If I had to briefly summarise I'd say:
- The professed political philosophy of leading personalities on the American right is often classical liberalism, i.e. it involves a belief in individual liberty, a small state, low taxes, and a free market.
- But the personalities don't seem to identify as classical liberals. They prefer the term libertarian or occasionally conservative. This reluctance to identify as liberal is understandable, given that the term liberal in America is often reserved for those on the left (what we would call in Australia "left-liberal").
- Classical liberals in Australia are usually very socially liberal, particularly those with an academic background. Commonly they will support the legalisation of drugs, gay marriage and even (I've had debates with them on this issue) polygamy. However, in the US those professing a classical liberal philosophy are more likely to take socially conservative positions on some issues, such as abortion or the family. It's possible, I think, that this is partly due to the influence of a Christian right in the US and partly due to the fact that there was an element of classical liberalism in the US founding and therefore classical liberals in the US are more likely to think of themselves as conserving traditional values.
Which brings me to the radio and television host Sean Hannity. He is described at one site as being "A conservative to the very core of his soul." But in one of his books he describes the kind of values he is trying to uphold as being "limited government, individual liberty, and the rule of law."
That's a typically classical liberal formulation. It's a vision of negative liberty, of being left free to do as you will (within the limits of the law and not impeding the negative liberty of others).
By itself, this classical liberal philosophy is anything but conservative. Genuine conservatives set out to defend what Lawrence Auster has termed "a substantive spiritual, cultural and social order". Telling people to do whatever, as long as it doesn't interfere with anyone else, implicitly denies that there even is any significant substantive order to be concerned with.
And so the Australian classical liberals end up with the socially liberal positions I described above. If it's just negative liberty, then why not allow people to practise polygamy (or any other conceivable form of family arrangement) or to take any kind of drugs? As long as it doesn't impede on your own freedom to choose otherwise, then it fits the classical liberal principle.
But Hannity is not as socially liberal as this. For instance, he tore strips off the founder of a website for people wishing to commit adultery:
HANNITY: I'm looking at your Web site and looking it right here. And there's your motto, "Life is short, have an affair." You think it's good for people to have affairs? Do you think that's something that's good for people?
... I'm assuming that if the spouses find out that this is happening, that it's going to break up a lot of marriages. And you're facilitating that. You are assisting, you're helping, you're making money off the breakup of some marriages.
Now, granted they're going to make their own choices, they have their responsibility, but you're profiting from it. You're sort of like, you know, you remind me of a pimp. You know what? You remind me of a drug dealer.
You know what? Let's say selling crack was legal, I wouldn't sell crack because I know it would destroy people's lives.
Why would you not have a conscience bother you that this might hurt people's marriages?
BIDERMAN: You know, Sean, we're different people. I would build a service for same-sex couples. You probably wouldn't approve of that, but I did ... and I'm proud of it. Same way that entrepreneurs like me are needed all the time...
HANNITY: You have compartmentalized, you're rationalizing your contribution to the potential break up of marriages which, by the way, will not only affect the two people involved, but also the children that will no longer see their spouse.
Now maybe that's the way you want to make your money in life. But I think people that have a conscience and a soul don't want to make their money this way. In other words, you might make money selling drugs, but I wouldn't want to contribute to somebody's death and demise.
Where is your soul in this? Where is your conscience?
BIDERMAN: You are giving me too much credit, Sean. You're making — you're making it sound like I can persuade a happily married couple to go cheat on each other based on my TV commercial.
HANNITY: I'm saying, listen, people will make their choices. But if they're going to make bad choices, I'm not going to facilitate it, because I have a moral foundation that obviously you're lacking...
HANNITY: You're no different than a pimp.
BIDERMAN: That's not a crime in America, at least not that I'm aware of.
It's interesting that Biderman attempts to justify himself on classical liberal grounds. He points out that what he's doing isn't illegal, so he's not violating the rule of law. Furthermore, he is following the free market as an entrepreneur providing a service.
If Hannity held to classical liberalism by itself, he'd struggle to find a way to object. But Hannity adds in some other concepts: a moral foundation, a soul, a conscience. As I understand it, Hannity does talk explicitly of the need for Christian values as part of a functioning social order. And that, perhaps, is why he does come across as more socially conservative than his secular Australian counterparts, at least when it comes to certain issues.
Let me try to illustrate all this using one more example. On a Sean Hannity discussion board, someone asked the question "Over 50% of marriages end in divorce - where are you social conservatives?"
Leaving aside the exaggerated statistic, the question provoked some interesting responses. There were three types of answer. First, there were right liberal types (classical liberal/libertarians) who generally answered that although they personally had been happily married, it wasn't their business to concern themselves with what other people did. Then there were Christian conservatives who opposed the high divorce rate on biblical grounds. Third, there were traditionalist/conservative types who thought that a high divorce rate was cause for concern because of its effects on the social order.
So part of Hannity's audience are classical/right liberal types who believe in negative liberty alone. That's why they say things like this:
Can't speak for others but I've been married 24 years to the same woman. Have two kids, both born after we were married.
What others do and what values they follow is THEIR business, not mine.
There's no sense here of the existence of a social order to be defended. It's just whatever floats your boat. To put this another way, our classical/right liberals recognise a good for themselves (a stable marriage), but are paralysed by their philosophy from ever extending this recognition to others. So if the divorce rate hit 80%, or if all of their own children divorced, they would still not be able to act in defence of marriage as a general good in society.