Shorter Bobo

6 comments March 29th, 2007at 11:45am Posted by Eli

Authoritarianism is freedom!

There is an argument floating around Republican circles that in order to win again, the G.O.P. has to reconnect with the truths of its Goldwater-Reagan glory days. It has to once again be the minimal-government party, the maximal-freedom party, the party of rugged individualism and states’ rights.

This is folly. It’s the wrong diagnosis of current realities and so the wrong prescription for the future.


[I]n the 1970s, normal, nonideological people were right to think that their future prospects might be dimmed by a stultifying state. People were right to believe that government was undermining personal responsibility. People were right to have what Tyler Cowen, in a brilliant essay in Cato Unbound, calls the “liberty vs. power” paradigm burned into their minds — the idea that big government means less personal liberty.

But today, many of those old problems have receded or been addressed. Today the big threats to people’s future prospects come from complex, decentralized phenomena: Islamic extremism, failed states, global competition, global warming, nuclear proliferation, a skills-based economy, economic and social segmentation.

Normal, nonideological people are less concerned about the threat to their freedom from an overweening state than from the threats posed by these amorphous yet pervasive phenomena. The “liberty vs. power” paradigm is less germane. It’s been replaced in the public consciousness with a “security leads to freedom” paradigm. People with a secure base are more free to take risks and explore the possibilities of their world.

People with secure health care can switch jobs more easily. People who feel free from terror can live their lives more loosely. People who come from stable homes and pass through engaged schools are free to choose from a wider range of opportunities.

The “security leads to freedom” paradigm is a fundamental principle of child psychology, but conservative think tankers and activists have been slow to recognize the change in their historical circumstance. All their intellectual training has been oriented by the “liberty vs. power” paradigm. (Postwar planning in Iraq was so poor because many in the G.O.P. were not really alive to the truth that security is a precondition for freedom.)


The Republican Party, which still talks as if government were the biggest threat to choice, has lost touch with independent voters. Offered a choice between stale Democrats and stale Republicans, voters now choose Democrats, who at least talk about economic and domestic security.


Compassionate conservatism was an attempt to move beyond the “liberty vs. power” paradigm. But because it was never fleshed out and because the Congressional G.O.P. rejected the implant, a new Republican governing philosophy did not emerge.The party is going to have to make another run at it. As it does, it will have to shift mentalities. The “security leads to freedom” paradigm doesn’t end debate between left and right, it just engages on different ground. It is oriented less toward negative liberty (How can I get the government off my back?) and more toward positive liberty (Can I choose how to lead my life?).

Goldwater and Reagan were important leaders, but they’re not models for the future.

Well, it’s so nice to see one of conservatism’s leading intellectuals finally realize that small government just isn’t up to the task of watching our every move in order to keep us safe from the Scary Brown People. Don’t any of those lightweights at Cato know anything about child psychology? Jeez.

Hopefully politicians on both sides of the aisle will come to fully appreciate Brooks’ wisdom, and we will all be able to work and play and sleep easier, secure in the knowledge that someone is always looking after us. Maybe I can finally experience some of those things I’ve always wanted to try, like freeclimbing or sharkdiving or karaoke, but kept chickening out of due to my paralyzing but totally reasonable fear of terrorists.

Entry Filed under: Constitution,Media,Republicans,Terrorism,Wankers


  • 1. Charles  |  March 29th, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    There’s certainly nothing scarier than the thought of being taken hostage by Hezbollah while sharkdiving.

  • 2. Eli  |  March 29th, 2007 at 2:05 pm

    The Great Arab Sharks are the most deadly of all…

  • 3. charley  |  March 29th, 2007 at 2:44 pm

    this seems like a really good theme for a novel.

    ole brooksie, such a little smartie.

  • 4. Eli  |  March 29th, 2007 at 7:12 pm

    What, you mean a story about a man so paralyzed by his fear of terrorists that he can no longer exercise his free will?

    I dunno, it sounds kinda farfetched…

  • 5. Interrobang  |  March 29th, 2007 at 11:06 pm

    I don’t think the kind of “security” that was originally meant in the “security is a precondition of freedom” is the sort of security Kurtz thinks it is. It’s a lot easier to, say, change jobs if you have income security, for instance. It’s a lot easier to take risks if you have a social safety net. It’s a lot easier to be a productive member of society if your society respects your personal bodily autonomy… I have never yet met a conservative of the modern stripe who believed any of those things.

  • 6. Eli  |  March 29th, 2007 at 11:13 pm

    In fairness to Bobo, he *did* talk about economic security. But I think his main thrust was to contort conservatism’s supposed love of freedom in such a way as to justify… what the Bushies already happen to be doing.

    If he really cared about economic security, he sure as hell wouldn’t be propping up the Republicans.

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