Copyright 2005. Keith Preston. American Revolutionary Vanguard. All rights reserved.
While libertarianism as a political creed has a distinctive and honorable ancestry, with a lineage that runs from dissident medieval scholastics straight through the mainstream of the American Revolution of 1776 to the individualist school of classical anarchism spearheaded by Benjamin R. Tucker to the American Old Right that arose in opposition to the New Deal, most historians of libertarianism place the beginning of the modern American libertarian movement in the political and cultural upheavals of the late 1960s and early 1970s. During that period, an assortment of Randians, Goldwaterites, Old Rightists, New Leftists, defectors from William F. Buckley, Jr.’s Young Americans for Freedom and opponents of the Vietnam War came together to form a new radically anti-statist movement calling itself “libertarian”. (1) The central figure in this effort was a radical exponent of the Austrian school of economics and veteran of the Old Right named Murray N. Rothbard who, along with Karl N. Hess, a former speechwriter for U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater and future President Richard Nixon, attempted to forge an alliance between libertarians and the antiwar and anti-draft militants of the New Left. (2) Since its inception during the era of the war in Vietnam, the libertarian movement has grown considerably in both size and influence, maintaining a variety of institutions and organizations ranging from the Libertarian Party (formed in 1971) to the Cato Institute think-tank (formed in 1977) to the monthly periodicals “Reason” and “Liberty”. (3)
It is clear that the modern libertarian movement has its roots in radicalism rather than any sort of conservatism. However, since its initial beginnings within the context of the radical Left, much of the libertarian movement has turned sharply rightward, though in varying and often conflicting ways. This essay will argue that this rightward shift within the libertarian movement is severely misguided, as libertarianism and conservatism are not only historically antagonistic to one another but are indeed diametrical opposites. Secondly, it will be shown that efforts to synthesize libertarianism with conservatism have resulted in dramatically negative consequences for the realm of libertarian strategy and practical political activism, consequences that are entirely predictable given the conflicting natures of libertarianism and conservatism. Lastly, it will be shown that a consistent application of the libertarian doctrine not only requires a severe political radicalism, but also implies an economic and cultural radicalism as well. To demonstrate why this is so, it is first necessary to understand the proper place for libertarianism on the political spectrum as enunciated by Murray Rothbard.
The Rothbardian Reconstruction of the Political Spectrum
It is common among observers of libertarianism, sympathizers and opponents alike, to place libertarianism on the “Right” side of the political spectrum, with libertarians being just another faction of the American Right-Wing along side traditionalist conservatives, neoconservatives, paleoconservatives, Kirkians, neo-theocrats, neo-fascists and racialists. However, Murray Rothbard, widely recognized as the founding father of modern libertarianism, regarded attempts to fuse libertarianism with conservatism as ahistorical. In his 1965 seminal essay “Left and Right: Prospects for Liberty”, Rothbard examined the historical roots of the two ideologies and described conservatism as a relic, an ideological hold-out from the pre-modern period. Said Rothbard of conservatism:
“…Conservatism is a dying remnant of the ancien regime of the pre-industrial era, and, as such, it has no future. In its contemporary American form, the recent Conservative Revival embodied the death throes of an ineluctably moribund, Fundamentalist, rural, small-town, white Anglo-Saxon America. What, however of the prospects for liberty? For too many libertarians mistakenly link the prognosis for liberty with that of the seemingly stronger and supposedly allied Conservative movement;” (4)
Rothbard understood that Conservatism is merely a remnant of the Old Order that existed “before the 18th century” in the form of “feudalism or Oriental despotism” and “was marked by tyranny, exploitation, stagnation, fixed caste, and hopelessness and starvation for the bulk of the population”. (5)
How was this Old Order eventually deposed in the nations of the West?
“Finally, the Old Order was overthrown or severely shaken in its grip in two ways. One was by industry and the market expanding through the interstices of the feudal order…”
“More important was a series of a cataclysmic revolutions that blasted loose the Old Order and the old ruling classes: the English Revolutions of the seventeenth-century, the American Revolution, and the French Revolution, all of which were necessary to the ushering in of the Industrial Revolution and of at least partial victories for individual liberty, laissez-faire, separation of church-and-state, and international peace…”
“The mass of the population now achieved a mobility of labor and place, and accelerating expansion of their living standards, for which they had scarcely dared to hope.” (6)
The demise of the Old Order in Europe and America marked the beginnings of the political divisions of “Left” and “Right” or “liberal” and “conservative”. Rothbard correctly characterized classical Liberalism, the revolutionary ideology of the eighteenth century, as “the party of hope, of radicalism, of liberty, of the Industrial Revolution, of progress, of humanity” with Conservatism being “the party of reaction, the party that longed to restore the hierarchy, statism, theocracy, serfdom, and class exploitation of the Old Order”. Given that “liberalism admittedly had reason on its side, the Conservatives darkened the ideological atmosphere with obscurantist calls for romanticism, tradition, theocracy, and irrationalism”. No better description has ever been written of modern American conservatism, whether one speaks of the neoconservative con artistry that passes for its “leadership” or the jingoist, pseudo-populist ideology used to rally its grassroots support base. As the antithesis of Conservatism, classical Liberalism was, in Rothbard’s view, “essentially radical and revolutionary”. Liberalism, as described by the great Catholic historian Lord John Acton, “wishes for what ought to be, irrespective of what is.” (7)
If libertarianism has its roots in eighteenth century radical liberalism, how, then, did libertarianism come to be identified with conservatism? As the nineteenth century progressed, classical liberalism largely became the status quo. Like other movements that become corrupted or compromised with the achievement of victory, Liberalism began to lose its radical edge and started accommodating itself to the Establishment. Consequently, the old feudal ruling classes were able to reinvent themselves as a state-capitalist class, subsequently degenerating into neo-mercantilism and “liberal imperialism”. (8) Hence, the rise of the classical Socialist and Communist movements of the nineteenth century as a reaction against the deterioration of Liberalism. Rothbard described this process:
“Into this gap, into this void created by the drying up of radical liberalism, there stepped a new movement: Socialism. Libertarians of the present day are accustomed to think of socialism as the polar opposite of the libertarian creed. But this is a grave mistake responsible for a severe ideological disorientation of libertarians in the present world. As we have seen, Conservatism was the polar opposite of liberty; and socialism, while to the ‘left’ of conservatism, was essentially a confused, middle-of-the-road movement. It was, and still is, middle-of-the-road because it tries to achieve Liberal ends by the use of Conservative means.”
“Socialism, like Liberalism and against Conservatism, accepted the industrial system and the liberal goals of freedom, reason, mobility, progress, higher living standards for the masses, and an end to theocracy and war; but it tried to achieve these ends by the use of incompatible, Conservative means: statism, central planning, communitarianism, etc.” (9)
Rothbard also recognized “two different strands within Socialism” with one of these being the “Right-wing authoritiarian strand…which glorified statism, hierarchy and collectivism” and the other being the “Left-wing, relatively libertarian strand, exemplified in their different ways by Marx and Bakunin, revolutionary and far more interested in achieving the libertarian goals of liberalism and socialism: but especially the smashing of the state apparatus to achieve ‘the withering away of the state’ and the ‘end of exploitation of man by man’.” (10) Clearly, Rothbard recognized both classical Liberalism and classical Socialism as predecessors to modern libertarianism, and as having compatible objectives. However, the principal error of the Socialists was their rejection of private property rights. Rothbard noted:
“…if the State is to disappear after the Revolution (immediately for Bakunin, gradually ‘withering’ for Marx), then how is the ‘collective’ to run its property without becoming an enormous state itself in fact even if not in name?” (11)
This crucial error, the rejection of private property rights, left the Socialists with no ideological or institutional barrier to the erection of a new tyranny upon the attainment of power. Consequently, Rothbard observed that “most Socialists (Fabians, Lassalleans, even Marxists) turned sharply rightward…and became cozy conservatives permanently reconciled to the State…neo-mercantilism, state-monopoly capitalism, imperialism and war”. (12) Hence, the emergence of the dominant politico-economic system of the contemporary advanced nations, so-called “corporate-liberalism”, “welfare-capitalism” or “corporate-social democracy”.
How did Rothbard view the mass movements of the twentieth century, namely, Communism, Fascism, and National Socialism? He placed Lenin to the left of Marx and Engels, as the latter defended nationalism and imperialism as progressive historical forces, and attacked the market economy itself, whereas Lenin adopted an anti-imperialist outlook and directed many of his economic criticisms toward state-monopoly capitalism. Rothbard subsequently placed the Maoists to the left of Lenin, given their emphasis on overthrowing the Old Order in the Third World and their attacks on feudalism, state-monopoly capitalism and Western imperialism. Fascism and National Socialism were considered by Rothbard to be the diametrical opposites of Communism, despite their common totalitarian natures, as Fascism aimed to “cement the old ruling classes” while Communism sought to overthrow the Old Order where it remained. Indeed, Rothbard saw the New Deal and permanent war economy of the Roosevelt era as an American proto-fascism, with its militarism, cartelized industries, central banking and Bismarckian welfare state, as opposed to an American socialism. (13)
It is clear enough that Murray Rothbard was no Conservative. He regarded his radical libertarian ideology as being to the Left of not only classical Socialists like Marx, but also to the Left of twentieth century Communist revolutionaries like Lenin and Mao, and even to the Left of classical anarchists such as Bakunin.(14) New generations of radical libertarians would do well to heed Rothbardian admonitions such as the following:
“For the libertarian, the main task of the present epoch is to…set his sights on long-run victory and to set about the road to its attainment. To do this, he must, first of all, drastically realign his mistaken view of the ideological spectrum; he must discover who his friends and natural allies are, and above all perhaps, who his enemies are.” (15)
These words are as true today as they were when they were first written forty years ago.
The Conservative View of Libertarianism
To say that the overwhelming majority of conservatives find libertarianism unpalatable would likely be a gross understatement. Given the opposition of both to the welfare state, some lay people, conservatives and libertarians alike, have unfortunately come to regard the two as somehow akin to one another. However, to claim that libertarians and conservatives are ideological cousins because of their joint hostility to welfarism is no more justified than to insist that libertarians and fascists are intellectual blood brothers because of the opposition of both to Communism. Just as Murray Rothbard is often regarded as the godfather of modern American libertarianism, so is the late Russell Kirk frequently considered to be the godfather of modern American conservatism. (16) How did the eminent Dr. Kirk regard radical libertarianism of the type espoused by Rothbard?
