We have been all too familiar in recent years with the phenomenon
of Big Government Conservatives, of people who have betrayed and seemingly
forgotten their principles and their heritage in a quest for power
and pelf, for respectability and for access to the corridors of power,
people who have moved inside the Beltway both in body and in spirit.
Not all of us however are familiar with an allied
and far more oxymoronic development: the acceleration and takeover
in the last few years by Big Government Libertarians, who now almost
exclusively dominate the libertarian movement. The weird thing about
Big Government Libertarianism, of course, is that it clearly violates
the very nature and point of libertarianism: devotion to the ideal
of either no government at all or government that is minuscule and
strictly confined to defense of person and property: to what the
ex-libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick called "ultra-minimal"
government, or what the great paleolibertarian writer H.L. Mencken
called "government that barely escapes being no government at all."
How extensive has been this development, and how in the world could
such a thing happen?
Big Government Libertarianism now permeates and dominates
what, in analogy with conservatives, may be called the Official
Libertarian movement. From a tendency or what the Marxists called
a "groupuscule" two decades ago, libertarianism has developed an
Official Movement, even though it has never, thank the Lord, achieved
anything like political power. While there is fortunately no libertarian
counterpart to National Review to rule over the movement and purge
it of heretics, there is a network of institutions and periodicals
that constitute an Official movement.
A central institution for more than twenty years has
been the Libertarian Party, which beginning early, oddly and in
many ways created rather than reflected the movement as a whole.
Until recent years, the Party militants prided themselves on the
purity and consistency of their devotion to libertarian principle.
The libertarian movement, however, has always been far wider than
the Party itself. It consists of a loose network of libertarian
and free-market think-tanks, national ones that include lobbying
groups, who gravitate inside the Beltway, and state or regional
think-tanks, who necessarily remain in the heartland in body if
not alas in spirit. There are now legal organizations that allegedly
pursue cases in behalf of liberty and against government tyranny.
The movement also includes two monthly magazines, as well as others
that have fallen by the wayside: a relatively affluent but excruciatingly
boring magazine based in Santa Monica, California, Reason,
and an amateurish "fanzine" in Washington State, Liberty.
There are also allied networks of institutions which,
like an extensive number of "hard money" and investment newsletters,
cannot be considered strictly movement outfits but are sympathetic
to the cause. The libertarian movement is even large enough to include
an incomprehensible "post-libertarian" academic journal, which tries
to integrate libertarianism, Marxism, and deconstruction, a periodical
doggedly edited by a Chekhovian type of Permanent Graduate Student,
except that he is considerably less harmless and better funded than
Chekhov's rather lovable character.
The fascinating point is that virtually all of these
movement institutions, from the think-tanks to the magazines to
the once purist Libertarian Party have, in the last few years, moved
at remarkable speed to abandon any shred of their original principles:
devotion to minimizing government or defending the rights of private
Part of the reason, of course, needs no explanation:
a pale shadow of Big Government conservatives who crave respectability,
social acceptance at Washington cocktail parties, and, not coincidentally,
power, cushy jobs, and financial support. But there is a lot more
at work here. At bottom is the point which many of us had to learn
painfully over the years: that there can be no genuine separation
between formal political ideology and cultural views and attitudes.
Libertarianism is logically consistent with almost
any attitude toward culture, society, religion, or moral principle.
In strict logic, libertarian political doctrine can be severed from
all other considerations; logically one can be and indeed
most libertarians in fact are: hedonists, libertines, immoralists,
militant enemies of religion in general and Christianity in particular
and still be consistent adherents of libertarian politics.
In fact, in strict logic, one can be a consistent devotee of property
rights politically and be a moocher, a scamster, and a petty crook
and racketeer in practice, as all too many libertarians turn out
to be. Strictly logically, one can do these things, but psychologically,
sociologically, and in practice, it simply doesn't work that way.
Thus, Justin Raimondo pointed out, in pondering what
went wrong with the libertarian movement, that the early movement
of the 1970s grievously erred by deliberately cutting itself off
from any sort of right-wing or any other culture or tradition in
the United States. Following the spirit of Ayn Rand, of whom most
libertarians had been ardent followers, libertarians claimed to
be genuine individualists and revolutionaries, totally separate
from the right-wing, and bringing to the world their own brand new
political revelation. And indeed, the libertarian movement has always
been almost willfully ignorant of any history or any aspect of foreign
affairs. Arcane syllogisms of libertarian theory, science fiction,
rock music, and the intricacies of computers, have been the sum
and substance of their knowledge and their interest.
Part of this grandiose separatism, which I did not
fully realize at the time, stemmed from an intense hatred of the
right-wing, from libertarian anxiety never to be connected with
or labeled as a conservative or a right-wing movement. And part
of that hatred has come from a broader and even more intense hatred
of Christianity, some of which was taken over from Ayn Rand.
