National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr.Its been raging since Milton Friedman and Bill Buckley duked it out on Firing Line five decades ago.
Between Sohrab Ahmaris denunciations of David Frenchism, Adrian Vermeules murkily authoritarian common-good constitutionalism, and Patrick Deneens book-long broadside against the liberal tradition, much ink has been spilled about the emergent ideological fissures within American conservatism. But such debates are hardly new. In fact, theyve been going on for at least five decades.
All the way back in 1968, William F. Buckley Jr. published a little book called Gratitude. Subtitled Reflections On What We Owe To Our Country, the book was Buckleys attempt to propose a Switzerland-style national-service program for Americas youth, born out of his concern that the younger generation lacked responsibility and patriotism. No doubt fully aware of the controversy that his proposal would ignite among many of his fellow travelers on the political right, Buckley wrote:
The conviction of some conservatives that the state cant have a genuine, non-predatory interest in the cultivation of virtue strikes me as an anarchical accretion in modern conservative thought, something that grew from too humorless a reading of such spirited individualists as Albert Jay Nock and H.L. Mencken. . . . National service, if transformed merely into a state bureaucracy with huge powers of intimidation, is not only to be avoided, but to be fought. But we can open our minds to something other than a statist program, or one that lodges in the state the kind of power conservatives have been taught, at great historical expense, to husband for social uses.
So conscious was Buckley of the ire that his argument would provoke from the libertarian faction of the conservative coalition, he wrote an entire chapter entitled Anticipating the Libertarian Argument. Despite his support for free markets, he begrudgingly acknowledged the limitations of economic liberty. The deep wellsprings of patriotism are fed by other forces, and these do not leave fingerprints in the market, he wrote. They must be investigated by the use of entirely different instruments.
This is similar to a view that many of the more market-skeptical Burkean traditionalists have expressed in contemporary intra-conservative debates: the idea that the state has a vested interest in protecting and even proactively nurturing our civic institutions, placing some aspects of our cultural inheritance beyond the reach of the creative destruction that is inherent to any dynamic liberal society. Its a view that stems from a particular concern for what Buckley called connections between the individual and the community beyond those that relate either to the state or to the marketplace.
As Buckley expected, many prominent libertarians remained unconvinced by his ambitious case for a national-service program. Milton Friedman, the great padrino of classical liberalism and an old friend of Buckleys, was particularly upset by the proposal. In a now-famous Firing Line debate between the two, Friedman thundered: I am absolutely astounded that you, of all people, use the English language the way that you use it. Theres nothing voluntary about your program. . . . My God, whats happened to you?
Though it only lasted for about 25 minutes, the BuckleyFriedman debate crystallized the tug of war between common-good and liberty-minded conservatives that continues to this day. Friedman was the strident individualist, deeply suspicious of central planning and instinctually indignant at the prospect of expanding coercive state power. He denounced Buckleys organismic, collectivist philosophy, and, striking a characteristically Lockean tone, argued that our society is a collection of individuals who join together to achieve their common purposes, and the state is simply a mechanism through which they achieve their common purposes. Buckley, by contrast, argued that a decline in the collective virtue and patriotic duty of a people was a serious problem that could not be solved by private action alone. He shot back at Friedman that society is not a meaningless term, but rather a vehicle which will continue to protect your sons and mine, and that we have therefore an interest in the shape of.
This should all sound familiar to students of the contemporary rights internecine wars. Buckleys proposal of a national-service program that would act as a government-run promoter of good character was anathema to Friedman, who argued that the whole system of private enterprise itself functions as voluntary national service, using the terms correctly. A similar debate is occurring in our current moment: Some contemporary conservative thinkers have argued that, in our increasingly atomized and individualistic culture, the state must be more aggressive in promoting virtue, order, and the common good. Others, echoing Friedman, counter that liberty is the common good, at least insofar as the role of government is concerned.
For conservatives in both 1968 and today, the fundamental question remains the same: In a free society, how far should the state go in exercising its coercive powers to ensure positive outcomes for society? I object to it strenuously, Friedman said of such state action. I think its one of the typical cases of some people who think they know whats good for other people. Buckley, meanwhile, argued that some state action is justified by the necessity for virtuous citizenry.
It is worth noting, of course, that the two men agreed on the vast majority of political issues. Both understood themselves as advocating for freedom, republican democracy, a flourishing civil society, and a virtuous, self-governing people. The fiery nature of their debate was largely borne out of the fact that they understood themselves as being on the same side, and were thus upset at what they saw as the others betrayal of a shared vision.
Now more than ever, conservatives must take care to keep sight of what we share, however many contentious feuds may erupt over what we dont. Buckley and Friedman remain a great model of how to maintain a persistently deep friendship despite vehement disagreements. In the closing seconds of their storied 1968 debate, the two intellectual giants even flashed sheepish grins at each other. When the fight was over, there was a palpable exhalation throughout the television studio though they had been energetic rivals mere minutes before, the two men were companions once again. The lights began to dim, and the Firing Line music signaled the end of another episode.
