‘Why Conservatives Should Love AOC’

Transpartisan Note #113

by A. Lawrence Chickering and James S. Turner

We are pleased to publish an extraordinary article by our colleague Ralph Benko on four ‘right wing nuts’ who love Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC).  They are: Steve Bannon, who sees in her ‘”gameness” or competitive heart—the combination of grit, determination, fighting spirit that you can’t coach’; ‘Dilbert’ creator Scott Adams, who called Trump’s election because (per Politico) he ‘had mastered the principles of hypnosis’, and gave AOC A+ ‘on her persuasion skills in a tweet’; himself as the fourth, with the third being a ‘young, conservative Jedi’, ‘my cautious protégé’.

He relies on the great libertarian F.A. Hayek (The Road to Serfdom) to explain what libertarians might learn from socialists.  Hayek focuses on the importance of socialists’ ‘visionary character’.  ‘[T]he very courage to indulge in Utopian thought,’ Hayek writes, ‘is . . . a source of strength to the socialists which traditional liberalism sadly lacks [italics added].’  Benko adds: ‘[C]arping on the impracticality of AOC’s sweeping agenda [is] possibly fatal’ to the conservative cause.

Benko’s tribute to AOC follows: ‘[W]ith her “grit, determination, fighting spirit,“ her “visionary character“ and “courage to indulge in Utopian thought“ is by her character – not by her socialism – a beacon of human dignity and liberty.’  Benko thus celebrates Hayek a libertarian icon for the insight that libertarians (the Freedom Right) need to move beyond their quadrant and embrace the visionary idealism of some on the socialist (Order) left.

When Hayek laments that traditional liberalism ‘sadly lacks’ an idealistic vision, he highlights the transpartisan truth that the Freedom Right quadrant is a partial truth, which needs a vision of the higher good—a vision from the Order Left—to be complete.

Milton Friedman, another libertarian icon, made the same point differently and left room for idealistic vision.  He often said he thought the Israeli kibbutzim are a ‘triumph of capitalism’ because they are ‘freely-chosen’.  Since he obviously knew that many socialists also regard the kibbutzim as a triumph of socialism, he implicitly was acknowledging overlapping, transpartisan idealisms.

Irving Kristol, who was not a libertarian, once wrote a book called Two Cheers for Capitalism, making the same point positively: his missing ‘cheer’ was the lack of any higher vision.  (No wonder some libertarians dismissed him as a socialist.)

All three stopped short of affirming the transpartisan logic that to understand what is really ‘true’ requires recognizing that each quadrant is true but incomplete.   To be complete, the Freedom quadrants need a vision of the higher good from the Order quadrants, and the Order quadrants need a vision of Freedom from the Freedom quadrants.  The three ‘conservative’ thinkers above reveal how the terms of discourse lock partisans into separate quadrants—here, both the Freedom Right and Order Right.  The real challenge is to articulate integration of all quadrants so their integrated potential is recognized in the real world.

The left has a similar split.  For example on the issue of climate change climate activists like Ocasio-Cortez and Washington State Governor and Presidential Candidate Jay Inslee attack the Democratic establishment climate position expressed by former Vice President and Presidential Candidate Joe Biden as too little too late.  (For a detailed summary of their ‘argument’, see ‘Why Jay Inslee picked a fight with Joe Biden on climate change’, by David Roberts, Vox, August 2, 2019.)

Roberts summarizes the intra-Democratic Party debate as ‘It’s not about long-term targets; it’s about short-term commitment.’  More precisely, the Democratic climate argument walks around the issue of how much of people’s behavior should be ordered by government and how much freedom to choose should government leave to people.

Roberts says ‘Democrats have never really grappled with the details of aggressive, short-term climate policy.  And because the unbroken wall of Republican opposition makes substantial federal climate policy impossible anyway and perpetually holds the debate to the remedial “is it real” level, Democrats never really get called on it.’  Until now, as power hovers within their grasp.

From our transpartisan perspective, we see the Democratic climate policy debate (like many other Democratic Party policy debates) taking place primarily in the order left quadrant – how much can government make people do?  On many issues the Democratic Party seems locked into the Order Left quadrant, struggling to acknowledge the importance of the Freedom Quadrants.  Failing to acknowledge the other quadrants cripples the Order Left’s vision for empowering the disempowered.  This failing explains more than anything why so many policy interventions for the disadvantaged fail – because without a vision of the role for freedom, they disempower the materially poor and consign them to permanent economic dependency.

One Democratic voice, Marianne Williamson’s, speaks of ‘healing the soul of American’ in tones that resonate with the Freedom Quadrants.  This may help explain why Dana Milbank, a left-leaning columnist for The Washington Post wrote ‘Democrats Should Listen to Williamson’ and conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote ‘Marianne Williamson Knows How to Beat Trump: We need an uprising of decency.’

When Hayek lamented that traditional liberalism lacks any idealistic vision of a higher good, he could have added that the same can also be said about the Order Left, which seems to lack real understanding of the role that Freedom must play in an idealistic vision.  True idealism is believing that free people will choose the good.  Two ingredients are necessary to realize idealism: freedom and a vision of the higher good.

Hayek’s comment, however, highlights the widespread belief among most conservatives [both freedom and order] that their only role—as Wm. Buckley famously said—is to say to the left: ‘STOP!’  Affirming the FREEDOM RIGHT quadrant is essential for conservatives to see a role for themselves in any positive vision of the future.  For the left, with its tendency to say ‘wrong’ to any conservative idea, affirming the other quadrants would give its vision operational force.

Freedom is the soul of America.  Order is the talent of America – we ‘make things’.  Integrating Freedom and Order, from left and right, is the power of America.  Demands for an uprising of decency present a transpartisan opportunity to make ours the best of times.

(Image licensed CC BY 2.0 and located on the Wikimedia Commons.)

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