In 1955, politics in the United States on the right had become completely stagnant, and repulsive to the intellectual class. William Buckley, a young Yale graduate sought to change the trajectory of the intellectual class. Buckley founded the National Review, America’s premiere conservative magazine with the goal of giving the right a kick in the pants it gravely needed.
Buckley used the pages of National Review to promote a ‘fusionism’ of sorts between paleo-conservatives, neo-conservatives, tea-party enthusiasts, the deeply religious, libertarians, social conservatives and free-marketeers to challenge the current liberal orthodoxies of the day. In order to provide an engaging and nuanced response to leftism at the time, Buckley made a concentrated effort to enlist former leftists and a variety of perspectives to revitalize the conservative movement as more than merely instinct.
The modern conservative movement was largely born from Buckley’s efforts to create a respectable right. Buckley’s editors removed from the conservative movement the antisemites, the John Birchers, the nativists, segregationists and the objectivists. In doing this, he created an uneasy alliance between free-market capitalists, support for American military actions, libertarianism and social conservatism.
Though, after Buckley died, the three-legged coalition made up of religious (social) conservatives, economic populists and libertarians fell apart as Republicans began to realize that the gains accrued from free markets are not centralized, and fail to turn out the vote, especially since voters know little about economics and are not incentivized to become learned beyond the latest stump speech. Additionally, culture warriors have often not been satisfied with failing to enforce public virtue. As such, liberty has failed to manifest itself as the predominant position in the Grand Old Party. Instead, libertarians have been repeatedly sidelined by nativists, culture warriors and economic populists in terms of GOP leadership.
Without Bill Buckley to weather the storm, conservatism has become increasingly anti-libertine. Towards the end of Buckley’s life, the United States had invaded Iraq, and in reacting to 9/11, stripped vital civil liberties from Americans, began to spy on everyone and massively increased the size of the federal government. At the same time, with no concentrated movement to end the war on drugs, as Buckley had encouraged, the value of the Republicans to libertarians has continued to decrease.
Instead of the Republican Party combining free markets with open immigration and a restrained military, the party opted toward regulation of everything by the state. Rather than fighting for civil rights, Republicans took stands against freedom of all sorts including the economic, political, social, educational and military realms.
Rather than encouraging a proceduralist vision of the world where everyone can live freely and succeed, Republicans had no qualms pushing against polygamy, increasing the federalization of schooling through the common core, punishing recreational drug use and making increasingly bizarre voter ID laws designed to disenfranchise and threaten more vulnerable Americans.
Post-Buckley, conservatives have lurched towards social conservatism and economic nationalism, neither of which resonate among libertarians. This has come with dark overtones as establishment media, like Tucker Carlson, motivate by fear.
They motivate by fear because the deal for libertarians is raw. We lack power in the party to change the direction of the GOP, and as such we no longer belong in a coalition that feels ambivalent about us.
We do not need to feel proud about a president who is unapologetic about police brutality, has no problem arresting journalists at the border, exploding the deficit and seems willing to drone strike innocent people without remorse.
Instead, by vacating the GOP, they can feel free to lose elections, and power, without us. If Republicans are serious about the libertarian vote, we should not have to hold our nose for it.