The conservative coalition of free-marketeers and religious traditionalists

The conservative coalition of free-marketeers and religious traditionalists. By Dan Hannan.

Perhaps it was inevitable that the conservative coalition would fall apart. The alliance between free-marketeers and religious traditionalists was, after all, contingent. It was always going to struggle to survive the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Many cultural conservatives seem happier these days mocking libertarians than criticizing leftists….

We can forget how recently the Democrats and Republicans began to divide on Left/Right lines. Well into the 1960s, party allegiances were as much regional and hereditary as doctrinal. Only from Richard Nixon’s time can we properly regard the two parties as coherent ideological groupings.

Political conservatism was, to a greater degree than is often acknowledged, the creation of one man: William F. Buckley, Jr., the handsome and eloquent editor of National Review.

In the 1950s, Buckley brought together various groups with a shared interest in opposing the USSR and its American apologists. They were a disparate bunch — patriots, evangelicals, libertarians, foreign policy hawks, monetarists, strict constitutionalists — and they all had their own reasons for being anti-socialist. Yet their alliance turned out to be a thing of awesome power, carrying Ronald Reagan to the White House and, through him, defeating communism, slashing taxes, and reversing America’s decline.

Once those victories were won, some libertarians no longer wanted to march alongside those they regarded as big-state religious nuts; and some trads no longer wanted to associate with those they regarded as crazed enthusiasts of drugs and pornography. The alloy began to melt into its two component metals.

In the absence of revolutionary socialism, could something else bind the coalition together? Wokeness might seem the obvious candidate as a unifying opponent since it poses as much of a threat to liberty as to tradition.

But even here, the responses are different. Libertarians want to tackle the problem J.S. Mill style, with free speech.

Tempting, very tempting:

But Patrick Deneen, perhaps the most eloquent champion of “post-liberal” conservatism, argues that a Millian society is impossible, that some ideology must be ascendant, and that the only question is whether it will be the old culture of Christianity or the new one of racial grievance. Taking that argument to its extreme, Dr. Chad Pecknold of the Catholic University of America argues that wokeness is a “super-heresy” comparable to Arianism or Albigensianism, that it cannot be defeated in a market of ideas, and that it must be stamped out.

Think about what he implies. Arianism was extirpated when Constantine the Great ordered that anyone found in possession of its texts be put to death. Albigensianism, the creed of the Cathars, was drowned in blood: In Béziers in 1209, 20,000 townspeople were hacked to pieces by crusaders who did not trouble to ask who was orthodox and who was heretical.


Well, I’m not buying it. We defeated Nazism and communism while remaining open societies. Indeed, we defeated them partly because we clung to free speech, political pluralism, and personal autonomy. Are we really saying that we can’t beat wokeness without establishing some kind of theocracy?

I’m not ready to give up on the Reaganite (or, in my country, Thatcherite) coalition.

Edmund Burke, who invented the Anglo-American conservative tradition and is the patron saint of the post-liberals. … saw no contradiction between conservatism — the elevation of the evolved and organic over the planned and rational, of “the wisdom of our ancestors” over the fashion of the moment — and personal freedom. On the contrary, he enthusiastically endorsed Adam Smith’s free trade notions, and argued that “whatever each man can separately do, without trespassing upon others, he has a right to do for himself.”


Indeed, 200 years before Bill Buckley, Edmund Burke was the first fusionist.