Free Markets (Also) Kicked to Curb by Dobbs

Thursday, June 30, 2022

In a very interesting column, Jonah Goldberg considers the meaning of the recent Dobbs decision in terms of the political coalition that he calls the "conservative movement."

Recall that this "movement" was always at best a temporary alliance among portions of society being marginalized by the left:

Cropped from image by Joseph Gonzalez, via Unsplash, license.
It was Ronald Reagan who popularized the notion that the conservative movement rested on a fusionist "three-legged stool." In theory, the three legs were free market economics, national defense and social conservatism. In practice, free market economics meant low taxes and pro-business policies. National defense meant anti-Communism and, briefly, the war on terror. Social conservatism covered a lot of territory, but the enduring core was opposition to Roe and abortion.
Note that each of these legs represents through an imperfect or corrupt proxy something truly valuable that Americans generally support, but are intellectually confused about: economic freedom, the nation's rational self-interest, and personal responsibility. The fact that each of these subsumes a "big tent" testifies to the confusion politicians have cynically exploited for so long.

Goldberg notes the weakening of the national defense "leg" that has occurred since the fall of Communism and argues that Dobbs will have a similar effect on this coalition by weakening the anti-abortion "leg" that hijacks the desire to be good.

(Neither "leg" comes from a full understanding of its issue and those who do understand such issues would know that there is no such thing as "mission accomplished." Defending our country from Communism is not all there is to national self-interest, and taking orders allegedly from an imaginary being is no way to discover how to lead one's life, much less organize a free society. Conversely, as you will see, the anti-abortionists have no plans to stop with banning abortion.)

In his next paragraph, Goldberg claims that opposition to abortion was "a big tent all its own." I don't completely agree with this because the differences he lists within that camp (a) amount to disagreements on tactics and (b) are between fundamentally anti-individualist camps. (States don't have rights of their own any more than do parts of women's bodies.)

That said, I do think Goldberg has identified a couple of medium-term consequences of the decision.

First, under the cover of Roe and federalism, politicians who wanted anti-abortionist votes could stake out that position without having to worry about actually delivering results. This enabled them to keep getting religionist votes despite no progress, and yet also skate by with non-religionists because of that same lack of progress. Now, these same politicians will have to pick between being for or against further restricting abortion. So now, abortion no longer unifies this coalition in the way it used to.

Second, we will start seeing politicians from this coalition showing their true colors when it comes to the issues they are less concerned with. Consider Marco Rubio, who I used to take to be in favor of economic freedom, however imperfectly:
As for economics, most on the right still reject tax hikes, but the war on "woke capitalism" is the hot new thing and protectionism has lost its bad odor. Indeed, while traditional conservative opposition to a more generous welfare state has been eroding for some time, the Dobbs decision may hasten the process. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) hailed the court's decision. "But," he added, "we must not only continue to take steps to protect the unborn, we must also do more to support mothers and their babies."

He promised to "soon introduce a bill to ensure we do everything we can to give every child the opportunity to fully access the promise of America." [bold added]
This represents a danger to capitalism in at least the medium-term and an opportunity in the long-term.

Conservatives, who Ayn Rand warned decades ago were never actually pro-capitalist, are becoming more obviously anti-capitalist at the same time that many of them are feeling quite free to be openly theocratic, like Lauren Boebert (R-CO), who recently stated, "The church is supposed to direct the government."

Decades ago, in his lecture, "Religion vs. America," Leonard Peikoff asked:
Politicians in America have characteristically given lip service to the platitudes of piety. But the New Right is different. These men seem to mean their religiosity, and they are dedicated to implementing their religious creeds politically; they seek to make these creeds the governing factor in the realm of our personal relations, our art and literature, our clinics and hospitals, and the education of our youth. Whatever else you say about him, Mr. Reagan has delivered handsomely on one of his campaign promises: he has given the adherents of religion a prominence in setting the national agenda that they have not had in this country for generations.

This defines our subject for tonight. It is the new Republican inspiration and the deeper questions it raises. Is the New Right the answer to the New Left? What is the relation between the Judeo-Christian tradition and the principles of Americanism? Are Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp, as their admirers declare, leading us to a new era of freedom and capitalism -- or to something else? [bold added]
I am afraid we're getting our answer and that if advocates of capitalism want a chance, we will need to change minds among voters while also looking elsewhere for ad hoc political alliances.

Ayn Rand and Leonard Peikoff were always against this alliance. It is quickly becoming impossible not to see why, in terms of its increasingly open antagonism towards liberty.

-- CAV

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