But they [Beck rally organizers and attendees] also want the government to be super-effective in securing the borders, they worry about an undocumented fall in morals, and they are emphatic that genuine religiosity should be a feature of the public square. Which is to say, like most American voters, they may well want from government precisely the things that it really can’t deliver.
James goes on to contest the idea that wanting religious expression in the public square has something to do with wanting something from government. Overall, James is right that these are two fairly different things. When James quotes Gillespie, he elides the first part of the sentence that refers to securing the borders, and this means that James spends most of his time addressing the rally’s religiosity without getting at the things that really unsettle libertarians about a lot of the attendees. While libertarians such as Gillespie may not like religiosity as a feature of the public square, it seems to me that religiosity is not the main thing that bothers them about the crowd at last weekend’s rally. One of the main things that bothers these libertarians is that the crowd was apparently interested in securing the borders, and more than this most were probably interested in enforcing immigration laws in the interior of the country. Indeed, my guess is that many of the people in the crowd would be content with the government being merely mediocre in policing the borders if the government were enforcing those laws with some reasonable regularity. I have to wonder if most of the attendees at that rally believe the government is capable of being “super-effective” at doing anything. Regardless, the crowd’s presumed support for border security is the main thing that prevents Gillespie from taking the “proto-libertarians” at the rally seriously. It is the one thing he mentions that actually has policy implications.
This reminded me of Brink Lindsey’s cover piece for Reason’s symposium on libertarians’ political alliances and Will Wilkinson’s recent post at Democracy in America on the Beck rally. One was written before the pair’s (presumably forced) departure from the Cato Institute last month, and the other was written just a few days ago. Both pieces identify conservative opposition to mass immigration and support for enforcing immigration laws as some of the reasons they regard contemporary conservatism as rotten and unacceptable. Support for border security and enforcing immigration laws is simply proof of conservatives’ “brutish nationalism” and “anti-immigrant xenophobia” for Lindsey, and Wilkinson refers to Arizona’s attempt to enforce immigration laws as a “nativist crackdown.” (Perhaps Wilkinson doesn’t know what nativist means, or that he simply wants to use the word incorrectly for polemical purposes.)
One reason why this stands out when I read these articles is that most of their other complaints against conservatives have something to back them up, but their complaints on immigration policy are mostly hot air. Having defined the enforcement of immigration laws as illiberal, authoritarian and xenophobic, they conclude that this is what most conservatives are on this issue, and that’s all they need to know. It doesn’t enter into their thinking that a significant part of the support for an “enforcement-first” position on immigration in general and the Arizona law in particular comes primarily from a law-and-order attitude. Neither are they interested that the Arizona legislature was acting out of frustration that the public’s strong support for enforcing these laws seems to have minimal effect on the federal government’s attention to the matter. It is difficult to trust Lindsey’s assessment that this is a product of “brutish nationalism” when he pairs the enforcement of existing, constitutional immigration law with foreign wars, and it is even harder to trust Wilkinson’s claims about the “Christian nationalism” at the Beck rally when he believes that patriotism is essentially the expression of deference to the coercive apparatus of the state and that love of country should be merely incidental.
Certainly, Lindsey and Wilkinson have many other problems with contemporary conservatism. Lindsey’s Reason article seemed designed to define support for liberty in such a way that no social conservative, immigration restrictionist or traditionalist Christian could be anything other than anti-liberty. Wilkinson has spent years writing similar things. In the process of denouncing a third of their countrymen as hopelessly anti-liberty, they even get a few things right about jingoism and militarism, but they actually define support for liberty so narrowly and restrictively that many of the people here at TAC who are very critical of many of the same flaws in conservatism or conservatives strongly sympathetic to the work of the Cato Institute are automatically excluded. In the same way, these libertarians will never really consider attendees at Beck’s rally to be truly supportive of liberty so long as they retain any of their law-and-order attitudes and patriotic attachments.