Even if one disagrees with the authors of Selfish Libertarians and Social Conservatives, they have provided a scholarly model for how the media and academia should act: in calmness, in restraint, but also with open vigor and manliness…
Selfish Libertarians and Socialist Conservatives?: The Foundations of the Libertarian-Conservative Debate by Nikolai Wenzel and Nate Schlueter (Stanford University Press, 2017)
For several years now, two of my brilliant colleagues (and all-around great guys), Nate Schlueter and Nikolai G. Wenzel, have been debating, discussing, and wrangling over what it means to be a libertarian and/or a conservative. Which is a better fit for humanity? Which is a better fit for the American republic? And, what is the actual difference between the two? They have debated this topic in team-taught classes, in their respective offices, and over fine meals and even better drink. Finally, in a wise move, they wrote out their debates formally and published them with the mighty and prestigious Stanford University Press. Copyrighted 2017, Selfish Libertarians and Socialist Conservatives?: The Foundations of the Libertarian-Conservative Debate is now available for your own enjoyment, and, frankly, it is a must-own, especially for anyone serious about being non-ideological in this whirligig of insanity and violence we call the post-modern world.
Squaring off with each other, Dr. Schulueter takes the conservative side (as readers of The Imaginative Conservative well know) and Dr. Wenzel, the libertarian. Trained as a University of Dallas Straussian, Dr. Schlueter, surprisingly, avoids citing the typical Straussian pantheon and offers a broad conservatism in his chapters. Trained as a Hayekian, Dr. Wenzel remains more true to his roots, citing the Austrians frequently. Throughout, however, evidence that each man is an advocate of the liberal arts, the Great Books, and the western tradition shines through in each of the arguments presented. No mere stuffy academics, these two men are truly fine writers and thinkers.
In some ways, one might be tempted to scratch his head in frustration, however, when first looking at the seeming Manichean nature of the book. The chapters: What is Conservatism by Dr. Schlueter; What is Libertarianism by Dr. Wenzel; What’s Wrong with Conservatism by Dr. Wenzel; What’s Wrong with Libertarianism by Dr. Schlueter; Libertarian Case Studies by Dr. Wenzel; and Conservative Case Studies by Dr. Schueleter. Each, then, provides a respective conclusion. Let the head-messing schizophrenia commence! Or, at the very least, a bit of whiplash.
Actually, not at all.
The two men know each other so well that they are able to make this duel not only work, but they are able to make it work exceedingly well. Though in opposition to one another, there’s nothing but love and appreciation for each other and for their respective ideas in this book. Frankly, it’s a model book in this world of news screechings, diverted and incoherent personal and bitter ramblings, and incoherent emotions spread across the media, throughout our schools, and across popular culture. Even if one disagrees with the authors of Selfish Libertarians and Social Conservatives, they have provided a scholarly model for how the media and academia should act: in calmness, in restraint, but also with open vigor and manliness.
If any of the book’s contents surprised me—again, I know each of the authors very well—it is that Dr. Schlueter almost always falls back on his own arguments as an authority, in and of itself. Typically, I think of conservatism as conserving the great minds and personalities of the past, enshrining their varied contributions to our current understanding of humanity. Russell Kirk (who is barely mentioned in the book) provided the model with The Conservative Mind, enshrining the best thought of seemingly contradictory individualism while noting the coherent argument, one person to the next.
At the same time, I tend to think of libertarianism as much less willing to cite authorities, relying, instead, on the logic and rationality of the libertarian in question while also employing a variety of various theories and thought experiments. The opposite is true in this work. The footnotes especially reveal that Dr. Wenzel is far more willing to draw upon a sort of libertarian hagiography, a pantheon of intellectual giants such as Hayek and Ludwig von Mises.
When Dr. Schlueter does cite an authority, he tends to turn toward Catholic philosophers and social thinkers such as St. Thomas and Alasdair MacIntyre.
If I have any disappointment with the book—and it’s a minor complaint—it’s that the two authors have, when dealing with the present, largely ignored some of the major figures currently writing on the essence of libertarianism and conservatism. So, there are no (or very few) references to Richard Gamble, the Front Porch Republicans, the Imaginative Conservatives, Carl Olson, Dan McCarthy, Steve Hayward, Frank Beckwith, Jim Otteson, or any of the writers for Pileus. There are also very few neo-cons here. Some great Bleeding Heart Libertarians such as Steve Horwitz make appearances in the book, but they alone seem to represent the best of 2017 thought. While this did not fatally detract in any major way from the book, it did leave me curious as to what the two authors are thinking. At one level, they might have been simply going only for the essentials. At another level, though, I fear that the two authors have given up on the future, believing only the moment, here and now, matters, thus drawing only upon a few who have led us to this point.
Regardless, this is a minor criticism and one that could easily be rectified in a second edition.
For now, enjoy Selfish Libertarians and Socialist Conservatives for what it is: an excellent and cohesive series of essays dealing with two of the most important concepts and ideas of our early twenty-first-century world. As stated above, these two authors are not just fine men, but they are, importantly, superb writers and thinkers, and they deserve the consideration and support of every Imaginative Conservative.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.