September 21, 2012 2:09PM

Michael Gerson’s Pimply Adolescence

Michael Gerson, the former Bush speechwriter who gave us big‐​government conservatism and is now the #2 neocon columnist at the Washington Post, writes more about libertarianism than any other writer of such prominence. That would be great if he understood it, or could represent libertarianism fairly in his criticisms. Over the past few years he has denounced libertarianism as “morally empty,” “anti‐​government,” “a scandal,” “an idealism that strangles mercy,” guilty of “selfishness,” “rigid ideology,” and “rigorous ideological coldness.”

And here’s today’s entry:

A few libertarians have wanted this fight [Mitt Romney’s reference to 47 percent of Americans being “dependent on government”] ever since they read “Atlas Shrugged” as pimply adolescents. …

Republican politicians could turn to Burkean conservatism, with its emphasis on the “little platoons” of civil society. They could reflect on the Catholic tradition of subsidiarity, and solidarity with the poor. They could draw inspiration from Tory evangelical social reformers such as William Wilberforce or Lord Shaftesbury. Or they could just read Abraham Lincoln, who stood for “an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life.”

Instead they mouth libertarian nonsense, unable to even describe some of the largest challenges of our time.

Well, let’s see here. Burke’s little platoons get a whole chapter in Charles Murray’s libertarian book In Pursuit: Of Happiness and Good Government and a good bit of attention in this Cato essay based on it. They’re people, not governments. The Catholic principle of subsidiarity, as explained by Pope Pius IX in Quadragesimo Anno, holds that “Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do.” Which sounds pretty libertarian to me. And it doesn’t seem to recommend turning local schools and individual marriages over to the federal government, as Messrs. Bush and Gerson endeavored to do.

Libertarianism is a philosophy of individual rights, civil society, and limited government. Those may be unfamiliar concepts to Mr. Gerson, but he really should, you know, read a book before presuming to criticize them.

I wonder what Gerson read when he was a pimply adolescent. Maybe the Bible, Burke, and Lincoln? Does he think that those ideas can be dismissed by referring to their readers as “pimply adolescents”? Is that what passes for conservative argument these days?

And why oh why can’t the Washington Post add a libertarian columnist to its array of lefties, welfare liberals, conservatives and neocons?