Conservatives as liberals

Elliot Kaufman ponders at National Review Online a prominent (neo)conservative’s argument about political labels.

“Conservatives could ‘rebrand’ as liberals,” wrote Bill Kristol on Saturday, delighting the subset of the Internet that has long raged about neocon infiltrators and fake conservatives. But Kristol, editor at-large of The Weekly Standard and a one-time professor of political philosophy, meant something different. “Seriously,” he continued. “We’re for liberal democracy, liberal world order, liberal economy, [and] liberal education.”

Is Kristol right? …

… Conservatives can comfortably embrace liberal democracy, liberal world order, liberal education, and arguably, a liberal economy. I would add liberal free speech, religious liberty, and the values of the American Founding. I’d also note that Edmund Burke and Adam Smith were mutual admirers, viewing each other as allies not enemies.

What emerges is a complicated picture of conservatives as not wholly liberal yet not wholly illiberal either. Conservatives, it seems to me, are more than liberals; or, put it this way: We are liberals secondarily. By this I mean that we have commitments that precede our liberalism, and these commitments are themselves pre-liberal. Their authority is ancestral, not chosen. They are the first, the permanent things, and contra Locke, conservatives find their authority legitimate.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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