Authentic Libertarianism

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I hear the word, “authentic,” I reach for my pistol.

~ Gary North

This phrase
is usually attributed to Hermann Goering, with “culture” substituted
for “authentic.” I doubt that he ever said it. He may have said,
“When I hear the word ‘culture,’ I reach for the strudel.” I think
he spent a lot more time with strudel than with culture or pistols.

you hear the adjective “authentic” applied to a movement, ideology,
or worldview, you can be sure of one thing: the person who just
used the adjective has a definition in mind that excludes at least
80% of the members of the group that he imagines himself to me
a member of. Maybe it’s as high as 98%. The word “authentic” is
a kind of encircling barbed wire barrier that excludes the uninformed
barbarians who have surreptitiously weaseled their way into the

The word
“authentic” implies that there is an unauthentic version. In usually
implies that there are several unauthentic versions. But you can
be sure that the critic has a definition of the real thing. This
definition excludes not merely the masses but the interlopers.
In fact, the masses really do not count, since they have never
heard of the movement, ideology, or worldview.


I first
heard about libertarianism sometime around 1960. I read articles
now and then by Murray Rothbard, which were published in obscure
newsletters. By this time, I had been reading The Freeman
for two years. By 1960, I was already persuaded that the State
was far too large and needed a good shrinking.

In 1960,
that belief made me a conservative. But it also made me a libertarian.
The notion of big government conservatives was as distant as big
government libertarians. Those were the days, my friend. We thought
they’d never end.

In 1962,
I had a verbal run-in with Willmoore Kendall, one of Leo Strauss’s
more coherent students. As I recall, I was defending Hayek’s view
of free speech. Kendall called me a liberal. By this, I knew he
meant nineteenth-century liberal. I had read Hayek’s Postscript
in The
Constitution of Liberty
(1960), “Why I am not a Conservative.”
I forthrightly agreed that this was what I was, at least on this
particular issue.

Hayek was
a Darwinian evolutionist, and this extended to his social theory.
This was not clear to me in 1962. Hayek made this point ever more
clear as he grew older, until it became the bedrock epistemology
in his final book, The
Fatal Conceit
(1988). In fact, Hayek makes the important
point that the Scottish Enlightenment was evolutionistic with
respect to the development of society, and Darwin merely applied
this view to biology a century later. So, to the extent that nineteenth-century liberalism was Darwinist, I was not a nineteenth-century
liberal. Hayek’s social theory was ultimately not based on ethics.
It was based on the unplanned, evolving accommodation of the corporate
division of labor, hedged in and governed by civil law, in an
evolving universe. There is nothing in his social theory to say,
“This is wrong, now and forever. Don’t do it.” I make this point
in Appendix B of my book, The
Dominion Covenant: Genesis
(1982), which is on-line for
free at

I read Ronald
Hamowy’s critique of Hayek on the day I received Vol. I, No. 1
of New
Individualist Review
(April 1961). Hamowy made it clear
that Hayek was soft-core in his opposition to the State. Hamowy
was a zero-State critic. In this sense, he took Rothbard’s position.

This position
was not Mises’ position. Mises, like Leonard E. Read and the writers
in The Freeman, believed in limited civil government, sometime
characterized as the night-watchman State. The Foundation for
Economic Education sold Human
and The Constitution of Liberty. Had I not
received FEE’s catalogue of books, I would not have bought those
two volumes. I bought both books in June, 1960. (In those days,
I wrote on the front page my name and the month and year that
I bought a book.)

Read had
written Elements of Libertarian Leadership. I had not read
it in 1960, but I knew the term “libertarian” from his book. In
1961, I met F. A. Harper, who had been on FEE’s staff, but who
had split with Read over the issue of civil government. Harper
opposed it completely. Harper was with the William Volker Fund
in 1961, the largest pool of money in the libertarian camp, although
I did not know this at the time.

Mises refused
to offer a moral defense of the free market. He was a utilitarian
epistemologically. Harper had told me of a discussion he had with
Mises. He asked Mises, “If socialism were more efficient than
capitalism, would you favor it?” Mises answered, “But it isn’t.”
After several attempts, Harper dropped it. He said he was not
going to get anywhere along these lines.

In 1962,
Harper was tossed out at Volker. He set up the Institute for Humane
Studies. The man who replaced him at Volker was Ivan Bierly, a
former FEE senior staff member. He had been one of Harper’s Ph.D.
students at Cornell University. He hired R. J. Rushdoony and several
others, including the pro-Hitler revisionist historian, David
L. Hoggan [HOEgun] and Thomas Thalken, who later became the senior
librarian of the Herbert Hoover library in Iowa. I worked as a
summer intern at Volker in 1963.

In 1971,
I joined FEE’s staff, replacing George Roche, who had taken over
the presidency of Hillsdale College.

In between,
Milton Friedman had emerged as the most famous spokesman for reducing
the government’s control over the economy. The University of Chicago’s
department of economics and parts of the economics faculties at
UCLA and the University of Virginia were defining limited government
for the academic community.

And then
there was the old girl network known as Objectivism.

Each group
had its own epistemology. Each group had its own version of the
role of ethics in defending the free market. Each group had its
own limits of acceptable discourse. All were known as libertarian.


