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“Freedom Conservatives” vs. Freedom

Ben Smith’s taxonomy for conservatives [1] is something of a mess:

I propose replacing the messy old terminology with a simple new vocabulary, one that has evolved organically, which has deep and consistent intellectual roots, no pejorative implications, and which political leaders use effortlessly and without reflecting. The division that will define the Republican Party for the next decade is the split between Liberty Conservatives and Freedom Conservatives.

I appreciate the desire to find more neutral labels to describe different groups of conservatives, but these seem to muddle things more than they clarify. After all, in what sense are “freedom conservatives” particularly interested in freedom? They invoke it quite often in their rhetoric, but the same can be said for many kinds of political groups. It would be fair to say that the people Smith refers to this way are big fans of freedom as an abstraction and they like using the word as a rhetorical device, but they regularly favor policies that infringe on and curtail it in practice. Smith seems to acknowledge as much when he says that “Freedom Conservatives back the aggressive security measures and, relatedly, oppose the spending cap.” In other words, the “freedom conservatives” typically favor increased power for the federal government in the name of national security, they are normally resistant to any reductions in the military budget (which is the main reason they dislike sequestration), and they are less alarmed by the accumulation of large amounts of government debt through overspending and unfunded expansions of government liabilities. There are a number of ways to describe this position (some of them used to identify themselves simply as “big-government conservatives”), but what this has to do with freedom is anyone’s guess. At best, they are strong supporters of using force overseas in the name of freedom, but the fate of the countries that have been “liberated” in this way has tended to give freedom a bad name.

It’s not just a matter of bad foreign policy results. Most so-called “freedom conservatives” are hostile to any relaxation of the drug war or reduction in the penalties for drug use. Smith claims that the other group, so-called “liberty conservatives,” are more concerned with “pernicious social trends of the last century,” but this is also far too broad and misleading a generalization. Consider the example of Rick Santorum. According to these definitions, he would be considered a “freedom conservative” of a sort, but there is almost no one more adamantly anti-libertarian on social and cultural issues than he is. These labels don’t help to explain the differences between these conservative groups, and one of them is a name that is entirely undeserved and also happens to be a blatant misrepresentation of what they believe.

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11 Comments To "“Freedom Conservatives” vs. Freedom"

#1 Comment By John On July 9, 2014 @ 4:47 pm

My kind of conservatism would be one in which words retain their plain meaning, and “liberty” and “freedom” aren’t used as superlatives for just how much more conservative my conservatism is than yours.

#2 Comment By Wilson On July 9, 2014 @ 5:07 pm

I like how neocons seem to think that “neoconservative” is so unpopular because they’ve smeared. If everyone used “freedom conservative” as the preferred term then in a few years freedom conservative would have negative connotations because freedom conservatives’ policies are terrible. They need to think about why their preferred policies are consistently unpopular rather than think up new names for themselves.

#3 Comment By Websters On July 9, 2014 @ 5:13 pm

neoconservative (nee-oh-con-surva-tiv): US political ideology associated with military and foreign policy disasters of the early 21st century. Synonyms: reform conservative, freedom conservative

#4 Comment By a spencer On July 9, 2014 @ 5:55 pm

I stopped reading the article you linked to after replacing “the right” with “the left” in the first paragraph and thinking there wasn’t much to be learned after that.

DL summarizes:
“These labels don’t help to explain the differences between these conservative groups, and one of them is a name that is entirely undeserved and also happens to be a blatant misrepresentation of what they believe.”

Its almost as though he’s provided, at no extra charge, the first two legs of Clintonian Triangulation that we’re almost certainly about to be subjected to in the next campaign.

#5 Comment By EliteCommInc. On July 9, 2014 @ 10:21 pm

I have to keep busy. But that is a great title.

#6 Comment By JLF On July 10, 2014 @ 9:03 am

” . . . some of them used to identify themselves simply as ‘big-government conservatives’, but what this has to do with freedom is anyone’s guess.”

Not really. To “freedom conservatives” the notion of freedom is proportional to the size of their bank accounts, thus the use of big government’s billions and billions. Now at the same time, “freedom conservatives” favor reducing some government programs, most of which provide benefits to the poor, unless, of course, those programs themselves have been “privatized” for the benefit of “freedom conservatives”. At the end of the song “America” “freedom conservatives” append a coda: “What’s mine is mine; what’s yours is mine when I can get it.”

#7 Comment By Barry On July 10, 2014 @ 10:37 am

I note that Ben Smith thinks that the group he dislikes (‘Freedom Conservatives’) were historically for civil rights. That tells me a lot.

#8 Comment By Garland On July 10, 2014 @ 5:40 pm

ah yes the two great schools of conservatism: the one that wants more and more immigration and the one that wants more and more immigration. Brilliant taxonomy, Ben! It’s all clear now!

Actually, his reference to how “liberty” conservatives at least have a grassroots that opposes never ending immigration (“compromise” as he insipidly calls it) is revealing about the “freedom” conservatives: who are their grassroots? Is there really a “freedom” conservative “grassroots” brimming with populist fervor for more immigration, more national security state powers, more foreign adventures? No, there is no such grassroots. The “freedom” conservatives subsist entirely on donor class money.

#9 Comment By Francis On July 10, 2014 @ 9:57 pm

The only “Freedom Conservatives” are those true Libertarians who don’t make concessions for political purposes, i.e., opposing same-sex marriage and reproductive rights.

The rest are hypocrites.

#10 Comment By philadelphialawyer On July 10, 2014 @ 10:48 pm

Not for nothing, and not to be glib, as well as obvious, but aren’t the terms “liberty” and “freedom” more or less synonymous? If there were some sort of real difference in policy and ideology, why would labels chosen specifically for the purpose of distinguishing between them be so misleading and confusing?

Will we then have “Equality Liberals,” in alleged contradistinction to “Egalitarian Liberals,” as well. How about “beautiful fashion models” vs. “very pretty fashion models?”

#11 Comment By Expired On July 11, 2014 @ 3:58 pm

Predicted shelf-life of freedom conservatism is approximately that of freedom fries.