Statism Left, Right, and Center

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from Libertarian Review, 1979

"Right," and "center" have increasingly become
meaningless categories. Libertarians know that their creed can
and does attract people from all parts of the old, obsolete ideological
spectrum. As consistent adherents of individual liberty in all
aspects of life, we can attract liberals by our devotion to civil
liberty and a noninterventionist foreign policy, and conservatives
by our adherence to property rights and the free market. But what
about the other side of the coin? What about authoritarianism
and statism across the board?

For a long
while it has been clear that statists, right, left, and center,
have been growing more and more alike – that their common
devotion to the State has transcended their minor differences
in style. In the last decade, all of them have been coagulating
into the center, until the differences among "responsible"
conservatives, right-wing Social Democrats, neoconservatives,
and even such democratic socialists as John Kenneth Galbraith
and Robert Heilbroner, have become increasingly difficult to fathom.

The common
creed central to all these groupings is support for, and aggrandizement
of, the American State, at home and abroad. Abroad, this means
support for ever-greater military budgets, for FBI and CIA terrorism,
for a foreign policy of global intervention, and absolute backing
for the State of Israel. Domestically there are variations, but
a general agreement holds that government should not undertake
more than it can achieve: in short, a continued, but more efficiently
streamlined welfare state. All this is bolstered by an antilibertarian
policy on personal freedom, advancing the notion, for either religious
or secular reasons, that the State is the proper vehicle for coercively
imposing what these people believe to be correct moral principles.

This coalition
of statists has been fusing for some years; but recently a new
outburst of candor has let many cats out of the proverbial bag.
It all began in the summer 1978 issue of the socialist magazine
Dissent, edited by ex-Trotskyist Irving Howe. A lead article by
the best-selling economist Robert Heilbroner says flat out that
socialists should no longer try to peddle the nostrum that central
planning in the socialist world of the future will be conjoined
with personal freedom, with civil liberties and freedom of speech.

No, says
Heilbroner, socialists must face the fact that socialism will
have to be authoritarian in order to enforce the dictates of central
planning, and will have to be grounded on a "collective
morality" enforced upon the public. In short, we cannot,
in Heilbroner’s words, have "a socialist cake with bourgeois
icing," – that is, with the preservation of personal

intriguing reaction to the Heilbroner piece comes from the right
wing. For years, a controversy once raged amidst the intellectual
circles on the right between the "traditionalists,"
who made no pretense about interest in liberty or individual rights;
the libertarians, who have long since abandoned the right wing;
and the "fusionists," led by the late Frank Meyer, who
tried to fuse the two positions into a unified amalgam. Both the
"trads" and libertarians realized early that the two
positions were not only inconsistent but diametrically opposed.

In recent
years, the trads have been winning out over the fusionists in
the conservative camp, as the conservatives have sidled up more
eagerly to power. Now, Dale Vree, a regular columnist for National
Review, takes the opportunity to hail the Heilbroner article
and to call for a mighty right-left coalition on behalf of statism
("Against Socialist Fusionism," National Review,
December 8, 1978, p. 1547). He also slaps at the fusionists by
pointing out that the "socialist fusionists," those
trying to fuse economic collectivism with cultural individualism,
necessarily suffer from the same inconsistencies as their counterparts
on the right wing, who have tried to join economic individualism
with cultural collectivism.

Vree writes,

Heilbroner is also saying what many contributors to NR have
said over the last quarter century: you can’t have both freedom
and virtue. Take note, traditionalists. Despite his dissonant terminology,
Heilbroner is interested in the same thing you’re interested in:

But Vree’s
enthusiasm for the authoritarian socialist does not stop there.
He is also intrigued with the Heilbroner view that a socialist culture
must "foster the primacy of the collectivity" rather than
the "primacy of the individual." Moreover, he is happy
to applaud Heilbroner’s lauding of the alleged "moral"
and "spiritual" focus of socialism as against "bourgeois
materialism." Vree quotes Heilbroner, "Bourgeois culture
is focused on the material achievement of the individual.
Socialist culture must focus on his or her moral or spiritual
achievement." Vree then adds, "There is a traditional
ring to that statement." And how!

He then applauds
Heilbroner’s decrying capitalism because it has "no sense of
‘the good’" and permits "consenting adults" to do
anything they please. Reacting in horror from this picture of freedom
and diversity, Vree writes, "But, Heilbroner says alluringly,
because a socialist society must have a sense of "’the good’
not everything will be permitted."

To Vree, it
is impossible "to have economic collectivism along with cultural
individualism" or vice versa, and so he is happy, like his
left-wing counterpart Heilbroner, to opt for collectivism across
the board. He concludes by noting the fusion of "right-wing"
and "left-wing" libertarianism, and then he calls for
a counterfusion on behalf of statism:

Several mavericks have been busy fusing right-wing libertarianism
with left-wing libertarianism (anarchism). If the writings of
such different socialists as Robert Heilbroner, Christopher Lasch,
Morris Janowitz, Midge Decter, and Daniel Bell are indicative
of a tendency, we may see the rise of a socialist traditionalist
fusionism. One wonders if America contains any "Tory Socialists"
on the right side of its aisle who will go out to embrace them.

whopping error in that paragraph is that one doesn’t have to wonder
for a moment.

The Buckleys,
the Burnhams and their ilk have been scrambling for such an embrace
for a long time – at least in practice. All that is left
is the open and candid admission that this is what has been going

A new polarization,
a new ideological spectrum, is fast taking shape. Big government,
coercion, statism – or individual rights, liberty, and voluntarism,
across the board, in every facet of American life.

The lines
are getting drawn with increasing clarity. Statism vs. liberty.
Us or them.


N. Rothbard
(1926–1995) was dean of the Austrian
School, founder of modern libertarianism, and academic
vice president of the Mises
. He was also editor — with Lew Rockwell —
of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report
, and appointed Lew as his
literary executor.

Best of Murray Rothbard

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