without it, our other fundamental values and institutions will prove impossible to sustain.”