The Daily Caller

The Daily Caller

Santorum isn’t a Reagan conservative

Photo of Jack Hunter
Jack Hunter
Contributing Editor, Rare

When Rick Santorum’s nephew endorsed Ron Paul in an op-ed in The Daily Caller this week, he wrote: “If you want another big government politician who supports the status quo to run our country, you should vote for my uncle Rick Santorum.” Santorum respectfully and lovingly dismissed his young nephew’s endorsement. The senator said his nephew was just “going through a phase,” and later added: “I am a Reagan conservative. I am not a libertarian. And the people who are calling me a big government guy are libertarians.”

In an interview with Reason magazine in 1975, Ronald Reagan said:

If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism … The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is.

Says Santorum: “I fight very strongly against libertarian influence within the Republican Party and the conservative movement.”

Santorum is not a Reagan conservative. Not even close.

It surprises people when they learn I’m not a libertarian. As Ron Paul’s official campaign blogger, I’m often perceived as being a libertarian and I am no doubt sympathetic to many libertarian views. But ultimately I’m a traditional conservative — a limited-government constitutionalist of the Barry Goldwater variety. That said, I’m no more offended at being called a libertarian than a heavy metal fan is when called a rock and roller — both terms represent far more synthesis than antithesis. Santorum has no comprehension of this basic philosophical and historical truism.

Being against big government does not represent the totality of American conservatism, but it does represent what Reagan called the “heart and soul” of conservatism. Reagan recognized that the “desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom” was indeed libertarianism but that it was also conservatism. This observation was fairly commonplace on the right during Reagan’s time, when “conservatism” was still more of a substantive philosophy than a Republican marketing tool. For example, in his book “Flying High,” a memoir about the 1964 presidential campaign, William F. Buckley repeatedly refers to Goldwater’s philosophy as “libertarian” and his famous book “The Conscience of a Conservative” as a “libertarian tome.”

So, were Reagan and Buckley wrong about libertarianism’s kinship to conservatism — or is Santorum correct to treat libertarianism as something alien to conservatism? This depends on your definition of that term.

Let’s begin with Reagan’s definition. In addition to calling libertarianism the heart of conservatism, Reagan believed that the American right was a three-legged stool consisting of social conservatives, national security conservatives and economic/libertarian conservatives. Lose a leg and conservatism loses a lot, or so Reagan believed.