by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Paul Jossey does a decent job with a Federalist column of comparing Nazis’ political views to those of contemporary leftists, without making the common rhetorical mistake of equating current ideological foes to World War II-era German leaders.
Even if you bristle at the use of “Nazi” in any discussion that involves today’s political debate, you might find value in Jossey’s description of changing political labels.
This debate incurs the instant problem of ideological labels. They are malleable and messy, and partisans constantly distort them. They also change over time. President Trump’s particular political brand muddies the scene further, in rhetoric if less in policy.
“Conservative” and especially “liberal” have changed over time and have different meanings in the United States and Europe. Hayek himself, who had a more European view of conservatism, was wary of labels. He spurned both “conservative” and “libertarian,” and dedicated his most famous book “to the socialists of all parties.”
For precision, I refrain from using “conservative” or “liberal” unless through quotation and use “left” and “right” as generally accepted in modern America. The right consists of free-market capitalists, who think the individual is the primary political unit, believes in property rights, and are generally distrustful of government by unaccountable agencies and government solutions to social problems. They view family and civil institutions, such as church, as needed checks on state power.
These people don’t think government should force a business to provide employee birth control or think law should coerce bakers to make cakes against their conscience. They think the solution to bad speech is more speech, and the solution to gun violence is more guns. These people talk about freedom—the method of individual decisions. (The counterexample might be gay marriage but that is a positive right—“give me something”—instead of a negative right—“leave me alone.”)