And this kookiness — as Hemingway strongly implies — is a real problem if one wants to build an effective pro-liberty movement. Personally, my own views in favor of economic deregulation, low taxes, school choice, gun rights, and gay marriage are pretty much small-l libertarian. But it’s hugely unlikely I’d ever vote for anybody the current Libertarian party puts forward or, indeed, leave the Republican Party for any reason. From the self-evidently loony birther/truther conspiracy theories that seem to resonate in Libertarian and Republican-libertarian circles to the crazy-but-not-self-evidently-so plans to abolish the Federal Reserve System that have gained some mainstream credibility, libertarianism has gone off the rails in ways that transcend the harmless kookiness that Hemingway observed. It’s simply not a credible governing philosophy in its current form. And this makes the conservative/libertarian “fusionism” that comprises the heart of the conservative movement inherently unstable going forward.

A brief detour into the history of the Right can explain why. Fundamentally, the modern political Right draws on a “fusionist” idea that Burkean conservatism emphasizing “habit and tradition” is best served by personal freedom, limited government, a strong defense, and free markets. This presents some obvious tensions — say when it comes to weighing the obligation of government to protect human life with some women’s desire to end pregnancies — but these types of difficult choices are the very stuff of Democratic governance. And, more often that not, fusionism works: it seems obvious that a government that dictates personal economic choices can make it difficult (or impossible) for people to live in accord with their own values.