by David Gordon: You
Call That Austrian?
at the Cato Institute have in recent months taken a surprising turn.
After a protracted struggle between Ed Crane, the President of Cato
since its inception, and Charles and David Koch, both sides have
reached a settlement. John Allison, a highly successful banker,
has replaced Crane: he is now President and CEO of Cato, To all
of us who care about the future of Rothbardian libertarianism, this
appointment should be a matter of grave concern, It signals a new
stage in the efforts of Cato to separate itself from its Rothbardian
founding principles and to replace these principles with something
at first sight seems difficult to understand. He is not only a follower
of Ayn Rand, but a Randian of the strictest observance. In his recent
Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure, he acknowledges
"a deep intellectual debt to Aristotle, Ayn Rand, and Leonard
Peikoff." (For many readers, "from the sublime to the
ridiculous" will come to mind.) Peikoff is of course the guardian
of the flame of Objectivist orthodoxy, ever anxious to expel heretics,
such as David Kelley, who displease him. Peikoff is closely associated
with the Ayn Rand Institute, and the President of that organization,
Yaron Brook, also is close to Allison, He finds Allison’s book to
be "the best, deepest, explanation of what caused the crisis
and the consequences of our government’s response to it." The
website of the Ayn Rand Institute features the book.
a strict Randian, close to Peikoff and Brook: so what? Why do his
views make his appointment difficult to understand? The answer lies
in bringing together two facts. The Cato Institute, despite its
break with Rothbard, bills itself as a libertarian organization;
but the Ayn Rand Institute has for many years bitterly opposed libertarianism.
The opposition finds its foremost expression in a pamphlet by Peter
Schwartz, "Libertarianism: the Perversion of Liberty."
As Randians of the Peikoff faction see matters, libertarians’ defense
of the free market counts for little or nothing, in the absence
of the proper philosophical foundations. Only Objectivists can consistently
defend liberty. Schwartz draws the following conclusion in a shorter
essay of 1989, "On Moral Sanctions: "Justice demands moral
judgment. It demands that one objectively evaluate Libertarianism,
and act in accordance with that evaluation. It demands that one
identify Libertarianism as the antithesis of – and therefore as
a clear threat to – not merely genuine liberty, but all rational
values. And it demands that Libertarianism, like all such threats,
be boycotted and condemned."
How then can
Allison, a confirmed follower of Peikoff, assume the leadership
of a libertarian organization, if to the members of the Peikoff
faction no association with libertarians is permissible? The mystery
appears to have a ready solution, but this solution will not stand
examination. The solution is that the ultra-Randians have changed
their views about cooperation with libertarians. In an
interview with Jordan Bloom, published on The American Conservative
website on October15, 2012, Brook stated that his group was now
open to cooperation with libertarians: Allison, it would seem to
follow, had not violated Objectivist principles by taking over at
Cato. "I [Brook] don’t think there’s been a significant change
in terms of our attitude towards libertarians. Two things have happened.
We’ve grown, and we’ve gotten to a size where we don’t just do educational
programs, we do a lot more outreach and a lot more policy and working
with other organizations. I also believe the libertarian movement
has changed. It’s become less influenced by Rothbard, less influenced
by the anarchist, crazy for lack of a better word, wing of libertarianism.
As a consequence, because we’re bigger and doing more things and
because libertarianism has become more reasonable, we are doing
more work with them than we have in the past. But I don’t think
ideologically anything of substance has changed at the Institute."
I do not think
Brook is right that libertarians today are less influenced by Rothbard
than they were in years past: does Brook’s devotion to Peikoff occlude
from his vision the popularity among libertarians of the Ron Paul
movement, heavily influenced by Rothbard? But suppose that he were
right. It would still be the case that for Objectivists, even libertarians
who renounce Rothbard and anarchism would not count as defenders
of freedom unless their defense rested on a proper philosophical
foundation. And we all know what that is. How then can Brook
on his own principles support cooperation with libertarians?
is that Brook has abandoned the view expressed so portentously by
the blowhard Schwartz, but this hardly seems likely. Indeed, in
a Podcast with Leonard Peikoff, which appeared on October 22, Brook
reverted to the older position: "Even though it [libertarianism]
might have initially been adopted innocently by certain people who
were advocates of free markets, it was very quickly, in the 1960's
and 70's co-opted by the anarchists and by the complete philosophic
subjectivists. And they dominated the movements throughout that
period of time.
