The Menace of the Space Cult

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appeared in Libertarian Review, 1979

After the great
breakthrough events of 1978 – the victory of Proposition 13,
the subsequent tax revolt, the election of the first Libertarian
Party candidate in History (Dick Randolph to the Alaska State Senate),
and Ed Clark’s fantastic 375,000 votes for governor of California
– the Libertarian Party stands ready to enter the mainstream
of American political life. It has the glorious opportunity to turn
America around, to move us swiftly and rapidly in the direction
of liberty. In September, it will choose a Presidential candidate
who could easily gain a million votes in 1980, and possibly a great
deal more.

Yet just when
the day of victory draws near, a menace from within the Party has
reared its ugly head. We have had to write many times over the years
of the crazies, the lumpen, the radical "decentralist"
enemies of organization per se, the irrationalists and fantasts
who refuse to learn or care about real world political issues but
instead hold up science fiction as the true and ultimate embodiment
of libertarianism. We had thought that the growth and development
of the Libertarian Party had selected out the crazies, that they
had all dropped out of the party into the solipsistic land of their
dreams and visions. Unfortunately, we were wrong. The danger is
still there, and it could wreck the best and brightest hope for
liberty in over a century.

The menace
suddenly surfaced when Ed Crane, chairman of the committee planning
the September Libertarian Party convention, submitted its proposed
program to the National Committee at Las Vegas on January 14. The
program was a superb one, built around the theme of "Toward
a Three Party System," with all the speeches and workshops
centering around national political developments in the context
of the Libertarian Party’s soon becoming the third major party in
the United States. The speeches and workshops would abandon the
numerous unfocused irrelevancies of past conventions to concentrate
on real, pressing, political concerns – on how the government,
led by the Democrats and Republicans, is messing up our lives, and
how and what we can do about it. It would draw important speakers
from across the political spectrum – welcoming those who would
share important political concerns with Libertarians. It would be
a real-world program suitable for a party of liberty about to enter
the mainstream of American life.

At which point,
the opposition surfaced in force, and an illuminating debate ensued
in the National Committee, a debate which unfortunately is not enshrined
on tape. A number of critics of the proposed program began to whine:
"The program is all about politics." "Politics
is a downer." "Who cares if we become one of the major
parties?" And most incredible of all, "None of this motivates
people." I was astonished! How could an LP leader fail to become
ecstatic over actually becoming a major party, over molding real-world
politics in the direction of freedom? And if they are not so motivated,
why in blazes are they in the Libertarian Party at all? Why haven’t
they openly joined the dropouts in lotus land?

Since I was
scheduled to give an update of my "optimism" speech, I
was puzzled over the alleged absence of optimism in the convention
program. What did they want? The answer surfaced soon enough: they
want science fiction, they want "futurism," they want
eternal life, they want projections of visions of a technological
fantasy-land. In short, they equate real world politics,
indeed, the real world period, with gloom; "optimism"
is only the loving contemplation of their own fancies.

But why?
Why do professed libertarians of what we may call the "spacecadet"
wing equate optimism with an eternal chewing of the cud of their
fantasies, of their technocratic version of the Big Rock Candy Mountain,
the Paradise which they see in their crystal-balls? If they are
really libertarians, why isn’t the glorious prospect of freedom
enough to motivate their actions as libertarians?

the debate intensified, the answer to this puzzle became all too
clear: these soothsayers and space cadets don’t really care all
that much for liberty. They don’t in fact, care very much for the
real world or reality. What motivates them is not the prospect of
liberty but spinning phantom scenarios of the never-never land of
Eden. They are interested in freedom only because they think it
will help them reach their millennial paradise. As one of the space
cadets admitted, when charged with promoting a religion instead
of a political philosophy, "Yes, we want a religion!"
The millennial religion of a thousand cults, the promise that wishing
hard enough will make their vision of the Garden of Eden come true.
All it lacks is a guru, a Messiah, a Moses, to lead the flock to
the Promised Land.

But this is
indeed a religion – it is not a political philosophy, and it
sure as hell is not political action. Yet libertarians have not
come to promise human beings a technocratic utopia; we have come
to bring everyone freedom, the freedom of each individual
to pursue whatever his or her dreams of the future may be. Or even
to have no vision of the future. Libertarianism is surely not all
of life; it brings the gift of political freedom to every person
to pursue his own goals. His goals, not ours. To call –
as a political party – for a specific vision
of the future, the space-cadet vision, implies that that particular
goal is going to be imposed on everyone, whether they like it or

This is not
freedom: it is totalitarianism. Primitivists, after all, have rights
too. They too should have the freedom, if they wish, to live unmolested
on their own. Thus, neither primitivists nor space cultists should
be given a forum within the Libertarian Party to promote and impose
their own favorite level of technology.

