Andrew Sullivan says that what he conveniently calls the “Rockwell Strategy” – that libertarians should openly defy political correctness and primarily court the right – has failed libertarianism. The opposite is true.
Firstly, the strategy to which Sullivan refers should rightly be called the Rothbard Strategy – it was developed by Rothbard in essays like “Big Government Libertarians”, “Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature”, and “Right-Wing Populism”. I’m inclined to think Sullivan knows this but wants to cash in on the frenzied witch hunt against Rockwell – and recognizes that even libertarians who Rothbard would slam for their political correctness largely still afford him some measure of the respect he deserves.
Secondly, Sullivan’s assertion is not supported by observation. The height of thenewsletter controversy was actually accompanied by a boost in the polls for Paul – indicating, at least, that the controversy did not cause a net decrease in support.
After Rockwell successfully employed the abovementioned strategy in opposition to a school voucher plan, Rothbard wrote: “While Lew Rockwell’s last magnificently Politically Incorrect argument met the predictable hysteria from left-libertarians, who accused him of the customary racism, sexism, hetero-sexism and all the rest, his argument was extremely effective where it counted: namely, among the middle-class suburbanites previously inclined to vote for the school voucher plan”.
Because political correctness is fundamentally a tool for shutting down dissent, attempting to conform to it is futile. Conversely, publicly defying political correctness wins the votes of the many who defy it privately. Rothbard – and Rockwell – built libertarianism as it exists today and knew what they were doing. Sullivan can’t even convince his own loyal readers to support the presidential candidate he’s endorsed – on the contrary, his distancing and backpedaling have legitimized the media’s attempts to defame Paul and damaged the campaign more than they’ve helped it.
I’ve long respected Sullivan, who – to his credit – once said “what really made me a right-winger was seeing the left use the state to impose egalitarianism”. However, Sullivan is decidedly not a libertarian. In 2010, for example, he called for NATO to militarily impose a two-state solution on Israel – an original and admirably unorthodox position, perhaps, but not one any libertarian would hold. I can’t help thinking that the Sullivan is about as qualified to comment on internal libertarian matters as the New York Times and needs to butt out.