9780804139724You’ve doubtless heard — perhaps even participated in — debates about what conservatives and Republicans need to do to win national elections in the future, especially after consecutive presidential losses to Barack Obama.

Charles C.W. Cooke of National Review makes his book-length contribution to the debate with The Conservatarian Manifesto: Libertarians, Conservatives, and the Fight for the Right’s Future. (He’ll discuss key elements from the book Monday with the John Locke Foundation’s Shaftesbury Society.)

There’s much to like about Cooke’s book. But first, a caveat: A better title would have been A Conservatarian Manifesto or This Conservatarian’s Manifesto.

Those expecting Cooke to spend much of his time setting out competing libertarian and conservative arguments about the issues of the day, then either choosing between them or trying to forge some sort of consensus position, will be disappointed. Nowhere is this more apparent than in a chapter devoted to constitutional law. Cooke takes the “judicial restraint” side of the right-of-center debate (quoting its chief expositor, Robert Bork) and spends no time addressing libertarians’ vocal advocacy of judicial engagement to protect individual liberty. Given the high-profile nature of this right-of-center split in recent years, it’s an interesting omission.

But the fact that Cooke focuses more on his own preferences than on sifting through competing conservative and libertarian arguments shouldn’t cause readers to bypass this volume. His analysis proves thought-provoking, often witty, and certainly enlightening about the types of positions a younger, libertarian-oriented conservative is likely to take as 21st-century political debates continue in the years ahead.

Take, for instance, Cooke’s assessment of the American military’s role in the world. It’s a topic that often divides conservatives and libertarians.

Rather than questioning America’s role in the world, reformers within the conservative movement would do better to put their criticism to more moderate and constructive use. Just as crucial as ensuring that the United States does not mistake the keeping of order for nation building is ensuring that the military is not permitted to get away with a carte blanche approach to spending and management that would be humored in no other part of the government. Pro-military conservatives who simultaneously agitate for small government and substantial defense spending are sometimes characterized as being hypocrites, the typical taunt being that the Right likes federal spending and centrally directed organizations when it suits them. This, I think, is a silly brief. By its very nature, the military is unique, and its advocates are correct to note that it is by far the most important of all the functions that the federal government performs, not simply because the United States serves as the linchpin of the global order but because — philosophically and constitutionally — defending the realm is the primary reason that the federal government exists in the first place. Where one can make a compelling case for the distribution of welfare at the local and state levels — or, indeed, through nongovernmental institutions such as charities and churches — one will struggle to assemble an argument against a single, national, government-run military. We could take substantial strides toward a more robust federal system, and we would still end up with one, and not fifty, armies.

For more on Charles C.W. Cooke’s conservatarian analysis of issues such as foreign policy, guns, drugs, the “social issues,” and immigration, be sure to make plans to attend his May 18 speech to the John Locke Foundation’s Shaftesbury Society.