To be specific, one important aspect of the recent
shift toward statism and Big Government consists of a spill-over,
of an infection, of libertarians' political views by their deep-seated
egalitarianism. Scratch an egalitarian, and you will inevitably
find a statist. How does the libertarians' burgeoning and pervasive
egalitarianism square with their supposed belief in individualism,
and for allowing every person to rise by his own merit unhobbled
by government? The resolution of this problem is much the same as
other, more common versions of Political Correctness.
Libertarians are fervently committed to the notion
that, while each individual might not be "equal" to every other,
that every conceivable group, ethnic contingent, race, gender, or,
in some cases, species, are in fact and must be made "equal," that
each one has "rights" that must not be subject to curtailment by
any form of "discrimination."
And so, flying in the face of their former supposed
devotion to the absolute rights of private property, the libertarian
movement has embraced almost every phony and left-wing "right" that
has been manufactured in recent decades.
Shortly before I left the libertarian movement and
Party five years ago, a decision which I not only have never regretted
but am almost continually joyous about, I told two well-known leaders
of the movement that I thought it had become infected with and permeated
by egalitarianism. What? they said. Impossible. There are no egalitarians
in the movement. Further, I said that a good indication of this
infection was a new-found admiration for the Reverend "Doctor" Martin
Luther King. Absurd, they said. Well, interestingly enough, six
months later, both of these gentlemen published articles hailing
"Dr." King as a "great libertarian." To call this socialist, egalitarian,
coercive integrationist, and vicious opponent of private-property
rights, a someone who, to boot, was long under close Communist Party
control, to call that person a "great libertarian," is only one
clear signal of how far the movement has decayed.
Indeed, amidst all the talk in recent years about
"litmus tests," it seems to me that there is one excellent litmus
test which can set up a clear dividing line between genuine conservatives
and neoconservatives, and between paleolibertarians and what we
can now call "left-libertarians." And that test is where one stands
on "Doctor" King. And indeed, it should come as no surprise that,
as we shall see, there has been an increasing coming together, almost
a fusion, of neocons and left-libertarians. In fact, there is now
little to distinguish them.
Throughout the Official Libertarian Movement, "civil
rights" has been embraced without question, completely overriding
the genuine rights of private property. In some cases, the embrace
of a "right not to be discriminated against" has been explicit.
In others, when libertarians want to square their new-found views,
with their older principles and have no aversion to sophistry and
even absurdity, they take the sneakier path blazed by the American
Civil Liberties Union: that if there should be so much as a smidgen
of government involved, whether it be use of the public streets
or a bit of taxpayer funding, then the so-called "right" of "equal
access" must override either private property or indeed any sort
of good sense.
Thus: when Judge Sarokin, soon to be elevated, by
bipartisan consensus in the U.S. Senate, to the august federal court
of appeals, ruled that a smelly bum must be allowed to stink up
a New Jersey public library, and follow children to the bathroom,
because it is public and therefore he cannot be denied access, the
national chairwoman of the Libertarian Party issued an official
statement praising the decision. In the same way, libertarians join
the ACLU in protecting the alleged "right of free expression" of
bums and beggars on the streets of our big cities, no matter how
annoying or intimidating, because these streets are, after all,
public, and therefore, so long as they remain public, they must
continue to be cesspools, although precisely how this is implied
by high libertarian theory is a bit difficult to grasp.
In the same way, the leading left-libertarian Beltway
legal activist maintains proudly to this day that he was only following
libertarian principle when, as an official of the federal Department
of Justice which in itself is not too easy to square with
such principles he aided the federal judiciary in its truly
monstrous decision to threaten to jail the City Council of Yonkers,
New York, because this council had refused to approve a low-income
public housing project on the grounds that it would soon become
an inner-city sewer of drugs and crime. His reasoning: that this
resistance was a violation of egalitarian nondiscrimination doctrine,
since Yonkers already had other public housing projects existing
within its borders!
But not only literal government operations are subject
to this egalitarian doctrine. It also applies to any activities
which are tarred with the public brush, with the use, for example,
of government streets, or any acceptance of taxpayer funds. Indeed,
actual government actions need not be involved at all. Sometimes,
libertarians fall back on the angry argument that, nowadays, you
can't really distinguish between "public" and "private" anyway,
that everything is semi-public, and that trying to maintain property
rights in such a climate is unrealistic, naive, blind to reality,
and generally a "purist" throwing of sand into the machinery of
neoconservative or left-libertarian "progress."
Recently, there was a fascinating interchange between
a paleo-libertarian attorney in California and an official of a
new California-based allegedly "libertarian" legal outfit, the Center
for Individual Rights, run by the prominent neocon David Horowitz,
who likes to call himself a "libertarian." This Center, by the way,
is a leading example of explicit neocon and left-libertarian fusion,
since its masthead features several prominent members of the libertarian
The paleo lawyer was protesting that the Center is
backing the idea of legally prohibiting colleges from setting down
rules infringing on what the Center people claim are "the constitutional
rights of freedom of speech" of students and faculty. Our paleo
critic agreed with the idea of combating political correctness and
codes restricting alleged "hate speech," but he pointed out what
not long ago was considered self-evident and unexceptionable, not
only by conservatives and libertarians, and by all judges, but by
all Americans: that First Amendment, or free speech, rights, can
only apply to government, and that only government can infringe
upon such rights. Private individuals or organizations can require
anyone using their private property to follow rules of conduct or
speech, and anyone using such property agrees contractually to abide
by these rules. Any laws restricting such rules, therefore, infringe
upon the rights of private property as well as the right to make
free and unhampered contracts concerning its use.
