Saturday, 7 May 2016

REVIEW: "The Conservatarian Manifesto: Libertarians, Conservatives, and the Fight for the Right's Future" by Charles C.W. Cooke

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

The Conservatarian Manifesto: Libertarians, Conservatives, and the Fight for the Right's Future
by Charles C.W. Cooke
Crown Forum
ISBN: 978-0804139748
Reprint Edition Copyright February 2016
Paperback, 256 Pages

The Conservatarian Manifesto, a fervent activist instrument for conservatism, endeavors to unite conservatives and libertarians to bolster the political Right. The author vehemently champions conservative positions, assails progressive stances, strives to educate and equip traditionalists with strategies, tools, and information, and reveals the desire to motivate reactionaries to make a difference in the political arena.

The author refers to a “conservatarian” as a “mainstream conservative in the Goldwater/Reagan tradition who subscribes to the fiscal and modern federalist principles of the libertarian philosophy.” Quoting one of Reagan's most famous statements, “The very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism,” Cooke ventures that if the conservatarian ideology exists, its primary tenet is to render the framework of American government “as free as possible” and to decentralize power.

Cooke contends that the “conservative” and “libertarian” labels traditionally described the “two strongest building blocks of the Right's coalition.” He mentioned that conservatism and libertarianism “have in common a steadfast opposition to authoritarianism,” and stated the usefulness of reconciling the libertarian “live-and-let-live attitudes” with the conservative “respect for the nation's founding traditions.”

Conservative stances are declared in the book—concerns for “property rights; separation of powers; hard limits on the power of the state; staunch protections of the rights of conscience, assembly, speech, privacy, and self-protection,” and “a preference for local governance over central planning.” Characteristics of conservatism are proclaimed—“its unorthodoxy and its radicalism;” movements seeking primarily to conserve the “long-established order,” and to compete “for stewardship and for stasis;” the imperative acknowledgement of man's and the state's limitations; and skepticism towards the “presumption that human beings do not change when they are accorded great power.”

Cooke religiously assembled evidence that corroborates his arguments. The author reminds readers that America “is a collection of semi-sovereign states,” which is clearly not of “regional departments of the federal government.” He elaborates that the states “are where the real political power is supposed to lie,” and highlights that senators were “elected by state legislatures.” In praising the “genius of the founding generation's work” that established “a series of political doctrines” deemed favorable to conservatism, Cooke quoted a freed slaved, Frederick Douglass, who “considered the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution” “his greatest weapons,” and who defied “the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause” in the Constitution.

In rebutting progressives' complaints that America's “rigid separation of powers” interferes with implementation of their “grand vision”, renders the state “unwieldy and slow,” and allocates “too much power” to minorities that prevent dramatic change, Cooke cited the Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalist Papers. He mentioned the indication of “the primary purpose of the Constitution” in creating a framework that harnessed, and very importantly, checked “the ambition of the few men entrusted with power,” and the purpose of playing branches of government off one another, to slow down action, and to fragment power.

The book contains impassioned arguments seeking to disqualify the political Left. Cooke accused the country's progressives of having exported to the public “a perverted conception of morality” in which “forever advocating short-term gain at the expense of long-term solvency” signifies “compassion” and where reality is somehow imagined to “bend to meet good intentions” and “glib slogans.” With regards to leftists' view of “political variation as an ill to be stamped out,” Cooke labels the viewpoint as “a brutal mistake” and attributes it to “an overdeveloped trust in the power of experts.” The author also criticized Massachusetts' historical adoption of the Prussian education system as initiated by Horace Mann, an early educational reformer, and scorned the rise of the president as a political celebrity which purportedly damaged “traditional Republican notions of limited government and local variation.”

Apart from calling out Barack Obama's “imperial style,” the author lambasted the Democratic Party as being “stunted by its fetishization of learning, hobbled by the structural need to appease the teachers' unions, and intellectually restricted by a reflexive belief in the rule of national experts.” Cooke announced that the American public education “reeks of dysfunction and mismanagement,” and in discussing abortion, chastised progressive advocates' use of “euphemisms” such as “women's equality,” “women's rights,” “reproductive rights,” “reproductive justice,” and “pro-choice.”

Cooke notably seized the opportunity to offer counseling to fellow conservatives in his book. In potential attempts to boost morale, Cooke envisions conservatives' possible success in establishing the Left as guilty for moderating and censoring “the culture,” and serving as “the speech police, the arbiters of taste, and the purveyors of mandates.” In efforts to unite fellow traditionalists, Cooke defines conservatives as people “who speak as a first language federalism, individual liberty, personality responsibility, and the limitation of state power.” To motivate and instill confidence, the author highlights a potential key strength as “the ability to look at an issue with a dispassionate eye and to appraise the performance of government as they would anything else.”

Cooke ventures farther. He advises conservatives to continue efforts in normalizing “guns and gun ownership.” He pleads them to always frame arguments in “principled, philosophical, abstract terms,” “to calmly and rationally” highlight opponents' inconsistencies, to exhibit “intellectual and moral honesty,” and be aware and battle the “extensive cache of conservative misinformation” on the internet.

To the author's credit, he acknowledged irreconcilable aspects of the conservatarian identity towards the end of the book. He however highlighted only one area of convergence between libertarians and progressives, and added merely one conflicting aspect between libertarians and conservatives; Regarding immigration, the conservative position for a nation with borders, the unfeasibility of a country to absorb “an infinite number of newcomers and expect automatically to preserve its way of life,” and the need for “strict and tailored immigration laws” “enforced to the letter,” strongly opposes the libertarian position that essentially views that all individuals have a human right to relocate anywhere they wish, and that the country should not “have much of an operating border at all.”

Acknowledging the author's decent attempt at expounding the idea of “conservatarian” at the beginning of the book, and apt efforts at drawing supposed connections between libertarianism and the central concept of the book—conservatism—the idea of the “conservatarian” embedded in the book title however gives the impression of being more of a marketing, sales, and packaging gimmick. The book overall lacked comprehensiveness in dealing with the “conservatarian” idea, as it very predominantly, fundamentally and very obviously focused on conservatism. Approximately 80% or more of the book was about “Conservatives, and the Fight for the Right's Future,” rather than “Libertarians, Conservatives, and the Fight for the Right's Future,” such that the bold, creative, and eye-catching positioning of “Conservatarian” as the supposed dominant attraction of the book, and the inclusion of “Libertarians” in the book title seem at worst superficial.

With the exception of the beginning and the ending of the book, “explorations” of libertarianism, or the libertarian are often in such a simplistic manner as mentioned jointly with the conservative: In discussing gay marriage, “Regardless of which side they are on, conservatives and libertarians should currently be banding together;” Without further research, elaboration or examples, “Nowadays, radio is thoroughly dominated by conservative and libertarian personalities;” And without going into greater specificities, “Most conservatives and libertarians” value “the local over the national and the process over the outcome.”

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books for this review. 

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