Okay, Buckley smiled at Friedman. Ill see you in Alta, Milton.
- Ranking the top 50 Liberty football players of all time: 50-41 - A Sea of Red - June 22nd, 2020
- We Can Find Common Ground on Gay Rights and Religious Liberty - The New York Times - June 22nd, 2020
- Two Liberty football players cite racial insensitivity in decision to transfer - ESPN - June 22nd, 2020
- Police: Man scratched an expletive on the replica of Liberty Bell at the Idaho Statehouse - KTVB.com - June 22nd, 2020
- The True Extent of Religious Liberty in America, Explained - The Dispatch - June 22nd, 2020
- Tolsma reflects on legacy, accomplishments in lengthy career at Liberty - Lynchburg News and Advance - June 22nd, 2020
- I Suppressed So Much of My Humanity in Being Here - Slate - June 22nd, 2020
- Liberty Kitchen's virtual dinner brings questions of race, inclusion in New Orleans to the table - NOLA.com - June 22nd, 2020
- Liberty Leaf to Acquire Nova Mentis Biotech Corp. - Liberty Leaf Augments Portfolio with Entrance into the Emerging Psilocybin Therapy Market - Yahoo... - June 22nd, 2020
- Man charged in connection with Liberty kidnapping, robbery - KCTV Kansas City - June 22nd, 2020
- Liberty Oilfield Services Inc. (LBRT) the Stock that gain 10.25% this week! - The News Heater - June 22nd, 2020
- What Liberty Meant to the Pilgrims - National Review - June 22nd, 2020
- Time to give liberty and justice to all - Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel - June 22nd, 2020
- Independence opens newly constructed section of Liberty Playground - cleveland.com - June 22nd, 2020
- Liberty University Commit Jony Munoz Named 2019-20 Gatorade National Boys Soccer Player of the Year - SoccerNation.com - June 22nd, 2020
- Stewart: Amid protests and reform, we truly need 'liberty and justice for all' - Standard-Examiner - June 22nd, 2020
- This day in sports: Sparks fall to Liberty in WNBA's first game in 1997 - Yahoo News - June 22nd, 2020
- Heres Some Upbeat Coverage of the Philadelphia Parade That Became a Super-Spreader Event During the 1918 Flu Pandemic - Slate - June 22nd, 2020
- Liberty University President defends keeping the school open amid the coronavirus pandemic - - KUSI - May 22nd, 2020
- Liberty Media's John Malone still believes in the future of live events despite coronavirus - CNBC - May 22nd, 2020
- Liberty's Top 5 DBs of all-time - A Sea of Red - May 22nd, 2020
- Dryville Hotel being converted to Liberty at Dryville | Berks Regional News - 69News WFMZ-TV - May 22nd, 2020
- Liberty recruit Merritt 'going to come in and work hard' - Lynchburg News and Advance - May 22nd, 2020
- PHS' Kyle Moore headed to West Liberty | News, Sports, Jobs - Parkersburg News - May 22nd, 2020
- Liberty Arena targeted for early October completion - Lynchburg News and Advance - May 22nd, 2020
- UConn's Kelly (Schumacher) Raimon took a winding path to a WNBA coaching job with the Liberty - Minneapolis Star Tribune - May 22nd, 2020
- 17-year-old charged with burglary in Liberty - Bluebonnet News - May 22nd, 2020
- Liberty in the Time of Corona - publicseminar.org - May 22nd, 2020
- West Liberty to conduct its own ball season - Bellefontaine Examiner - May 22nd, 2020
- Liberty London | Designer Department Store | Luxury Brands ... - May 19th, 2020
- Best Banks in Connecticut | Liberty Bank - May 19th, 2020
- Mill Creek, Liberty rated as CLAS School of Distinction - The Madison Record - themadisonrecord.com - May 19th, 2020
- Liberty and Liberty North celebrate class of 2020 with two graduation parades through town - fox4kc.com - May 19th, 2020
- State Supreme Courts Stand Up for Economic Liberty While SCOTUS Falls Down on the Job - Reason - May 19th, 2020
- Department of Labor Strengthens Religious Liberty Protections for Faith-Based Organizations Partnering with Government - GlobeNewswire - May 19th, 2020
- Sabrina Ionescu should have been dazzling loyal Liberty fans at Barclays this weekend - Yahoo Sports - May 19th, 2020
- Remember When: Liberty and Palace theaters compete with Tarzan films - Lancaster Eagle Gazette - May 19th, 2020
- NJ police do the right thing for liberty at gym that opened up (Opinion) - New Jersey 101.5 FM Radio - May 19th, 2020
- Benjamin Constant's Writing Reaffirms the Value of Ancient Liberty - City Journal - May 19th, 2020
- Still standing at 70: Here's the story behind Tulsa's Statue of Liberty - Tulsa World - May 19th, 2020