“For the ideological libertarians are not conservatives in any true meaning of that term of politics, nor do the more candid libertarians desire to be called conservatives. On the contrary, they are radical doctrinaires, contemptuous of our inheritance from our ancestors. They rejoice in the radicalism of Tom Paine; they even applaud those seventeenth-century radicals the Levellers and the Diggers, who would have pulled down all land-boundaries, and have pulled down, too, the whole framework of church and state…one may say of them in general that they are ‘philosophical anarchists’…They would sweep away political government; in this, they subscribe to Marx’s notion of the withering away of the state.” (17)
“Any discussion of the relationships between conservatives and libertarians…naturally commences with an inquiry into what these disparate groups hold in common. These two bodies of opinion share a detestation of collectivism. They set their faces against the totalist state and the heavy hand of bureaucracy. That much is obvious enough. What else do conservatives and libertarians profess in common? The answer to that question is simple: nothing. Nor will they ever. To talk of forming a league or coalition between these two is like advocating a union of ice and fire.”
“So in the nature of things conservatives and libertarians can conclude no friendly pact. Conservatives have no intention of compromising with socialists; but even such an alliance, ridiculous though it would be, is more nearly conceivable than the coalition of conservatives and libertarians…It is of high importance, indeed, that American conservatives dissociate themselves altogether from the little sour remnant called libertarians…such an association would tend to discredit the conservatives, giving aid and comfort to the collective adversaries of ordered freedom.” (18)
So much for the notion of the common brotherhood of libertarians and conservatives. It is interesting to note that both the uber-libertarian Murray Rothbard and the uber-conservative Russell Kirk regarded conservatism and socialism as having more in common with one another than either had in common with libertarianism. How can this be? While conservatism opposes socialism from the Right, libertarianism opposes socialism from the Left, thereby placing socialism directly in the Center, and positioning libertarianism and conservatism on opposite ends of the spectrum. Just as Rothbard argued, libertarians are the true “far Leftists”, to the left of even the Maoists or the classical collectivist-anarchists. For this reason, Russell Kirk insisted that he would “venture to suggest that libertarianism, properly understood, is as alien to real American conservatives as is communism”. (19)
When surveying the literature of conservative critics of libertarianism, one is immediately struck by the vagueness, shallowness and frequent incoherence of conservative attempts at rebutting the libertarian position. The following comments by Stephen Abbott are typical:
“Most Libertarians today cannot seem to grasp these basic distinctions between liberty and license, and are in fact not advocates of liberty at all, but of anarchy. Finding their behavior outside of societal norms, and indeed harmful to society overall (and in fact, denying the very existence of ‘society’ or any other entity except the radicalized individual), they urge the destruction of societal norms altogether, primarily the destruction of the government that regulates and oversees these norms. With the government out of the way, they think, liberty will prevail, and they may then engage in traditionally anti-societal behavior with LICENSE. This, of course, isn’t liberty at all, it’s anarchy, and the behavior which derives from it is called licentiousness, which Webster’s calls ‘an absence of moral or legal restraints’.”
“Despite libertarians wishing it away, society exists, and if the libertarian philosophy is left to its own devices, we would evolve into a licentious, lawless society. The problem with that is a licentious society – in which all restraint and societal norms are banished to the dust heaps of history – cannot be a free or even a democratic society, in any sense of those words. It can only be a society in anarchy and decay and the resulting bondage to the slavery that comes from rampant, radically self-centered and destructive debauchery will engulf and destroy all that we have fought to build over the centuries. Hardly a goal for which Conservatives should be striving, and it brings to mind that great Conservative Margaret Thatcher, who said, ‘Freedom is the creature of law or it is a wild beast.’ Libertarianism thus leads from the nice-sounding goal of ending ‘excessive government restraints” into a tyranny led by those who wish to “liberate” all people from all norms of decency, morality, duty and societal order’.” (20)
What are these “norms of decency, morality, duty and societal order” that libertarians wish to “liberate all people from”? Do libertarians argue that no one should ever say “thank you” for favors rendered by another? That no one should ever bother to help an elderly lady across the street? That it would be perfectly acceptable to torture animals in “cruel and unusual” ways? That parents should batter or abuse their children? That defrauding unsuspecting victims of their life savings is okay? That serial killers are simply rights-pursuing individualists engaged in an alternative lifestyle? Of course, libertarians argue nothing of the sort. Indeed, libertarians argue that the ordinary rules of society that apply to individual citizens, such as the prohibition of theft, murder and kidnapping, properly apply to the state as well. If an individual helps himself to another’s property, it is called “theft”. If the state does the same, it is called “taxation”. If an everyday citizen kills another, it is called “murder” or “homocide”. If the state kills thousands or even millions, it is called “war”. If a private entrepreneur abducts another person and forces him into involuntary servitude, it is called “kidnapping” or “slavery”. Yet when the state does the same, it is called “conscription”.
The core feature of the conservatives’ hostility to libertarians is their rejection of the idea that the individual belongs to himself. Instead, in the conservative view, the individual belongs to the “community”, the “nation”, or “society”, with all of these simply being synonyms for “the state”. A comprehensive refutation of the conservatives’ objections to libertarianism is beyond the scope of this essay. Perhaps a few additional quotations from leading conservatives might suffice to effectively summarize and expose the nature of conservatism. Judge Robert H. Bork, an icon of mainstream conservatism, offers this argument against libertarianism:
“The nature of the liberal and libertarian errors is easily seen in discussions of pornography. The leader of the explosion of pornographic videos, described admiringly by a competitor as the Ted Turner of the business, offers the usual defenses of decadence: ‘Adults have the right to see [pornography] if they want to. If it offends you, don’t buy it.’ Those statements neatly sum up both the errors and the (unintended) perniciousness of the alliance between libertarians and modern liberals with respect to popular culture.”
“Modern liberals employ the rhetoric of ‘rights’ incessantly, not only to delegitimate the idea of restraints on individuals by communities but to prevent discussion of the topic. Once something is announced, usually flatly or stridently, to be a right –whether pornography or abortion or what have you– discussion becomes difficult to impossible. Rights inhere in the person, are claimed to be absolute, and cannot be diminished or taken away by reason; in fact, reason that suggests the non-existence of an asserted right is viewed as a moral evil by the claimant. If there is to be anything that can be called a community, rather than an agglomeration of hedonists, the case for previously unrecognized individual freedoms (as well as some that have been previously recognized) must be thought through and argued, and ‘rights’ cannot win every time. Why there is a right for adults to enjoy pornography remains unexplained and unexplainable.”
“The second bit of advice –‘If it offends you, don’t buy it’ — is both lulling and destructive. Whether you buy it or not, you will be greatly affected by those who do. The aesthetic and moral environment in which you and your family live will be coarsened and degraded. Economists call the effects an activity has on others ‘externalities'; why so many of them do not understand the externalities here is a mystery. They understand quite well that a person who decides not to run a smelter will nevertheless be seriously affected if someone else runs one nearby.” (21)
Of course, one could easily imagine a Grand Inquisitor from the fifteenth century making the same argument with regards to heresy that Bork employs with regards to pornography. After all, the Inquisitor might claim, heresy endangers not only the moral, spiritual or religious well-being of the individual heretic but of the community where he is allowed to freely teach his false or blasphemous doctrines, thereby corrupting impressionable youth and the like. Another conservative commentator, the late Ernest van den Haag, was fond of accusing libertarians of hostility to tradition, saying:
“Libertarians are antinomians, i.e., opposed to law and traditional institutions … Libertarianism is opposed to all conservative traditions, to tradition itself” (22)
Ralph Raico provided an apt reply to this accusation:
“The purpose of the Spanish Inquisition was to defend Catholicism – surely an important shared value of Spanish society. Does van den Haag believe the Inquisition was justified? Suttee was a central part of Hindu culture, as clitoridectomy was of Kikuyu culture, as ritual killings were of Aztec culture, and as racial segregation was of the culture of the American South a few years ago. What van den Haag should answer is this: Does he defend these traditions? If he does not, then he has immediately violated the principle of community-right in some very obvious cases, and he has exposed himself as a mere babbler. If he does defend these institutions, then what decent person would want to have anything to do with such a pervert?” (23)
Raico’s reply to Van den Haag might also be a useful reply to Russell Kirk who stated:
“The conservative regards the libertarian as impious, in the sense of the old Roman pietas: that is, the libertarian does not respect ancient beliefs and customs, or the natural world, or love of country.”
“…the libertarian asserts that the state is the great oppressor. But the conservative finds that the state is natural and necessary for the fulfillment of human nature and the growth of civilization; it cannot be abolished unless humanity is abolished; it is ordained for our very existence.” (24)
It is ironic and telling that Kirk would assign mystical, metaphysical, almost divine qualities to the state and, indeed, invoke the precedent of ancient Roman conceptions of piety. In the Roman political order, the Emperor was regarded as a divine figure, a human-god, and his worship was mandated by law, with severe penalties for non-compliance. Hence, the early Christians found themselves facing the lions for the crime of “atheism” (i.e., denying the divinity of the Emperor). (25) It would appear that the conservatives ascribe the same qualities to their beloved state that the Romans assigned to their own rulers.
Attempts at a Conservative/Libertarian Synthesis
Despite the diametrically opposed views of conservatives and libertarians regarding the nature and function of the state, it is indeed true that there exists a significant number of people who describe themselves as “conservative-libertarian” or some variation of this hyphen. In some instances, this may be attributable to genuine intellectual confusion of the type described by Rothbard, or to intellectual vacuousness. In still other cases, opportunism or charlatanry may come into play. (26) Yet, the fact remains that there does exist a handful of capable and perceptive thinkers who likewise exert considerable effort to synthesize conservatism and libertarianism.
By far the most articulate proponent of the conservative/libertarian synthesis is the eminent libertarian scholar Hans Hermann-Hoppe. Professor Hoppe characterizes a conservative as “someone who believes in the existence of a natural order, a natural state of affairs which corresponds to the nature of things: of nature and man” and as “someone who recognizes the old and natural…and helps to preserve it against the temporary and anomalous”. (27) So far, so good. Libertarians typically do not regard human nature as limitlessly plastic and the libertarian agenda, unlike that of certain shades of utopians or socialists, does not require a reconstruction of human nature. It simply requires the removal of a particular “peculiar institution”, i.e., the state, in the same manner that other institutions, such as slavery, the established church or titles of primogeniture, have been removed in the past. But what broader description of the alleged “natural order” does Hoppe offer?
