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Brent Bozell’s Revenge

The New Right was inevitable—we'd been warned from the beginning that the old consensus couldn't last.

I joined the millennial libertarian Stephen Kent on his video podcast Right Now this week, together with fellow zoomer and National Review ISI fellow Nate Hochman, to discuss the death of the fusionist consensus and re-emerging tensions between libertarians and conservatives. We talked about Pete Buttigieg cosplaying as the mother of a newborn, the values and limitations of the American Founding, and William F. Buckley Jr.’s first career as a CIA operative.

More importantly, though, we talked about the American conservative movement’s troubled and troubling relationships with both freedom and responsibility. I have always maintained, with Cardinal Newman, the primacy of the latter: “Conscience has rights because it has duties; but in this age, with a large portion of the public, it is the very right and freedom of conscience to dispense with conscience, to ignore a Lawgiver and Judge, to be independent of unseen obligations.”

It is the conservative’s duty to stay conscious, and to remind his neighbor, of unseen obligations. We talk on Right Now about restoring this order of priorities as regards not just the polity but the family as well, which I remind my libertarian interlocutor is (and has long been understood to be) the fundamental building block of a functional society.

Kent, immersed in Beltway libertarianism as he is, is taken aback:

I don’t want to mischaracterize it or be hyperbolic, but what you’re talking about—about building a family and sort of, like, having it be oriented towards, like, building a society, service to the people—that sounds like Marxist ideas, like that sounds like some sort of Soviet… I mean, that sounds like the kind of thing that, like, China or the Soviet Union would have propagated.

I am reminded of the late L. Brent Bozell Jr., whom we discussed on Right Now, and who more than half a century ago warned that the absolute prioritization of individual freedom would spell the death not just of conservatism but of everything we hope to conserve. Of those who sense the totalitarian impulse in any political attempt to define man’s purpose, Bozell noted:

What the freedom-first people fail to understand is that the Communist proposal to “change man” is an answer to a problem they have created. The Communist answer is to give man a nature, and thus a purpose outside of himself — exactly the thing that six hundred years of Western “progress” have progressively denied him.

I spoke with Stephen and Nate about the impossibility of neutrality in law, and the inescapable fact that any law is founded on a moral claim. When the moral claim you seek to enshrine in law is the absolute supremacy of individual choice over and against any outside authority—and when you establish an entire political movement on the basis of that claim—you set yourself on the path to ruin.

We’ve been on that path for decades, as I note in my last remarks on Right Now:

How did we get here? It all ties back to the absolute maximization of individual freedom—and freedom not properly understood. Freedom from is the only kind of freedom that the American right seems to understand. … We start with freedom from government, we insist on liberating ourselves from the tyrants in Washington, on any matter, regardless of the morality of a given law that the people in Washington are trying to impose. Then it moves down to freedom from your state government, to freedom from your town, to freedom from your homeowner’s association, to freedom from your family or any hypothetical family that might tie you down and minimize your options. And then, inevitably, it will lead back up, once you’re this atomized individual, to freedom from religion, from any obligations of conscience.

Once it starts, it doesn’t stop. There is no saying that freedom is the absolute good, freedom is our highest political principle, but we’re also going to maintain social order, we’re going to preserve religion as a private matter, and we’re going to allow people to pursue visions of the good outside of the public square. It doesn’t work.

Here’s Brent Bozell, more succinctly: “The story of how the Free society has come to take priority over the good society is the story of the decline of the West.”


Watch the full interview with Stephen Kent here:

about the author

Declan Leary is associate editor of The American Conservative. He was previously an editorial intern at National Review and has been a frequent contributor to Crisis Magazine.

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