- Liberty athletics notebook: Maine pitcher DeLaite transferring to LU; Byron to honor duo at Coca-Cola 600 - Lynchburg News and Advance - May 19th, 2020
- Opinion: Five steps to protect public health, regain trust and ensure liberty - The Detroit News - May 19th, 2020
- C&I Live Tweet: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance on INSP - Cowboys and Indians - May 19th, 2020
- Andy McCarthy: 'Burden of proof' is on government to show why 'liberty' must be taken - Fox News - April 27th, 2020
- Letter: Personal liberty doesnt give you the right to endanger others - Deseret News - April 27th, 2020
- Liberty versus the virus | Diana Barshaw - The Times of Israel - April 27th, 2020
- Liberty Center man to be released from Marion prison - Sentinel-Tribune - April 27th, 2020
- Group Conversion Therapy And Its Aftermath At Liberty University - rvamag.com - April 27th, 2020
- The real problem with the manufactured coronavirus liberty protests - Seattle Times - April 27th, 2020
- Liberty University's Board of Trustees should remove Jerry Falwell Jr as the school's president - LGBTQ Nation - April 27th, 2020
- Stephen Sings officially signs with Liberty - A Sea of Red - April 27th, 2020
- Beloved Liberty coach Jesse Woods remembered for life of giving - Chron - April 27th, 2020
- Letter to the editor: Destruction of life, liberty, happiness - TribLIVE - April 27th, 2020
- Coronavirus has led to the erosion of religious liberty - White Mountain Independent - April 27th, 2020
- Former Liberty WR Antonio Gandy-Golden ready to hear his name called in NFL Draft - Lynchburg News and Advance - April 27th, 2020
- Why the New York Liberty sent so many front office staff to watch Sabrina Ionescu, how they plan to use the f - OregonLive - April 27th, 2020
- 'Liberty and freedom' | Other counties say they will not require masks like Harris County, Houston - KHOU.com - April 27th, 2020
- A Second Amendment Challenge in the Green Mountain State - Cato Institute - April 27th, 2020
- 'Freedom and liberty to work' rally is canceled; or is it? - Martha's Vineyard Times - April 27th, 2020
- Liberty Health Sciences Announces Expansion of its Cannabis Brand Portfolio - Yahoo Finance - April 24th, 2020
- Deja Gaston and Alex Murphy: Coronavirus protesters demand 'liberty' at the expense of the rest of us - Salt Lake Tribune - April 24th, 2020
- $2.11 $2.37: is It Good Range to Buy Liberty TripAdvisor Holdings, Inc. (LTRPA)? - The News Heater - April 24th, 2020
- Lansdales Liberty Bell Trail Named Region Project Of The Year - Montgomeryville, PA Patch - April 24th, 2020
- Connecting Liberty Lake ready to help: Citys volunteers wait for calls from those in need - The Spokesman-Review - April 24th, 2020
- Rallying for the 'freedom and liberty to work' - Martha's Vineyard Times - April 24th, 2020
- Is One Liberty Properties, Inc.'s (NYSE:OLP) ROE Of 6.4% Impressive? - Yahoo Finance - April 24th, 2020
- Liberty end up with 4 of top 12 picks after draft-night deals - ESPN - April 24th, 2020
- Yes, government can restrict your liberty to protect public health - Los Angeles Times - April 24th, 2020
- Carnival Liberty | Deck Plans, Activities & Sailings ... - March 31st, 2020
- Liberty AV Solutions - Your Best Source for Pro AV ... - March 31st, 2020
- Liberty University to offer $1,000 credit to students who leave dorms by Saturday because of coronavirus - Richmond.com - March 31st, 2020
- Falwell says concerns about students returning to Liberty University are overblown - CNN - March 31st, 2020
- Two COVID-19 cases confirmed aboard Liberty of the Seas - Galveston County Daily News - March 31st, 2020
- KHS grad Robinson had found a spot on NCAA Tournament-bound Liberty - Kearney Hub - March 31st, 2020
- Fire Oak Distillery in Liberty Hill has produced nearly 600 gallons of sanitizer for Williamson County first responders, community - Community Impact... - March 31st, 2020
- History's Headlines: The Liberty Bell stopped here - 69News WFMZ-TV - March 31st, 2020
- Liberty urged to help smaller F1 teams survive shutdown - RACER - March 31st, 2020
- Liberty - IMDb - March 26th, 2020
- Jerry Falwell, Liberty Universitys choice to stay open during coronavirus, explained - Vox.com - March 26th, 2020
- Thousands of Liberty students expected to return to campus amid coronavirus outbreak - Richmond.com - March 26th, 2020