“Just as a hierarchical order exists in a family, so is there a hierarchical order within a community of families-of apprentices, servants, and masters, vassals, knights, lords, overlords, and even kings-tied together by an elaborate and intimate system of kinship relations; and of children, parents, priests, bishops, cardinals, patriarchs or popes, and finally the transcendent God. Of the two layers of authority, the earthly physical power of parents, lords, and kings is naturally subordinate and subject to control by the ultimate spiritual-intellectual authority of fathers, priests, bishops and ultimately God.” (28)
The most immediately obvious problem with this statement is that what is being described here is the medieval feudal order, precisely the same “Old Order” that classical Liberalism, of which modern libertarianism is an outgrowth, succeeded in overthrowing. Indeed, this is the same Old Order that Murray Rothbard regarded as the foundation of conservatism, as Hoppe likewise argues, but as the supreme enemy of libertarianism. The restoration of this Old Order would mark not the victory but the overwhelming defeat of libertarianism. The unintelligible nature of this kind of fusion of radical libertarianism and romantic medievalism should be obvious enough.
More plausibly, Hoppe argues that the modern welfare state has exercised a corrosive influence over traditionally conservative values, such as family solidarity and individual responsibility. (29) After all, what incentives does one have for responsible behavior when the costs of irresponsibility can be shifted onto the taxpayers at-large via the welfare state? Why cultivate family, community or voluntarily associative ties as a safety net in the event of hardship or emergency when the social bureaucracy is there to fulfill such a role? It is indeed likely that non-state intermediary institutions of the type typically championed by conservatives would be strengthened in the absence of the welfare state. But would these institutions necessarily cultivate values of a traditional conservative, bourgeois nature? Murray Rothbard was fond of the private welfare program operated by the Mormon Church, with its emphasis on self-help and personal responsibility. (30) Yet, the Mormons are notorious for their endorsement of polygamy-not exactly in keeping with the norms of the conventional bourgeois nuclear family. The black militant Nation of Islam maintains similar programs as part of its social outreach efforts. Yet that organization is known for its vociferous hatred of Western and European civilization in the same manner as the left-multiculturalists so detested by conservatives. (31) Many conservatives claim to admire the civic virtue emphasized by the ancient Greeks or the filial piety stressed in traditional Asian cultures. However, the sexual mores of both of these were often shockingly liberal by traditional Judeo-Christian, or even modern American, standards. (32) The conservative values of faith and family are certainly more thoroughly preserved in the contemporary Islamic world than in the West, yet it is precisely those filial and spiritual aspects of Islamic society, with their resulting cultural stasis, that have proven to be among the greatest barriers to political and economic liberalization. (33)
Hoppe argues that conservative values would be strengthened through implementation of the libertarian policy of the abolition of anti-discrimination laws. Under such a policy, landlords could evict bad tenants, employers could dismiss troublesome employees, schools could expel unruly students, restrictive covenants within neighborhoods or business districts could exclude undesirables, businesses could refuse service to quarrelsome customers or illegal immigrants and so on. (34) No doubt this is true. Yet, the proposition that mere repeal of anti-discrimination legistlation would usher in a universal reign of bourgeois conformity and moral conservatism appears to be a fairly dubious one. Private schools, such as Catholic schools or military academies, are notorious for the large number of juvenile delinquents among their student bodies. Inner-city “slumlords” are known for their catering to transient or unsavory tenants. Independent small businessmen are known for their willingness to employ low-cost vagrant or immigrant labor. Under the old apartheid regime of South Africa, white businessmen would defy the law by employing illegal non-white labor. (35) Employers frequently insist that their employees provide polite and prompt service to virtually all customers, including customers who behave in obnoxious or obstreperous ways. (36)
Just as Adam Smith argued that businessmen are often the greatest enemies of free enterprise, because of their frequent efforts to solicit artificial privilege, policies of protective favoritism or suppression of competitors from the state, so are businessmen often the greatest enemies of “bourgeois values” by simply seeking to make a buck by catering to decidedly non-conservative elements. Indeed, conservative values tend to most often thrive in rural, landlocked, sparsely populated, predominately agricultural communites, while the values of “tolerance” or “multiculturalism” tend to be more frequent in densely populated urban commercial centers and seaports that serve as outposts of trade. Historic legends involving the cities of Shanghai, Amsterdam, Hong Kong, San Francisco or, dare one say, Sodom, are indicative of this tendency. (37) Whatever the errors of traditionalist conservatives, their common insistence on the irreconcilable differences between commercial values and conservative values appears to be factual in nature.
Edward Feser is another strident advocate of the conservative/libertarian synthesis. Feser adopts as the foundation of his particular variation of this synthesis the Lockean principle of self-ownership. He then proceeds to attack the conventional Rothbardian view of the highly controversial matters (even among libertarians) of abortion and childrens’ rights. (38) Rothbard argued that children had no special rights beyond the ordinary libertarian negative rights (i.e., exemption from invasion of person or property) that apply to all persons equally. Therefore, while parents could, within the context of a libertarian law code, be prohibited from murdering or physically battering their children, parents could not be legally required to provide material support to their children, as this would amount to a coercive redistribution of resources from the owners (the parents) to a state-designated beneficiary (the child). Likewise, Rothbard argued that an unwanted fetus was simply an invader of the property rights of the mother (i.e., her right of ownership of her own body), therefore any legal prohibition of abortion was inconsistent with authentic libertarian law. Additionally, Rothbard maintained that a parent could not legitimately exercise coercive authority over a child in a way that did not include the parents’ exercise of their own property rights. For example, a child who is living in his parents home, and being supported by his parents financially, is obligated to comply with rules and regulations established by the parents as a condition of his status as guest in their home. If the child were to refuse to comply with his parents rules, he would become a trespasser in violation of his parents’ property rights, and the parents may legally expel him from their property as an invader. On the other hand, if a child were to take it upon himself to exit his parents property and seek residency and support elsewhere, and if he were successful in doing so, he would then become a rights-claimant and the parents could not legally interfere with his claim of self-ownership by coercive means (i.e, physically forcing him to return home). (39)
While this does indeed seem to be the position most compatible with a thorough application of libertarian theory, Feser instead argues that the Lockean self-ownership principle does not apply, at least not in full, to children, who do not yet own themselves but who are the property of their trustee-owners (i.e., their parents). Meanwhile, the parents’ status, not as owners but as trustee-owners of their children and as stewards of their childrens’ future property right of self-ownership, imposes on the parents not only the obligation to carry a pregnancy to term, but to subsequently provide material support for the dependent child. Furthermore, these are not simply moral or ethical obligations, but are also matters of rights-enforcement that may be upheld by law. These are positions some libertarians would be inclined to accept, and the questions of abortion and childrens’ rights are certainly complicated matters where reasonable and authentic libertarians may disagree. (40) However, Feser goes on to argue that a child also possesses “a right properly to be reared by his parents” (apparently, according to Feser’s own definition of propriety), to be provided “moral instruction” (apparently, according to Feser’s own rendition of morality), and to be protected from “moral pollution” such as “lewd billboard advertisements and pornographic displays on magazine racks”. (41) Feser continues, arguing that perhaps even laws prohibiting drug use or homosexuality should not be repealed “until the moral climate…considerably improves”, though, Feser attempts to maintain, “none of this affects the essentials of the libertarian position on what consenting adults do behind closed doors” and “private vices generally recognized to be vices, and kept private, cannot justfiably be outlawed”. (42)
The tortured, stretched-beyond-the-limits, non sequiter and contradictory nature of this line of argumentation ought to be obvious enough as to render an effort at refutation redundant. Clearly, Feser removes himself from the realm of authentic libertarianism and into the realm of run-of-the-mill paternalistic statism. If this line of reasoning is to be accepted, one can only imagine the Pandora’s box that might be opened. Left-libertarians might argue that laws banning hate speech or the dissemination of racist or homophobic literature should not be repealed until racism or intolerance of gay people has completely disappeared from human society, something that may never happen . Racialist-libertarians might argue that interracial married couples should be barred from being seen together in public on grounds that they might influence a child of superior racial stock toward miscegenation and deracination. Libertarians who are also Christian fundamentalists might argue that “heathen” religions should not be allowed to construct public buildings or display Islamic or Hindu religious materials on bookshelves so as not to endanger the souls of Christian children. (43) Likewise, an anarcho-capitalist might claim that the distribution of socialist and communist literature might induce children toward a sympathetic view of wealth redistribution, and should therefore be barred. (44) Indeed, do-gooders and busybodies of virtually every stripe could make similar claims concerning smoking, firearms, rap music, video games, contact sports, horseback riding (who would want a child to end up like Christopher Reeve?), fatty foods, motorcycles, mini-skirts (which might induce an adolescent male toward unbridled lust) and on and on and on. (45)
Feser goes on to argue that the “the political alliance between libertarians and conservatives ” that “has persisted as long as it has is, thus, hardly the miracle that many analysts and political activists have alleged it to be”, that this alliance “goes beyond mere compatibility” and that the two are in fact natural complements to one another.(46) However, the actual historical record of the efforts of some libertarians to align libertarianism with conservatism shows that such efforts have been a dramatic failure, as will be demonstrated below. Indeed, the future success of libertarianism necessitates that libertarians heed Rothbard’s advice and cease to “mistakenly link the prognosis for liberty with that of the seemingly stronger and supposedly allied Conservative movement”. (47)
The Consequences of the Conservative/Libertarian Alliance
That the American state continues to grow and expand exponentially is beyond dispute. At the time of the establishment of the US Constitution, there were but three federal crimes: piracy, treason and counterfeiting. At present, there are more than three thousand federal crimes, with over forty percent of these having been created by legislation enacted in the past several decades. Not coincidentally, the United States now leads the world with regards to rates of incarceration, with one quarter of the world’s prisoners being held in American prisons and jails. (48) The percentage of the Gross Domestic Product consumed by the state has likewise grown sharply in recent generations, accompanied by record-level fiscal deficits and public debts, as well as ongoing currency devaluation. Furthermore, the United States has gone from being a nation founded on the suspicion of empires and standing armies to one claiming the right to engage in unprovoked aggression against other nations for the purpose of remaking those nations according to the specifications of US foreign policy elites. Additionally, American sovereignty continues to be ceded on an ever greater and increasing level to supra-national or global entities.
