A LETTER TO (THE LATE) WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY SEEKING CLARIFICATION
Thomas E. Simmons
Dear Mr. Buckley:
Is my best friend a RHINO if she obeys traffic laws?
It’s sometimes difficult for me to discern the correct conservative stance. Republicans value law and order and national security. These values keep us safe. With safety and security comes freedom. We value personal liberties. Freedom is an end in itself. So is human life, which is why we are pro-life.
I know that in 1959 (in Up from Liberalism), you wrote, “I will not cede more power to the state.” I understand this to be an absolute. Any state encroachment on personal liberty should be resisted. There’s no such thing as reasonable firearms regulation. Freedom comes first. That’s why you also said, “I will not willingly cede more power to anyone, not to the state, not to General Motors.”
I’ve read your more recent tracts too. I know that you defended Regan from conservatives who called him a sell-out. “Idealism is fine, but as it approaches reality, the costs become prohibitive.” That’s what you said. But when you were younger, you were purer about things and those are the books of yours that I prefer. Reagan was no Goldwater; you’ve got to admit that.
Still, I understand that we do tolerate governmental intrusions into our lives to punish those who intentionally harm others or their property. Kidnappers, murderers, vandals, and abortionists should be criminally prosecuted. But accidental or incidental harms are just the cost of doing business. That’s why the war on drugs was just another page from the liberal play book. Sure, some people are harmed by drug dealers, but not intentionally. Drug dealers are just trying to make a few bucks.
Today, liberals want to resist reopening the economy in the interests of safety – sure, that sounds like a conservative value – but it’s really just a pretext for disempowering small business owners (who typically vote Republican). Liberals say they want to be cautious in their approach to COVID-19 – which also sounds like what a conservative would say, but they don’t mean it. Or is it that those crafty liberals have co-opted some of our conservative values? And if they have, should we be unsafe and reckless?
I don’t’ know, but I do know that progressives calling for a balanced approach – reopening with restrictions like masks, plexiglass, curbside shopping, social distancing – are false prophets. Although wearing a mask might dignify the rights of others by respecting their personal freedoms and mitigate risks from a potentially deadly virus (i.e., preserve lives), it’s also an inconvenience and therefore unacceptable on any terms. I’m not intentionally infecting others by not washing my hands, right?
What I can’t wrap my head around is whether my friend who obeys traffic laws is a RHINO. By doing so, doesn’t she cede power to the state to regulate the way people drive? By keeping her speedometer right at 80mph on I-90, doesn’t she demonstrate that she’s not only a passive bystander to the fascism of the deep state, but also a willing participant? I mean, she might as well be wearing a mask!
I’ve tried convincing her, but so far, no luck. Can you help?
Yours in safety,
Thomas E. Simmons
All of the views and opinions Professor Simmons expresses here on are his as an individual and do not reflect the views of the Board of Regents, the University of South Dakota, its School of Law, their employees, faculty or administrators. The foregoing editorial represents only his views as a private citizen.