The Center official, in reply, heaped scorn on such
allegedly unrealistic and purist arguments: these days, to official
libertarians, almost everything is in some way public, so that,
in contrast to every fiber of libertarian doctrine, "private" and
"public" are simply co-mingled. The Center official did not even
balk when the paleo attorney used what any sensible person would
consider a reductio ad absurdum: that, logically, this approach
would imply that government should prevent any private employer
from firing an employee who exercises his alleged "free speech rights"
by denouncing or cursing at his boss, even on company property.
One problem with using reductio ad absurdum
arguments among libertarians has always been that they are all too
happy to embrace the absurdum. And thus our so-called "libertarians"
are in the process of going further than even Justice Hugo Black
in severing free speech from private-property rights, and from exalting
the former at the expense of the latter. Even a "First Amendment
absolutist" such as Justice Black proclaimed that "freedom of speech"
gives no one the right to break into your home and harangue you
"Civil rights" and "free-speech rights," and the co-mingling
of "private" and "public," are only the beginning of the libertarian
movement's Great Leap Stateward. One of the cultural features of
most movement members has always been a passionate adherence to
the morality and to the practice of so-called "alternative lifestyles"
and "sexual orientation" out of favor with traditional or bourgeois
customs or moral principles. The high correlation of this "libertinism"
with their endemic hatred of Christianity should be obvious.
While this cultural attitude has always been pervasive
among libertarians, the new feature is their embracing of so-called
"gay rights" as one of the "civil rights" of non-discrimination.
Things have gotten to the point where one of the most prominent
of the libertarian think-tanks practices its own form of gay affirmative
action, hiring or promoting only openly-proclaimed gays, and, at
the very least, firing any staff member who is less than enthusiastic
about this procedure or about gay rights in general.
At another libertarian think-tank, which deals only
with strictly economic matters in its actual work, the No. 2 staff
member recently took advantage of the No. 1's vacation to call a
staff meeting and to proclaim his gaydom openly to one and all.
He then asked the staff's reactions to his fervent announcement,
and later urged No. 1 to fire any staffers who had expressed a lack
of sufficient enthusiasm for this development.
The Libertarian Party has for many years had within
it a Gay and Lesbian Caucus. In the old days, the program of the
caucus was confined to urging the repeal of anti-sodomy laws, an
unexceptionable libertarian position. Now, however, in our brave
new era, the theoreticians of this Caucus are calling for public
nudity and public sex acts, something which their colleagues in
ACT-UP achieved this summer in a Gay Pride parade in New York City
which was technically illegal, but the illegality of which was conspicuously
not enforced by the new Republican mayor. One rationale, of course,
is that the streets are public, aren't they? and therefore all things
must be permitted.
Until very recently, the devotion to gay rights by
left-libertarian institutions has been more implicit than explicit,
either under cover of some sort of public action or resource, or
as their own form of affirmative action. But only last month, a
new escalation embraced gay rights openly and officially. David
Boaz, a leader in the most prominent left-libertarian think-tank,
Cato, wrote an astonishing op-ed piece in the New York Times,
astonishing not for the venue, of course, but for the content.
The content of the think-tanker's article was unusual
on two counts: One, in perhaps a first for a proclaimed libertarian
institution, he treats the various anti-gay initiatives across the
country as an "assault" on gay "rights," without discussing the
actual proposals which in fact were attempts to prohibit anti-gay
discrimination laws. In short, these initiatives denounced by the
libertarian think-tanker were actually measures to protect the rights
of private property against assault by laws conferring special privileges
upon gays. The odd feature of this error is that, if libertarians
are competent to distinguish anything, it is the difference between
protecting property rights and aggressing against them.
The second bizarre feature of this Times op-ed
piece is that this prominent think-tanker is chiding conservatives
for what he says is "scapegoating" of gays, while at the same time
allegedly ignoring what he considers the real moral and social problems
of our time: unwed motherhood and, with a blare of trumpets, divorce!
Why do the conservatives write far more about gays?
In the first place, it seems clear to me that unwed motherhood has
actually loomed large among conservatives. As for divorce, it seems
odd that left-libertarians dedicated to modernism and change should
wax nostalgic over the Good Old Days when any divorced woman was
shamed out of town. But the real point here is the stupefying and
willful failure to connect with the real world in this argument.
