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Feature 10.18.2021 4 minutes

Save America—Reject Libertarianism

Young Libertarians Marching Through Warsaw

The future of America depends on abandoning the illusion of neutrality.

Tom Klingenstein is right in his latest speech. I might quibble over small details, but what matters is that Klingenstein is indubitably correct about many big things: above all, that the Right can’t reverse the tide of wokeism until it begins to “minimize the influence of libertarianism.” As he says, Libertarian-influenced Republicans tell the wokesters: “‘You can live your way, just allow us to live our way.’” To which the woke respond: “‘You must live our way or we will punish you.’”

If there is one lesson we must draw from the experience of the past few decades, and especially of the past few years, it is precisely this one. There has never been, and there will never be, a “neutral” American public square. It is a fantasy that we could ever or should ever make cacophonous debate and disagreement our only true ideals, leaving each to penetrate “the mystery of human life” on his own, or to figure out whether there are two genders or 107. One claim or other will coercively predominate.

Yet neutrality is precisely the vision—an illusion, really—under which much of the establishment Right has labored and continues to labor. Klingenstein, with his characteristic lucidity and forthrightness, sees through it. 

This shouldn’t be that hard. All it requires is taking an unflinching glance at U.S. society as it exists today, rather than as the libertarians—or better yet, right-liberals or conservative liberals—might wish it to be. The claim that there are more than two sexes, or that 1619 is America’s true founding, is enshrined as public dogma. Americans who reject it risk being unpersoned by Big Tech, fired from their jobs, treated as domestic terrorists by the national-security apparatus, and so on.

It matters little that much of this coercion is meted out by private firms rather than governmental actors. This meaningless formal distinction is one of the right-liberals’ most enraging sleights of hand; whatever their subjective motivations in insisting upon it, objectively, it puts them on the side of the soft totalitarians.

The right-liberals flash as badges of honor their various commitments: to neutrality, to pluralism as a very-high good, to a society defined above all by disagreement. But really, they are marks of a great and craven abdication. For at least two generations, they have garnered prestige and profitable sinecures of various sorts on the promise of doing no more than perpetuating the endless discussion of liberalism. The right-liberals have asked voters for political authority, while determined not to exercise it on the side of truth. The wokes, meanwhile, are definitively ending the discussion, and they seek office to wield raw power.

My generation of right-wingers has a clear task, and it is to follow Klingenstein’s call to sideline right-liberalism and libertarianism—more than that, to bury their sclerotic institutions, abandon their illusions, and expose the ugly material realities churning behind their tired watchwords and slogans.

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