In a continuation of my commentary on David Brooks’ analysis of modern conservatism, I offer a few more thoughts at the Acton Institute’s PowerBlog. Channeling Richard Epstein’s views on the ways in which market cooperation and competition provide a fundamental basis for social order and preservation, I re-emphasize that a heavy emphasis on economic freedom is crucial for a renewed traditionalist conservatism. It’s less of a “tension” than Brooks thinks:
I agree [with Brooks] that conservatism needs a renewed intellectual foundation brought about by a return to these emphases [i.e. custom, social harmony, and moral preservation], yet I disagree that a lopsided devotion to “economic freedom” is what’s stalling us. If we hope to restore traditionalist conservatism, we’d do well to recognize that this means restoring economic conservatism along with it. Brooks is upset that dogmatic pro-market folks have seized the Republican Party, yet this is the same Republican Party that nominated the architect of Romneycare and can’t seem to get serious about the deficit.
Conservatism is faltering all around, and the reasons for each sect’s demise are more or less interrelated. As I’ve written elsewhere, we need to restore a holistic conservative imagination that ties its social and economic strains together by grounding them both in Russell Kirk’s “enduring moral order.”
For David Brooks, restoration is all about “balance,” but for the true conservative, it needs to be about integration.
But Eptsein says all this much, much better, pointing specifically to the role that markets play in channeling voluntary action through competition and cooperation. The real threat to social preservation, for Epstein, lies elsewhere:
The sad truth here is that the government can suppress freedom and competition in economic markets, and can also wreak great destruction to the voluntary associations that operate in other areas. One recent vivid example of government overreaching is the determined effort of the Obama administration to insist that Roman Catholic institutions should provide insurance coverage for contraception.
The greatest threat to the intermediate institutions that social conservatives rightly extol is not markets. It is government, which has the power to impose its own uniform vision of the good not only on economic exchange but also on a full range of social, religious, and charitable organizations. These conclusions are consistent with the standard conservative credo. But conservatism all too often resists any rigorous defense of its own conclusions based on a set of first principles. The bottom line is that human flourishing is best served by a combination of cooperation and competition in all walks of life—economic and social alike.
Read the full post here.