For the last eight years, American conservatism has had an identity crisis. Libertarian-induced class war led to a golden “Trump” branded hammer smashed the consensus the Republican Party had held since the days of Reagan, when social conservatism and small government laissez-faire capitalism reigned.
“Trumpism” turned out to mostly be about support for Donald Trump himself. It failed to become a single coherent worldview capable of filling the ideological vacuum.
Reaganism was proud of its ability to unite conservatives and libertarians. This libertarian element though, unwittingly helped bring about something unexpected: class war.
While libertarians are right that free markets have proven to be an incredible tool for creating prosperity, they fail to recognize (or perhaps do not care) that private actors, free of constraints, can and will begin to break down things conservatives hold dear like family life and financial independence.
Right and Left, Hierarchy and Inequality
Sohrab Amari’s recent article Right and Left, Hierarchy and Inequality gets right to the heart of this issue. Libertarianism, ironically, overlaps with leftism since they both enable class conflict between owners and employees. The difference is the degree to which they see the system as immoral or amoral.
Both of these worldviews are antithetical to a healthy conservatism. Family, faith, and local community are undermined by low wages, excessive work hours, and pressure to move halfway across the country to make ends meet.
The older generations have embraced libertarian economics with little regard for its negative consequences.
If those of us who are just starting out in life want to have anything left worth conserving, we will have to embrace class-compromise over class war. There will always be haves and have-nots.
Even “communist” societies end up with classes.
The trick is building institutions, both private and governmental, that can “sand down capitalism’s rough edges” as they say.
While these questions do get at larger, systemic issues, there are tangible ways that students are affected. Those of us who choose to go to college or graduate school do so because we think it will give us a better life. Even if a degree nets us a higher salary, many of our peers are weighed down by debt. The leftist, libertarian, and conservative offer wildly different approaches.
The leftist answer would simply be to forgive all the debt and make college free and universal. This sounds good at face value, but it would distort the market further and destroy the value of the degrees by increasing their supply (and probably lowering the standards they represent in the process).
The pure libertarian solution, though, is no solution. If the free market really is the wisest decision maker, then the problem will simply sort itself out given time. If anything at all should be done, it is to cut off public support for those reliant on the government for resources since their demand is a market distortion.
A conservative sees how destructive both of the extreme answers are and seeks to take the good elements of both sides. A truly conservative solution would require reforming the education system so that the market could still function properly, but safeguards would be in place to prevent the buildup of unrealistic debt.
By preventing crippling debt through limits in one market, the conservative is actually preserving the wider market from distortions.
A new conservatism is forming, one wiser from its experience with its old libertarian partner. Rather than “smash capitalism” or let the “indivisible hand” become a tyrant, we must take the good of what we have and build on it.
Practical reform to protect what matters most in life, this is the conservative way.
Marcus Bridgeman is the Opinion Editor at The Collegiate Commons. In his own columns, he focuses on issues of public policy and political philosophy. Bridgeman is a native Hoosier and a law student.