Over at Powerline, a recent post mentioned an essay on libertarians and conservatives by Robert Nisbet. Nisbet was an extremely throughtful conservative, who was respectful of libertarians (unlike Russel Kirk, whose essay “The Chirping Sectaries” Power Line also mentioned). I reread Nisbet’s piece on the Uneasy Cousins of conservatives and libertarians, written in 1979, and I have to say it holds up relatively well.
Nisbet focuses on both the agreements and disagreements between the two political theories. Among the agreements, he notes four:
1. The dislike of government intervention, especially national, centralized government.
2. The view that equality should be legal equality, not equality of result.
3. The belief in the necessity of freedom, and most notably, economic freedom (although conservatives are more prepared to endorse occasional infringements).
4. The dislike of war and especialy of war society such as during WWI and WWII.
The only one of these that seemed a bit off to me was the last. Nisbet supports his claim with the following:
And let us remember that beginning with the Spanish-American War, which the conservative McKinley opposed strongly, and coming down through each of the wars this century in which the United States became involved, the principal opposition to American entry came from those elements of the economy and social order which were generally identifiable as conservative-whether “middle western isolationist,” traditional Republican, central European ethnic, small business, or however we wish to designate such opposition. . . . [T]he solid and really formidable opposition against American entry [into the two world wars] came from those closely linked to business, church, local community, family, and traditional morality.
It may be so. But to my mind, this element of conservatism seems to be gone. Sadly. (Perhaps the most important remnant is Patrick Buchanan and his opposition to the two Iraqi wars.)