According to Don Arthur, classical liberals don’t really belong with conservatives. Australian conservatives are ‘market friendly’, but they don’t rate individual liberty that highly so they aren’t really liberals. What keeps classical liberals with conservatives is less ideology than
social networks and personal loyalties. Most of Australia’s classical liberals are woven into organisations and social groups that bind them to conservatives. … As a result, realignment probably won’t happen until this generation of middle-aged classical liberals shuffles off the public stage and makes room for the next generation.
Social networks and personal loyalties do create ‘stickiness’ on both sides of politics. But within non-party politics, it’s still not clear to me that even on ideological grounds Australian classical liberals aren’t more likely to fit with Australian conservatives than Australian ‘progessive fusionists’; pro-market, socially liberal, social democrats.
Though some Labor governments could be described as ‘progressive fusionist’, party positions rarely map neatly onto intellectual life. ‘Progressive fusionism’ does not seem to me to be widely represented in intellectual circles (Andrew Leigh?, Nick Gruen?, Fred Argy?), because most progressives are either anti-market or economically illiterate (or indeed both). There are no progessive fusionist think-tanks or institutions. From a liberal perspective, progressives tend to have the same problem Don attributes to the conservative right, of missing out half of liberalism.
Of the non-economic issues that concern me at the moment, on all but one I think I am more likely to find conservatives who will meet me at least half-way than I am to find social democrats who will do the same. The more I think about it the more I think
public education is a really bad idea, but I have already failed to convince Andrew L of that. Contrary to the egalitarian views within social democracy, at least on institutions to do with identity (eg religious schools, gay bars), anti-discrimination law should not apply. On free speech issues, I oppose vilification laws, as do most conservatives but few progressives I have come across. I oppose the illiberal and anti-democratic direction that campaign finance law is taking, but I think most ‘progressives’ will join that bandwagon.
Of the issues I have engaged with in the last couple of years, only on civil unions/gay marriage do I more clearly line up with the ‘progressive’ perspective in practical policy terms (though I think secular conservatism should have no ideological trouble with civil unions).
Don mentions Cato Vice-President Brink Lindsey’s suggestion that American libertarians have a lot in common with American progressives against American conservatives. I’ve qualified ideological terms with ‘ Australian’ or ‘American’ because these ideologies take very different forms in different countries.
Australian conservatism is very mild compared to American conservatism; by American standards Australian conservatives barely deserve the name. They are not particularly religious, not particularly concerned with sexual morality, and not very worried about migration except perhaps of Muslims. Australian conservatives are generally far less concerned with personal morality than either US conservatives or Australian progessives. All that makes it much easier for Australian classical liberals and conservatives to co-exist.
I’m glad ‘progessive fusionism’ exists. Of the three possible progressive fusionist intellectuals I mentioned, all are worth reading. But I think I must be one of the middle-aged classical liberal intellectuals who will have to shuffle off the public stage before the next generation makes new alliances.