Why do pro-family conservatives spend more print worrying
about gays than about divorce? Well, for one thing, there are no
strident parades of militants of the "divorced movement" marching
up Fifth Avenue in New York on "Divorce Pride" day, marching naked
and committing sex acts between the varied "divorced" in public,
demanding anti-"divorced" discrimination laws, affirmative action
for the divorced, "divorced" districts in the legislature, and continuous
public affirmation by the non-divorced of the equal or even superior
morality of divorce over staying married.
The change has developed to the point where the word
"libertarian" has a new connotation when used in the media. The
word used to mean opposition to all forms of government intervention.
Now, however, "libertarian" in the public mind has virtually come
to mean adherent of "gay rights." Thus, the favorite presidential
candidate for 1996 of all libertarians who will not rigidly confine
themselves, in thought and in deed, to the Libertarian Party, is
unquestionably Massachusetts Republican Governor William Weld, who
even refers to himself as a "libertarian."
The reason for Weld's embrace of this term is not
his alleged "fiscal conservatism." Weld and his acolytes have depicted
him as a heroic slasher of the state's taxes and budgets. Weld's
so-called "budget-cutting" amounts to taking Michael Dukakis's grotesquely
swollen last budget and cutting it by a very modest 1.8 percent,
but even this toe-in-water cut has been more than offset by big
budget increases every year since. Thus, the next year Weld made
up for his fiscal conservatism by increasing Massachusetts expenditures
by 11.4 percent; and this year he is raising it again by an estimated
5.1 percent. In other words, William Weld's gesture in cutting his
first year's budget by less than 2 percent has been more than made
up by his raising the budget in the last two years by 17 percent.
That's "fiscal conservatism"? The story is the same on the tax front;
Weld's loudly trumpeted piddling tax cuts were more than offset
by large tax increases.
But this is all window-dressing to sucker the conservatives.
Weld's "libertarianism," in the minds of himself and his left-libertarian
admirers, consists almost completely of his passionate devotion
to "gay rights," as well as his practicing gay affirmative action
by appointing to high state positions a large number of open gays.
To round out the picture, I should also mention that Weld is a fanatical
adherent of environmentalism, and its despotic crippling of the
living standards of the human race.
But recently, left-libertarians have not confined
themselves to backing liberal Republicans; they have also made a
foray into the Democratic Party. Several leading Cato libertarians
leaped into the Doug Wilder campaign in Virginia, one of them actually
becoming a member of Wilder's finance committee. Presumably the
attraction of Wilder over liberal Republican Coleman is that Wilder,
in his person and in his life, embodies both the racial and sexual
"diversity" so beloved by left-libertarians. It is typical of their
political acumen, however, that they jumped enthusiastically onto
the Wilder ship just before it sank without a trace.
The virtual mantra for all left-libertarians in weighing
candidates to the Libertarian Party has become: "fiscally conservative,
but socially tolerant." "Fiscally conservative" can and does mean
very little, usually spending, or proposing to spend, a bit less
money than their political rivals, or not raising taxes by a great
"Socially tolerant," a murky phrase at best, seems
to be a code term for a package of several policies and attributes:
devotion to gay rights, to civil rights, and generally and above
all, to not being "hate-filled," like the Christian right, Pat Buchanan,
and the Triple R. While all of us are by definition scowling
brutes who emanate "hate" from every pore, the left-libertarians,
as many of us know all too well, are just helluva nice guys, their
entire beings emitting vibrations of love, benevolence, and warmth
of spirit. And, as we say in New York, they should live so long!
In fact, I haven't had the personal experience of neocons that many
of you have had, but I can assure you that left-libertarians can
match neocons any day in the week as people you simply would not
want to interact with. Trust me on that.
Part of "social tolerance," of course, is uncritical
and unlimited devotion to open borders; as in the case of most left
liberals and all neocons, any proposal for any reason to restrict
immigration or even to curb the flow of illegals, is automatically
and hysterically denounced as racist, fascist, sexist, heterosexist,
xenophobic, and the rest of the panoply of smear terms that lie
close to hand. (Although neocons seem, oddly enough, to make a glaring
exception for what they loosely call "Arab terrorists.") Things
have come to such a pass that the Libertarian Party, which used
to be strongly and consistently opposed to any taxation or to any
expenditure of tax funds, is rapidly changing its policies and attitudes
even on this subject long close to libertarian hearts.
California, this November has on the ballot a wonderfully
simple Proposition, called the "Save Our State" Proposition, which
can be endorsed by every regular middle-class and working-class
American. Those who hear of it, in fact, enthusiastically favor
it at once. The Save Our State Proposition simply bars any use of
taxpayer funds in behalf of illegal aliens. Most people, of course,
think that illegals should be rounded up and shipped home, and certainly
not be the beneficiaries of tax-supported medical care, public schooling,
and all the rest of the far-flung apparatus of the welfare state.