Efforts from some quarters to “rollback” this phenomenal growth in statism have been met with overwhelming defeat. Indeed, since its inception in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the modern libertarian movement has continually criticized and opposed the expansion of the Leviathan state, only to be denied political success time and time again. While some of this failure is certainly attributable to conflicts between the libertarian agenda and prevailing trends, whether political, cultural or intellectual, and to the relative newness and small size of the libertarian movement, it is also an unfortunate truth that libertarians have been thus far inclined to employ disastrous strategic courses in the battle against the growth of the totalist state. The most significant strategic error of the libertarians has been the ongoing efforts of some libertarians to regard the broader conservative milieu as a strategic vehicle for the achievement of the libertarian program.
As has been demonstrated, the identification of libertarianism with conservatism stems from the opposition of both to socialism and welfarism. Rothbard observed the means by which socialism has, throughout the last century, been co-opted by state-capitalism, mercantilism and imperialism, resulting in a type of fusionism whereby the apparatus of state-capitalism remains in place, but welded together with the appendage of the welfare state. This state-capitalist/state-socialist hybrid, the foundation of the political order of all modern nations, has met with resistance from traditionalist conservatives who, as Rothbard noted, are really, in their hearts, crypto-monarchists sympathetic to the Old Order. Ironically, this situation has placed conservatives in the same camp with their natural arch-enemies, the libertarians, on the matter of state-socialism. For this reason, some libertarians have tended to regard the conservatives as champions of their own cause.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Since the beginning of the modern American Right-wing, the conservatives have tended to regard the libertarians as dangerous heretics, unwanted pests or, at best, useful idiots for the conservative agenda. Time and time again, libertarians who have aligned themselves with the Right have been stabbed in the back or, at the very least, come up on the short end. Early on in the history of the modern Right, libertarians were purged from the conservative intellectual leadership circle associated with the “National Review” magazine.(49) Some libertarians supported the presidential candidacy of Richard Nixon, only to be subseqently dismayed by Nixon’s turn to Keynesian economics, abolition of the gold standard and imposition of wage and price controls, thereby creating the impetus for the founding of the Libertarian Party in 1971. (50) Unchastened by the Nixon betrayal, many libertarians went on to support the so-called “Reagan Revolution” of the 1980s on the flimsy basis of Reagan’s folksy populist rhetoric about “getting government off our backs”.
If ever there was time when libertarians should have recognized the necessity and urgency of a clean and final break with the conservatives, it was during the Reagan era. Murray Rothbard described the legacy of “Reaganomics”:
“…Reagan not only increased government spending by an enormous amount -so enormous that it would take a 40% cut to bring us back to Carter’s wild spending totals of 1980-he even substantially increased government spending as a percentage of GNP. That’s a ‘revolution’? The much heralded 1981 tax cut was more than offset by two tax increases that year…In the ensuing years the Reagan administration…constantly raised taxes…beginning in 1982 with the largest single tax increase in American history, costing taxpayers $100 billion.” (51)
Rothbard likewise noted the tripling of the US national debt during the Reagan presidency and characterized the Reagan administration as “the most protectionist in American history, raising tariffs, imposing import quotas…boosting price supports and production quotas” along with a drastic increase in “foreign aid, a vast racket by which American taxpayers are mulcted in order to subsidize American export firms and foreign governments”. Additionally, the Reagan administration pursued policies of pushing for a global fiat currency (what Rothbard called a “one world Central Bank”), “the reckless inflationary course of the nation’s savings-and-loan banks” and an inflationary monetary program. (52)
The consequences of the Reagan administration for civil liberties included “the outbreak of drug war fascism”, “compulsory urine testing”, and “restricting our freedom to obtain government documents under the Freedom of Information Acts”. Furthermore, the Reagan presidency “set the moral climate…for the increasingly savage Puritanism of…the virtually outlawry of smoking,…raising the legal drinking age to 21″, and “making bartenders-or friendly hosts-legally responsible for someone else’s drunken driving”. Likewise, on the question of foreign policy, there was the matter of the US war in Central America, “waged hand-in-hand with Guatemalan, Honduran and Salvadoran dictatorships” along with “continued aid and support to Pol Pot in Cambodia, the most genocidal butcher of our time”. (53)
Following the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, a renewed interest in traditional, pre-twentieth century American isolationism began to appear among certain sectors of the Right, particularly within the so-called “paleoconservative” milieu. Even Rothbard, for a time, flirted with these tendencies. (54) However, it was soon revealed that profound tensions existed between the nationalist-oriented paleoconservatives and the individualist libertarians. The anti-statism and emphasis on free trade championed by the libertarians simply could not be reconciled with the paleoconservatives’ “economic nationalism” (i.e., mercantilism), organicism and communitarianism. (55) Some libertarians went on to support the conservative insurgence manifested by the dramatic Republican victories in the 1994 elections, only to be once again disappointed by the Republican Party leadership’s steadfast committment to statism, and its ability to tame or marginalize dissenters among the rank-and-file. Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. describes Murray Rothbard’s predictions of the failure of the conservative upstarts to dismantle any significant aspect of the state:
“Rothbard urged dramatic cuts in spending, taxing, and regulation, and not just in the domestic area but also in the military and in foreign policy. He saw that this was crucial to any small-government program. He also urged a dismantling of the federal judiciary on grounds that it represents a clear and present danger to American liberty. He urged the young radicals who were just elected to reject gimmicks like the balanced-budget amendment and the line-item veto, in favor of genuine change. None of this happened of course. In fact, the Republican leadership and pundit class began to warn against “kamikaze missions” and speak not of bringing liberty, but rather of governing better than others.
Foreshadowing what was to come, Rothbard pointed out: ‘Unfortunately, the conservative public is all too often taken in by mere rhetoric and fails to weigh the actual deeds of their political icons. So the danger is that (Speaker of the House Newton) Gingrich will succeed not only in betraying, but in conning the revolutionary public into thinking that they have already won and can shut up shop and go home.’ The only way to prevent this, he wrote, was to educate the public, businessmen, students, academics, journalists, and politicians about the true nature of what is going on, and about the vicious nature of the bi-partisan ruling elites’.” (56)
While the naivete of the voting public is unquestionable, it is also important to address the question of to what degree rank-and-file conservative voters were ever committed to libertarian principles. Rockwell continues:
“In the last years of the 1990s, the GOP-voting middle class refocused its anger away from government and leviathan and toward the person of Bill Clinton. It was said that he represented some kind of unique moral evil despoiling the White House. That ridiculous Monica scandal culminated in a pathetic and pretentious campaign to impeach Clinton. Impeaching presidents is a great idea, but impeaching them for fibbing about personal peccadilloes is probably the least justifiable ground. It’s almost as if that entire campaign was designed to discredit the great institution of impeachment.
In any case, this event crystallized the partisanship of the bourgeoisie, driving home the message that the real problem was Clinton and not government; the immorality of the chief executive, not his power; the libertinism of the left-liberals and not their views toward government. The much heralded “leave us alone” coalition had been thoroughly transformed in a pure anti-Clinton movement. The right in this country began to define itself not as pro-freedom, as it had in 1994, but simply as anti-leftist, as it does today.” (57)
In other words, the hostility of the populist Right to the Clinton administration was rooted not so much in any sort of serious or consistent anti-statism, but in a strong distaste for the cultural values of the left-wing of the ruling class, and subsequent feelings of resentment when such elements obtain electoral victory. For this reason, conservatives were quite prepared to once again embrace the state once one of their own came into power.
It has been not only the socially conservative lay people who comprise the grassroots support base of the Republican Party that have ignored the on-going drift of the Right into ever increasing statism, but much of the ostensible intellectual leadership of the libertarian movement as well. Michael Lind’s comments on the Cato Institute are instructive:
” The only libertarian organization of any importance in American politics is the Cato Institute…The secret of its success…is that Cato plays down the controversial, unconservative views of its intellectuals on drug policy, gay rights and abortion, and foreign policy, and concentrates on the libertarian economic agenda of deregulation, free trade, and tax cuts. The pro-market agenda of the libertarians is by no means identical with the pro-business agenda of the Republicans. Libertarian ideologues, true to their classical liberal principles, wish to abolish government subsidies to corporations and government favors for the wealthy, as well as entitlements for working and poor Americans. In practice, however, this poses no problem for the Republican Party. Republicans simply adopt the pro-market libertarian reforms that benefit business, and ignore the pro-market libertarian reforms that might hurt business. The body of libertarian thought is raided selectively by Republican strategists for ways to reduce government programs that benefit wage earners and the poor, while leaving the interests of the rich and U.S. corporations unscathed…Whether they admit it or not, the libertarians play an assigned, and subordinate, role in the conservative Republican coalition…tolerated and indulged by the Republican elite because the libertarian policy analysts are so useful in providing the business community with what it wants.” (58)
Those whose proclaimed “libertarianism” is rooted in cultural biases against the bohemian Left or in their role, witting or unwitting, as court intellectuals for the state-corporate establishment are, at their very best, fairweathered friends and unreliable allies in the struggle for liberty and against the state. It is these elements that are most likely to defect from the cause of liberty and rally to the call of the state during times of crisis when libertarian values are most heavily challenged and put to the test. Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. describes this process:
“After September 11, even those whose ostensible purpose in life is to advocate less government changed their minds. Even after it was clear that 9-11 would be used as the biggest pretense for the expansion of government since the stock market crash of 1929, the Cato Institute said that libertarianism had to change its entire focus: ‘Libertarians usually enter public debates to call for restrictions on government activity. In the wake of September 11, we have all been reminded of the real purpose of government: to protect our life, liberty, and property from violence. This would be a good time for the federal government to do its job with vigor and determination.’
The vigor and determination of the Bush administration has brought about a profound cultural change, so that the very people who once proclaimed hatred of government now advocate its use against dissidents of all sorts, especially against those who would dare call for curbs in the totalitarian bureaucracy of the military, or suggest that Bush is something less than infallible in his foreign-policy decisions. The lesson here is that it is always a mistake to advocate government action, for there is no way you can fully anticipate how government will be used. Nor can you ever count on a slice of the population to be moral in its advocacy of the uses of the police power.
