The Old Right vs. the New Right?


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September 4, 2007

One thing that the ongoing Ron Paul mania among libertarians and Republicans of the so-called "Old Right" has clearly shown is that there is a great divide in the GOP. This should be no surprise to frequent readers of STR--political parties are founded on and thrive upon the notion that society is in conflict and therefore needs a centralized power to deal with it. This very idea does of course also bring warring factions to the political party, even though it is often seen as something "normal." However it can be "normal" to fight viciously with fellow "partyarchs," who should really be your friends in the conquest for power, is logic understandable only to those with a political mindset.

What the Ron Paul so-called "Revolution" has done so far is create a common platform for the numerous members of the GOP with an Old Right mindset and thus supplied them with a candidate of "their" own. What this means is simply that the suppressed Old Right faction in the GOP somehow has begun to feel the wind changing, and therefore we should expect an internal party war in a not too distant future. At least, this is what political logic tells us.

What is interesting to note in the imminent War of the Elephants is the basis for conflict. One would expect a party to form on a common platform of values and ideas, and also agreeing on a common political agenda with a certain end goal--other than the obvious "we want power." This is not only a reasonable and logical assumption, it is also the view that is frequently broadcast from party headquarters. The GOP, we're told, has a political program based on traditional social values as well as low taxes and limited government.

A political party based on a certain kind of ideology shouldn't be able to attract people with views fundamentally contradictory to the ones expressed in the party program. So we should be able to assume that the Old Right and Neo-conservative factions of the party must agree on a majority of the fundamental points, however not necessarily on the political agenda, the priorities, perhaps not even the end goals.

Accepting this assumption, it is easy to explain the numerous minarchist libertarians in e.g. Europe who have wholeheartedly embraced the war in Iraq, the "War on Terror" and the nation-building in a number of Middle East countries. So what are the values shared by old righters such as Ron Paul and his following and neocons such as the other people competing for the party nomination?

The problem with this question is that it is not possible to answer it--it is based on an utterly false premise. The so-called Old Right is an ideology based on a set of values that are essentially deontological. This means the core morality--the values, ideas, and beliefs--are based on the conviction that the action is inherently good or evil. It is in a sense a Kantian philosophy based on the equal rights of every individual to make whatever decisions necessary to lead the life he or she sees fit; it is also based on the fundamental duty of every individual to respect these rights and thus leave others alone. At the very core, this moral conviction states that the ends do not ever justify the means.

Neo-conservatism, on the other hand, takes a fundamentally different stand on morality and rights. The right of the individual is here the right to lead a life according to a set of fixed principles of justice and freedom. This set of values is not dependent on the individual's choices of what values to adopt--contrarily, the individual has no right to choose to live a life that in any way deviates from the set of values.

This is essentially a view at the exact opposite of the one championed by the Old Right. The set of values is a common good that needs to be fought for and enforced. Any individual who challenges these values or attempts to upset order is not only disposable; he or she should be done away with to protect the common good. From this viewpoint, government is a necessary power and ultimately the dust in which the seed of society can grow strong. Government is not an evil in society, it is the institution that enforces the order necessary for human life and prosperity--it is the power that protects and upholds the values and interests of the people.

The Neo-conservative ideology is therefore not only unsympathetic towards ideas such as isolationism and peace--it does not and cannot permit such views. And, quite frankly, a neocon cannot understand the reasons for not spreading "our superior way of life" to the rest of the world with force. The basic standpoint is that the ends do justify the means.

It should be noted that reality isn't as black and white as I have described it in this article. But the reason the world isn't black and white is that people tend to have contradictory views--if people were to really honor the fundamental principles they claim to insist on, they would end up with a much more coherent set of values and opinions.

What I have done in this article is not to simply repeat what old righters and neocons do really believe, but what their standpoints tell us about their fundamental convictions. The Old Right is a conservatism that begins and ends with the individual--from this follows that whatever government "needed" is a necessary evil to protect the individual's rights. Neo-conservatism claims universalist principles and subjects the means as well as the individual to what is necessary to get there.

The divide in the GOP is thus much, much greater than it seems to be. These two unconformable schools of thought, claimed to be two kinds of conservatisms, are really the thesis and antithesis--with no hope of synthesis.

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Per Bylund's picture
Columns on STR: 63

Has a passion for justice.