As you can imagine, every Establishment, every right-thinking
group is hysterically opposed to this proposition, and this of course
includes Big Business, labor unions, teachers associations, the
media, the pundits, the professoriat, and all the opinion-molding
elites: in short, all the usual suspects. These groups denounce
Save Our State as encouraging the spread of ignorance and disease,
and its proponents as hate-filled, racist, sexist, heterosexist,
xenophobic, and all the rest. The only groups in favor of Save Our
State are a proliferation of unknown, truly grassroots organizations,
organizations which try to avoid rather than court publicity because
they have been the recipients of numerous bombing threats and death
threats, presumably from members of the "illegal community," a community,
which in other, not Politically Correct, contexts would simply be
Our own Justin Raimondo, I am proud to say, is the
San Francisco coordinator for Save Our State, and he reports that
the head of the San Francisco Libertarian Party (and here I should
point out that the California Party is perhaps the only state party
which has a substantial membership and is not simply a paper organization),
that the head of the San Francisco Party, opposes the Save Our State
Proposition a first among libertarians in opposing a tax-cutting
What is the rationale for the Party's scuttling the
taxpayer and the rights of private property in favor of Political
Correctness? Because the enforcement of this proposition might pose
a threat to civil liberties! But of course the enforcement of any
measure, good or bad, might pose some sort of threat to civil liberties,
and thus is scarcely an excuse for not passing any worthwhile bill.
Borders, apparently, are not only supposed to be open, that openness
has to be encouraged and paid for heavily by the U.S. taxpayer.
The co-mingling of public and private, the change in the definition
of "rights," has apparently gone so far that every illegal has the
right to leach the taxpayers of Lord Knows how much. Welcome to
Big Government Libertarianism!
Opposition to taxes in fact, is being weakened across
the board. Cato has recently come out in favor of the well-financed
campaign to eliminate the "personal income tax" and to replace the
revenue completely by a national sales tax. The Old Right, or older
paleo call that I remember fondly from the days of my youth, was
to repeal the Sixteenth Amendment and to abolish the income tax,
period. The current variant is a very different proposition. In
the first place, it falls for the slogan first foisted on the conservative
movement by the supply-siders and then adopted, left and right,
by virtually all economists and alleged statesmen: that whatever
happens, and whatever changes are made in the tax laws, that the
changes must be "revenue neutral," that is, that total federal revenue
must never fall.
It is never explained how this axiom got smuggled
into alleged conservative or free-market doctrine, or why in Heaven's
name total tax revenues must never be allowed to fall. Why in blazes
not? To the common answer that we have to worry about the federal
deficit, the proper reply, which no one seems to make any more,
is to cut government spending by huge amounts; and that means, of
course, the old-fashioned definition of "budget cut" as an actual
cut in the budget, and not its current meaning of a cut in its "rate
of growth" or a cut from some presidential or congressional projection,
based on inevitably shaky assumptions, of future growth in spending.
As pointed out recently in the Mises Institute's Free Market
newsletter there are several grave flaws in the idea of replacing
the personal income tax by a national sales tax.
In the first place, contrary to the alleged "realism"
or "pragmatism" of this proposal, it will not, in practice, result
in repeal of the income tax, but rather in adding on of the sales
tax to the current rotten tax structure. Secondly, if the "personal"
income tax were eliminated, the corporate income tax would remain.
In that way, the hated IRS Gestapo would remain intact, examining
records and poking into lives. Moreover, a 30-percent sales tax
would also require heavy enforcement tactics, so that a new division
of the IRS would soon be poring over the records of every retailer
in the country. It seems to me that to foresee these consequences
does not take a Ph.D. or extensive theoretical acumen, which leads
one to question the bona fides of outfits advocating this
And speaking of bona fides: one of the most
disgraceful performances of virtually all free-market think-tanks,
and of all Official Libertarian journals and institutions, was their
falling into line like the many sheep to agitate on behalf of Nafta,
and now for the proposed World Trade Organization. The Canadian
Fraser Institute managed, with no resistance, to herd almost every
free-market think-tank in this country into what they called the
"Nafta Network," which devoted an unprecedented amount of resources
to almost continual agitation, propaganda, and so-called "research,"
in behalf of the passage of Nafta. And not only the think-tanks:
they were also joined by the considerable number of libertarians
and libertarian sympathizers among syndicated columnists, writers,
and assorted pundits.
The unfolding process provided us with some grisly
amusement. The original line of these left-libertarians and freemarketeers
was the Clinton-Bush line: namely, that Nafta was promoting, indeed
was indispensable to, the lovely concept of free trade, which had
become an article of conservative Republican faith during the Reagan
administration. The only opposition to Nafta, therefore, by definition,
came from an alliance of confused or more likely evil protectionists,
who were either socialistic union leaders, the hated Ralph Nader,
or were inefficient domestic manufacturers seeking protective tariffs
or were their hirelings. Even worse, were their allies the hate-filled
protectionist xenophobes, racists, sexists, and heterosexists, such
as Pat Buchanan.
