Turncoats, Converts, Apostates, i.e., Ex-Liberals – Via InstaPundit I found Brad De Long’s post on the four methods by which libs, lefties, or neo-libs are “seduced” by the wackos on the right. This was also linked by ELECTROLITE, which has by far the better comments.
Of course, to say that former liberals have been “seduced” over to the right implies that normal, rational people are naturally at home on the left. Saying they are “seduced” into leaving has the added benefit of implying that they have weak wills and generally low character. How satisfying that must be for the De Longs who are still on de liberal plantation.
Here’s another theory, or maybe even meta-theory, of why some liberals have become ex-liberals that I will float before you, sort of a slow pitch to see if it gets the stuffings knocked out of it before I try it anywhere else.
Over the course of the 20th Century there have been several Great Migrations from left to right. The best known one is “The God That Failed” generation of ex-communists who became anti-communists. Somewhat similar were the hard-line Cold War Democrats who moved right when the Democratic Party, largely as a result of Vietnam, abandoned its anti-communism (or at least that’s what the Scoop Jackson/Jean Kirkpatrick Democrats et. al. charged on their way out the door).
I’m not talking about either of those left -> right migrations. If I stick with my theory I may return to them and try to work them in. For now I’m talking about three distinct waves of liberal emigrants to conservative shores who were sent on their way by domestic concerns.
1. Liberalism in the U.S. had its roots in Jeffersonian/Jacksonian agrarianism and hostility to a strong central government. This began to change at the end of the 19th Century when the Populists urged greater governmental activism; the corner was turned in the Progressive period when many liberals turned to Hamiltonian means to achieve Jeffersonian ends (as Herbert Croly, early New Republic editor, put it); and the conversion was made complete by the New Deal. At the core of this transformation were the twin themes of a) the sanctity of private property and b) the propriety of governmental regulation. For liberals on this transforming course, “a” waned as “b” waxed. Many liberals, however, got off the train. Unable to stomach the Hamiltonian means (strong central government, regulatory agencies, discretion displacing clear rules, etc.), they remained Jeffersonian, and became conservative.
2. From the 1830s through the 1960s people who opposed slavery, segregation, and discrimination were firmly committed to the principle of colorblindness, i.e., that everyone should be treated “without regard” to race, ethnicity, religion. Indeed, this principle was widely regarded as the most fundamental of American core values, what Gunnar Myrdal called “The American Creed.” Then, in what historically was the blink of an eye at the end of the 1960s, most liberals abandoned that principle and adopted “race-conscious” remedies as necessary to achieve racial equality. Again, many now former liberals were unable to make that change and either were ex-communicated from the church of liberalism or converted to a form of conservatism on their own. (IMPORTANT NOTE: I am making no argument here about the propriety of any of these transformations; I am merely noting that they occurred. How and why this one occurred, along with a discussion of its pros and cons, is the subject of an, er, longer work in progress.)
3. From John Stuart Mill on one of the central commitments of liberalism was to free speech. Insofar as American liberals have had a religion, one of its central tenets had always been the sanctity of the First Amendment’s free speech protections. In the late 20th Century, however, much of mainstream liberalism turned away from that formerly firm conviction. Feminists favored laws against pornography. Civil rights advocates favored punishment of hate speech. Campaign finance law reformers even favored limitations on political speech, and leading liberal academics (Owen Fiss at Yale, Cass Sunstein at Chicago) began to argue that the speech of some should be limited so that the speech of others could be enhanced. And once again, many who had thought of themselves as liberal were not able to negotiate this transition and began to feel uncomfortable in their now not-so-familiar political surroundings. More conservatives were created.
It’s interesting to note that all three of these conservative-creating transformations involved liberals moving to regulate an area that had formerly been regarded as off limits to government regulation: private property, race (using racial preferences to accomplish “diversity” is, among other things, the regulation of the race/ethnicity “market”), speech. None required “seduction.” All involved newly minted conservatives getting off a train that, in their view, changed destinations and in so doing went around the bend.