Salvo 02.25.2019

Collision Course: Postliberals v. Libertarians


In the pages of Politico in May 2016, I wrote that the partisan realignment of voters among the two major parties was nearly complete, while the policy realignment had only just begun:  “What we’re seeing this year is the beginning of a policy realignment, when those new partisan coalitions decide which ideas and beliefs they stand for — when, in essence, the party platforms catch up to the shift in party voters that has already happened.” 

Since then, the partisan realignment has continued.  In the 2018 mid-terms, according to exit polls, 61 percent of white without college degrees approved of President Trump’s performance, compared to only 40 percent of college-educated whites.  In the mid-terms non-college educated whites preferred Republican by 24 points, while whites with college diplomas preferred the Democrats by 8 points.  Today three-quarters of House Republicans represent districts with fewer college graduates than the national average. 

The Republican country club is now a country and western club.  More and more intellectuals on the right have noticed.  They are asking why Republicans in Congress and conservatives in think tanks are pushing tax cuts for the Democrat-leaning rich and cuts in Social Security and Medicare spending on working-class Republican voters.   

Daniel McCarthy’s essay “A New Conservative Agenda” makes him the latest thinker on the right, joining others like Reihan Salam, Ross Douthat, Oren Cass, Henry Olsen, Patrick Deneen, and the editors and contributors of American Affairs and American Greatness, to speculate about what an agenda that actually served the interests of Republican voters would look like.  This is part of a larger trans-Atlantic conversation among “postliberals” including the British thinkers David Goodhart and Philip Blond and Maurice Glasman, who are pushing back against the synthesis of economic libertarianism and radical individualism that defines today’s Western establishment. 

Postliberal thinkers, aligned with Republican voters, are on a collision course with the libertarians who still dominate the GOP donor class and enjoy lucrative think tank perches and columns.  For half a century, the American conservative movement has outsourced its economic thinking to libertarians who denounce the New Deal as fascist and idolize Calvin Coolidge—as though the brain of Ayn Rand had been put into the body of Andrew Jackson.   It is time for a brain transplant on the right, and not a moment too soon. 

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

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