Last week, I conducted a Twitter poll asking a simple question: Does American conservatism require some level of belief in capitalism and free markets?
With 434 votes cast, 79.5% said yes — an overwhelming supermajority that would melt the brains of NCPOL journos if it were Republican General Assembly election results.
What does this anecdote tell us in general? It tells us what should be obvious: American conservatism cannot and should not be divorced from capitalism and free enterprise.
Most conservatives and Republicans would agree with this and be rightly confused about anyone on the right who suggested differently. However, there is a new wave – a New Right — emerging in the conservative movement and manifesting within populist wings of the GOP who believe the state should have more control in managing and planning the economy. They adopt left-wing progressive views on economics and regulation, among other policy areas.
The New Right seemingly forms a new brand of authoritarian fusionism, where the horseshoe between the progressive left and populist right connects.
However, while not totally buying into the extremes of the New Right, Republicans have sometimes lost the philosophical “gut-check” on free-market principles.
We see this manifest in policies across the nation that increase government regulation or broadens the scope of government, expand government handouts, work around anti-trust laws, pick “winners and losers” within the private sector to subsidize with taxpayer money, and attack corporations deemed political adversaries.
The American right has never formed a coalition around or believed in anarcho-capitalism. Rather, in the spirit of F.A. Hayek, Frank S. Meyer, and William F. Buckley, American conservatives have generally accepted a partially mixed economy, where free-market capitalism forms the primary ingredients in the mix, and the scope of government has a limited impact and role.
Even though the majority of Republicans in power at the state and federal levels are not all fully embracing the New Right’s desire to slouch towards socialism — to which we can all be collectively grateful — wielding the powerful arms of government, especially the power of the purse in legislative bodies, can create complacency and blind us from the economic and governing principles we know work best.
The government should protect the space for capitalism to flourish, not engage as a venture capital firm. It should protect the public from unjustified and mischievous monopolies, not become one. The market should decide winners and losers in the private sector, not the government. The right using the power of the state to suppress woke corporations creates a dangerous precedent for when the pendulum of power shifts and the left sees it as part of the “common good” to suppress Christian small business owners.
Principles must prevail over partisanship and power.
We are in a serious cultural battle against the woke left; there is no denying it. However, conservatives have long known that these cultural battles are only won when virtue is self-actuated and chosen, not coerced and forced. Persuasion and evangelizing are our means, not the strong arm of the state. Virtue requires one to embrace it fully within their heart. Like Burke’s “little platoons,” we best do this locally and within our cultural institutions, especially in our families, neighborhoods, churches, and community organizations.
Economic freedom works much in the same way. Just as we cannot experience, as a citizenry, authentic virtue when it is coercive, we cannot experience true economic freedom when it is coerced through central planning.
The political order of this nation embraces free enterprise. Conservatives have stood as the prudential checks and balances on progressivism’s overreach since the New Deal. Republicans and moderate Democrats must form a coalition to keep this in check, but it is especially important for conservatives in power not to leave these economic principles at the door of caucus rooms.