Editor and Publisher, for example, posted a small note the other day about a column written by Al Neuharth, the founder of USA Today, in which he mildly suggested that the troops be brought home from Iraq ‘sooner rather than later.’ The editor of E&P was just blown away by the letters that poured in, filled with venom and hate and calling for Neuharth to be tried and locked away as a traitor. The letters compared him with pro-Hitler journalists, and suggested that he was objectively pro-terrorist, choosing to support the Muslim jihad over the US military. Other letters called for Neuharth to get the death penalty for daring to take issue with the Christian leaders of this great Christian nation.
I’m actually not surprised at this. It has been building for some time. If you follow hate-filled sites such as Free Republic, you know that the populist right in this country has been advocating nuclear holocaust and mass bloodshed for more than a year now. The militarism and nationalism dwarfs anything I saw at any point during the Cold War. It celebrates the shedding of blood, and exhibits a maniacal love of the state. The new ideology of the red-state bourgeoisie seems to actually believe that the US is God marching on earth – not just godlike, but really serving as a proxy for God himself.
Along with this goes a kind of worship of the presidency, and a celebration of all things public sector, including egregious law like the Patriot Act, egregious bureaucracies like the Department of Homeland Security, and egregious centrally imposed regimentation like the No Child Left Behind Act. It longs for the state to throw its weight behind institutions like the two-parent heterosexual family, the Christian charity, the homogeneous community of native-born patriots.
In 1994, the central state was seen by the bourgeoisie as the main threat to the family; in 2004 it is seen as the main tool for keeping the family together and ensuring its ascendancy. In 1994, the state was seen as the enemy of education; today, the same people view the state as the means of raising standards and purging education of its left-wing influences. In 1994, Christians widely saw that Leviathan was the main enemy of the faith; today, they see Leviathan as the tool by which they will guarantee that their faith will have an impact on the country and the world.
Paul Craig Roberts is right: ‘In the ranks of the new conservatives, however, I see and experience much hate. It comes to me in violently worded, ignorant and irrational emails from self-professed conservatives who literally worship George Bush. Even Christians have fallen into idolatry. There appears to be a large number of Americans who are prepared to kill anyone for George Bush.’ Again: ‘Like Brownshirts, the new conservatives take personally any criticism of their leader and his policies. To be a critic is to be an enemy.’
In short, what we have alive in the US is an updated and Americanized fascism. Why fascist? Because it is not leftist in the sense of egalitarian or redistributionist. It has no real beef with business. It doesn’t sympathize with the downtrodden, labor, or the poor. It is for all the core institutions of bourgeois life in America: family, faith, and flag. But it sees the state as the central organizing principle of society, views public institutions as the most essential means by which all these institutions are protected and advanced, and adores the head of state as a godlike figure who knows better than anyone else what the country and world’s needs, and has a special connection to the Creator that permits him to discern the best means to bring it about.
The American right today has managed to be solidly anti-leftist while adopting an ideology – even without knowing it or being entirely conscious of the change – that is also frighteningly anti-liberty. This reality turns out to be very difficult for libertarians to understand or accept. For a long time, we’ve tended to see the primary threat to liberty as coming from the left, from the socialists who sought to control the economy from the center. But we must also remember that the sweep of history shows that there are two main dangers to liberty, one that comes from the left and the other that comes from the right. Europe and Latin America have long faced the latter threat, but its reality is only now hitting us fully.
What is the most pressing and urgent threat to freedom that we face in our time? It is not from the left. If anything, the left has been solid on civil liberties and has been crucial in drawing attention to the lies and abuses of the Bush administration. No, today, the clear and present danger to freedom comes from the right side of the ideological spectrum, those people who are pleased to preserve most of free enterprise but favor top-down management of society, culture, family, and school, and seek to use a messianic and belligerent nationalism to impose their vision of politics on the world…
…What should this teach us? It shows that those who saw the interests of liberty as being well served by the politicized proxies of free enterprise alone, family alone, Christianity alone, law and order alone, were profoundly mistaken. There is no proxy for liberty, no cause that serves as a viable substitute, and no movement by any name whose success can yield freedom in our time other than the movement of freedom itself. We need to embrace liberty and liberty only, and not be fooled by groups or parties or movements that only desire a temporary liberty to advance their pet interests. As Rothbard said in 1965:
‘The doctrine of liberty contains elements corresponding with both contemporary left and right. This means in no sense that we are middle-of-the-roaders, eclectically trying to combine, or step between, both poles; but rather that a consistent view of liberty includes concepts that have also become part of the rhetoric or program of right and of left. Hence a creative approach to liberty must transcend the confines of contemporary political shibboleths’.”
Rockwell is indeed correct that the American conservative movement has metastasized into a full-blown American fascism. But this should come as no surprise to libertarians, as it is a natural and predictable consequence of the nature of conservatism. For conservatism is, in its very soul, profoundly authoritarian and intractably hostile to liberty.
The Incompatibility of Conservatism and Libertarianism
The late Frank Meyer, a former Communist and later columnist for the conservative “National Review”, was among the earliest pseudo-libertarians to attempt to forge a reconciliation between conservatism and libertarianism, a position that he referred to as “fusionism”. Murray Rothbard described this outlook and its inadequacies:
“Mr. Meyer is ultimately a Middle-of-the-Roader. For some time, he has endeavored to square the circle and simultaneously integrate liberty and statism, reason and tradition, radicalism and conservatism. It has been a noble course, but I’m afraid it must be as futile as any attempt to reconcile mutually contradictory propositions…
… If reason is needed to decide between traditions, to judge good and evil, in what sense does reason not have the ‘sole’ role here? In other places, Meyer, with evident inconsistency, speaks of tradition as properly a ‘guide and governor of reason’, or of reason operating “within tradition.” Here, Meyer is trying desperately to establish a third, fusionist way between libertarianism and traditionalism, but at the price of inner contradiction and theoretical confusion. If reason is indispensable to judge good and evil and to decide between traditions, then obviously it cannot operate within tradition. For either reason is the ultimate arbiter, or tradition is; it is impossible to have it both ways. Fusionism has ineluctably run afoul of the law of the excluded middle (the product of reason, I might note).
Can we make any sense at all of Meyer’s vague references to the proper role of tradition? Perhaps there is a clue in the clause, ‘starting with a due respect for the fundamental moral knowledge of ends and values incorporated in tradition.’ Perhaps this simply means that, if we wish to learn moral truth, we had better begin by finding out what the theorists of the present and past have had to say about it. This is not placing tradition above reason; it is simply employing common sense. If one wants to learn anything about the world, it saves time and energy, and adds a great number of insights, to say the least, to learn what has been written and thought on the subject, rather than each individual’s attempting to spin out all knowledge from scratch. If Meyer or anyone else should think that the libertarian position is like Swift’s spider, to spin everything out of one’s head a priori without reference to thought of the past or present, then this would be only a bizarre caricature. Libertarians, one would hope, are intelligent human beings, and not solipsistic cretins.
Are there any other obeisances that libertarians may properly make to tradition? Simply to say that, in life, not all questions are matters of moral principle. There are numerous areas of life where people live by habit and custom, where the custom can neither be called moral or immoral, and where pursuit of custom eases the tensions of social life and makes for a more comfortable and harmonious society. It would be a false and perverted rationalism to say that any custom which cannot be proven on some other ground to be “rational” must go by the board. We can then conclude as follows: (a) that custom must be voluntarily upheld and not enforced by coercion; and (b) that people would be well advised (although not forced) to begin with a presumption in favor of custom, other things being equal. In a world, for example, where every man takes off his hat in the presence of ladies, an individual should be free not to do so, but at the risk of being generally judged a boor. If, on the other hand, this person’s constitution is such that he would be likely to suffer a bad cold by exposing his pate, then we have here a higher moral consideration overriding the social harmonies of custom…
I conclude from a study of its founder and leading exponent that ‘fusionism’ does not really exist… To use Marxian jargon, fusionism often seems like an attempt to paper over the contradictions within conservatism… Intellectually, the concept must be judged a failure.” (60)
Time and time again, Murray Rothbard emphasized the radical, revolutionary nature of libertarianism and the incompatibility of this radicalism with the tradition-based collectivism of the Right. For if it is conceded that reason and justice are to be prioritized over tradition, then the alleged authority of tradition is effectively overturned. Even the more perceptive of the traditionalist conservatives have balked at the notion of ascribing carte blanche authority to tradition. Robert Nisbet stated:
“Naturally, the conservatives, in their appeal to tradition, were not endorsing each and every idea or thing handed down from the past. The philosophy of traditionalism is, like all such philosophies, selective. A salutary tradition must come from the past but it must also be desirable in itself.” (61)
In other words, tradition must be subordinated to broader principles that transcend tradition. Whether or not a particular tradition is “salutary” is to be determined by the process of deductive reasoning. Libertarians have so determined that the historical record indicates that claims of beneficence or benevolence on the part of the state are quite shabby indeed, and that the state is, at best, a noxious parasite on society. Given the established position of the state, and the vested interests of those attached to it, libertarians find themselves in the position of being revolutionaries of the first order rather than traditionalists. It is on this point that the differences between conservatives and libertarians are most irreconcilable. The hallmarks of the bulk of conservative thought are a championing of middle-class values, a deferential attitude towards tradition, a preference for collectivism ordered on the basis of tradition, a suspicion of rationalism and ideology, and a suspicious, indeed, hostile, view of change.
If libertarianism is indeed a revolutionary doctrine, as Rothbard insisted that it was, then any sustainable compatibility between libertarianism and so-called “middle-class values” becomes impossible. The middle class is anything but a revolutionary class. Quite the opposite is true. The primary value of the middle class is the protection of its often tenuous class position. For this reason, the middle class values, above all, stability and security rather than upheaval and change. The middle class wishes to preserve the status quo rather than overthrow the established order. How well does this square with the libertarian insistence on the inalienability of private property rights? The middle class, having obtained some property, naturally places some value on the preservation of property rights, in a limited sense, and so looks with horror at Socialist or Communist schemes for nationalization, confiscation or redistribution in a comprehensive sense. Yet, the attachment of the middle class to property rights is, to say the least, selective and inconsistent. While the middle class wishes to preserve its own status as property owners, it also wishes to retain, and indeed expand, its own property values along with its social position. This inevitably means, quite frequently, violating the property rights of others and expressing support for the redistributionist state. Hence, among the most enthusiastic champions of zoning laws, land-use regulations, building codes, rent control, urban renewal programs, eminent domain, occupational licensing, anti-peddling laws, subsidies to corporate development projects, “public-private partnerships” and public works are middle-class homeowners, professional and business associations. While the middle class wishes to protect its own class position against progressive income taxes and inflation, it also wishes to do the same by repressing the economic activities and violating the property rights of the underclass and the conventional proletarian class.