In 1969,
I attended a conference of graduate students and senior professors
of economics. It was held at Claremont College. Harper had raised
the money for it. The professors were Chicago School men, though
not on the Chicago faculty. Armen Alchian was one. Henry Manne
[MANee] was another.

argued, as he had been arguing for two decades, that not only
is ethics irrelevant to economic theory, the concept of purposeful
action is also irrelevant. The survival of the profitable will
produce the same results. (Alchian, “Information, Uncertainty
and the Allocation of Resources,” Economic
Forces at Work
, Liberty Press, 1977). This was a frontal
assault against Mises’ concept of human action.

At that
conference, there were several Randian attendees. The split between
Rand and Nathaniel Branden had just taken place. There were two
factions of Objectivists meeting in separate groups. This was
all beyond me. I was so far out of the loop that I was unaware
of the names of the major Objectivist players. I had not known
that some, including Branden, had changed their names to incorporate
RAND. His name had been Blumenthal.

The mutual
excommunications had already begun. I mean, it was like Luther
and the Pope. Objectivists had to take sides or be condemned by
both sides. It was Pete Seeger singing “Which side are you on?”
Reason apparently was as incapable of settling the dispute as
the Nicene Creed had been in settling the Reformation.

So, here
I was, a Calvinist, along with Calvinist Doug Adie, lectured to
by Chicago School professors, inductivists all, surrounded by
Randian grad students, rationalists all, at a conference funded
by a Misesian.

In retrospect,
I can picture the Philip Morris page, five feet tall in his spiffy
uniform and cap, walking into the room and shouting, “Call for
authentic libertarian!” Ten people would have rushed him. “Me!
Me! I’m your man!”


I was motivated
to write all this by an exchange I had with Eric Z. Eric wrote
me: “But how can you consider yourself an authentic libertarian,
when the Bible is full of laws that authentic libertarians would
vigorously oppose.” Like a dummy, I replied. I should have reached
for my pistol.

I replied
that “authentic libertarians are at war with each other over what
it means to be an authentic libertarian.” Eric shot back: “A true
libertarianism cannot be consistent with Biblical Law, because
Biblical Law was the basis of the feudal system, and capitalism
came into being by replacing that.”

In just
one e-mail, he had moved from “authentic libertarianism” to “true
libertarianism.” Here was a tar baby. I knew better than to continue,
as I have previously written. But
I did.

more than 2 libertarians in a room and get them to define “true
libertarianism.” You get 2 answers. After 40 years, I have seen
this every time.

That was
not enough for Eric. It never is. “As regards the issue I raised,
your answer is that you don’t have an answer, which is what I
had expected to be the case.”

Funny thing
about tar babies. No matter what answer you give, it’s never good
enough, and they knew it wouldn’t be.

Then why
do they ask?

Now, for
all to see, here is my answer. I have written approximately 8,000
pages of Bible commentaries on 11 books of the Bible: Genesis,
Exodus (3 volumes), Leviticus (4 volumes), Numbers, Deuteronomy
(3 volumes), Matthew, Luke, Acts, Romans, First Corinthians, and
First Timothy. These commentaries deal exclusively with economics.
You can download any or all of them free of charge. For their
web addresses, send an e-mail to
You will receive an instant-reply answer. Eric, this includes

What I found
is this: the concept of the rule of law was Mosaic, not Greek
(Ex. 12:49). The concept of private property is supported in the
Decalogue’s laws against theft and covetousness. The Mosaic economic
law as a whole was pro-market, pro-private ownership, pro-foreign
trade, pro-money-lending (Deut. 28:12). The New Testament did
not break with most of these laws, and the few that it did break
with, such as slavery and the jubilee land law, made the resulting
position even more market favorable.

It is my
goal in life to do what I can to persuade people to shrink the
State. The messianic State is a crude imitation of a religion
of redemption. It makes the State the healer and, ultimately,
the savior of all mankind. This messianic religion is what the
early church battled theologically and risked martyrdom to oppose.
Christians refused to toss a pinch of incense onto the altar symbolizing
the genius of the emperor. For that seemingly minor resistance
to State power, they were thrown to the lions. Both sides knew
the stakes of that contest. Christianity was a dagger pointed
at the heart of the messianic State.

It still


As to who
the authentic libertarian is, I withhold judgment. When it comes
to footnotes, I use Mises, Rothbard, Alchian, Harper, Friedman,
and a host of others to document this or that illegitimate invasion
by the messianic State. I even use Rand once in a while. I don’t
recall ever using Branden, but I’m open to suggestions.

a case for rolling back the State is a full-time job for me. In
the division of labor, there have been many specialists who have
demonstrated that this or that piece of legislation is deserving
of repeal.

There is
only one libertarian whose books I have never read: James Bovard.
Although I have bought several, I have never been able to get
through more than 25 pages of a Bovard book. I get too angry.

My attitude
is this: turn Bovard loose on the whole damnable system, and let
me fiddle with my footnotes. That’s the division of labor I want.
When he is finished, the rest of us can argue over what to put
back in or take out.

Let me know
just as soon as he’s done.

28, 2004

North [send him mail]
is the author of Mises
on Money
. Visit
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