At that point, Pat Buchanan pulled off a master stroke,
totally discombobulating the pro-Nafta forces. He pointed out that
ardent and purist free-traders such as Lew Rockwell, myself, and
the Mises Institute, and people at the Competitive Enterprise Institute,
opposed Nafta because it was a phony free-trade measure, and because
it piled numerous new government restrictions upon trade, including
socialistic labor and environmental controls. And further, that
these restrictions were particularly dangerous because they added
on international, inter-governmental restrictions, to be imposed
by new inter-governmental agencies accountable to no one and to
the voters of no nation.
The amusing point was that the pro-Nafta propagandists
were forced to make a hurried and immediate change of front. They
were forced to add attacks on us, either printing our dread names
or relying on general themes. Since they couldn't call us protectionists,
they had to fight simultaneously a two-front war, attacking at the
same time evil protectionists of right and left, while also denouncing
us as excessively pure free-traders, and therefore, in the Voltairian
phrase which I am coming to detest almost as much as words like
"alienation" and "tolerance," using the best as the enemy of the
good. In fact, of course, Nafta and WTO are in no sense "good";
they make the current situation far worse, and therefore qualify
as "bads" in any libertarian of genuinely free-market sense.
Some left-libertarians replied to our strictures against
international government that only xenophobes and statists can worry
about "national sovereignty," because in high libertarian theory,
only the individual is sovereign and not the nation. I don't want
to comment on this point at length now. But, as far as I'm concerned,
it should be almost self-evident to any libertarian that the piling
up of larger and higher levels of government can only add to the
scope and intensity of despotism, and that the higher these levels
go, the less they are subject to check, curtailment, or removal
by the subject population.
But increasingly I find that nothing can be taken
for granted, or considered self-evident, among supposed libertarians.
Indeed, Clint Bolick, one of the leading libertarian legal theoreticians
and activists has written a book for Cato, rather astoundingly looking
around at today's America and concluding that the real tyranny,
the real menace to our liberty, is not the federal Leviathan, not
Congress or the Imperial Executive or the increasingly totalitarian
despots-for-life who constitute the federal judiciary, no, not these.
To the contrary, that the real menace to liberty nowadays are grassroots
It seems to me that there is very little reasoning,
or discourse, that can be used with people who look at American
life today and come to these kinds of conclusions. To call such
people "libertarians," much as to call Nafta propagandists "free
traders," stretches those words beyond all meaning or sense. As
in the case of the deconstructionists, with left-libertarians we
are plunged into a Humpty Dumpty world, where words mean just what
they choose them to mean, and the real question is who is to be
Speaking of who is to be master, the Nafta propagandists
had the unmitigated gall, or chutzpah, to charge the coalition of
protectionists and unreconstructed free traders with being in the
pay of the evil textile industry. This charge, mark you, comes from
institutions heavily supported by the Mexican government, the Canadian
government, by Mexican and Canadian lobbyists, and by corporations
and donors in the export industries. For one widely unreported truth
about American economic foreign policy since World War II, and even
since the late 1930s, including government trade negotiations, treaties
and agreements, alleged "free trade" and reciprocal trade, as well
as all programs of foreign aid, is that their major motivation was
to constitute a taxpayers-funded subsidy to export industries and
to the bankers who finance them. Talk about people in glass houses!
I don't want to leave the case of Nafta without briefly
mentioning the amusing response of the Libertarian Party. Once again,
the Party had always in the past been consistently opposed to all
forms of inter-governmental restrictions or controls on trade. And
yet, the august National Committee, which governs the party in between
its increasingly rare national conventions, felt compelled at the
height of the controversy to issue a statement in support of Nafta,
throwing its entire weight into the debate.
The person who is in effect the ruler of the National
Committee is himself a libertarian theorist of note. And either
nostalgia for his former views or a certain modicum of integrity
impelled him to actually try to answer our criticisms. Unfortunately,
to do so, he had to fall back on the sort of arguments formerly
used by such sectarian outfits as the tiny handful of people once
gathered in such grandiosely named organizations as the International
Revolutionary Workers Party. That is: he and therefore the National
Committee acknowledged that there may be some problems with Nafta,
the international bureaucratic rule might well impose restrictions
that overwhelm its supposed free trade features. But, the National
Committee concluded, not to worry, because should such a thing begin
to happen, the Libertarian Party would throw its great political
weight into stopping it. Well, it's certainly a relief to know that
the Libertarian Party will hurl its body between Nafta and its inevitable
As the paleo alliance has become increasingly influential,
we have drawn for quite a while fevered attacks by neoconservatives,
and now by the burgeoning Official Libertarians. Indeed, Virginia
Postrel, editrix of the Santa Monica monthly Reason has, in a sense,
specialized in attacks on the Buchananite right-wing. Usually, she
denounces it for its alleged opposition to "change"; indeed, she
often sounds like the assorted harpies of the media echoing the
Clintonians during the presidential campaign, trumpeting the necessity
of "change," apparently change for its own sake, which she confuses
with some sort of Opportunity Society. The real question, however,
is change for what, and in what direction? Paleos, after all, are
big devotees of change and radical change to boot, except that somehow
I think that the type of change we seek appropriately reactionary
and hate-filled is not exactly the sort of "change, change,
change" that this editor and various other neocons and Clintonians
like to talk about.
