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Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
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Conservative Soul-Searching


The debate over the future of the GOP is beginning. Already, there is a spate of articles written by conservatives calling for a return of the Republican Party to its traditional mantra of “free enterprise and limited government.” These conservatives are arguing that the reason that Republicans were so soundly defeated in the recent election is that they abandoned their traditional “small government” philosophy during the Bush administration’s 8-year orgy of out-of-control federal spending and “big government.”

So far, however, none of these conservative soul-searching perspectives are addressing the fundamental problems that conservatives face.

First, in their haste to return to the traditional principles of “free enterprise and limited government,” conservatives have a big obstacle to overcome: their commitment to socialist and interventionist programs. I’m referring to such things as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public schooling, welfare, foreign aid, the drug war, bailouts, and such departments and agencies as the Departments of Labor, Agriculture, Commerce, HUD, and Education, and the DEA, the SEC, the Federal Reserve, and dozens more.

How can a commitment to socialist and interventionist programs be reconciled with a wish to return to traditional principles of “free enterprise and limited government”? It can’t be. Free enterprise means enterprise that is free of government regulation and control. Limited government means a government whose powers are limited. The panoply of socialist and interventionist programs that conservatives favor are antithetical to free enterprise and limited government.

Libertarians don’t suffer from this dilemma. Since libertarians call for the repeal, not the reform, of all socialist and interventionist government programs, agencies, and departments, our position is entirely consistent with our devotion to genuine free enterprise and limited government.

Second, the soul-searching conservative articles, so far, are ignoring a great big elephant in the room — the traditional conservative position favoring “national defense.” Now, if by “national defense” they truly meant “national defense,” that would be one thing. But conservatives don’t really mean “national defense” when they call for “national defense.”

What conservatives mean by “national defense” is an aggressive foreign policy entailing attacks and wars of aggression on other countries, sanctions, embargoes, foreign aid, assassination, coups, regime change, and military occupations. Ever since 9/11 the phrase has also meant a perpetual “war on terrorism,” torture and sex abuse of detainees, kidnapping and rendition, secret overseas prison facilities, Guantanamo Bay, military tribunals, indefinite imprisonments, suspension of habeas corpus, infringements on civil liberties, warrantless searches and seizures, immunity for criminal acts, and denial of due process, right to counsel, right to trial by jury, and other procedural rights and guarantees enumerated in the Bill of Rights.

The conservative definition of “national defense” obviously requires an enormously large standing army along with an ever-growing military industrial complex, along with the ever-increasing taxes to fund its activities.

Yet, how is it possible to reconcile a commitment to that concept of “national defense” with a wish to return to traditional values of “free enterprise and limited government”? As the Founding Fathers pointed out, militarism, empire, interventionism, and war bring centralization of power, rules, regulations, and taxes. That is, they bring everything that is antithetical to free enterprise and limited government.

Libertarians, of course, do not have this dilemma. We favor genuine national defense — that is, the responsibility of the government to defend against an actual invasion of our country, a non-existent possibility at the present time given the fact that no nation has the military capacity to carry out such an invasion. Thus, given our opposition to militarism, foreign wars, foreign interventions, foreign aid, foreign meddling, assassinations, regime change, sanctions, embargoes, a standing army, and the military-industrial complex and our strong commitment to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and civil liberties, our positions can be easily reconciled with our commitment to genuine free enterprise and limited government.

Moreover, implicit in conservative soul-searching is the notion that “the economy” was the only reason American voters so soundly rejected conservatives in the recent election. My hunch is that the rejection had much more to do with just the economy. My hunch is that Americans were sick and tired of 8 years of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan with no end in sight, the perpetual nature of the “war on terrorism,” the never-ending threat of terrorist blowback from U.S. foreign policy, the torture and sex abuse, the denigration of the procedural protections in the Bill of Rights, and the infringements on civil liberties.

What do conservatives do? In their quest to regain political power, they wish to return to traditional values of “free enterprise and limited government. Yet, they remain ardently committed to socialist, interventionist, and imperial policies and programs that are contradictory to free enterprise and limited government. One can only hope that in their soul-searching, conservatives do what libertarians do — pursue truth, principles, integrity, and reality, regardless of the political consequences.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.