Additionally, the middle class wishes to not only preserve its class position, but to achieve greater upward mobility for itself, not necessarily through free market means, though this may be true at times, but quite often through the assistance of the state. The typical middle-class voter favors not laissez faire but a conservative welfare state (i.e., one that caters to middle class interests). Among the most extravagant state entitlements are those whose primary beneficiaries are middle class persons, for example, social security, medicare, farm subsidies, student loans, public schools and state universities. Also, a substantial source of employment for middle class persons consists of the staffing of state bureaucracies and agencies, or the staffing of corporate bureaucracies whose business is largely derived from the state. This inevitably means adopting pro-establishment views and attitudes, putting on at least a veneer of outward conformity and respectability and cultivating an ethic of loyalty towards superiors and towards those in authority. To say the least, this is incompatible with any kind of serious political radicalism, much less anarchism of type championed by radical libertarians. To openly and resolutely oppose the state is to also oppose bourgeois notions of conformity and respectability and conservative notions of piety and reverence towards established authority.
To be sure, there does exist plenty of libertarians who regard themselves as traditionalists of one sort or another, usually cultural, moral or religious traditionalists. But libertarian-traditionalists are selective in their traditionalism. They endorse some traditions and rejects others, such as those of a statist, nationalist, militarist or imperialist nature. However, conservative-traditionalists, with the rare exception of those with a commonsensical approach a la Robert Nisbet, are not quite so selective. For conservatives, tradition is simply tradition, with traditions of a familial, cultural, religious, national, imperial, classist, militarist or statist nature forming the larger unified body of conservative traditions, with the state being, indeed, the apex of it all. For this reason, most conservative intellectuals, and virtually all conservative lay people, are nationalists, statists and imperialists in their foreign policy outlook (recall Llewellyn Rockwell’s discussion of “red-state fascism”), mercantilists or “economic nationalists” in their economic outlook, and authoritarian-moralists or quasi-theocrats in their cultural-social-legal outlook. Additionally, conservatism, being the remnant of the Old Order that Rothbard described it as, is by nature suspicious of and resistant to change, backward-looking or, at the very best, relatively comfortable with the status quo. For this reason, even libertarians so moderate as Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman rejected the label “conservative”. (62)
Two more essential libertarian insights must also be considered. The most advanced libertarian scholarship increasingly points toward the necessity of anarchism. (63) Indeed, Hans Hermann-Hoppe considers the most critical error of the classical liberals to be their acceptance of the protective role of the state with regards to rights-enforcement. This error has produced three very severe consequences: first, a state-imposed monocentric legal order that is ultimately responsible for policing itself (for example, the role of agents of the state, i.e., state and federal judges and Supreme Court justices, in interpreting and enforcing constitutional limits on state power) thereby leaving state power virtually unchecked; second, the expansion of the state from its role of protector of classical liberal “negative” rights (life, liberty and property) to protection of socialist “positive rights” (health, education and welfare) thereby guaranteeing the growth of an enormous regulatory state bureaucracy and confiscatory taxation; and, lastly, the ever-expanding jurisdiction of the alleged protective state from the local/provincial level to the national/regional level to the supra-national/global level, thereby resulting in the eventual development of a universal super-state whose capacity for tyranny is not only unchecked, but unprecedented. (64)
Additionally, there is the libertarian critique of the war-making powers of the state. (65) As Rothbard insisted, war is the most extreme form of statism, involving not only the mass murder of military combat, the mass enslavement of military conscription, and the mass invasion of property rights by means of taxation and property destruction, but also the massive expansion of the state into all areas of society, including the seizure of private lands and industries, restrictions on speech and travel, denial of due process for the accused, the demonizing and scapegoating of ethnic or national groups, suspicion or repression of dissenters, rationing, price controls and countless other ills. A full and consistent libertarian must, then, be a resolute opponent of intra-state warfare.
It is clear enough that libertarianism and conservatism are unremitting enemies with regards to the conflicts between radicalism and establishmentarianism, tradition and reason, collectivism and individualism, nationalism and anarchism, militarism and peace. These are gaps that cannot be bridged. Hans Hermann-Hoppe provides a succinct and inspiring description of the revolutionary vision of the libertarians:
“Rather than supranational political integration, world-government, constitutions, courts, banks, and money, global social democracy, and universal and ubiquitous multiculturalism, anarchist-liberals propose the decomposition of the nation-state into its constituent heterogenous parts. As their classic forbears, new liberals do not seek to takeover any government. They only want to be left alone by government, and to secede from its jurisdiction to organize their own protection. Unlike their predecessors who merely sought to replace a larger government with a smaller one, however, new liberals pursue the logic of secession to its end. They propose unlimited secession, i.e., the unrestricted proliferation of independent free territories, until the state’s range of jurisdiction finally withers away. To this end-and in complete contrast to the statist projects of ‘European Integration’ and a ‘New World Order’-they promote the vision of a world of tens of thousands of free countries, regions and cantons, of hundreds of thousands of independent free cities-such as the present-day oddities of Monaco, Andorra, San Marino, Liechtenstein, (formerly) Hong Kong, and Singapore-and even more numerous free districts and neighborhoods, economically integrated through free trade (the smaller the territory, the greater the economic pressure of opting for free trade!) and an international gold-commodity money standard. If and when this alternative liberal vision gains prominence in public opinion, the end of the social democratic ‘End of History’ will give rise to a liberal renaissance.” (66)
In response to this revolutionary program, an authentic libertarian can only say: “Amen, Brother Hoppe!”. But what is the likely conservative take on all of this? Karl Jahn, a contemporary conservative writer, in a polemic against Murray Rothbard, remarks:
“But of course we live in the real world, not the libertarian dreamworld, and it is unlikely that all governments everywhere could be destroyed overnight. The anarchist revolution must start somewhere, and spread unevenly; many of us would be determined to strangle it in its cradle.” (67)
It is likely that if and when the libertarian revolution actually comes, libertarians and conservatives will find themselves on opposite sides of the trenches, as well they should. For this and other reasons, the adoption, by libertarians, of a political strategy oriented towards conservatives is extraordinarily foolish. Conventional businessmen, middle-class professionals, affluent suburbanites and religious conservatives will be among the very last population groups to come over to the libertarian side. One might as well try to convert these elements to Maoism. The natural allies and constituents of libertarianism are not traditionalist conservatives, but a) those who are most victimized by the state and b) those with the least to lose by their rejection of the present statist order. (68) This realization inevitably implies that libertarians, to be effective, must adopt not only political radicalism, but economic and cultural radicalism as well.
Libertarianism and Economic Radicalism
A correct understanding of economics is essential to the eventual success of the libertarian movement. It is well-known that much of the libertarian ideology is grounded in a broader framework of economic theory, an elaborate body of thought which, in its sum total, demonstrates the parasitical, unnecessary and undesirable nature of the state. Because libertarians are champions of property rights, free enterprise and laissez faire, many people, particularly Leftists, tend to identify libertarianism with economic conservatism and, therefore, as an apology for state-capitalism or, at the very least, as a defense of the corporate model of economic organization. Unfortunately, many so-called “libertarians” also view libertarianism in this way. However, this perspective is erroneous. Walter Block explains:
“…it is of the utmost importance to realize that libertarianism by no means implies a capitalist means of organization. We totally and adamantly reject the view that private property rights logically implies a capitalist mode. Instead, we assert that libertarianism is every bit as compatible with socialism as it is with capitalism.”
“…the relevant distinction is not between socialism and capitalism, but between voluntarism and coercion. The major combatants on the field thus are not socialism vs. capitalism, but rather voluntary socialism, together with voluntary capitalism on the one side, arrayed against the evil forces of coercive socialism and coercive capitalism, in unholy alliance, on the other.” (69)
The essence of libertarian economics is neither capitalism nor socialism but voluntarism. Economic arrangements of a voluntarist nature can be either socialist or capitalist in nature. How are these terms to be defined? Block continues:
“By socialism I understand adherence to the familiar Marxian doctrine ‘from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs'; as well as the view that all property (or at least all capital goods) shall be held in common. But the crucial question for libertarianism is whether these socialistic perspectives are put into effect on a voluntary or on a coercive basis…” (70)
Examples of voluntary socialism include “…the kibbutz, the cooperative, the commune, the (voluntary) labor union, the Hutterite colony, the monastery, etc. The typical nuclear family, moreover, is a (voluntary) socialist commune! All members of the family consume not in accordance with their ability to earn, but based on their needs. The parents may earn the entire income, but certainly do not consume it all; the (young) children earn none of it, but consume on the basis of their needs.” (71)
It is theoretically possible, then, that a libertarian economy could be organized with very little actual capitalism, with cooperatives, communes or labor unions being the dominant institutions of production. However, it is also true that (non-state) capitalism and libertarianism can co-exist. Block defines capitalism as “that system of interaction based on trade, employment, interest rates, business firms, profits, etc.” (72) Is this not the same thing as the system that is currently in place in the advanced nations? Hardly. Indeed, the present system of state-capitalism is the diametrical opposite of the voluntary capitalism described by Block. Again, Block explains:
“The system of state capitalism (or monopoly capitalism, or economic fascism, or corporate capitalism, or, paradoxically, national socialism=Naziism) retains a thin veneer of adherence to free enterprise institutions. But this is only a mask of the underlying reality. In actual fact, the corporate interests seize, through government, that which would be unavailable to them through the market…through a series of protections, payoffs, taxes, subsidies, bail-outs, franchises, permits, licenses, quotas, bribes, exemptions, tariffs, favors, etc. the capitalist-rulers will expropriate these funds from the general public…This distinction between laissez-faire capitalism and state monopoly…is subtle, and difficult to understand…Yet it is one of the most fundamental of all distinctions in political economy. Its importance would be hard to overestimate.” (73)
Yet, a tragic error that many professed libertarians have made, and continue to make, is to grossly underestimate the importance of this “most fundamental of all distinctions in political economy”. Kevin Carson describes the consequences of this error for the libertarian movement:
“Among non-libertarians, libertarianism is often perceived as just a form of Republicanism that’s soft on drug laws. In many cases, this is unjust. The libertarian movement includes a very large petty bourgeois, populist strand that goes back to Warren and Tucker and the other individualists, and has been passed down through the hands of Nock and Mencken. And most Rothbardians adhere to principles that would mean the destruction of most big business as it exists today.