This month, she has an editorial denouncing the anti-Gatt
coalition, which the editor very oddly sees as "partisans of stasis...appealing
to state power to block the dynamic processes of markets and individual
choice." How she can interpret a measure fervently supported by
President Clinton and the rest of the statist establishment as an
example of market and individual choice defying state power passeth
There is another recent instance that also draws the
ire of the editor in the same editorial. This issue she also sees
as a coalition for stasis trying to block the beneficent processes
of economic growth on the free market. Here we have a coalition
of liberals, conservatives, local residents, historians, and all
people concerned with conserving and honoring America's heritage,
trying to block the development of an American history Disney theme
park on the grounds of the Battle of Manassas. One major reason
for trying to block this Eisnerizing of northern Virginia, is the
politically correct history that Eisner's top historian, the notorious
Marxist-Leninist Eric Foner, was planning to foist on the unsuspecting
visitors to the park.
Foner, by the way, in a striking example of a leftist-neocon
alliance, was the main "expert" in the first Reagan year helping
Irving Kristol and the neocons to smear Mel Bradford as a "racist"
and a "fascist" for having the temerity of being critical of one
of the leading despots in American history, the sainted Abraham
Lincoln, who in many ways is the leading predecessor of "Dr." King
in enabling us to separate quickly the right-wing sheep from the
various species of left-wing goat.
Postrel describes this anti-theme park coalition as
"a coalition of anti-growth liberals and blood-and-soil conservatives."
Somehow, it is not surprising that the editor, as a left-libertarian,
does not mention and so doesn't seem to be concerned with the projected
bombardment of innocent tourists with a politically correct, Marxist-Leninist
version of American history. But here, once again, Pat Buchanan
threw a monkey-wrench into the works of the left-libertarian propaganda
machinery by highlighting the fact that yours truly, in an article
in the Mises Institute's Free Market, uniquely attacked the
Disney theme park as not being free-market development at all, since
the project explicitly depends on a subsidy of $160 million to be
contributed by the taxpayers of the state of Virginia.
Is it really pro-stasis, anti-growth, and anti-free
market, to oppose a project requiring a $160 million subsidy by
the taxpayers? How does the editor presume to defend her support
against such a criticism from someone who, at the very least, may
be a lot more libertarian and anti-statist than she herself? Her
defense is actually quite interesting if singularly unimpressive.
Her comment, in full, is that "the free-market objection that the
park is getting state subsidies isn't part of the main debate."
Well, that takes care of that argument.
One of the main grounds that have supposedly led to
libertarians' hatred of religion is that they, the libertarians,
are staunch advocates, above all, of reason, whereas theists are
eternally mired in what rationalists like to refer to as "superstition."
Well, it is instructive to ponder the quality of the reasoning power
that these people have used in defending their flight from liberty
and the rights of property.
Let us now turn to a final measure that illustrates
the Great Leap Stateward of the libertarian movement. This is their
championing of the school voucher scheme, which the left-libertarians
literally wrote for the California proposal voted on, and defeated,
last November. Neoconservatives and left-libertarians happily plunged
into, and largely financed, the California voucher drive, secure
in the supposed knowledge that their only opponents would be the
usual array of left-liberals and teachers' unions.
The left-libertarians featured their favorite buzzword,
"choice," which they first applied to women's choice on abortion
and now to the expanding choice of parents and children on which
schools to attend and whether or not to attend private or public
schools. Anticipating the framework of the debate, the voucherites
were having their own way, but this time they were, once again,
blindsided by an extremely influential article that Lew Rockwell
wrote in the Los Angeles Times, which the distressed voucherites
later ruefully admitted was the greatest single force in scuttling
their plan. For Lew bypassed the standard debate by making points
that appealed especially to embattled California parents and taxpayers
critical of the public school system.
Lew pointed out (1) that the welfare state, and the
burden on the taxpayers, would increase instead of being reduced
by the voucher scheme; and (2) that while the public school teachers
might well oppose the plan, it is more important and more dangerous
that the voucher scheme would greatly increase government control
and dictation over the private school system, now still largely
free of government intrusion. The government always controls what
it subsidizes, and in the case of vouchers, the government would
be obliged to define what a "school" is, in order to let the school
be eligible for the voucher subsidy.
As in all redistribution schemes, the range of choice
of the beneficiaries can only expand by restricting the choices
of the losers, in this case the choices of the parents of children
now going to private schools. Not only did this argument prove to
be a blockbuster, but Lew also raised, for the first time I believe,
another sensitive and compelling argument; (3) that the voucher
plan would destroy the relatively good and now carefully safeguarded
suburban public schools, because these suburban schools would be
forced to accept anyone who applies from any other school district.