I believe that today the libertarian movement is fragmented, it's
disintegrating. It is tragic that many people are still using the
term, and not letting the term kind of pass with the passing of
the guy who really led this movement Murray Rothbard. When
he passed, the whole concept should have passed with him." Brook’s
comments are available on Robert Wenzel’s Economic Policy
How is the
discrepancy between Brook’s statements to be resolved? Has Brook
abandoned the Law of Identity and embraced contradiction? I do not
think so. The paradox is not genuine. Brook retains his former contempt
for philosophically rootless libertarians; but, with the accession
of Allison, he grasps new possibilities. Cato controls a substantial
amount of money. If its resources could be used to promote Objectivism,
would it not be worth it for Brook and his cohorts temporarily to
suspend their reluctance to associate with libertarians? The situation
would become all the more promising if, in addition, the Ayn Rand
Institute had in prospect patronage from the billionaire Koch brothers.
Allison’s appointment to head Cato took place at their behest, and
Charles Koch says that Allison’s book "should be required reading
for all future business leaders."
I have not
conjured out of thin air the suggestion that the Ayn Rand Institute
has in mind taking over Cato to promote their rigid and intolerant
style of Objectivism. After Allison accepted the presidency of Cato,
many Objectivists wondered whether he had acted in a way consistent
with their creed. In a meeting held at an Ayn Rand Institute conference
held in San Diego in late June and early July, Allison and Brook
sought to reassure their restive followers. No transcript of Allison’s
remarks is available; but according to one account, Allison stated
his intention to move Cato in an Objectivist direction; in fact,
Brook urged him to accept the appointment. He is alleged to have
said that "those disrespectful of Rand will change their attitude
or find other employment." He intends to groom an Objectivist
successor and looked to the challenge of reforming Cato’s foreign
policy position. (My account of Allison’s statement is
taken from here.)
Whether this accurately represents Allison’s remarks on that occasion,
I am unable to say; but even if it is erroneous, it is clear that
Allison and Brook remain on good terms. Given their devotion to
Rand, it stands to reason that they would use the new opportunity
in the manner that I have suggested.
If the Ayn
Rand Institute Objectivists did substantially increase their influence
at Cato, why should Rothbardians care? Foreign policy presents the
main problem. When Cato was founded, it adhered to Rothbard’s principled
defense of nonintervention. Indeed, Cato published in 1980 a pamphlet
by the most famous revisionist historian and publicist, Harry Elmer
A Key to Peace and other Essays. Cato has long since stopped
circulating this pamphlet, but no one who read it could doubt Cato’s
embrace at the time of its publication of "isolationism."
and Rothbard parted ways, Cato abandoned a fully consistent position
on foreign policy. In general, its publications continued to favor
nonintervention. Sometimes, though, they did not. Ted Galen Carpenter,
e.g., though an effective critic of the Iraq War, urged that we
pursue with greater militancy the struggle against al Qaeda’s terrorism
in Pakistan and elsewhere. (See his Smart
Power [Cato, 2008] and my
review in The Mises Review.)
Brook see foreign policy in an altogether different fashion from
Rothbard, though at first this is hard to discern. They both say
that they favor only defensive wars. The neoconservative efforts
to extend democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan in order to spread there
the blessings of democracy reflect a misguided altruism that no
right thinking Randian ethical egoist could accept. With a proper
defensive orientation, could we not cut our bloated defense budget?
Allison says in his book, "It is clear that the defense budget
of the United States could be cut at least 25 (and probably 50)
percent while making the United States better defended than it is
could object to any of this? Unfortunately, first appearances are
once again deceptive. Allison and Brook’s notion of defense is,
shall we say, a somewhat extended one. It transpires that we must
withdraw from our "altruistic" interventions in Iraq and
Afghanistan in order the better to confront genuine threats, such
as North Korea, Iran, and "Islamic terrorism." Brook,
while in the Israeli Army, served for three years as a sergeant
in Israeli Military Intelligence, and one can be sure that he will
urge Cato to favor Israel’s interests in the Middle East. Beneath
the rhetoric of defense that Allison and Brook adopt lies a highly
militant and aggressive foreign policy.
one can only view with misgiving the increased influence at a prominent
libertarian organization of Objectivism in the style of Peikoff.
I write not as someone who thinks poorly of Ayn Rand: to the contrary,
she was an insightful and original thinker. But the rigid ideological
framework of Peikoff and his allies has little to be said for it.
Only those who accept their system, they say, count as true defenders
of liberty. Those who do not are libertines, relativists, and subjectivists.
This dogmatism stands in sharp contrast to the often expressed position
of Murray Rothbard that libertarianism is a political philosophy,
not a comprehensive worldview. People of diverse philosophical positions
count fully as libertarians, so long as they accept its political
tenets. Will the Randian accession to power at Cato drive from the
field whatever tolerance for diverse philosophies and noninterventionist
foreign policy that remains there, to be replaced by kowtows to
Peikoff and war on Islamic terrorism? Time will tell.
© 2012 by the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided
full credit is given.
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