If you read longtime Colorado writer Ari Armstrong, you know he swims in conservative circles, but he’s frustrated with liberals and conservatives. He’s an outspoken proponent of abortion rights and drug legalization, for example, but he also opposes, generally, progressive government do-good programs. He doggedly tries to apply a logical philosophical framework to the stuff he advocates.
So you’re not surprised to find him as the author of the book Reclaiming Liberalism: And Other Essays on Personal and Economic Freedom.
Armstrong is uber uncomfortable with the current conception of “conservatism” and “liberalism,” as he should be, because he’s caught in the middle, or on the right side of the middle.
He writes that liberals and conservatives lack a “logical coherence of beliefs about ideology or policy,” and they “often engage in ad-hoc rationalization rather than true reasoning about their beliefs.”
He bemoans conservatives who ”pragmatically embrace a huge array of statist measures,” and he wants to create a version of “liberalism” that fits his own ideology, a liberalism that would mostly reflect the logic of libertarianism, without a libertarian’s “animosity” toward bare-bones government. But, still, minimal state intervention is essentially his litmus test for acceptable policy.
So he wants to steal my liberal flag and fly it himself, leaving me in the lurch, like he is now.
But I’m more or less happy with the internal logic of “liberalism,” as it’s broadly understood today—as a utilitarian set of policies that promote opportunity for individuals. (I’d tweak liberalism to be more statist and less politically correct and identity driven, but I’m broadly ok with it.)
Liberal policies shouldn’t always maximize personal freedom, because as a practical matter, this would come at the expense of liberty and opportunity for all, especially the disadvantaged.
From Armstrong’s perspective, liberalism today is inconsistent, favoring nasty restrictions on individual liberty in some cases (gun regulations, smoking bans, welfare, minimum wage, corporate restraints) while standing up for them in too few (abortion rights, speech, press).
But the core flaw with Armstrong’s readable, clear, and challenging book of essays (highly recommended) is that, as long as you accept that government should have any power at all, and Armstrong is willing to allow government to “protect individual rights,” liberalism and conservatism, even as defined by Armstrong, will never be completely logical philosophically. They will both require inconsistencies.
In fact, at the end of the day, as a practical matter, a guy who’s as free thinking as Armstrong won’t ever be satisfied with the rational basis for groupings of policies (liberalism or conservatism) advocated by politicians who have to deal with the real world.
Bottom line, my advice for Armstrong is to give up trying to reclaim liberalism. He should chill out and accept his position as an outlier, a rogue in the conservative shark tank. Or better yet, he should jump out of the infested water and join me in my liberal tent. He’s welcome there.