In short: that these neighborhood schools, which are
at least to some extent under the control of local neighborhood
parents and taxpayers, would now be forced to accept hordes of uneducable
and even criminal youth from the inner-cities. The choices of suburban
parents would be restricted. Not only would the suburbanites' children
be in danger, but their property values, much of which had been
built up by moving into districts with relatively good schools,
would be gravely endangered.
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. There is no greater testimony
to the power of ideas, regardless of pre-existing political clout
or the extent of funding.
A general note: fourteen years ago, the Libertarian
Party ran its best-funded, and therefore its most widely publicized,
presidential campaign. The campaign, run by what even then was its
decidedly non-purist wing, was asked by the media, now interested
for the first time, to tell them in a few words what this "libertarianism"
is all about. The campaign's answer: libertarianism is "low-tax
The absolute ruler of that campaign, Ed Crane, is
now the head of one of America's most prominent libertarian think-tanks.
Recently, he and his colleagues provided another summation of the
essence of the libertarian creed. The answer: "market liberalism."
Note that while the older definition made at least a vague reference
to lower taxes, the current credo is one that can be agreed to by
literally everyone. After all, since most socialists call themselves
"liberals," and all socialists now agree on having some sort of
market, this phrase could be, and probably has been, embraced by
such not-exactly libertarians as our beloved president, William
Jefferson Blythe Clinton IV, as well as by the unlamented last head
of the defunct Soviet Union, Mikhail S. Gorbachev. Talk about being
respectable and mainstream!
In recent weeks, this same prominent theorist of "market
liberalism" has moved to ward off what he sees as the great danger
of the rising right-wing populist movement. Instead, he offers as
a counter what he calls "The Velvet Revolution," a term that seems
far odder and more exotic in the United States than it did in the
This Velvet Revolution, which, according to this leading
left-libertarian, will limit the federal government "without disruption,"
is simply a triad of statutory measures. One is replacing the personal
income tax by a national sales tax, which I have discussed already.
A second is term limits; and a third is the balanced budget amendment.
The problem with the entire triad is that they will either have
no effect or make matters worse; at best, they might con the populist
masses into thinking that Washington has been curbed and dropping
the whole issue. And maybe that's the point.
Very briefly, the balanced-budget amendment is a fraud
and a hoax. In addition to escape clauses for Congress to override
the amendment easily, and that it will provide an excuse for raising
taxes, and the fact that the federal government can and does easily
shift its expenses to "off-budget activities," the so-called "balancing"
is only for projected future expenditures and not for the actual
budget, and anyone can literally project any future expense.
And, finally, there is no enforcement provided: will
all Congressmen who vote for unbalanced budgets be taken out and
Which brings me to the third leg of the Velvet triad:
the much-praised term limits. I have no problem with the concept
per se; the problem is that Term Limits only restricts Congress
or state legislatures, and the legislative arm is the one that has
lost most power among the three branches of government. Congress
and the state legislatures are, of all branches, the only ones quickly
subject to public accounting and retaliation at the polls. These
are the only people we can get rid of rapidly and peacefully. But
contrast the other dangerous branches, which are conspicuously not
to be subject to term limits.
There is the Imperial Executive, where only the president
is limited, much to the griping of all champions of "democracy."
The rest of the vast and swollen federal bureaucracy is not only
not subject to public removal, they have been frozen into place
as permanent despots by the so-called "civil service" or "merit"
system, which was put across on the public by the intellectual and
media elites of the late nineteenth century. And finally, there
are the real monstrous tyrants of our day, the unchecked and runaway
federal judiciary, which enjoy virtually absolute power over every
town and village and every person's life. And at its pinnacle the
Supreme Court are our unchecked despots for life. If the term limit
people begin to advocate, say the abolition of the federal civil
service, and two-year term limits for every federal judge, I will
begin to take them seriously as part of the solution instead of
being very much part of the problem.
In conclusion: I am confident, in contrast to this
desperate left-libertarian attempt to draw the teeth of the populist
revolution, that the days of Beltway "realism," both among conservatives
and left-libertarians, are doomed. There is now a powerful and truly
grass-roots movement awake throughout the heartland of America,
a movement that is radical, right-wing populist, and possessed of
a deep hatred and contempt, first of course for the Clintons and
their whole repellent crew, and second, for Washington in general,
for the Beltway, its ideologies and its culture, and for all politicians,
especially those located in Washington.
This grass-roots right-wing is very different from
anything we have yet seen. It profoundly dislikes and distrusts
the mainstream media. And, by extension, it has no use for Beltway
organizations or their traditional leaders. These grass-rooters
are not content to kick into the coffers of Beltway organizations
and obediently follow their orders. They may not be "socially tolerant,"
but they are feisty, they hate the guts of the federal government,
and they are Rising up Angry. In this burgeoning atmosphere, the
supposedly pragmatic Beltway strategy of cozying up to Power is
not only immoral and unprincipled; it also can no longer work, even
in the short run. The oppressed middle and working-classes are at
last rising up and on the march, and the new right-wing movement
will have no time and no room for the traitorous elites who have
led them by the nose for so many years.