Market Dynamism and Cultural Conservatism: Keep Trying

One of the standard in-house feuds under this big tent of ours is between the partisans of cultural conservatism and those of libertarian dynamism. Reihan, with his Fitzgeraldesque first-rate intelligence and his affinity for both sides, has tried his level best to resolve the contradiction that, despite his stalwart efforts, has probably killed the Republican coalition for good. A post by James led me to this curious essay by R.R. Reno, in which Prof. Reno tries to square the same circle.

Reno describes free-market capitalism and international intervention as conservative projects that have each, in their own way, induced vertigo and anxiety in the American populace, leading voters to elect Obama as a candidate of stability and assurance:

So, conservatives need to face this singular political fact squarely: The people who have benefited the most from free-market policies were the ones who led the charge against the Republican party. And if my analysis is correct, they did so because of a deeply felt insecurity—an insecurity that we can trace back to our collective experience with something conservatives fought to achieve: a raucously creative, productive, and invariably unpredictable economic system.


I hope that a new spirit of democracy prevails in the Middle East. But whatever the outcome, conservatives need to be honest. Decisive use of American military power will always throw the world out of kilter. Thus, once again, policies we associate with conservatism seem to ramp up risk. And not surprisingly, in foreign policy Obama’s call for change is heard as a call for stability: negotiation, slow-moving multilateralism, and a shift toward managing rather than altering the dynamics of global conflict.

So far, so true. But Reno’s defense of dynamism and constructive chaos in economics and geopolitics (complete with a jab at stability-monger Neville Chamberlain) takes a turn for the weird:

But there is a deeper point that conservatives need to make. Our sense of instability, our feeling that everything is up for grabs, and our anxious insecurity has its most destructive source in the triumph of desire over restraint in contemporary culture. Divorce and serial cohabitation bring fluidity and change into the most ancient touchstone of permanence: home and hearth.

Now, I’m on the record as a big fan of the total package: home, hearth, and free exchange. But recall the warnings of ace commenter rortybomb, who worries that “‘free-market traditionalists’ are going to fall on the wrong side of the issues, and end up defending all kinds of odd, broken things” as Reno wraps up:

We can endure the inevitable risks of marketplace and battlefield—but only if we have some confidence about the stability of the deeper, more fundamental things of life.

I read this as “we can continue to fling ourselves into Eurasian wars as long as we convince people not to cohabitate and divorce.” Am I being ungenerous?