Sean Parr
A misfit in the neocon Oz
By Sean Parr
June 7, 2016

    I wanted to be wrong,
    but everyone is humming a song
    that I don't understand.
    -Michael Stipe
In the last ten years, I transformed from a line-toting Republican to the purest and most extreme of libertarians. I still fancy myself a social or cultural conservative of the rock-ribbed variety – opposed to both the murder of very young persons and unrestricted, "free" immigration (not to mention the laughably incoherent notion of same-sex marriage), and so it took some reflection to understand why I look now upon the great majority of today's "conservatives" as political strangers, or even enemies.

Peculiarly, it was Rush Limbaugh who sparked my decade long evolution from GOP-er to freedom-lover. He recommended on his radio program a book by Thomas Sowell called Basic Economics. Each chapter in that book opened with and was elucidated by a quote from some egghead (a different quote from a different egghead for every chapter). I was taken by a quippy quote, whose particulars now escape me, from an egghead named Frédéric Bastiat.

I Googled him. I read him.

Reading Bastiat led me to read the works of other history class-neglected eggheads such as Mises, Rothbard, Hoppe, Block, and on and on. Soon I was saturated by the ideas of eggheads; ones that marched lockstep with Lord Acton's observation that liberty tops the hierarchy of political ends.

It was this self-education that drove me to recognize an uncomfortable reality: modern conservatism has morphed into something in which I can have no place. It is a home to collectivist taxers, spenders, and money-printers feigning fiscal responsibility; to slave masters, of a sort, masquerading as abolitionists.

But things were not always thus.

There was a time when conservatives (those of the so-called Old Right) railed against not simply the statism and central planning of the New Deal, but also the foreign adventurism that both generated the entrance of the U.S. into world war and presaged the foibles of the Cold War-era. Following World War II, these individualists were, by the imperialists of the New Right, all but drummed out of the polite company of the conservative publications for which they formerly produced articles that were both free market and non-interventionist. This madness slithered onward to the point where, currently (and despite history), one cannot conceive of a conservative who observes instances of disgusting governmental waste and overreach and does not ignore, forgive, or even laud them simply because they have been dressed in the fabrics of militarism.

We are, for a certainty, not in Kansas anymore.

And yet here I stand; conservative as all get out, but nonetheless leery of encroachments on liberty from all directions – Left and Right. And this undiscriminating vigilance caused me, for a time, to feel outcast among my own people. That is, of course, until I recognized that modern conservatives, having eschewed their own proud lineage, are not my people.

It is they, not I, who have lost the faith.

In any event, since learning of the betrayal of the American Right I have come to feel at home with Taft, Garrett, Flynn, and the rest of those principled paleo-cons.

They understood that government spending is government spending, and when it is directed at the military it brings an economy out of recession no better than when it is directed at programs of employment, infrastructure, or entitlement. They understood that militarism is nothing more than a government works project.

They understood that, even when war becomes necessary (and it certainly can become so), it is a boon not to the economy as a whole, but only to a minority of privileged manufacturers. They understood that destruction is not profit.

They understood that a foreign policy of intervention is contrary not simply to conservative principles (rightly understood), but to the principles of Revolution-era America as well.

The Founding Fathers would certainly balk at the degree to which this country is currently involved in the business of other countries. George Washington warned against "permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world" and urged for international commercial, but not political connections. And when John Quincy Adams suggested that America go "not abroad seeking monsters to destroy," he was merely seconding the recommendation of Thomas Jefferson for an "unmeddling with the affairs of other nations."

Any conservative who believes that the American Founders would approve of America's worldwide military involvement ought to acquaint himself with the arguments of Brutus and the other anti-federalists (not to mention those of Cato) who disparaged even the maintaining of a standing army. Such patriots would doubtless look on the notion of U.S. military bases in foreign countries in much the same way that I do: as inconsistent with a free government and as an abomination.