But in too many cases, the perception is unfortunately quite just. A large segment of the libertarian movement is a glorified apology for those currently on top: for big business against small business, consumers and labor; corporate agribusiness against organic farmers; for oil, timber and mining companies who want access to government land with politically determined leases; and for the settlers in Third World pariah states or former pariah states like Israel and Zimbabwe at the expense of the native dispossessed. Or in the words of Cool Hand Luke, ‘Yeah, them poor ole bosses need all the help they can get.’
If libertarianism continues to be perceived in this way, as an elaborate justification of sympathy for the haves against the have-nots, we don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of ever achieving victory. But if we act on the principles of non-aggression and non-coercion, even when those principles are harmful to big business, we will have the basis for a genuinely libertarian coalition of left and right that can storm the citadel of the state.” (74)
Through their acceptance of the state-capitalist status quo or, at the very least, their failure to openly challenge this status quo, many libertarians have placed themselves in the decidedly un-libertarian position of being court intellectuals for the state-capitalist economic royalists and, therefore, for the state itself, thereby providing legitimacy to those left-wing statists who regard libertarianism as just another brand of corporate conservatism. For this reason, authentic economic radicalism must be at the forefront of the libertarian movement. As Rothbard indicated, libertarianism is historically to the left of socialism on the political spectrum. The implication of this is that libertarians must, in fact, place themselves to the left of even the Marxists or Maoists in the virulence and determination of their opposition to state-capitalism. Viewed from this perspective, socialism and its derivatives actually become reactionary positions, considerably to the right of libertarianism as socialism makes considerable compromises with the state, while libertarianism completely rejects the state.
This insight carries with it certain implications for libertarian strategy. It is of the utmost importance that libertarians attack the state according to the correct hierarchy of priorities. Many libertarians make the mistake of focusing their energies on attacking forms of interventionism that are ostensibly designed to benefit the poor or downtrodden. However, from a strategic perspective, it is far more important to attack interventionism of the type that serves to prop up the powerful. (75) This means that the apparatus of state-capitalism, in its entirety, must be the principle focus of the wrath of libertarian economic radicalism. The first order of business would be to attack the “military-industrial complex” that serves as the military arm of corporate mercantilism and imperialism, in addition to being a de facto welfare system for state-capitalism. This would involve libertarians entering into tactical alliances with the antiwar Left, indeed, of holding to an even more radically antiwar position than that of the common Leftist, as libertarians would steadfastly oppose “humanitarian interventionism” of the type frequently favored by the Left, in addition to opposing more overt variations of imperialism. (76)
The next project would be to attack those state actions which serve to centralize control over resources in an artificial manner, such as central banking, international mercantilist arrangements, state land ownership or imposition of land monopolies, “intellectual property” laws and other forms of commercial monopoly, subsidies to corporations, licensing restrictions and countless other forms of interventionism on behalf of the privileged. Once again, this approach would allow libertarians to build broad tactical alliances with Leftists and Socialists of virtually all stripes, with libertarians being the most radical of the lot, and the more reactionary Socialists running to catch up. The eventual goal of the libertarians should be for libertarianism to replace socialism and statist brands of populism, in the popular perception, as the ideological champion of the people against the elites.
The need to engage politically-connected elites does not mean that the welfare state proper should be ignored. As state-capitalism is being challenged, libertarians must distance themselves from the more conservative (when compared to libertarians) left-liberals and socialists who will no doubt seek to preserve the apparatus of social welfare. Libertarians must instead champion non-state alternatives to the welfare state. The general public will likely be unwilling to embrace the entire libertarian program of state abolitionism until it can be assured that such abolition does not involve leaving the poor, unemployed or elderly to starve in the streets, as libertarianism is often caricatured in socialist propaganda. Parallel to the libertarian effort to dismantle the apparatus of state-capitalism, corporate mercantilism and imperialism, there must be a simultaneous effort, preferably led by libertarians, to establish and develop non-state institutions for the provision of social welfare, care for the elderly, infirmed, orphaned, impoverished, disabled, mentally handicapped and the like. At the moment that the state’s welfare apparatus ceases to exist, there must be already in place intermediary and independent sector institutions previously set up, without any direction, involvement or funding whatsosever from the state, to step in and fulfill the social safety net role previously maintained by the state. (77)
A comprehensive description of how the process of completely separating economy and state might take place, and a detailed description of the economic arrangements that might follow, are beyond the scope of this paper. However, it can be assumed that such procedures and arrangements will vary significantly and will reflect a plurality of economic, cultural and ideological tendencies. Just as the present statist system is a hybrid of state-capitalism and state-socialism, so would a libertarian, non-state system likely be a hybrid of libertarian-capitalism and libertarian-socialism, particularly if the anarchist critique is accepted as an essential ingredient of libertarianism, as scholarship continues to indicate that it must necessarily be. A libertarian-anarchist economy might well include anarcho-capitalist capital investment firms, anarcho-communist communes, anarcho-collectivist collectives, anarcho-syndicalist labor unions, anarcho-mutualist mutuals or cooperatives, geo-anarchist land trusts, agarian-anarchist or eco-anarchist agricultural communities, among many other arrangements. (78)
In the years and decades leading up to its triumph, the libertarian movement will necessarily emerge as a revolutionary movement, resolutely opposed to the statist status quo, and containing within its ranks an alternative infrastructure that will, in turn, serve as an embryo for the future non-state system. That this must be a populist peoples’ movement, in revolt against tyrannical and exploitive state-supported elites, goes without saying.(79) The remaining question involves the matter of how such a movement will initially be conceived and subsequently incubate with time and effort.
Libertarianism and Cultural Radicalism
Throughout its history, the United States has continually drifted leftward culturally (becoming more “inclusive”) but drifted rightward politically (becoming more statist, militarist and imperialist). Much of American social history involves the struggle of one previously persecuted or marginalized group after another for greater freedom, mobility, tolerance, acceptance, etc. Initially, there was the movement to abolish slavery, then to advance the position of women, and then labor, followed by racial minorities, homosexuals, youth, the handicapped and so on. Typically, movements of this type start off on a relatively libertarian basis, initially seeking to repeal repressive laws or to reduce severe social discrimination, only to later be coopted by statism, and to metamorphize into just another political interest group seeking to dine at the public trough. This phenomena is traceable to the principle errors of both Liberalism and Socialism, that is, the tendencies of both of these to look to the state as either the protector and upholder of rights or as a means to economic mobility and advancement. (80)
Consequently, the movement to abolish slavery was co-opted by the forces of Northeastern mercantilism and state-capitalism, resulting in the consolidation of a nationalist regime and, at least for a time, the relegation of the Southern region to that of colonial status.(81) A century later, the movement to abolish compulsory racial segregation was coopted by the forces of egalitarian state-centralism, thereby replacing coercive segregationism with coercive integrationism, and a massive invasion of private property rights, along with the erosion of the sovereignty and autonomy of local communities. Labor unions were coopted by the forces of progressive-liberalism into the cartelized triumvirate of Big Business, Big Government and Big Labor. (82) Feminism, which began as an assertion of the property rights of women (as opposed to the treatment of women as the property of their fathers or husbands), has degenerated, in places, into a movement bent on the erection of a new gender-based caste system, ordered on the basis of female prioritization. (83) The gay rights movement, which began with the Stonewall uprising against police invasions of the property rights of homosexuals, has been co-opted into yet another faction of the coalition of victimologists, demanding state assistance in the promotion of homosexualism, irrespective of the associative, economic or religious liberties of others. (84)
The embrace of statism by the movements of various minority groups has motivated some libertarians to move rightward and embrace cultural conservatism. This would appear to be a self-defeating effort. Whether one likes it or not, ethnic minorities, feminists, gays, environmentalists, immigrants, and other groups of this type are here to stay. Indeed, demographic patterns indicate that ethnic minorities will collectively outnumber whites by the middle of the twenty-first century. As indicated, American culture has historically maintained a steady leftward drift and this will likely continue, with homosexuals, feminists, religious minorities, “non-traditional lifestyles” and the like becoming ever more prominent. To some degree, this can work to the advantage of libertarians, as marginalized social groups seeking to advance themselves can often be more sympathetic, at least temporarily, to libertarian values, than those groups who have become status quo and have vested interests to maintain. That most members of minority social groups on the rise currently espouse statism is likely due more to the general underdevelopment of intellectual culture than to any inherent proclivities for statism on the part of these groups. For more than a century and a half, socialism has been the predominate ideology of dissident intellectuals, just as liberalism had shaped the outlook of dissenters in previous times. But as Rothbard maintained, libertarianism is actually a far more radical, far more revolutionary ideology than either liberalism or socialism. Therefore, it stands to reason that, as intellectual culture advances, more and more political dissenters will come to embrace the libertarian outlook. This likely pattern fits well with the views of both Friedrich von Hayek and Ayn Rand, neither of whom were quite so radical as Rothbard, yet both of whom insisted that the philosophy of freedom must first capture the intellectual and philosophical elites, and the bulk of the academic world, before it can begin to trickle down into the minds of the commoners and, eventually, find its way into the political realm. (85)
The standard pattern in the history of the advancement of radical movements is that a new revolutionary outlook first captures the imagination of the intellectual elite, who become dissenters, and this new outlook then advances into the ranks of those who are most likely to opt for radicalism, or who have the least to lose by doing so. So, in turn, the intellectual dissidents are joined by student radicals and rebellious youth, bohemians and counterculturalists, members of the lumpenproletariat and the underclass, and marginalized or outcast social groups. Eventually, radical ideas begin working their way into the ranks of the conventional proletariat, and then into the middle class, and, finally, the establishment, with social reactionaries reluctantly being dragged along. (86) At this point, the revolution is complete. Many libertarians, particularly those of a socially conservative bent, no doubt balk at the notion of embracing cultural radicalism, often equating cultural radicalism with the cultural Marxism of the contemporary academic Left, with its orientation towards authoritarian-multicultural egalitarianism, or with personal nihlism of the “tune in, turn on, drop out” variety. Yet, this perspective sets up a false dichotomy. Cultural Marxism is actually an outgrowth of Socialism and Communism, movements historically to the right of libertarianism, making these elements reactionaries rather than radicals. (87) Also, cultural radicalism need not imply personal bohemianism. To be a cultural radical is to defend the outcast, the downtrodden, the persecuted and scapegoated against the artificially privileged, against vested interests, against predatory power-holders and unscrupulous elites. To be a cultural radical, one need not be a hippie, a homosexual or a heroin addict. One can be a cultural radical and still go to church, abstain from alcohol or drug abuse, maintain a monogamous relationship with a significant other, and engage in responsible financial habits. To be a cultural radical is to side with the Hebrew slaves against Ramses, the Roman Christians against Diocletian or the German Jews against Hitler.