To put it succinctly:
the goal of libertarianism is freedom, period. No more and no less.
Anything less is a betrayal; but anything more is equally a betrayal
of liberty, because it implies imposing our own goals on others.
To be a libertarian must mean that one upholds liberty as the highest
political end not necessarily one’s highest personal
end. To confuse the issue, to mix in any sort of vision – technocratic
or futuristic or any other – with politics, is to abandon
liberty as that highest political goal, and at the very least to
destroy the very meaning of a political movement or organization.

Oddly enough,
space and the space program – which the great revisionist historian
Harry Elmer Barnes aptly termed the "moondoggle" and "astrobaloney’!
– is precisely the area where the government has exercised
total domination. Such futurist heroes of our "libertarian"
space cultists as Dr. Gerard K. O’Neill are government-financed
scientists and researchers whose projected "space colonies"
will not be the "free space colonies" of our space cultists’
dreams but projects totally planned and operated by the federal
government. Yet instead of engaging in sober critiques of the governmental
space program, our space cadets embrace these state futurists as
virtually their own.

Let us recall
how the great libertarian Ludwig von Mises heaped well-deserved
scorn on the "futurist" fantasies of previous millennial
movements. Mises wrote in his great work Socialism

writers depict the socialist community as a land of heart’s desire.
Fourier’s sickly fantasies go farthest in this direction. In Fourier’s
state of the future all harmful beasts will have disappeared,
and in their places will be animals which will assist man in his
labors – or even do his work for him. An anti-beaver will
see to the fishing; an anti-whale will move sailing ships in a
calm; an anti-hippopotamus will tow the riverboats. Instead of
the lion there will be an anti-lion, a steed of wonderful swiftness,
upon whose back the rider will sit as comfortably as in a well-sprung
carriage … Godwin even thought that men might be immortal
after property had been abolished. Kautsky tells us that under
the socialist society "a new type of man will arise …
a superman … an exalted man." Trotsky provides even
more detailed information [as befits a "futurist"!]:
"Man will become incomparably stronger, wiser, finer. His
voice more harmonious, his movements more rhythmical, his voice
more musical. The human average will rise to the level of an Aristotle,
a Goethe, a Marx. Above these other heights, new peaks will arise."

The English
free-market economist P.T. Bauer points out in his work Economic
Analysis and Policy in Underdeveloped Countries

the demand
for these forecasts often stems from deep-seated psychological
motives, and it is frequently unrelated to the accuracy of the
forecasts. A great upsurge of interest in forecasting is usually
evidence of an unhealthy panacea. I believe also that the great
increase in the demand for these forecasts even by educated people,
and the great prestige of their purveyors, are symptoms and harbingers
of very deep-seated social and political transformations. A sudden
resurgence in the activities and prestige of oracles and soothsayers
in the Roman Empire in the second and third centuries testified
to the decline in critical outlook and to the emergence of credulity,
which prepared the way both for the acceptance of a new faith
from the East and for the collapse of order, civilization, and
even material well-being.

Bauer continues
with an illuminating passage about this epoch from the historian
W.E.H. Lecky:

The oracles
that had been silenced were heard again; the astrologers swarmed
in every city; the philosophers were surrounded with an atmosphere
of legend; the Pythagorean school had raised credulity into a
system. On all sides, and to a degree unparalelled in history,
we find men … thirsting for belief, passionately and restlessly
seeking a new faith.

there we have it: two irreconcilable groups within the Libertarian
Party: the Realists and the Necromancers, the "Earthlings"
and the Space Cadets. Right now, the convention program seems safe,
but with so much at stake we must tremble for the future. So let
this canker from within the party be gone. Let the fantasts fly
off to the outer space of their dreams. We shall be glad to give
them all of outer space, if they will only let us have the earth.

But if they
lack the full courage of their convictions, let them at least expend
their energies at their science-fiction and futurist conventions
trying to influence their denizens to become libertarians. It won’t
matter much, but it certainly won’t hurt. Let them only, for liberty’s
sake, stop crippling the finest hope for real freedom in the real
world that we have seen in generations. Let this incubus be gone.


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

Best of Murray Rothbard

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