But the heavy hammer of our international interloping is not simply thoroughly unpatriotic; it is also troublingly expensive and serves to crush any attempt at deconstructing the leviathan state.

Consider that a significant, universal (or, at least, economic) component of conservatism is that taxes and government should be as low and as limited as possible to allow the individual the greatest possible productivity.

Few, if any, would disagree that this is (or, rather, is supposed to be) Conservatism 101.

But how can taxes be low or government limited when the neocon clarion call of crisis demands that upwards of 100 billion tax dollars (read: your money) be spent (read: stolen and redistributed) annually on roughly 800 military installations that must be manned and operated by more than 150,000 deployed personnel in an estimated 150 foreign countries (the presence of any American soldier on any base in any foreign country demands a robust explanation. As well as any expenditure on such over zero dollars).

Under such a program taxes cannot be low; government cannot be limited. And no less an esteemed Cold Warrior than William F. Buckley Jr. admitted as much.

A particularly problematic observation can be made here regarding the justifications that big-government types often give for supporting America's flawed foreign policy: not only are these reasons inconsonant with conservative principles, but they are purely incoherent in their own right.

Preventative war?

Otto von Bismarck rightly likened it to "committing suicide out of fear of death." Justified, proportionate national defense against invasions or legitimate threats thereof is one thing, preemptive aggression to protect something as purposefully ambiguous as "American interests" is quite another.

Making the world safe for democracy?

It's a shame that this standby is used by people with the temerity to call themselves conservative, as it was coined by the administration of Woodrow Wilson (the great granddaddy of progressivism) in order to justify his interventions. Of course, as Albert Jay Nock pointed out, Wilson's motivation was to make the world safe not for democracy, but for "U.S. investments, privileges, and markets."

And is democracy truly the ideal for which the world needs to be made safe? I guess in this instance liberty gets short shrift; placed subordinate to democracy (the two are far from the same thing). F.A. Hayek reminded us that democracy has the potential to "set up the most complete despotism imaginable": one in which "the most arbitrary rule can be made legal."

Foreign and humanitarian aid?

This justification for American intercession is uniquely pernicious because it employs the very same reasoning used by the liberal collectivists for domestic entitlement programs of wealth redistribution. That is, simply because the U.S. is wealthy or strong enough to aid a poor nation or one in the throes of crisis does not therefore mean that the U.S. is legally obligated to do so. Or, if it is, then so too is a wealthy U.S. taxpayer legally obligated to aid a poor U.S. citizen. The same principle cores both silly arguments.

Further, to which countries and under what circumstances is American aid to be delivered?

Any and all?

Just our pals?

When a genocide claims x amount of lives versus some lesser amount?

The problem here is that the ideal becomes arbitrary, or else it is applied consistently and we impoverish ourselves by committing resources whenever and wherever this or that manmade or natural misfortune happens to manifest.

The final, fatal flaw in any foreign aid program, the one that makes them wholly antithetical to conservatism, is that they require a government large enough to fight the tyrannies of the world and the social ailments incidental to humanity. This, naturally, places the assisting nation (e.g., us) at risk of succumbing to the very tyrannies that such programs aim to combat (because the problem in countries undergoing humanitarian crises, often, is that too much power has accumulated into too few hands).

Conservatives who hew to a foreign policy of intervention, if they are to be intellectually honest, must shed either their label as conservatives or their adherence to costly international nosing. The problem is that neocons are not intellectually honest; they hide among us, touting their conservative bona fides while campaigning for truly limitless government.

Pay close attention to that man behind the curtain. He's a neo-con artist. And he's been duping us for a very long time.

But perhaps I should save my breath. Persuasion may not be the best tack on this issue.

The realization that a state predicated on warfare is just as dangerous and destructive to society as one predicated on welfare will, I fear, arrive too late. I have no doubt that even the neoconservatives will eventually come to understand this. But only after the calamitous results of our foreign policy have fully revealed themselves.

Time, it is said, makes more converts than reason.

© Sean Parr


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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