What would be the implications of an adoption of a culturally radical stance for libertarian strategy? Just as rejection of the warfare-state requires libertarians to move to the left of the liberals and socialists, who often endorse “humanitarian” warfare, just as the libertarian program of separation of economy and state requires rejection, by libertarians, of not only the corporate-state but also the welfare-state (near and dear to the hearts of Leftists), so would cultural radicalism require that libertarians actually place themselves to the left of the conventional Left on many, if not most, social questions. For example, the state persecution of racial minorities, religious minorities, women and homosexuals has become increasingly socially unacceptable in American society, yet the persecution of other groups, primarily a huge assortment of economic or cultural groupings (users and sellers of psychoactive drugs, sex workers, jitney cab drivers, peddlers, vendors, midwives, practitioners of alternative medicine, certain categories of gamblers and bookies, loansharks, money-launderers, insider traders, smugglers, dealers in untaxed liquor or tobacco, etc.), with many of these groups labeled as “economic criminals” in a manner similar to the labeling of unpopular occupations as “economic criminals” by the former Soviet regime, continues unabated and often with the tacit or even explicit support of the Left. Also in need of consideration are the millions of school children held captive to the state’s educational prisons under truancy and compulsory education laws, the hundreds of thousands of innocent persons incarcerated annually by means of unconstitutional involuntary civil commitment, fathers who have been impoverished and hounded into prison under draconian, anti-male “child support enforcement” laws, homeless people persecuted under vagrancy and loitering laws, and many others. (88)
Adopting such as stance would indeed, at least at times, mean siding with elements of the political Right. As one reviewer said of Murray Rothbard:
“He defended land-rights groups against environmentalists, citizen militias against gun grabbers, isolationists against imperialists, paleoconservatives against neoconservatives, populists against party regulars, anti-New World Order conspiracy theorists against the establishment, nationalists against internationalists, states righters against libertarian centralists, the Christian right against its own leadership, and much more.” (89)
As “political correctness”, the authoritarian-multicultural ideology of the contemporary statist Left, continues to work its way into mainstream society, more groups will continue to come under attack in the same manner that smokers, gun owners and “politically incorrect” persons have in the past (recall the federal murders at Waco and Ruby Ridge). Just as the libertarians should work to establish themselves as the premiere revolutionary movement of the era, in sharp contrast to the archaic and reactionary socialists, just as the libertarians would eventually win the support of the cultural Left by moving even further to the left than the official “Left” in their defense of social scapegoats, so would the libertarians eventually attain for themselves a great deal of crossover support from the Right through a) a fierce economic populism in opposition to statist elites (for example, the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations) and b) defense of conservative or traditional social groups (religious fundamentalists, racialists, pro-lifers) who come under attack from the statist liberal elite. (90) Libertarians would side with both pornographers and neo-nazis against proponents of censorship, immigrants against the INS, indigenous peoples’ against the BIA, political dissidents and Muslim citizens against the FBI or the Justice Department, draft resisters against the Selective Service Administration, marijuana farmers against the DEA, gun owners and dealers against the BATF, tax resisters against the IRS, land rights’s advocates against the EPA, Third World peasants against the CIA, sex workers against the vice police, drug users and sellers against the narcotics police, gang members against “gang-enforcement units”, prisoners against the prison-industrial complex, students against truant officers, mental patients against coercive psychiatrists, and on and on.
The ideological foundations of libertarianism–private property rights, voluntary association, decentralist localism–provide the societal framework for the achievement of autonomy and self-determination for a wide range of often conflicting groups-cultural traditionalists and counterculturalists, conventional nuclear families and feminists or homosexuals, religionists and secularists, racialists and multiculturalists, primitivists and futurists, technofreaks and technophobes, egoists and communitarians, proprietarians and socialists.(91) Indeed, the framework of libertarianism can provide at least a partial solution to the most divisive controversies of the era. For example, on the question of same-sex marriage, a libertarian might, in opposition to the liberal insistence that universal recognition of gay marriage trump private property rights or the conservative insistence that the preservation of traditional marriage trump voluntary association and local sovereignty, opt for the separation of marriage and state, with individual religious denominations and non-state community or family associations determining their own standards for what constitutes a legitimate marriage, with the economic aspects of marriage being dealt with by means of private contracts. The natural constituents of libertarianism could include the entire spectrum of enemies of the state-capitalist ruling class, from conspiracy-mongering militamen to vegetarian anti-WTO protestors.(92)
However, if libertarianism is to have any future at all, libertarians must, without hesitation or reservation, position themselves as the partisans of progress against reaction, enlightenment against obscurantism, radicalism against the status quo, upheaval against stasis. As Chris Matthew Sciabarra notes:
“…an intransigent cultural conservatism cannot be a viable foundation for a free society. While the market may depend on various cultural and legal precedents for its functioning, it is also a spontaneous ordering that challenges, and may topple, traditions…The innovative adaptability of the market to changing circumstances is matched only by the staggering changes it can bring about to those societies it touches…It has made it possible for many individuals to shape their own destiny and to pursue alternative lifestyles. Those within libertarianism who seek a traditionalist foundation for liberty tend to disregard the role of the market in generating the non-traditional…
“…the real war is not merely political or structural. It is also personal, cultural and historical…It is by no means a priori apparent that any particular cultural vision will be uniquely compatible with liberty, given the vast complexity of societies on earth, each with its own cultural history-though there is some evidence that some societies’ values are much more consonant with freedom than others. The musings of social reactionaries, who teeter on the brink of theocracy, are not the most effective aids to understanding the contextual embeddedness of human beings or human liberties.” (93)
Indeed, modern libertarians could take a cue from the historic anarchists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, who saw liberty as the natural by-product of liberation, that is, liberation from, in Jefferson’s words, “all forms of tyranny over the minds of men” whether political, economic, cultural, aristocratic or ecclesiastical. (94) The historic anarchists recognized that the Prometheus, the fire-bringer of liberty, is often the one who is most despised, most outcast, most downtrodden, the one with the least to lose. (95)
It would appear that the original course embarked upon by Rothbard and Hess in the early years of the modern American libertarian movement was, in fact, the correct one. Indeed, the circumstances of that time and of today are in many ways similar. An imperial presidency, in the best tradition of corporate liberalism, seeks to expand the welfare-warfare state to ever greater levels of empire, thereby blazing a trail toward still more military disaster and economic ruin. Reactionary America is clinging steadfastly to the flagpole, yet dissent is brewing, though it has yet to simmer. Perhaps still greater crisis’ in the future will serve as the impetus for the advancement of what Rothbard and Hess began in the 1960s to the next level of its evolution, despite the subsequent malaise in the libertarian milieu. (96) The modern world is desperately in need of the emergence of a radical, revolutionary libertarian movement, positioning itself as the natural alternative to the reactionary Right, authoritarian Left and corporate Center alike.
1) Jerome Tuccille, It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand, (1997 reprint, Fox and Wilkes; copyright 1972). Tuccille provides a comprehensive account of the beginnings of the modern American libertarian movement from the perspective of an actual participant.
2) For a broader discussion of Rothbard’s involvement with the New Left see Justin Raimondo, An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 59 John Glenn Drive Amherst, New York;2000). Rothbard’s New Left phase is discussed on pp. 156-173. Hess discusses the development of his radical ideas and the beginning of the libertarian movement in his autobiography, Mostly on the Edge (Prometheus, 1999).
3) Raimondo discusses how the different phases in Rothbard’s career have subsequently shaped the libertarian movement. The Libertarian Party emerged from Rothbard’s activities within the New Left during the 1960s. The Cato Institute developed out of Rothbard’s temporary alliance with the oil-rich Koch family during the 1970s. Yet another libertarian think-tank, the Mises Institute, emerged after Rothbard’s falling out with the Cato crowd during the 1980s.
4) Murray N. Rothbard, “Left and Right: Prospects For Liberty”, (Left and Right; vol.1, no.1), Tibor R. Machan, Editor, The Libertarian Alternative: Essays in Social and Political Philosophy (Nelson-Hall Company, Chicago, 1974), p. 525.
5) Rothbard, p. 526
6) Rothbard, p. 526-527.
7) Rothbard, p. 527
8) Rothbard, p. 528.
9) Rothbard, p. 529-530
10) Rothbard, p. 530.
11) Rothbard, p. 530
12) Rothbard, p. 531
13) Rothbard, p. 532-538.
14) Ulrike Heider-Rothbard’s view of the historical function of Communism
15) Rothbard, p. 545.
16) Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind
17) Russell Kirk, “A Dispassionate Assessment of Libertarians”, Freedom and Virtue: The Conservative/Libertarian Debate, Edited by George W. Carey, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Wilmington, Delaware, 1998. p. 175-176.
18) Russell Kirk, “Libertarians: Sectarian Chirpies”
19) Kirk, “Dispassionate” p. 186
21) Robert H. Bork, “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”, p. 150-152.
22) Ernest Van den Haag, “Conservatives and Libertarians”
23) Ralph Raico, “Conservatism On the Run”, The Libertarian Review, January 1980.
24) Kirk, Dispassionate, p.183-184.
25) Christians condemned as atheists
26) Rothbard-“Big Government Libertarians
27) Hoppe, p.187-188
28) Hoppe, p. 188
29) Hoppe, p.195-196
30) Rothbard, Mormon Church-Friedman critique
31) Nation of Islam-Final Call