[M]ost people who call themselves conservatives are, when you press them, essentially classical liberals, and classical liberals did not have a “dogmatic aversion to statism,” either. By comparison with their traditional conservative and monarchist foes in the 19th century, they were advocates for centralism and the expansion of the role of the state in the name of reason and liberty. Standardization, rationalization and uniformity in law and regulation were what most classical liberals prized, which is one reason why they tended to be strong nationalists hostile to the customs and privileges of regions and local parlements. The separation of modern strands of classical liberalism from nationalism (i.e., some forms of libertarianism) is a curious by-product of 20th century American politics, and I am guessing that this owes a great deal to influence of exiled liberals from central Europe on the evolution of these strands of American classical liberalism.
[My emphases. – NPO]
In the comments, Daniel McCarthy (to whom I’m personally indebted for giving me the opportunity to review Prof. Bacevich’s The Limits of Power for Young American Revolution) offers a nuanced reply, in which he asserts
Classical liberalism had different strains, some of which were highly centralist and some of which were decentralist. The centralizers generally prevailed in government — just as centralizing non-liberals (like Bismarck) generally prevailed over decentralist non-liberals.
Doubtless, McCarthy is on to something here, but I generally side with Larison (and I’m not entirely comfortable calling Tocqueville a liberal, as McCarthy does; I prefer “liberal conservative”).
And herein lies my fundamental qualm with libertarianism. The ideology (or collection of ideologies) is one of the more true-to-roots modern progenies of classical liberalism, (lacking the pseudo-conservatism of mainstream “conservatives”) — perhaps, according to some libertarians, the successor of Enlightenment liberalism. However, it disavows the State. To me, this is, as I called it before, internally contradictory alchemy. The liberal needs the State.
(McCarthy, in his response, offers a cogent argument in suggesting that the roots of the pairing of liberalism and decentralism in American political philosophy lie with Jefferson and Madison, but I think, at least respecting Jefferson, this assertion oversimplifies matters. Yes, he was very much, in many ways, a liberal, even radically so, but no mere liberal decentralist, he was, as Larison, rather compellingly, long ago asserted, in ways quite conservative, a man not only opposed to consolidation, but to the “power of the ‘moneyed interest'” as well, and a man of the country. That is, rather than merely a “liberal decentralist”, he adhered to and upheld certain liberal and certain conservative tenets.)
Liberals need the state because, ultimately, the foundation of the liberal polity is the individual. Gone is Aristotle’s zoon politikon, and the Philosopher’s fundamental precept, “every community is established for the sake of some GOOD”, specifically the common good, replaced by the Every-man-a-king doctrine of liberalism. Without the State, its origins in necessary contractarianism, mankind, by the liberal creed, exists in a perpetual state of war. Contra liberalism (and, thus, libertarianism), conservatism, rightly conceived, follows Aristotle, appreciating the importance of the individual but recognizing that outside of community, man enters into what Berry calls “vast meaninglessness, […] the freedom of our vices.”
Contemporary libertarianism seeks to dull both edges of the sword; to have its cake and to eat it, too. The libertarian, like the classical liberal, exalts the individual, subordinating any group — the world “community”, the nation-state, the region, or the community — to him; however, he credulously asserts that a society of kings can function without the intervention of the State. He often allows for decentralized government (though is wary even of federalism/subsidiarity, for the local government may expand too much for his tastes, just the same as the national), and offers paeans to communal self-government (that is, anarchy, conservatively understood). This is all well and good, save that the tension remains between the necessarily communal nature of the community government and the “king”‘s desire for self-rule. Without subjugation of the self to the polis — something anathema to the underlying doctrine of individualism —, the libertarian engages in futility, ultimately requiring the development, and consequent overdevelopment, of the selfsame state he sought to avert initially.
Thus, I am not a libertarian; thus I believe that, ultimately, “Fusionism” cannot sustain — as seems to be obvious today —, and that American “conservatism”, really conservative liberalism, is as problematic, if not more so for its untenable attempt to blend conservative values into a framework antipathetic toward community, as libertarianism.