The Faultline Within American Conservatism

John Payne lectures on its history:

The most famous battle in the long, internecine war on the right between libertarians and traditionalists was fought over Labor Day weekend, 1969 at the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) convention in Saint Louis. The two groups argued semi-peacefully over a number of proposed planks for YAF’s platform–the legalization of marijuana, withdrawal from Vietnam, etc.–but when a libertarian delegate stepped to the podium, declared the right of every individual to resist state violence, and lit his draft card on fire, the convention was ripped apart. The libertarians cried “Sock it to the state!” while the traditionalists chanted “Sock it to the left!”  and mocked the libertarians as “lazy fairies” (get it?).

Many people consider that moment the birth of the modern libertarian movement as a separate entity from the conservative movement. The old alliance between the two groups never completely dissolved, but the rift between them has never fully closed either. When the libertarians struck out on their own over forty years ago, there was no question which group was dominant: the conservatives were more numerous, better funded, and far better represented in the halls of power. Now, despite being united in opposition to the Obama Administration, that rift appears to be widening again, but it’s less clear who is winning this time.

Payne sees libertarian successes at CPAC this year:

Conservatives still far outnumber libertarians, and in most cases, they wouldn’t vote Ron Paul  or Gary Johnson for president. However, CPAC has never been representative of conservatism as a whole–it’s a conference for conservative activists, intelligentsia, and college students, who are by far the largest group. So while CPAC does not perfectly reflect conservatism at the moment, it does give us a glimpse at its future. Libertarians are clearly ascendant among activists on the right, and that will probably translate into a far more libertarian conservatism ten or twenty years down the road.

One wonders how many more young people the Republican Party could attract but for its image as anti-gay, anti-sex, anti-fun.