Review: Progressive Conservatism: How Republicans Will Become America’s Natural Governing Party
Progressive Conservatism: How Republicans Will Become America’s Natural Governing Party
by F.H. Buckley
Encounter Books, 2022; 254 pp.
Frank Buckley is always a thoughtful and provocative author, but I disagree with what he has to say in Progressive Conservatism more than with other books of his I’ve reviewed, such as his outstanding American Secession and Curiosity (see my review here).
In the present book, he defends a “national conservatism” and is critical of laissez-faire capitalism, though he does not dismiss it entirely. Whether he is correct that the program he favors is the “winning strategy” for the Republican Party I do not presume to say: he knows far more about such things than I do. Despite his rejection of the complete free market, his concrete proposals often manifest great economic insight and his criticisms of the contemporary Left are forceful and effective. I propose to begin, though, by asking why it is that Buckley differs from the Rothbardian position I deem correct.
The answer, it seems to me, is that Buckley reposes much less confidence in philosophical reasoning when applied to politics and economics than do Rothbardians, who endeavor to derive a legal code based on natural law. Buckley is unsympathetic to natural law and says of it,
There are several difficulties with natural law theories, however, beginning with the leap from what is to what ought to be the case. If we have natural preferences, that doesn’t tell us that they’re the ones we ought to have. By nature, we can be greedy and selfish, so calling something natural doesn’t tell us it’s a good instinct. And if all you meant by saying something is natural is that it’s a good thing to do, labels like “natural” and “unnatural” are wheels that turn nothing…. More recent thinkers, such as John Finnis, try to sidestep the is-ought problem by identifying natural law with rational egoism and the idea that our practical reason will direct us to choose those goods that are best for us. This has come to be called New Natural Law…. But NNL fails to explain why we should sacrifice ourselves for others w
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